Don't leave safety to event organizers

As the triathlon, century ride and bike tour season ramps up to full-tilt, it is good to remember that even if there is police or volunteer support to help get you through traffic and difficult intersections, it is in your best interest to watch out for yourself.

Many race and event organizers would love to have a completely closed course to optimize safety for participants; but, unfortunately the logistics of closing down streets and inconveniencing non-racers is more the exception rather than the rule.

Event organizers want you to be safe. In most cases, they do everything in their planning power to eliminate dangerous situations. Even with the best planning, accidents happen.

Examples include:
  • Athletes so preoccupied with the event that they mindlessly blow through an intersection, despite being instructed to slow down or stop.
  • Police or volunteer support that underestimates the speed of oncoming traffic and often underestimates the speed of a highly conditioned cyclist, allowing both to continue through an intersection when one or the other should have been slowed or stopped.
  • Athletes inpatient to pass slower riders pull into the path of traffic without looking over their shoulder to see if there are approaching motorists.
  • Motorists unfamiliar with sharing the road with cyclists drive too close to riders or cut in front of them too soon after passing.

If you are riding a bike in a race or cycling event, it is in your best interest to take care of yourself, even if someone else in a car "should have" given you the right of way. If your body meets the hood or bumper of a car, you lose no matter the outcome of the legal battle.

Here are a few tips and reminders to keep you riding safe this summer:
  • Make sure your bike, and in particular the brakes, are in good working order.
  • When possible, drive the course ahead of time to look for road damage, sand, narrow road, soft shoulders and potentially dangerous intersections.
  • When riding, be aware of your surroundings. While you are looking ahead, keep your peripheral vision in tune to look for toys, kids and animals darting into your path.
  • Ride as far to the right as possible and do not pass on the right side of another cyclist. Before you pass another cyclist, look behind you for traffic and other cyclists. Alert the cyclist you are about to pass by saying "on your left."
  • Ride in a straight line and be predictable. Do not make darting moves into traffic or another cyclist.
  • When approaching an intersection, make eye contact with the person controlling the intersection to be sure they see you. Look for oncoming and side traffic. If a motorist is slowing or stopped at the intersection, make eye contact with that person to be sure they see you. Watch for any forward motion of their vehicle, even though they might be stopped.
  • If a situation looks dicey, have your bail-out plan ready. This might be slowing down, stopping or riding your road bicycle off-road.

The extra few seconds you spend taking safety precautions may save your life, literally. Please, be safe out there.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic Coach. You can find more information, including pre-built base fitness plans, race training plans and training books at Gale's Training Plans.

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