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Ellen Lahr

Share our roads: Berkshire cycling etiquette for all 

By Monday, Jul 17, 2017 Life In the Berkshires 8

We love cycling in the Berkshires. The breathtaking Berkshire roads we explore on two wheels are often the same roads explored by our visitors in cars. The views make us say to ourselves, or to our riding pals, “Can you believe we live in this place?”

Most of the time, cyclists and drivers get along just fine. But some drivers (and cyclists, for that matter) are poorly versed in sharing the road. Drivers wonder why that cyclist up ahead isn’t riding tightly inside the white shoulder line on the road. Cyclists go slightly wild and hostile when drivers feel the need to lay on their horns as they approach us, as if we are engaged in some reckless, illegal road crime. Sometimes fingers get brandished, and well, that’s just not nice.

On the other hand, a driver who asks a local cyclist for directions will be quickly rewarded – we know our way around and can direct you off the beaten paths and onto secret, scenic backroads. We are friendly folks, we are typically high on adrenaline, and we love imparting our road smarts about the Shire. Around here, most of us ride for enjoyment, fitness and camaraderie, where in cities, cycling is a commuting routine.

And cyclists are vulnerable – to you, the vehicle driver. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that, in 2014, 726 cyclists were killed on U.S. roads (8 in Massachusetts) and 50,000 were injured nationwide. Most fatalities happened in non-intersection crashes, and 31 percent died in intersection-related crashes. Half of fatalities occurred in broad daylight. And in 65 percent of fatalities, the car driver was stone-cold sober.

The etiquette of road riding is fairly clear, and here’s how we do it.

  • Group cyclists – and you’ve seen them around — are supposed to ride in a single-file line on well-traveled roads and use hand signals to indicate turns and stops.
  • Usually, the rear-most riders in a group are on “car alert” – they listen and look for rear-approaching cars — and will shout “car back” to their friends ahead. The message makes it way down the line so all can take note and hold their position or get into a single-file line.
  • On back roads, you’ll see cyclists bunched together in a group – think Tour de France – and they are drafting together, pulling each other along in their slip streams for speed and efficiency. A well-trained group will spread into a line for an approaching car.
  • We don’t ride in the road shoulders. Road shoulders are filled with debris, broken glass and other dangers to our tires, and we are less visible there. We tend to ride just outside the shoulder line – and this also gives us room for emergency maneuvers.
  • Smart riders do not wear earbuds – it’s the cycling equivalent of texting and driving. We simply must have full hearing to perceive cars approaching from behind. Although I confess that I once tried riding with earbuds on a remote back road, I really got into the BeeGees for a disco-ride playlist.
  • At a traffic light, we may stop right in front of you – not off to the side. We’re not being road hogs — this is a safety position. If we hug the gutter, we may not be visible to cars, and we may be squeezed and toppled by a right-turning car when the light changes. We also shouldn’t stop between two rows of cars at a light.
  • Those crazy shoes that attach us to our pedals? Those “toe-clip” shoes make for great cycling efficiency, speed and hill-climbing. A toe-clipped cyclist releases the clip with a quick flick of the leg. The one time I fell over, I was fatigued and waited too long to unclip, so I now release early when approaching intersections.
  • The best of us are courteous, friendly, and out for a good time. Say hi to a cyclist.

Here’s how we hope drivers will do it:

  • Be courteous. Assume you are sharing the road just about anywhere in the Berkshires.
  • Look before you turn right anywhere– as you would check for a pedestrian, check for cyclists.
  • If you approach a rider or group of riders and are concerned they don’t hear you, give a light friendly horn-beep from a good distance back. You will see an instant response from riders ahead.
  • Be patient if a group of riders is clustered and seems unresponsive to your warning or approach – sometimes we get to yammering away about the views and politics. Once we are aware you are there, we will re-organize in a single file line and wave you past.
  • In downtown areas, use caution when getting out of a parked car to avoid a cyclist getting “doored.” In Holland, where cyclists are everywhere, drivers open their door by reaching across with their right hand – which pulls the eyes around to check what’s coming up alongside.
  • Don’t text, talk and drive – your inattention can mean disaster for a cyclist.
  • See a cyclist on the side of the road with a possible problem? It’s always nice to ask if everything is OK.
  • If you have an accident with a cyclist, keep cool, offer assistance, avoid the blame game, check on the cyclist and cooperate with whatever happens next.

Accidents happen – but so do nice mutual exchanges between cyclists and drivers. We cyclists hope we can inspire you to ditch that car for a Berkshire afternoon and get out on your bike, or a rental bike. It’s a great way to see our area – and the scenery passes in slow motion, for more indulgent enjoyment. Not sure where to go? Ask a cyclist.

Pedal on.

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