Prepare to be amazed. In a few short sentences, I’m about to tell you how Russian proverbs, nuclear arms reduction treaties and road cycling are linked.
Here we go.
Think back to 1987, when there seemed to be a thaw in the Cold War, with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev meeting regularly with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to hammer out treaties reducing nuclear stockpiles. During the press conference to announce the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in December 1987, Reagan famously quoted an old Russian proverb to note the tenor of the agreement: Trust, But Verify. (For a quick walk down memory lane, here’s a You Tube link to that famous utterance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=As6y5eI01XE)
Flash forward to 2015. RBR reader Larry Best sent me an email with a suggested question of the week: When riding with another rider, or group of riders, is it safer to call “CLEAR” at intersections or allow each person to take responsibility for their own safety?
I immediately tapped into my own riding experience – and my remembrance of history – for my reply to Larry:
Great topic! I’m not sure how I would frame it as a Question of the Week, but I think it’s worth writing about, in any case.
Remember Ronald Reagan 30 years ago reciting the old Russian proverb “Trust, but verify” re: arms control?
It think it’s incumbent upon every single rider to “verify” what their riding companions say regarding traffic, or lack of traffic.
Sometimes, it’s too easy to yell “clear” and maybe not know there’s a straggler in the group. Or the person yelling “clear” doesn’t often ride in a group and doesn’t take into account how long it takes to get across an intersection.
I can think of LOTS of reasons to verify!
Larry wrote back:
Thanks for the reply, John. I’m a fairly experienced rider of 52 years post high school. I began riding in 1962. I’ve raced, toured and ridden invitational centuries, as well as club rides. I usually get in about 4-5,000 per year.
In my experience when someone calls clear, the other riders in the group don’t even look, they just proceed through the intersection. I can’t speak for you, but I do make the occasional mistake.
A couple of years ago I happened to be at the front of the group. I looked, yelled “clear” — and it wasn’t. There was a car that I’d missed seeing, and a couple of riders came very close to being hit.
I wouldn’t want to have to live with that for the rest of my life. The point you made about stragglers is an excellent one as well. Follow-the-leader is, in my opinion, way too prevalent in group cycling, and when riding in a group, stressing that each rider is responsible for their own safety sometimes seems to fall on deaf ears.
Responsibility on Both Sides
Larry touched on a couple of important matters inhis reply. Namely, the fact that even the most experienced cyclists on the road (Larry himself has more than 5 decades of riding history) can sometimes miss seeing, or misjudge, an oncoming vehicle, leaving some fellow riders in possible harm’s way.
Second, that some riders in groups “blindly” follow the leader without taking the time, or assuming the responsibility, to see for themselves and verify that the coast is, indeed, clear.
I think we can all agree that there is inherent responsibility in both the lead and follow positions in a group. If you’re the leader, it’s your job to spot, and call out/point out road debris, obstacles, impending stops, etc. And it’s your responsibility to check for traffic and adequate crossing time for the entire group at intersections and other potentially dangerous spots on the road.
By the same token, as a member of the group, you have the responsibility to verify for yourself, and those riders around you, that it remains “clear” and safe to continue. Anybody can make a mistake in judgment, leaving you with your you-know-what hanging out. And when it comes right down to it, you alone are responsible for your own safety on the road.
Heck, I verify when riding with only one other buddy – and I fully expect him to verify my “calls,” too. Just as I hope you all do the same. Yes, of course I trust my regular riding buddies. But I verify, too, because it’s the right thing to do.
Trust, But Verify!
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.