Ding, ding! On your left! Time for trail courtesy
Bicycles have replaced skis on Subaru roofs, so it must officially be spring in Colorado.
That means the bike paths, streets and county roads will soon be crowded with riders of all levels, and it’s a good time to brush up on safety and etiquette, even if we all think we are the sharpest things on two wheels and fully know what we’re doing.
I’m enchanted with road biking here — the low humidity, the elevation, the sunshine and the terrain make it simply wondrous. You trail people have my admiration, but I won’t be getting in your way on the rocks and dirt.
On one of our many glorious weekend days last summer, I was biking on the Rio Grande Trail headed upvalley just south of Glenwood Springs.
A cluster of three middle-aged couples was strolling along ahead of me. As I rolled to within about 40 feet of them, I shouted, “Passing! On your left!” (If you know me at all, you know I loathe exclamation marks, so, clearly, I was going out of my way to be heard.)
The guy at the back of the pack turned his head and took a step to the right. I had plenty of room on the left, so I felt comfortable that we were having a pleasant trail passage. But as I went by, a woman at the front of the group yelled: “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO WARN US YOU’RE PASSING!!” (I really despise being scolded in ALL CAPS with double exclamation marks, so this was quite distressing.)
Even though I thought the guy in back who heard me had at least some obligation to his companions, this bothered me. I’m an enthusiastic, multimodal Rio Grande user. Being able to live and work so close to this trail is part of what drew me here and was a key factor in house shopping. I seek to treat other trail users with courtesy and want the same in return.
I will confess that at times I ride too fast for the amount of foot and tourist bike traffic in certain spots, such as between Glenwood Springs High School and Two Rivers Park. I promise to either avoid that stretch or slow down this summer. Promise, promise, promise.
OK, on with my story: The day after getting yelled at, I bought a bell to mount on my handlebars. It’s not coolest accessory I’ve ever gotten for my carbon fiber road bike, but when I’m running on the trail, I can always hear a bell behind me, so I thought it was the way to go.
Shouting is an iffy way to warn people. The wind can muffle your voice, and I always worry about sounding like a jerk or scaring children. The bell has a pleasant little ding that can mean only one thing, and I get past feeling like a doofus when I ring it by remembering Hector Salamanca blowing up Gus Fring in “Breaking Bad.”
Though I have no stats on this, I believe that the faster the bikers, the less likely they are to feel obliged to warn of their approach. To them, I would say that being a strong rider doesn’t exempt you from being polite, and getting a bell for your bike won’t slow you down or make you a wuss. Channel your inner Hector. You can take the bell off for races.
Pedestrians have substantial responsibility here, too, and, frankly, you see some disconcerting behaviors out there. So I want to offer my help (with the full admission that I’m being cranky and judgmental). In the spirit of comedian Bill Maher’s “New Rules,” I’d like to offer Randy’s Suggestions for use of the Rio Grande and other paved paths:
• Walkers, you are not alone. You have no good reason to react with near-shock that a bike is approaching from behind.
• Nothing new here, but some folks apparently missed the memo that they should keep right. Walking three or four abreast and consuming the width of the path is both rude and unsafe.
• About headphones — biking, walking or blading. You can listen to music anywhere, but when you are outdoors, blocking off one of your senses makes no sense. You are more likely to get hurt and you can be a hazard to others.
• Cell phones. Oh, I know how important that call is. Sure.
• Keep your dog leashed and close. Children too. Well, maybe not the leash. But is it really a good idea to ride a bike while you walk your dog? I could be wrong, but that seems both lazy and risky.
• Parents, set an example by wearing a helmet. A surprising number of adults put helmets on their kids but go without themselves. If you must veer off the trail to, say, avoid a dog pulling a bike or four pedestrians on cell phones walking side-by-side, imagine your children’s horror over your cracked skull.
If all of you follow all of these guidelines, I vow to walk my bike through the Carbondale roundabout. Maybe I will anyway.
OK, have fun out there, keep right and listen for the bell.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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