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Bike Riding in Rural Areas

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

Most articles I read about staying safe on a bike are written for urban areas. Areas with heavy traffic, controlled by stop lights at every block, where a bike rider can actually keep up with traffic and, often, become part of it.

While it is sometimes unavoidable, the average road cyclist has no desire to ride city streets, albeit a cyclist in this area will have occasion to be “downtown” in Roseville or Rocklin making his way to the donut shop.

Towns crammed into hilly geography (and possibly divided by a major highway), like Auburn and Newcastle, can be a challenge due to twisting and narrow streets. The valley towns (Rocklin, Roseville, etc.), may have more traffic, but have wider streets and more bike lanes.

But if you head north to Camp Far West Lake or Sheridan, west to Nicolaus or east toward Auburn and Penryn you will be on rural roads, often narrow, sometimes with no shoulder and never with any bike lanes. Even with spectacular views, one’s mind can wander. It can be the same for drivers.

Here are some thoughts about riding safely in rural areas.

Drivers don’t expect to see cyclists out in the country. Even on relatively straight roads, you can be at the bottom of small hill, in the shadow of a big oak tree when a driver (who may be going a bit fast) crests the hill and suddenly sees you. On the more curvaceous roads, there may be blind corners at which a driver might be surprised to suddenly see a slow-moving bike rider. This is a good time for you to be as conspicuous as possible. Bright clothing and daytime lights are a must.

Of course, ride as far to the right as safe in these situations.

One last thing on visibility. There is some strength in numbers. A group of riders with hi-vis jerseys and blinking lights will be seen when the solo rider won’t.

My bike club requires all riders to have rearview mirror. I wouldn’t ride without one. I might start wearing one when I am walking at the Galleria (I haven’t been to the Galleria in years, however). It is very helpful to know there is a car coming behind you. Let the rest of your group know, too, with a loud “car back”. Be aware of driveways and roads coming in from the right. It is not unusual for a driver to speed past you, only to slow down quickly to make that right turn. This is a major cause of car-bike accidents.

Be aware that riding into the low sun can make you invisible to a driver coming from behind. Keep this in mind if you are out at sunrise or sunset.

If an on-coming car is passing another on-coming car on a narrow road and you get there at the same time on your bike, you may be able to count the stars in the logo on the grill of an accelerating Subaru Forester before the driver sees you. When you see a car coming toward you, check to see if there is an impatient driver waiting to pass. A high-lumen blinking head light can make you more visible in this situation.

If you need to stop, find a highly visible spot, preferably more than just a wide spot on the shoulder. Find a drive way. Shade is nice, but it also can make you invisible.

We bike riders accept there is a certain amount of risk involved in the sport. Do everything you can to lessen that risk.

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