Fitness

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Sharing the roads 
Bicycles and cars

A few weeks ago my friend and training partner and I were 10 miles into an 80-mile training ride with Ironman Kentucky on our minds. We are both experienced riders who follow all the traffic devices on the road. As we approached an intersection, we had a green light and continued moving straight at about 18 miles per hour. At the same time, a car to our left was approaching the intersection and made a right-hand turn…right into my friend.

Hours later, after an ambulance ride, x-rays, the resetting of a dislocated shoulder, a fractured humeral tuberosity, road rash, four weeks out of work on disability and the sacrifice of a season of pre-paid races (including Ironman Kentucky), my friend will be okay. She is alive because she was wearing her helmet.

That same weekend, I heard stories of two other bike accidents. And, five years ago, I was hit by a truck. For those reasons, I want to dedicate this column to bike safety on the roadways and what not to do both as a car driver and as a bicyclist. 

What to do as a car/minivan/truck driver

The primary thing that all drivers need to do is make sure that you are paying attention to DRIVING! I have been road riding for over a decade now, and it seems as if each year that passes drivers become less attentive to the road because they are multi-tasking. 

There is the obvious cell phone usage that is illegal, and practiced on a regular basis. But, I have witnessed an evolution from the ridiculous to the sublime. This year, I saw a driver in a convertible on her cell phone (not hands-free), radio blasting, a dog in her lap and she didn’t even see me on my bike. I would have been hit had I not anticipated that she was unaware and compensated by modifying my riding.

So as drivers, PLEASE, do one thing at a time and let that be driving with awareness.

Secondly, as a driver, it is imperative that you note when you see a biker on the road so that you can be mindful of where they are when you are making turns, especially right- hand turns. This is the one situation when both motorized vehicle and bicyclist are following the proper rules of the road and an accident can still be imminent. This is because normally there are no other cars in the right hand shoulder if you, the car driver, are in the right hand lane with blinker on, making a turn. But because bicyclists are on the shoulder and car drivers are on auto-pilot, they don’t expect anything to be in their way. 

This happens even when the driver sees the bicyclist moments before attempting the turn. My friend’s accident happened because the driver said she saw us riding, but when it came time to make her turn she thought that we had, "…just gotten out of the way"!

So as a driver, note if there are other moving vehicles on the shoulder as you approach making a right-hand turn. Many, many bike accidents can be avoided with just this one extra step.

What to do as a responsible bicyclist

First and foremost, WEAR A HELMET! Whenever I bring this up to people who ride without a helmet, the response I get is, "Life is short and I would rather die happy then wear something I feel is uncomfortable". The major flaw in this logic is that you would die. The most likely scenario is that you will live, but with severally impaired brain function, leaving you with extreme physical and mental limitations. 

Next, PLEASE follow the traffic devices! One of the main complaints drivers have about bicyclists is the arrogance they seem to have on the roads. Many bicyclists ride through red lights, ride in the traffic lane when there is an adequate shoulder and don’t stop at stop signs. If we want to be on the roads then it is imperative that we follow the traffic devices for both our own safety and the safety of the drivers!

Finally, DO NOT GO AGAINST TRAFFIC when riding on roadways! I have had many an argument with novice bike riders who feel that they are safer when they ride into on-coming traffic on the shoulder. The argument is that the biker has more control because they can see what the car drivers are doing. When traveling with traffic, the cars come up behind you and you are "blind" to them.

Unfortunately, when you ride against traffic, the drivers are even less likely to be aware of you! For instance, when a car is coming out of a cross road or gas station, a driver looks both directions before pulling out. They are conditioned to look for motorized vehicles and are less likely to notice an on-coming biker going the wrong direction. Riding into oncoming traffic actually increases the odds of getting hit, so even if you feel safer doing this, the reality is that you are less safe because you are doing something that is not patterned into the brains of car drivers. And we all know how we switch into auto-pilot when driving our cars!

Going against traffic also makes it dangerous when you come in contact with another biker who is going the direction of traffic. Now both bikers are at risk because one has to swerve into the lane of on-coming traffic in order to pass. And just like car drivers, other bikers don’t expect someone to be coming at them on the roads so this is risky for multiple reasons.

Bottom line is that more and more people are riding bikes. Fitness riding is on the rise, as is "going green" by riding a bicycle to work or for errands instead of using a car. With more people riding bikes it is even more important that both bike riders and motorized vehicle drivers follow the road rules and put extra effort into awareness while doing so. And wearing a helmet and keeping your hands free of multi-tasking are critical for everyone’s safety!

Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She can be reached at 469.0815 or jtorel2263@yahoo.com.

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