Life in the Bike Lane

Tips for cycling in rural Placer County
By: Tom Frady
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You five (by recent count) regular readers will recognize that I have often waxed poetic (OK, maybe not poetic and there has been minimal waxing) about the glory of riding one’s bicycle in rural Placer County.  The scenery can be energizing, an inspiration to ride a bit faster and farther, just to see what vista awaits around the next turn or over the next hill, even when you have seen it before. 

I never tire of the view on Rutherford Canyon, cresting the hill and looking down on the vineyards and beautiful homes. 

Or climbing Camp Far West Road from Spenceville Road and seeing the bridge over the spill way through the oak trees. 

I could name a hundred or more from Meadow Vista to Folsom. 

But after an extended time on the road (our typical ride is more than five hours long), fatigue, auto pilot and a bit of daydreaming can set in, regardless of the scenery.

It can happen to motorists, too. 

Here a few safety ideas specific to riding in rural areas.

In more urban areas, a car’s speed is often held in check by the presence of traffic and stop lights. Drivers are more attentive to what is going on around them.  Bike riders can enhance their safety by being a bit assertive (taking the lane) and becoming part of the traffic. 

But in more rural areas, the safest place for bikes is usually the far right side of the roadway. Our experience is drivers go too fast on narrow roads and cyclists cannot count on being seen in the shadows of oak trees on the downside of small hills. 

When you are downtown, you can count on a car being right behind you.  Out on Dry Creek in Auburn, one can ride a mile without seeing a car, but when they come from behind, they are traveling at least 50 mph.  Always look behind you before making any kind of movement to the left, including avoiding an obstacle or moving into the lane because the shoulder ends. 

My bike club requires all riders to have a rearview mirror. You should get one, too.  Turning your body to look over your shoulder can cause you to drift to the right and forces you to take your eyes off the road ahead for too long.  Plus the lazy/tired rider might not look.

If you are heading out for a recreational ride, consider a route that will not have you riding into the sunrise or sunset on a narrow road. This is not always possible, of course, but be aware that even the brightest clothes and lights might be of minimal use when a driver is looking into the sun low on the horizon.

Drivers often cut corners.  If you take a hard right at an intersection onto a two-lane road, can you be sure an on-coming car making a left turn is in its lane? 

A driver intent on passing another car coming toward you on a narrow road might not be looking for bike riders coming toward him in the lane as he speeds up to get past the car.

If you must stop to take off your jacket, change a tire or just take a rest, be sure that you have found a safe place. Don’t stop in shadows, on the downside of a hill or just after rounding a turn. Driveways, pull-outs or very wide shoulders are best.

There’s nothing better than riding your bike on a country road but you must stay very alert.

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver