Spoke Talk: Bike rules refresher

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Paul Matheny

Many hardy cyclists already are out on our Routt County roads this spring, but before the cycling season really gets cranked up, it’s a good time to remember cyclists’ responsibilities to Share the Road.

First, bicycles are considered vehicles and should follow the same traffic rules as cars, trucks and motorcycles. Just like a car, bikes ride on the right-hand side of the road with the traffic flow and obey traffic signs and signals. Hand signals before turning and stopping always are recommended. Following the spirit of the law at stop signs by slowing significantly shows courtesy to other road users, which is always a great goal.

State law requires motor vehicles to give 3 feet to pass cyclists, and these days, drivers mostly comply. Cyclists can do their part for Share the Road etiquette by riding on the right side of the road whenever traffic is present. Consider self-preservation another good reason.

Probably the most contentious issue is two or more bikes riding side by side as vehicles are overtaking them. When no cars are approaching from behind, it is fine to ride beside your buddy and have a conversation, but as cyclists it is our responsibility to anticipate traffic from behind and revert to riding single file as far to the right as safely possible. The trick is to keep an eye on the traffic by listening for vehicles approaching, periodically checking over your shoulder and using rearview mirrors to improve awareness. When you roll through our sometimes-deserted county roads, it is easy to get distracted. I estimate that I lapse about 10 to 15 percent of the time and fail to notice a vehicle approaching behind me as early as I would like. A good rule of thumb to guard against this is to try to stay to the right all the time and to only ride two abreast in low-traffic areas and stretches where you can see a long distance behind you.

Bikes and motor vehicles are not the only users of roads in Routt County. Ranchers move cattle and sheep on county roads from one pasture to another. Rather than just riding through or crowding the herd, the courteous thing to do is give the herd room and time to get across the road or to a place where you can pass without spooking the animals. It could delay you a few minutes or you might even have to change your planned route, but if the animals get spooked and scatter, it could take the rancher all day to gather them. Our recreational habits do not supersede the needs of the working community.

And finally, while you are stopped — for snacks, rest, punctures, etc. — make sure you and your bike are completely off the road, and be considerate of the nearby residents and property.

Keep in mind the way you ride influences the way others ride and the way other cyclists will be judged.

Have a safe and fun cycling season, ride friendly and do your best to visibly Share the Road.

Paul Matheny serves on the Routt County Riders board. He can be reached at jpmatheny@gmail.com.

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