Monday, February 6, 2012

Spend a day with Cycling Savvy DFW. It might save your life.

I spent this past weekend in a skills workshop with Cycling Savvy DFW.  It was well worth the time and money and anyone who rides a bike on the road should sign up for a class like this.

We met up Friday night in a classroom setting where instructors Elliot, Richard, and Waco reviewed the biking rules of the road and showed diagrams of some tricky road conditions.  The class discussed the best strategies for negotiating the road and learned the importance of riding in the center of the lane.  While many people think a cyclist should ride as near as possible to the curb it is not required by law and can actually increase the danger for the cyclist as well as unintentionally create more conflict between bikes and cars.  Riding in the center of the lane makes it apparent to drivers that there is not enough room to pass safely and gives them plenty of time to move over to another lane.  Riding too near the curb can encourage a driver to create an unsafe situation by passing too closely within that lane.  It was a lot of great information and the diagrams and videos helped demonstrate the lessons.

Instructor Waco explains the next practice drill

The next morning, we met bright and early for bike handling skills practice in an empty parking lot.  The instructors set up cone courses and drills for us to hone our skills. I was the only person who rode to the meeting place and apparently made quite an entrance as Neandertrailer bounced and rumbled behind me, passing by the gathering people, and finessed it next to a curb to lean it on as an impromptu kickstand.

I  brought the trailer for several reasons.  One, I practice low speed skills fairly often and figured I should up the ante and get some practice with the trailer hooked up.  Two, I want for other cyclists as well as drivers to see that a bicycle can be used for utility as well as recreation and basic transportation.  Three, just because I'm a jackass like that.

A "follow the leader" drill to practice riding straight as well as hand signals.  All types of bikes were present including dual suspension mountain bikes, townies, road racers, and my frankensteined beast.

We started off with some slow races, then did a slalom course, 90 degree turns, follow the leader, and other skills.  In a lot of ways it was similar to a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course (which I'd also highly recommend to anyone who rides a motorcycle).  The instructors wondered aloud if the trailer would even make it through the courses without knocking over cones, but it did great and goes to show how useful a utility bike can be.

Then, it was on to the open road.  The group of students and two instructors rode over to a local establishment for lunch and some discussion of what we were about to do, and then headed back out to practice riding various road "features" around Dallas.

Riding on the open road.  The instructors would signal when to "single up" and when it was ok to ride side by side.

This was probably the most valuable part of the class.  We would all stop and gather while one of the instructors would explain the next feature, sometimes even making a quick chalk diagram, and then the instructor would demonstrate it and wait at the next gathering point while the students followed one by one.  That was the key part - each student had to go it alone to really see how the classroom lessons could be applied.

Instructor explaining the best strategy for this stretch of road

A student navigating the route and demonstrating proper use of hand signals

I'm an experienced cyclist with thousands of miles logged over the years, and yet this was still an enlightening and eye opening lesson for me.  The instructors took us over areas that I would normally avoid like the plague - crossing highway 75 at Northwest Highway as well as Park Lane, riding in front of shopping malls with many entrances and exits, and so on - and showed us strategies on how to navigate them confidently.  I'm not sure what all the drivers thought of us, but they all seemed to respect our place on the road.

Waco diagrams an upcoming intersection as we discuss the hazards of the area and which lane is best.

The class was made up of all skill levels and the instructors would gladly ride with anyone who didn't feel confident about the situation.

I want for bikes to be a bigger part of our culture.  For health, for the environment, for fun, bikes are a great way to get around.  But that won't happen unless we have confident and skilled cyclists who are comfortable riding in traffic.  I encourage cyclists and drivers alike to take this course (or one like it) so we can all be better users of the road.

Regrouping after riding through a road feature. 
A student signals a turn while practicing "control and release" of the traffic behind her.  While a smaller road such as this seems safer at first, it can actually create more conflict because there are many points where the cars are not able to safely pass.  Also, the parked cars pose a huge risk in the event that a driver suddenly opens a door.  A cyclist should ride 5 feet from the side of a car to prevent this.

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