May 2017 - BICYCLING
May is Bike Month!
Safe, Smart Cycling
By Dave Kraus
Every avid cyclist has their own stories of times when today’s ride almost turned into their last ride. The story might involve a distracted or hostile motorist, a component breaking at just the wrong time, or an unwise decision to ride in the rain or the dark without the right equipment.
Every time a cyclist goes out on the road or the trail they are assuming inherent risks that are so integral to the sport that without them, cycling loses the appeal that drew them to it in the first place. The beautiful passing scenery on a sunny spring day. The wind in your face. The self-satisfied feeling that you are your own engine, free to go wherever your desire takes you.
Fortunately, cyclists today have more options than ever before for staying safe, and more advocates than ever before who are willing to do the lobbying and negotiating, which will put laws in place to protect them – and promote enforcement of those laws.
As Executive Director of the New York Bicycling Coalition and a longtime cyclist himself, Paul Winkeller is intimately familiar with the risks of riding, and the work done behind the scenes to keep cyclists safe on the road.
Sixteen years ago, Paul was the first executive director of the Albany-based organization based, that speaks on behalf of New York cyclists and other vulnerable road and trail users. After leaving for a few years, he returned in 2011, and the last two years have seen the organization’s budget and staff expand with support from federal government grants and New York’s own Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.
NYBC supports cycling safety initiatives that are much needed in New York, which has been named in a national survey as the worst state in the nation for bicycle and pedestrian crashes.
One of the organization’s strongest efforts is to navigate the halls of state government to get a law passed defining a three-foot distance for motorists passing bicycles on the road.
The first such law was passed in Wisconsin in 1973, and today 27 states have enacted statues that require a driver to pass a bicycle with a margin of at least three feet. Several other states have enacted different versions of the law, but the three-foot standard is the most prevalent. “It made absolutely no sense that New York, which is a progressive state, does not have a safe passing law that protects cyclists,” Paul said.
So NYBC began its campaign in 2011, but the resulting law fell short of establishing a standard, instead requiring that drivers only pass at a “safe distance.” Paul continued, “All we could get in 2011 because of the strange way that Albany government works, was to get a plain vanilla passing law – no standard.”
Trying again this past year, the organization got halfway to its goal, as the State Senate passed a three-foot bill. But the bill fell short in the Assembly, and Paul and fellow advocates are firm in their resolve to keep trying. They know that given the way New York government works, it may take years to pass the law that seems to be just common sense to any cyclist who has ventured out on state roads.
Critics claim that such laws are impossible to enforce, because the only definitive proof that a driver has come within three-feet is if they actually hit the cyclist. But Paul disagrees, and says that it’s important to establish a standard that enforcement can be based on. He is hopeful and says support is increasing in the Assembly, with Capital Region member Phil Steck in particular campaigning on their behalf.
“I think we were closer this past year – because we feel like we have stronger support legislatively. If it gets out of committee and onto the floor it will pass.”
The Albany Bicycle Coalition and Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club will be sponsoring a “Three-Foot Capital Cruise” on Friday, May 19 at 12pm, leaving from West Capital Park in Albany, to help bring attention to continuing efforts to enact legislation that establishes a legal 3-foot passing margin for motorists when passing bicycles. For more information, contact Howie Diamond of MHCC at email@example.com.
NYBC’s success in applying for grant funding has also enabled hiring of staff to do the tedious but necessary work of reaching out to and working with law enforcement across the state. It takes time and effort to educate officers of what the laws are and the best ways to enforce them. “It’s important we do this because the law enforcement community in New York State is not all that familiar with specific vehicular and traffic laws that protect bicyclists. They don’t spend a lot of time on it at the police academies – we know that from seeing the curriculum. It’s not much, so we are going to help them rewrite that curriculum,” Paul continued. The organization has also just finished shooting several training videos that will be shared with police agencies around the state to add to educational efforts.
Other NYBC initiatives include the same kind of grass roots work to get laws passed that will legalize E-bikes in the state, and other initiatives that may seem obscure, but that can make a difference. One is the “20 Question” campaign, to get a bike related safety question on the state DMV driver’s test. There has never before been a requirement for such a question, and Paul says it would force all license applicants to study cycling related traffic laws to prepare for the test.
Another is the drive to pass legislation sponsored by Albany Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy that would mandate an end to using the word “accident” in traffic reporting, which implies no one is at fault. “It seems like a minor thing but it’s a real hot button issue,” Paul says. “When a car runs over a cyclist, it’s usually not an accident – someone’s at fault. Sometimes it’s the cyclist not in the right place, but more often it’s the motorist.”
