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GUEST OPINION: Fear, bike racing on Sonoma County roads

  • 11/25/2002: A1: Looking south, areas of environmental restoration can be seen where the pipeline diverged from Pine Flat Road above Healdsburg.

With the recent spate of bicycle/car accidents, there has been a lot of commentary about what's going on.

I have been road-riding for about a year. My riding partner, who has ridden across the country, is an excellent trainer, and I've learned a lot from him. I try to ride 100 miles a week, and my partner rides about double that. We ride mainly in the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys from Healdsburg to Cloverdale.

First of all, it is important to note that almost all of the recent accidents have been caused by rider error. The only exception appears to be that of professor Steve Norwick, who didn't have a chance because he was killed by someone who appears to have been physically and mentally impaired.

Even Michael Torckler, who is a professional rider, was probably going too fast down Pine Flat Road given all that road's blind turns. Kip Miller, a friend who lives off Pine Flat and who has been warning riders for years to slow down, said to me, "For five years I asked the bikers to slow down and be careful on blind curves, they told me to get lost, and most gave me the &‘bird' and they still use the middle of the road. ... I hope this is a wake-up call of what could have been worse."

A lot of hard-core riders are into it for the power and speed. Most of us recreational riders average about 12 mph for an overall ride. Pro riders can sprint up to 35 mph for stretches up to 20 miles. I know coming down the east side of Canon Road I start squeezing the rear brake handle at about 28 mph. Any faster than that and I can't see any road hazards that might be lurking in the tree shadows. Pine Flat Road has no center dividing line and, because it's not used much, has lots of road hazards. Add a steep grade and a distracted driver (drunk or not), and it's a disaster waiting to happen.

I have found that most motorists are very cautious around riders. I have only been buzzed once and yelled at once. When a driver slows down to get around me, I always give a thank-you wave to acknowledge their consideration.

Even though it's still against the law, most drivers will go halfway over the double yellow line to give riders ample room.

My riding partner has long felt that the little rearview mirrors that are attached to rider's sunglasses should be required by law. It is almost impossible to turn your body far enough to see behind you while riding without losing control of your bike. These little mirrors allow you to see 360 degrees while riding.

Also the county should do a study (maybe by one of the county's cycling coalitions) to identify the most bicycled roads. Because of the bicycling tourist dollars that flow into the county, those roads should be a maintenance focus. Most people don't care about new paving. They just want the potholes filled. That goes for motorists as well as bicyclists.

In addition, the county should paint a white stripe on the sides of all roads. These stripes give both the bicyclists and motorists a point of reference from which to judge the position of one another, especially where there is no shoulder.


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