Or Worse

By Maynard Hershon

I’m riding south on the paved Platte River bike trail, heading up a short hill, looking ahead to the blind left-hand turn at the top. A guy coming toward me rounds the corner going way too fast. He sees me, realizes suddenly that he’s not going to make it around the corner, and yells, “Sorry!”

The instant I see him, I figure that when he sees he’s not gonna make the turn, he’ll grab at one or both brakes, lock a wheel and slide out, directly under my front wheel.

But he doesn’t. He tries to ride it out.

He’s going too fast. He can’t turn his bike tightly enough to stay on the path. He goes wide, leaves his side of the trail and crosses over my side right in front of me, still on his wheels. He rides off my side of the path into the gravel, crashes and bounces back up on the path behind me.

He’s on the ground next to his bike. Skinny guy, twenties, in Lycra shorts and jersey. Just then, the woman he’s riding with rolls around the corner, rides past me and stops trailside next to him.

I say to him, “How’re you doing?”

He’s already up, remarkably. He says he thinks he’s okay. I ask him if he has a phone.

He picks up his bike, a lovely new-looking Pinarello, and I can see that the rear derailleur is broken away from the frame.

His woman friend looks up at me and asks, “What are you doing here?”

Baffled, thinking she might feel I was somehow at fault, I ask her if she saw what happened. She says she saw it all.

“Get out of here,” she says to me. “Why don’t you just go away?”

I tell her I want to be sure I can’t help out in any way before I leave there.

“Go away,” she says. “Get out of here.”

All through this, her male friend is looking at his bike. He has remained calm and sorry that he nearly hit me. He seems uninterested in her comments or my responses.

She again tells me to get the hell outta there. I ignore her and ask him again if he has a phone.

“She has one,” he says, “and we don’t live too far from here.”

“So you’re doing as well as could be expected,” I ask. He tells me he is, and I wish him good luck. I climb the rest of the hill, not excited about continuing my ride. I can’t believe what has just happened, the close call and the inexplicably angry woman.

I ride another two or three miles and sure enough the guy passes me. He’s riding her bike, looks too small, on his way to get the car, I suppose. I ask him if he’s doing okay and he says he is. Take care, I say.

That was Friday. On Monday I had another near-head-on on the same bike path in another area of limited line-of-sight. Neither incident, you will note, happened on a weekend, when we expect scares on the bike path. In neither situation was there a bike failure or flat tire to blame, only bad judgment.

In both instances, someone forgot that the trails are two-way, that you can’t depend on using both sides without surprises, without consequences. In both instances, the careless rider was wearing black shorts and a jersey; both looked like bike riders. Like they should know better.

A head-on involving two cyclists is awful to imagine. The speed limit on the bike trail is 15mph but many riders go faster. A collision at a closing speed of 30 or 35mph? Even 40mph? Ambulances, emergency rooms, long periods of recovery and physical therapy ... or worse.

I’d like to remind you once again that staying to the right is not only the law, it’s good sense. If you can see miles ahead and behind, and you want to ride side-by-side with your friend, no problem. But if you can’t see miles or even yards ahead, stay to the right.

If you know you tend to stare down at the road ten feet in front of your front wheel, lift your head. If you look just ahead and you see something you have to avoid, it’s too late. Look further ahead.

Slow down and stay right especially if you can’t see what’s coming.

While you are on the right, don’t count on the people coming toward you on the path to do the same thing. Look ahead. Anticipate inattention or imperfect bike control from your fellow path users. They may be new riders or big risk takers or they may be distracted.

Nothing I tell you here is going to keep you, always and forever, from danger on the paths. But if you stay to the right and hold your head up and look ahead, if you slow down and stay right when you can’t see ahead of you, and if you expect other people to do foolish things more often than they should, you should be able to finish your ride. On your bicycle.

If the paths are as sketchy as I describe them, column after dreary column, why do you or I keep using them? Well, if (as I put on my helmet and gloves) I thought about the two near head-ons I had last week, I might begin to think of city streets and suburban roads as more inviting than bike paths. As unconcerned with safety as so many drivers are, some cyclists are no better.

I see those cyclists on nice road bikes, wearing road cyclist clothing, endangering their fellow bike path users. When my moment of outrage passes, I thank the gods, Eddy and Gino, that those people are riding, not driving. Every cloud....

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