Paul says he has never been more hopeful that some real help to ensure cyclist’s safety is finally within reach. “We’re really tired of being hurt and maimed and disrespected, but the climate has really changed. I feel like our time is really now – I’m really optimistic. I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t optimistic.” Learn more at nybc.net.
Another organization that works to protect regional cyclists is the Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club. The club, led by David Liebschutz, has over 630 members spread across the seven-county Capital Region and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019.
MHCC has a strong focus on safety, including strictly mandating helmet use on club rides, encouraging volunteer rides leaders to get first aid training, and fostering what David calls a “supportive ride culture,” where ride leaders actively help participants with mechanical and first aid issues if needed. There is also a strong emphasis on observing the rules of the road on group rides, where large groups of cyclists can lead to frustrated drivers – and bad public relations.
The club also purchases ride insurance through the League of American Bicyclists to make sure that if the unforeseen happens and a rider is injured, they will have some support even if they don’t have their own insurance.
The club also has an annual ride leader summit in the spring for training and updating best practices for the season ahead. David also oversaw a survey of club members last fall that identified the trend of aging club membership that make safety even more important.
Former club president and Adirondack Sports contributor, Skip Holmes, also keeps an active interest in supporting the safety culture that he helped to create during his 20 years of leading rides, and five years as club president.
Skip helped start the club’s first aid training program after a deer unexpectedly ran across the road – and straight through his group ride. It was every ride leader’s nightmare, with three riders down with serious injuries, and plenty of “road rash” to go around. “What I saw that evening was that no one knew what to do,” he remembers. “I had to essentially do triage on the injured riders and then get others to each injured rider. As a Vietnam vet, I had first aid training and unfortunately had to use it back then. That led to the decision to get others trained.”
MHCC also is fortunate to have no less than five League Certified Instructors, certified by the League of American Bicyclists, and specially trained in bike fit, maintenance, bike handling, vehicular cycling, and rules of the road. The volunteers are available to lead classes in schools and for other interested groups for both children and adults. To set up a class by an LCI, contact the club at mohawkhudsoncyclingclub.org.
Safety – In addition to supporting organizations that work for cyclists, what factors can an individual control to keep safe when out on the road or trail?
According to Garrick Dardani, co-owner of Steiner’s Ski & Bike in Glenmont, Valatie and Hudson, a properly fitted helmet is the single most important piece of physical safety equipment a rider can use. “From no helmet to the hairnet to the micro shell helmet – the evolution of helmets has been the biggest conversation in safety,” Garrick says, who has been involved in his family’s cycling business for 30 years. He adds that it’s not enough to just buy the helmet and wear it. “Treat your helmet with respect – if you throw it into the back of the car and are constantly dropping it, then you’re degrading it.”
He also suggests a variety of other equipment that cyclists can use to increase their visibility and safety. Front and rear lights can be a big factor in being visible to drivers, even in daylight, and newer lights have more focused beams to increase daylight visibility. At a recent shop owner’s workshop sponsored by Trek, Garrick says he watched a demonstration of daylight flashing lights that were visible from up to two miles away – long before you could even see the cyclist using it.
Garrick also suggests cyclists choose their clothing carefully, and shop specifically for items that have reflective patches in addition to the popular new neon colors. Reflective tape is also a valuable and inexpensive way to be seen, and pieces applied to shoes, crankarms, or other moving parts will create an animated display that is difficult for drivers to miss – at dusk or after nightfall.
Keeping your bike in good repair and regularly inspecting equipment before each ride can also be a lifesaver, according to Garrick, “Constantly inspect your tires, especially sidewall damage, which could make a sudden blowout situation.” He also suggests what he calls the “shake, rattle and roll test,” which he applies to every bike that comes into the store for service. “I give it a two-inch drop and see if anything rattles. If something sounds loose, it could be the quick release, headset, or other things that can add to instability while riding.”
But after following all of these tips for equipment and maintenance, Garrick says the most important safety tip of all is to “know the rules of the road and follow them. That only costs your time to learn them.”
Dave Kraus (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a longtime Capital Region cyclist, photographer and journalist. Visit his website at krausgrafik.com. Dave’s helmet saved his life in 2010. Here is his story...
After 25 years of cycling with no major incidents, my number finally came up.
I was heading down the Mohawk Hudson Bikeway, hit a stutter bump and my front wheel came off. I somersaulted over the bars and hit the asphalt on the right front part of my head . . . at 20mph.
My helmet took the brunt of the impact. I remember hitting the bump, starting up and thinking, “Uh-Oh.” I woke up on the ground with people around me. I could feel blood dripping in my eye, but my first thought was, “Oh, crap, I crashed. I better call Bev (my girlfriend) to come get me.”
