Confessions

Safety Corner logoby Bob Zogg and Steve Ford

Safety Corner articles are reviewed by the CRW Rides Committee and several CRW board members. As such, they generally represent the perspective of the CRW leadership. However, for our second installment of the Safety Corner, we (Bob and Steve) thought it important to talk about ourselves a bit—just this once. To be frank, we want to come clean. You might think that someone who has volunteered to be the CRW Safety Coordinator (Bob), or a bicycle cop who has volunteered to assist the CRW with safety (Steve), would already have safe riding habits down pat. You might think this, but you would be wrong. Perhaps our motivation to assist the CRW with safety stems from painful awareness of our own shortcomings. So, lest you think we sit in ivory towers, read on. We each picked four recent examples in which we made less than the best choices—some of our choices, in fact, were downright boneheaded. We think you’ll agree.

Bob’s Turn - Confessions of a Safety Coordinator: I’ve been a CRW member for ten years. However, when I began to list the safety-related mistakes I’ve made, I didn’t have to think back far. In fact, just mentally reviewing a few CRW rides during the fall of 2003 provided plenty of fodder for this exercise. Yikes, I feel as if I’m stripping naked in front of the entire CRW. Well, here it goes:

1. On an unusually long CRW ride, I found myself with one other rider after the split. While my companion was the stronger rider, he seemed willing to pull me along for the company. I was riding at my limit just to hold onto his wheel. I found myself losing ground as we passed through intersections, and having to really crank to catch back up. My companion noticed this. As we approached a four-way stop, he shouted back “it’s a four-way stop”, which he clearly intended to mean “you don’t need to slow down”. And we didn’t. He barreled through the intersection, full speed ahead. I followed, right on his wheel. The hole in our logic was big enough to drive a truck through. A motorist applying the same logic at the same time would have taken us out. We approached a second four-way stop. We did exactly the same thing—again!

2. A few miles after the start of one CRW ride, I heard the telltale blasting horn of an irate motorist. Cyclists behind me warned “Angry driver back!” just as I was approaching a T intersection, at which we were turning left. I checked my mirror. I could see the motorist approaching, but I figured I had enough time. Besides, I wasn’t going to let this guy intimidate me! I started moving to the left side of the lane, as I always do for left turns. As I pulled left, the cry from behind repeated, this time, with even more emphasis “Very angry driver back!!” Everyone else kept right. I sat alone at the stop sign, on the left side of the lane, as I waited for traffic to clear. The irate motorist pulled up behind me. Just then, the traffic cleared, and I proceeded to make the left turn, with the irate motorist right on my tail, horn blasting. The motorist quickly passed me, and went on blasting his horn at the string of cyclists in front of me. Some will dispute me on this, and say I did the right thing. But I say that I should have pulled to the right, as everyone else was doing, and just let this nutcase go by. My actions did nothing to enhance my safety or that of the riders in front of me.

3. Later, on the very same ride, I came to a fairly steep descent on broken pavement. At the bottom of the hill, right where the shoulder was the narrowest and the pavement the roughest, I noticed a fellow rider repairing a flat. I stopped to assist. Turns out he had two flats, incurred while bouncing over the enormous potholes. Good thing I stopped, he needed a second tube. It occurred to me that this rider had not selected the optimum place to fix a flat. Instead, like many cyclists, he had stopped right where the flat happened, regardless of the suitability of the location. It occurred to me to suggest moving, but he already had his bike, tools, and various bike parts strewn all over. It seemed easier just to go with the flow. So I assisted him, right there on the very narrow shoulder. As other riders barreled down the hill, they had to dodge not only the potholes, but also us. Motorists had to do the same. It took the suggestion of a third rider stopping to assist before we moved 50 feet down the road, where we could get out of harm’s way.

4. Half way through a long Sunday ride, a cyclist passed me. She wasn’t moving ahead of me quickly, though, so we were riding at similar paces. I had been riding alone for some time, and thought it would be nice to have company. I picked up the pace slightly, and caught up. We chatted a bit. She was “taking it easy” that day, having trashed herself on the Saturday ride the day before, on which she had averaged over 20 mph (well out of my league). But, today, her pace was right for me, so I latched onto her wheel and off we went. After many miles on her wheel, I realized that I was feeling pretty good, but, at the same time, feeling guilty about letting her do all the work. So, I offered, “I’d be happy to pull for a while anytime you would like”. I think I offended her. She said nothing, but immediately put the hammer down. I chased, using everything I had just to hang onto her wheel. This went on for several more miles. I wanted to stay with her-- for the company, for the draft, and, yes, just to prove to myself that I could. I didn’t know if I could last. She started to spread the gap. I was losing her draft, and I really wanted to hang on. I thought, “If I can just get back on her wheel, I’ll be OK”. We were approaching a short hill, up which a mountain biker was laboring. She blew by him like he was standing still. I knew I needed to do the same if there was any hope of catching her. But then, I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. I was closing fast on the mountain biker. Would I have time to pass him before the vehicle caught up? I pulled around the mountain biker. I didn’t even check my mirror, relying solely on the sound of the approaching vehicle to judge its position. I judged wrong. The pickup truck passed me just as I was passing the mountain biker—all three of us in the same lane, at the same time, at the same place. Not good!

Steve’s Turn - Confessions of a Bicycle Cop: I have been a Revere police officer for over 15 years, the last five of which I’ve been in charge of Revere’s mountain bike unit. I have received training in the safe operation of my bike, so you would think that I would not make mistakes while riding. Well, even with all my training, I still do a few things after which I feel very lucky that I did not hurt myself. Here are a few lessons I have learned:

1. When you finish maintaining your bike make sure you have clipped the brake cable back on. It is a little nerve-racking when, going down a busy street, you hit the brakes and nothing happens. This little scenario played itself out on Broadway, which is the main street in Revere. Now, when I get on my bike, I not only check to see if everything is attached and tight, I also squeeze the brakes just to be doubly sure.

2. Do not let drivers get the best of you. I was once doing a charity ride in uniform when a driver who was not paying attention came by at a high rate of speed. This scared a few of the riders, especially since we had kids riding (including my own). Well, I made a sharp U-turn on my bike to go after the driver, but I was so upset that I did not look back before moving across the road, and there were cars approaching from behind. Luckily, I was not hit, but it could have been ugly. I did catch the driver, but it wasn’t worth taking that kind of risk.

3. It may seem obvious, but always watch where you are going. While it is part of a cop’s duty to watch the area to see what is going on, one still needs to pay attention to where one is going. I was riding through a section of Revere and was interested in what was going on to the right of me. As you may know, you tend to go in the direction you are looking. I ended up rear ending a parked car. Luckily, I was going slowly enough that nothing bad happened, but it did remind me to keep my head up and pay attention to where I am going.

4. Take the time to practice the skills that you are weak in. I have been trained to ride over many things and to go up and down stairs on my mountain bike. I am not the best at going up the stairs and I should practice some more. I was riding down Revere Beach, where there are several covered seating areas with steps leading up to them. Three of us were riding the beach that day. We noticed something going on in one of the seating areas. My two partners made it up the stairs no problem, but when I tried to go up, I did not execute the maneuver as gracefully as I had hoped. I ended up digging my front tire into the staircase, throwing me forward. I scraped up the front of my calves pretty good. I now try to practice this maneuver more often.

We hope you found this entertaining, but, more importantly, perhaps these examples remind you of some of your own experiences — situations in which you could have made wiser choices. The point here is that we all can improve our riding habits so that we are safer and more courteous. Reflecting on past riding behavior is a good place to start.

Remember, safety is about choices. What choices will you make?