Archive for August, 2009

We Play Green.org

My wife found We Play Green.org on Twitter. They sure do have lots of tweets, except their website doesn’t seem to work. I’m wondering if there are any Pro Cyclists involved?


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Here in Monterey California the cycling is fantastic! Scenic ocean roads, curvy rolling hills, steep climbs, long descents, you name it, we’ve got it. We’ve only been here a month, but have put quite a few miles in. Today my wife Syrah and I decided to venture down famous route 1 to Big Sur and back. bigsurroute1We had heard that route 1 was somewhat bicycle friendly, that it is part of the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, as well as a part of many organized rides.

Before I go on, you must know that the Big Sur highway is a tourist destination, and this is the middle of tourist season! Cars, vans, SUVs, buses, motorcycles, and lots of RVs full of tourists cruise along enjoying the views from the comfort of their home on wheels. Some RV’s are the size of trucks. I’m talking gigantic!

I’d driven down the road a couple times and it seemed like it was safe enough. I noticed the narrow shoulders but bicycles and motor vehicles seemed to be sharing the road fairly well.

fall-rv-trip We weren’t that concerned, seeing that I thought I remembered seeing some “Share the Road” signs, and coupled with the fact that RV drivers know they have to take it easy on a popular cycling road. You know, so they don’t accidentally kill someone.

Once we got onto route 1 south of Carmel, things seemed OK. The shoulder was large, lots of folks were out on the sides of the road walking to the beach or Point Lobos, and the cars seemed to be traveling at safe speeds. We passed a sign that said “Pacific Coast Bicycle Route.” All was well.

A couple miles south of this pleasant experience, things changed. The shoulder disappeared, the cars got faster and the folks on the side of the road vanished except for a pull off every now and then. The Volkswagens, Priuss’ and the like waited to pass us at a safe time, making an arc around us. The pickup trucks with over-sized wheels and the sports cars flew by without a glance in our direction. Typical. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were annoyed that we were on the road, preventing them from getting the most out of their Route 1 experience. The RV’s fell under two categories. The respectful, careful RV’s and the I-rule-the-road RV’s. The careful ones are not a problem. They waited to pass at a safe time, and drove at an appropriate speed. The I-rule-the-road RV’s blasted by like the careless sports car did. Oh yeah, not a single “Share the Road” sign was seen.

We had it in our legs to make it all the way to Big Sur and back (64 miles), but we decided we did not want to deal with this road any longer. We turned around at a beach near Granite Creek, 15 miles shy of Big Sur. On the way back there are a few descents. They don’t have shoulders, so you kind of have to ride a foot or two off the edge of pavement, which puts you in the right of way. One particular decent also involves some fantastic corners. While on this fantastic descent, with my wheels hovering a couple feet off the white line, I hear a shockingly loud horn. The kind an 18-wheeler makes when the driver needs you out of his way. I glanced back quickly, and a gigantic RV was on my tail! I’m talking 10 or 15 feet behind me. WAY too close for comfort. It looked like the driver was trying to pass me, but it was a terrible spot to do so. I swiftly did the only thing I could think of. There was no shoulder to pull off onto, and I was probably going 30mph, so I veered into the middle of the right of way. Thankfully this worked, as the Giant RV stopped trying to pass me and slowed down a bit. Half a mile later, there was a paved pull off. I veered in, and let the behemoth pass with an accelerating roar! Syrah rolled into the pullout a minute later and told me how she thought she was going to die when that jerk passed her. He (or she, but probably he) came so close to her, that she felt like she was getting “sucked in” to the vehicle! Thankfully, she held on and survived the pass.

She wasn’t really getting sucked in, but I do believe that’s what it felt like to her. Here’s why. As we all remember from science class, the pressure of air changes when you change its speed. This is why airplanes can fly. The faster air below the wing has a higher pressure than the air above the wing. AIRFOILIf you have air with higher pressure touching air with lower pressure, then the air with the higher pressure moves into the air with the lower pressure until they equalize. This is also the concept behind many of the earths weather patterns. Back to the giant RV pass. What Syrah felt was the higher pressure air around the RV pushing on her. She compensated for the push by turning towards the RV. Then, as quick as it came, the RV passed and the pressure was gone. Syrah is human, and human reaction takes time, and this all happened quicker than her reaction time leaving her with a wheel turned to the left. This gave her the sensation of being sucked into the RV.

Truck drivers are aware of this phenomenon, and so are many giant RV drivers, but there are clearly some out there who do not understand this. Anyone who has driven on Interstate 80 through the mid west knows this concept as well especially if your going 50, and the 18-wheelers pass you going 75. You react to the higher pressure, and then its gone. Sometimes it can even shake the car a bit! If it can shake a car, it can put down a cyclist.

We ride bicycles as a favor to our bodies, the environment, and society. It also happens to be very fun. Our bodies delight in the exercise. The environment is grateful for one less car. Society improves with safer roads and tight nit communities that aren’t designed around cars. Human powered vehicles are noble and beautiful, and if you choose one over any other type of vehicle, you’ll have a deeper understanding of that beauty. Its hard for someone who doesn’t ride a bike on the busy roads of our country to understand what it feels like when a giant RV or speeding car pummels by while your pedaling along on a bicycle. On your right, inches from your wheels, the road drops off into a channel full of shrubs. On your left, traffic is whizzing by occasionally getting so close you can feel it. In front of you more pavement awaits your next pedal stroke keeping your steed on a line as straight as you can get it. Your eyes are scanning the road in front of you while your ears scan the road behind you. Your thighs and calves are burning from the lactic acid building up in your muscle cells. To stay alert is to stay on course, and stay alive. When a careless driver gets too close or passes too fast, alertness can be shaken for a mere moment. This moment is all it takes for tragedy. We don’t have safety belts, airbags, or 2,000 pounds of steel and plastic to protect us from the coarse, unyielding pavement or blow from another vehicle. Please keep this in mind when you see us out there.

Giant RV vs Cyclist Safety Suggestions for the RV driver

1) Do not pass a cyclist unless it is safe to do so, and you can clear the cyclist by 5 or 6 feet. Remember, cyclists have a right to use the road just as much as you do. When you do pass, SLOW DOWN.

2) Do not honk your horn at a cyclist. They know you are there and want to pass. Every motor vehicle wants to pass a cyclist. Your horn can startle the cyclist, causing a crash.

3) On a decent, do not pass the cyclist until the decent is over. It is much too dangerous to try to squeeze your giant vehicle between a cyclist traveling 30mph (that is fast for a bike) and the oncoming lane of traffic. During a decent, the cyclist may be a bit more unstable than at other times. Once the decent is over, wait for the cyclist to pull closer to the shoulder, and slowly pass when safe to do so.

4) Follow all the other safety guidelines that apply to motor vehicles of ALL size.

Giant RV vs Cyclist Safety Suggestions for the Cyclist

1) On busy roads with no shoulders stay as far right as possible.

2) If a large vehicle is passing, hold your handlebar securely and maintain your course. Be prepared for a bit of pressure change around you.

3) If your on a fast decent, and there is a large vehicle behind you honking and wanting to pass, maintain your course and speed. Do not get spooked into going faster, or pulling too far over to the right. At an appropriate time, pull to the right and allow the vehicle to pass. You have a right to be on the road as much as the large vehicle.

4) When in doubt, play it safe!

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