I dialed my her automatically and told her I had crashed. She asked where I was, so I asked out loud and somebody said “Dunsbach Ferry Road is right down there.” I recognized the street name but was totally unable to picture where it was on a map. I’m a visual person. That’s how I think about things. So that should have been my big clue that all was not right.
It seemed like only moments later the ambulance was there, but Bev told me I was on the phone with her for over 12 minutes, babbling the same questions over and over. She heard the EMT’s trying to convince me to go with them. Finally I said yes—fortunately!—and away we went.
My bike rode in the ambulance with us. Bev met us at the ER and got the bike, then she and her friend stayed with me . . . CT scan, x-rays, and lots of lying around not realizing how bad I was hurt.
The collar stayed on and I stayed down until the doctor had evaluated the tests. When he told me my neck was broken I got nauseous and laid down fast. A fracture of the C4 vertebrae. Total paralysis if I had hit the ground at just a slightly different angle or just a tiny bit harder.
So what happened? I’m always so careful and pride myself on keeping my bikes in perfect shape.
I remember—in perfect 20/20 hindsight—taking the bike out of the car when I got home almost two weeks before. I put on the front wheel with the quick-release just tight enough to get it in the house. Sigh. I was in a hurry. So when I went out Thursday evening—11 days later--I had forgotten and rode away with a loose wheel.
I should have noticed. The brake adjustment lever wasn’t tight. I flipped it as I rode. I’ve forgotten to tighten it before. Then I noticed a creak as I was riding, but again didn’t think much of it. My bike has creaked before. Last time the seat post needed some carbon paste. No big deal.
I got almost 20 miles around the river, down some hills at over 35 mph, before this one little bump on the bike trail finally did me in.
The Bike was pretty much OK. $82 in repairs. The front wheel had to be trued and the right bar end plug chewed up. The brake/shifter levers were both turned in--I pushed them back by hand—and the outside of the right pedal was chewed up a bit.
The frame and fork were still perfect. Not even a scratch on the fork dropouts. I must have gone over the bars, tightening my grip on the levers, bending them inward as I somersaulted. The bike went over me and the fork never touched the ground. It landed more or less on top of me. It must have been pretty spectacular to watch. My bike. the Queen Bee, lives a charmed life.
I’m in worse shape. Fractured posterior spinous process of the C4 vertebrae. A broken neck, though a relatively minor one. Is there is such a thing as a “minor” broken neck? There was also a minor concussion—no wonder I couldn’t figure out where I was!
Part of my right earlobe is gone. There was major road rash on my right temple and brow, a big black eye and more oozing unpleasantness on the back of my right shoulder. The ER doc said I’d be off work for a week, wearing the collar for two, and six weeks with no “athletic activity.” Can I at least ride a trainer? Six weeks of not riding at all? Shudder . . .
My helmet was almost split in two. One small piece on the rear held the two pieces together. My friend Gary came by the next morning to see how I was doing. He’s had at least 5 crashes I know of over the years and spent time in the local rehab hospital with a brain injury from one of them.
I handed him the helmet and he said, “Oh, Crap!” Then he just stared at it silently for a few seconds before looking me straight in the eye and saying quietly, “You’re a dead man, you know. You’re not wearing this and you’re a dead man.”
He was right. I’m sure of it, If that had been my bare head I’d be dead. That was the first time anyone had put it in those words, so it hit me pretty hard.
This wreck didn’t involve irate drivers or clumsy other cyclists, just my own forgetfulness and stupidity. No heavy vehicle traffic. No potholes. No rain or ice. It happened so fast that I literally had no time for any kind of reaction that would have helped. Just a beautiful August evening on a smooth section of idyllic bike trail with me lying dead on the pavement if I hadn’t been wearing that helmet.
I look at my shattered helmet and think of that happening to my head. I will remember. It makes ANY temporary discomfort from wearing a helmet over the past 30 years worth every second since I put on that first heavy, hot chunk of plastic back in 1987.
Giro has a crash replacement policy, but no way am I sending this helmet back to them. It stays right here on my wall as a reminder for next time. Bad day at the office? Argument with the girlfriend? Sweat is dripping in your eyes? So what. It’s still better than what might have been . . .
So check your wheel quick-releases before EVERY ride . . . and wear your helmet EVERY time, even if it’s just to circle the driveway to check those derailleur adjustments.
I’m not going to go riding around preaching at people, and in most places you can legally make that decision for yourself. Go right ahead and skip that helmet if you think you’ll be too hot or it makes you look uncool or you’re just riding “a few feet.”
But if you DO decide to skip the helmet for whatever reason, forgive me for thinking you’re a total, complete idiot.
– Dave Kraus