By Annette Hinkle
So, you think you know how to ride a bike? Think again.
Anyone who believes that staying balanced on two wheels is all it takes to be a good bicyclist has another thing coming, especially if he or she is planning to take to the East End highways and byways with their summer traffic jams, lumbering delivery trucks and the terrifying stretch of roadway known affectionately as County Road 39.
For example, where should you position yourself when riding a bike straight through a busy intersection on a four lane road? How about a two lane road? How do you negotiate turn lanes? What are the biggest contributing factors to crashes between bikes and cars? Are you prepared to fix a flat in a pinch? What about in the dark?
Those are just a sampling of the myriad of topics addressed in Traffic Skills 101, a Smart Cycling bike course developed by the League of American Bicyclists and offered through Spokespeople, the local riding advocacy group, last Saturday at SYS in Southampton. Teaching the course were instructors Lee Uehara and Chuck Krieger of City Bike Coach, LLC based in Manhattan.
“Many people who take this course are good riders that want to either commute or do group rides,” explains Uehara. “They want to know how to handle a bike in different situations. Riding in traffic is everyone’s biggest fear.”
If you think the East End roads are challenging, imagine what these two have witnessed on the streets of New York City.
“Has anyone here ever hung onto the back of a moving truck while riding a bike?” asks Uehara casually at one point during the nine-hour-course. No one in the room raises their hand.
“Good,” she responds.
Uehara and Krieger are all about riding safely, and much of the course is dedicated to teaching just that. Uehara maintains that unpredictability, either on the part of riders or drivers, is what causes most friction on the road — things like riding against traffic, ignoring devices like stop signs, failing to yield to oncoming traffic or making evasive maneuvers without signaling.
“Unless you’re in the villages, it’s different out here than the city because it’s country riding,” explains Krieger. “The motorists out here are more tolerant of cyclists.”
That may be hard to believe for cyclists who have had a run-in (or run-off) with aggressive motorists on the East End, so Uehara and Krieger teach their 101 students to be visible, predictable, alert and assertive in their movements on the road. From checking for traffic over their shoulder to signaling and obeying all laws, even if no cars are in sight, being responsible, they say, is the key to safe riding. Although it seems counterintuitive to novices, Uehara notes that one of the most important things a cyclist should do is assert their rights to the road, especially in a narrow lane situation where they risk being run into a parked car, sewer grating or curbing if they stay too far to the right.
“Take the lane if there’s no room for cars to pass,” says Uehara, reminding riders that bikes are required to adhere to the same rules of the road as cars, and are therefore afforded the same rights. “Use hand signals to let the cars know what you’re doing.”
“Cyclists fare best when they act like vehicles,” she adds. “Cars need to get used to sharing the road by bikes being predictable. It makes you credible as a sub group.”
After a classroom component chock full of illustrative videos, road diagrams and instruction, the traffic skills 101 class moves to the SYS parking lot where Uehara and Krieger set up cones for hazard avoidance drills, the “rock dodge” challenge and the emergency quick stop. An important component of life on the road is knowing how to fix a flat tire (and remembering to carry tools, patch kit and spare tubes), so there’s a drill for that as well and students are required to remove the rear tires of their bikes, release the air, take out the tube and put it all back together again.
But the real life skills test comes at the end of the day in the form of a group ride, in a real world situation, through Southampton Village. Uehara and Krieger’s route puts students through the paces in a variety situations, from negotiating stop signs, traffic lights and railroad tracks to using turn lanes to turn left onto and off of the dreaded County Road 39.
Most of the cyclists at last Saturday’s event were not novices, but rather, serious riders pursuing LCI (League Cycling Instructor) certification from the League of American Bicyclists. Taking Traffic Skills 101, and passing a written test, is the first step in earning the LCI, which is required to teach cycling courses.
Another Traffic Skills 101 class will be offered at Southampton High School on May 15, followed by the three day intensive LCI certification course June 4 to 6. And while it may seem that much of what is covered in Traffic Skills 101 is common knowledge for accomplished riders, as Sinead Fitzgibbon, an avid cyclist and one of the founders of Spokespeople, pointed out on Saturday, “There’s always something new to learn.”
That became abundantly clear when the Traffic Skills 101 class pulled over to regroup at a stop sign in Southampton Village during their ride. A woman riding by on her bike stopped to chat about biking. After expressing interest in both Spokespeople, and the May 15 class at the high school, she smiled, waved good-bye — and promptly rode off into oncoming traffic.
To get an application for the May 15 Traffic Skills 101 class ($50 fee) or the three day League Cycling Instructor Certification course on June 4 to 6 ($200 fee), visit www.spokespeopleli.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above: Dennis Loebs signaling right during drills (Sinead Fitzgibbon photo).