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Cycling isn’t supposed to be a contact sport, but according to one Creston cyclist, it often nearly is on local roads. In a recent four-day period, Rick Smith experienced two close calls, one caused by a driver’s lack of attention, the other when a driver “buzzed” him — intentionally, it seemed, passed too close, despite having with plenty of room to share the road.
In the former incident, a car was driven right in front of Smith and another cyclist without even looking. Smith anticipated that might happen and was prepared.
“It was likely a momentary error in judgment or a simple moment of undue care and attention on the part of a motorist,” said Smith.
But the latter, which took place while he was southbound on Highway 3A, heading up a hill, didn’t seem so accidental. Smith spotted the pickup pulling a utility trailer in his rear-view mirror, and was prepared for it to pass.
“There is no safe place to stop on that part of the road to get out of the way, there is no guard rail to protect you from the rather steep cliff on the right and the very little shoulder that exists was so full of debris that it was not possible to ride on it safely,” he said. “Hence, I was essentially riding on the white line as far over to the right as I could.”
There was no oncoming traffic, but rather than giving Smith some extra room, “they flew up the hill past me with the wide trailer missing my shoulder by no more than 13 inches. The force of the air dam that he was pushing almost blew me off of the road and down the cliff. …
“I must admit that I am not that easily rattled on the bike, but that scared me and later made me quite angry. Over the years, I believe that I have developed a pretty good feel for the road and the attitudes of the motorists that do pass me while on the bike and I know when I’ve been ‘buzzed’. This is unforgivable in my eyes.”
Although these incidents were the most recent, they were hardly the first Smith has witnessed.
“Over the years, within the group of people that I have been riding with, we have experienced a number of what I will call ridiculous and unwarranted ‘attacks’, ranging from being cussed out or buzzed at high speed to actually being slapped and having beer bottles thrown at us,” he said.
Smith said that people are often surprised to learn that he’s cycled along Highway 3A — for many, the potential dangers outweigh the potential enjoyment. As a result, many haven’t been on their bikes for a long time.
“It saddens me to hear that but I fully understand and respect their decisions and points of view and would be fibbing if I were to say that these thoughts have not gone through my mind from time to time, as well,” said Smith.
Motorists aren’t the only ones who have to be more careful, though; cyclists have to take responsibility, too, by obeying the rules of the road. Cyclists are required to ride as far to the right as is deemed safe and ride in single file, as well as wear a helmet. Riders who ignore the law “give all of us a bad reputation and do nothing to establish any credibility or good relationships with the motorists that we share the road with,” Smith said.
He would also like to see local governments get in on making the roads safer for cyclists. Narrow shoulders, rumble strips and potholes create hazards that push riders closer to automobile traffic.
“I am not naïve enough to expect that the purse strings will miraculously open up and all will be solved,” he said. “There are real challenges out there and prioritization is a reality. There will always be discourteous cyclists and motorists that will be in conflict. … Education is obviously the key for all parties involved to keep these issues to a minimum.”
A good start, Smith said, might be for drivers to give cycling a try.
“I have always felt that I have been a conscientious and defensive driver, but since I have been on the bike and gone through a few less-than-pleasant experiences; I believe that I have become an even better and more aware driver,” he said. “They say that an artist who paints will never look at a tree the same way again, and I feel that a driver that spends some time in the saddle in the traffic will never look at a bike or a pedestrian on the road with a judgmental eye again.”