Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
I’ve been a member of our local bike club, the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club since I moved here in 1982. Good members make a good club, so when I’m asked to contribute something I try to help. And this time, I think what I was asked to provide will interest you, too.
Our club newsletter editor, Grace Voss, asked if I’d like to write an editorial about an article a club member sent her way.
It’s in the online science e-zine Elemental and has the disturbing title: What’s Behind the Rise in Bike Fatalities? With the even more alarming subtitle, “Studies suggest a number of factors – including negative attitudes toward cyclists.”
Grace thought I’d be a good person to comment on that bit about the “negative attitudes toward cyclists.” Because I have ridden every day now for a little over 25 1/2 years, or roughly 9,366 consecutive days. And that doesn’t include my previous thirty years cycling, just not consecutively.
Driving Drives Some Folks Bonkers
During all that saddle time I have experienced the “negative attitudes” the article describes so many times, that I’m convinced there’s something about the act of driving that can turn certain people nuts.
Sure, I could be the one who’s nuts with my pet theory. But read the full title of the article again and think about what it says. It starts talking about the rise in fatalities (25% hike from 2010 to 2017!) Then it ties the fatalities in part to negative attitudes toward cyclists.
Does that make sense to you? Not to me. I get that you don’t like or you’re mad at cyclists – some people are just haters. What I don’t get is how being mad turns into attempted or actual(!) murder.
Angry Drivers Don’t Only Target Cyclists
And I have never bought into the theory you hear that cyclists who behave badly by ignoring traffic rules are asking to get buzzed or run off the road – or over! Or that if we were all angels on our bikes, drivers would stop driving dangerously.
Because, these misguided drivers with the bad attitudes don’t harass and threaten only cyclists, they do it to pedestrians and other non-motorized road-users, too. I know because it happened to me when I was a runner back in the 70’s – the same ugly, dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
More Road Dangers
Almost as bad as hateful drivers, there’s the deadly impact of increased driving speeds, most vehicles on the road getting humongous, dangerous road conditions all over, and worst, distracted driving. Is it any wonder the cycling stats are getting so scary?
Technology to the Rescue?
Still, I don’t plan to stop riding and I don’t want you to, either. I actually think there’s hope on the horizon in the form of smart autonomous cars.
If/when they go mainstream, everything could change – including the ability to harass, threaten or attack cyclists while driving, since these cars wouldn’t allow such madness.
Safe Road Cycling Tips
If that comes to pass it won’t happen for a while. So, in the meantime, here are tips for reducing the risk from drivers when riding. I’m assuming your bike and equipment are safe, you wear a helmet and you know that cyclists follow the same rules of the road as motorists.
- Use lights during the day and night
- Choose low-traffic routes
- Choose low-traffic days/hours
- In many locations roads are getting worse all the time so you want to try to know about and avoid the dangerous ones, which usually includes those under construction
- Take the lane when it’s needed to control the situation and prevent drivers squeezing dangerously past
- Fully focus on the road and traffic conditions and ride strategically to limit exposure to risks – for example, here in Santa Cruz, Mission Street is super dangerous and it’s okay and smart to ride on the sidewalk
- Ride with others who know how to ride together – it’s usually safer in a good group than alone
- Harness technology such as Garmin computers that track and show passing vehicles (note that being hit from behind is one of the most common incidents now)
- Use a rear view mirror (not for everyone, but many riders love them)
- Take a safe cycling course, such as Bike League’s Smart Cycling
And, last, a bonus tip: many cyclists have taken to the indoors to ride because there’s zero risk from traffic. Plus, smart trainers and virtual reality software has almost brought the outdoors inside now.
Wait, there’s more! One of my clubmates and our club Director of Safety and Education Albert Saporta, just provided the following short review of his Garmin Varia RTL510 rear light radar and Garmin 520 Plus computer, which tracks vehicles behind you. I haven’t tried one of these systems so I reached out to him.
Albert’s Review of Garmin’s Car-tracking Radar Computer
“Jim, it’s not the computer that detects cars. It’s the Garmin rear light radar, the Varia RTL510. It pairs only with Garmin 510 and newer computers (I have a 520 Plus). The computer picks up the signal from the radar and visually displays oncoming cars on screen.
There is an audible alert too (series of beeps). On a straight flat road, it will detect cars as far away as – guessing here – 100 to 150 yards back (my observation riding on Delaware Drive in Santa Cruz and on East Lake in Watsonville). MY NOTE: these are mostly long straights.
I love this thing, Jim. It’s great when needing to cross lanes to get to a left turn lanes, or having to take a lane for whatever reason. Last year riding in a paceline on Hwy 116 along the Russian River with no shoulder for about 12 miles, the group was very glad I was able to call “car back” no matter where I was in the line (there were 5 of us), and without turning my head to look back or hearing the cars approaching.
This was an especially good thing as there were several fully electric cars approaching from time to time (Teslas), and those things you can’t hear until they’re on your wheel. I was nicknamed “Radar Man” by the group.
My only nitpick is battery life. On full, steady mode, I think I got maybe 4.5 hrs of service after an overnight recharge.”
I hope these tips are helpful and look forward to reading your best tips in the comments.
Here’s a link to the full article.
Ride total: 9,366
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Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.