Essex column: Act like other people are using the trail
I unintentionally kicked a hornet’s nest a little bit last week in writing about e-bikes — bicycles with an electric motor that can be engaged when the rider pedals to provide a boost on hills or as needed otherwise.
In the debate about allowing them on the Rio Grande Trail, I favored approving the bikes during the Grand Avenue bridge detour and urged study of permanent use. Even though I did not side with those who want to ban them — as Pitkin County has done — I expressed qualms about inexperienced bicyclists riding in groups on these machines, a concern in which I am not alone.
I was surprised how passionate some people are about e-bikes, and my remarks upset a few of them. Criticism noted, I nonetheless think safety is an issue for those who haven’t been on a bike for years or those given one for work who otherwise might only rarely, if ever, choose to be on a bike.
Even experienced riders fall sometimes, and injuries are more likely if people are riding in clusters or if they fall onto a heavy bike or a heavy bike falls on them. And e-bikes are heavier than regular bikes.
This opened a discussion of trail etiquette, which is important all the time but particularly as our trails become busier during the detour.
So I’m going to risk making more people angry today with a frank discussion of behavior on our bike and pedestrian trails, mainly the Rio Grande. First, the Rio Grande Trail is big enough for all of us. It’s a great asset and amenity. In a good week, I’m on the trail eight hours or more, biking, running or strolling.
We all — pedestrians, parents with strollers, dog-walkers, runners, skaters, bikers, occasional equestrians, people on cross country ski trainers — can use the trail at the same time without conflict if we follow the rules and observe etiquette.
It’s possible to be on the trail for solid stretches without encountering anyone, particularly in the morning. Friday, commuting to the PI office in Glenwood from my home in Carbondale, I encountered six bikes, two ski trainers, two dog walkers and two other pedestrians. Meeting or passing these fellow trail users consumed a total of maybe 90 seconds.
However, by whatever means you are traveling, you should always expect that others will be behind you. Always.
I know that road cyclists, which is how I spend most of those hours on the trail, irritate and even frighten some people. While it’s not easy to exceed the 20 mph speed limit going toward Aspen, for some folks it’s almost coasting to go that fast toward Glenwood.
It is incumbent on riders to give other trail users a wide berth, to warn of our approach and to slow down as safety requires. My wife was buzzed last year by riders who shouted they were doing a “time trial.” BS. Go to Lower River Road or Missouri Heights.
I understand that it can seem to a walker that a cyclist going by at 15 or 18 mph is just zooming like crazy. But this is a legitimate use of a trail that is wide enough to safely accommodate us all. If you leave room and keep your ears open, you shouldn’t be startled.
Still, at times I’ve had strange encounters. I have a bell on my bike and use it liberally, and shout oral warnings if I don’t see a response to the bell.
I’ve encountered groups of pedestrians walking three and four abreast. It’s absolutely great that they are out there, but they shouldn’t cover the full width of the trail.
I’ve slowed, dinged my bell several times. Getting no visible notice, I’ve shouted: “Bike! On your left!”
In one instance, the person at the back of the group turned and acknowledged me. As I rode past, the person at the front shouted, “Say, ‘On your left, jerk!’” Something like this scenario has played out more than once. I’m not sure what a biker is to do.
Pedestrians should walk to the right and always consciously leave enough room to their left for faster trail users to pass safely. Similarly, groups of bikers getting on the trail from a parking area should not spread all the way across the trail as they wait for others to get ready.
I so wish all bicyclists would wear helmets.
Again, falls happen. Some years ago coming around a curve and hitting a flooded spot, I landed on the back of my head hard enough to visibly flatten the back of my helmet. You likely would be spared this lecture had I been bare-headed. A fall at even low speed onto asphalt can crack your head open and/or scramble your brains.
I absolutely cannot understand how parents think it’s OK to ride without a helmet when they are out with their kids. You put a helmet on your children but not yourself why? So they can safely watch you writhe and bleed on the pavement?
Runners in particular are prone to wearing ear buds. While most stay well to the right, I don’t think it’s a great idea to shut out the sounds around you.
Nor do I think exercising a dog while riding a bike is safe or courteous to others.
OK. Go have fun. Don’t be paranoid, but there’s likely someone coming up behind you.
Randy Essex is editor and publisher of the Post Independent.