It’s a lot easier to learn to ride fast than to ride well. And a lot of cyclists don’t ride nearly as well as they think they do.
I was reminded of that the other day, when I swerved right to avoid a car that was drifting into the bike lane. Only to nearly collide with another cyclist who was coming up on my right.
What he was doing there, I can’t say.
Maybe he was trying to pass on the wrong side. Or maybe he was drafting on me, trying to catch a break from the day’s unusually strong winds.
I don’t even know where he came from, whether he turned off a side street or somehow managed to catch up to me on a long uphill climb — though I can’t imagine how I could have missed anyone coming up from behind like that.
It doesn’t really matter. Because I had no idea he was there.
And that could have gotten us both killed.
Next thing I knew, he’d moved over and was drafting on my left. No greeting, no asking if that was okay. No acknowledgment that I was anything other than a rolling windbreak.
As a rule, I don’t mind letting someone draft, as long as they’re polite about it. But this guy already had two strikes against him. If he wanted to ride with me, he was going to have to prove himself worthy.
So I picked up the pace and kicked it up a couple gears. At 25 mph, he started dropping back, despite his expensive carbon bike; by the time I hit 27, he was over a block behind.
Then as I waited at the next intersection, he blew through the red light without so much as slowing down, forcing the cars on the cross street to jam on their brakes.
Fortunately, he made it through okay, as did the cars that braked to avoid him; if he’d caused an accident, I would have been first in line to testify against him.
Not because I hate guys on high-end bikes, or even cyclists who go through reds. I just hate jerks who put other people’s lives at risk.
So what did he do that was so wrong — aside from the obvious mistake of running a red light in traffic?
Let’s start with his initial position behind me on my right. That may be an acceptable position in the peloton, but it’s not okay in traffic. An experienced cyclist watches for oncoming traffic on the left. I look back over my shoulder every few seconds; the last thing I expected was someone coming up on my right, where there should have been nothing but curb and parked cars.
And that’s just as valid on the bike path as it is on Wilshire Boulevard.
Of course, he could have avoided any problems just by announcing his presence. While I listen closely for traffic coming up from behind, a well-tuned bike is virtually silent. So unless you tell another rider you’re there, he or she may never know until it’s too late.
A simple “On your left” or “On your right” — or “Passing left” (or rarely, “right”) — is more than just cycling courtesy. It’s a way to make sure another rider knows you’re there, and rides accordingly.
And that helps keep you both safe.
Finally, drafting on another rider without permission is more than just rude. (And yes, it’s very rude, because you’re making a total stranger do the hard work while you coast contentedly along.)
It’s also risky, because you have no idea how skilled the other rider may be — whether you’re the one drafting or being drafted.
Especially if the other rider doesn’t know you’re there.
A few hundred cyclists — excluding yours truly — got to ride with Lance through Griffith Park. Will Campbell questions whether he does enough as an advocate for cycling; no one else would doubt that for a moment. Victory, in terms of the Reseda Blvd bike lanes, is scheduled to be ours next month. A Long Beach cyclist takes life by the handlebars. A video from the Chicago Police Department says loud and clear, bikes belong. A Chicago rider questions why bike lanes are bad for driver’s expectations. A cyclist is hit by a car on a narrow bridge because cars are parked on the sidewalk. Interactive bike route mapping comes to Chicago, New York, Austin and… Louisville? Finally, keep your eyes peeled for a very cool, very small stolen bike; it looks like this in red. They used to hang rustlers around these parts…