I took a ride last night. During the ride there was an "interesting" experience with a lad in a VW Bug. It insired me to pass along a couple of reminders on how to take care of ourselves out there.
First, though, I want to send some positive waves beaming toward those around Minneapolis. Our local news station ( among many others, I'm sure ) showed the film of the bridge collapse. The blog drums say that those in our blogging neighborhood are safe and sound. That part's awesome. Losing a major bridge like that has got to put a crimp in the work commute. Stay strong.
Last night Katie took off for class shortly after 6 PM. You know what I did. Despite the fact our thermometer still indicated 93 degrees ( f ) I pulled the gear back on. The hour and a half since I'd arrived home had allowed the 'Stich and helmet to more or less dry out. No matter how good the venting, a hundred mile ride in hot weather tends to make one "glisten"! No matter. You're either hardcore or you're not, right?
The ride itself was dedicated to meandering. One of those "Where does that road go? Let's go find out." kind of things. You know the old saying:
"You're not lost if you don't care where the road goes!"
It was when I got back into town that I encountered the lad in the Bug.
I like sunshine but that late evening sun can be rather obnoxious. There's that time as the sun's setting that it projects an "In your face!" attitude. I'm riding through a residential neighborhood and slowing down in preparation for making a left turn. There's this green Bug behind me. I know it's there and I'm watching it. The driver's slowing down so one would assume he knows I'm turning.
Rule number one: Never, never, assume anything about other drivers.
I start my turn but keep an eye on the Bug. My front wheel's over the centerline when, suddenly, I hear the Bug motor surge. These things have a unique sound, don't they? I quickly straighten and abort my turn as the Bug passes me on the left!
Since I'm pointing straight anyway, I follow. This time I'm engaging. In another neighborhood the kid pulls over. I see no reaction as I park the bike a little farther up the curb. I don't want it near the Bug, just in case. I quickly pull off my helmet and accost the lad as I walk toward him. Seeing some fear in his eyes, I tell him I'm not going to hurt him. I only want to chat about what happened.
He claimed not to have seen my turn signals, the sun was in his eyes, etc. That still didn't explain why he was driving like that in a residential area. We'll leave the rest of the converation out of this post. I promise I was professional if not always totally friendly. The point is that I was taking extra steps to communicate with traffic due to the circumstances. I want to pass along a couple of things to think about.
Here's a picture of the Bug. The kid had gone into a house. I say "Kid" even though he was probably 30 or so. It's all relative when you reach my age, you know. He probably wondered why I was taking a picture of his car!
I'm not looking to have you admire the car. Take a look at the back of the car. See the long shadow? Right after I snapped this photo I turned around and took a picture facing the other way.
This is what drivers are seeing. Or not seeing. We were both facing into this evening sunshine. I'm not excusing the kid, of course. This illustrates a situation we commonly face as riders. No matter what other drivers do or don't do, it's our responsibility to be aware of hazards and develop skills and strategies to deal with them. This is definitely in the hazard column! What do we do about it?
Be aware that it becomes extra critical to talk to other traffic. We might be using the turn signals on the bike and think it's obvious to drivers. Bear in mind that bike turn signals are usually smaller than car signals and closer together. There's a real good chance they won't be visible to a driver with the sun in their face. As much as we like to bash cagers, they're not all incompetent or evil. Most want to watch out for us. Help them out.
As I was approaching my turn I had used the signals on the bike as well as putting my left arm out. My 'Stich is Hi-Viz. Between the bright color and the extended arm clothed in yellow, there was a greater chance of the driver behind me getting a clue. Obviously not in this case, but I'd done all I could do, including flashing the brake light as I was slowing down. Extreme vigilance is always the safety net.
Flashing the brake lights is an often overlooked tool. Lately there seems to be a rash of motorcycles getting rear-ended as they slow down. I'll tell you why.
If a rider's not in a hurry, how do they usually slow down? Engine braking through downshifting. Bikes have three brakes. We use the third one. Brake lights never illuminate. You know how drivers are these days with their following distances. As in, slim to none, also called tailgating. So Bob in the Buick is following a bike a little more closely than he should. When he looks up from his cell phone key pad he suddenly sees that the bike's right in front of his hood. Not much time to react.
A flashing brake light has a lot better chance of getting a driver's attention. Even if you don't need the brakes, use the light to your advantage. The same principle holds true when you're sitting at a red light or stop sign. Flash the brake light to wake up drivers coming up behind. It's a way to say "Hey, I'm stopped and not moving, here!"
By the way, I'd really suggest using the rear brake pedal to activate the light. It will affect the bike's stability a lot less than the front brake. Especially at lower speeds.
When Katie got home she saw the gear out and suggested another ride. We went to a 7-11 and got Slurpees. Which are a trick to transport by bike, I'll tell you. We rode to a park and sat on the riverbank until well after dark. But that's another story.
Miles and smiles,