Safe Cycling … the value of common courtesy

It’s old news on the blog that I like to ride a bicycle. For the health benefits of cycling check out my item of March 13.

Like most physical activities that are good for us, cycling can be dangerous in some cases. I don’t mean the obvious dangers of mountain biking or high speed road racing. Just riding a bike on a city street can be very hazardous to your health. It is the worst irony to sustain an injury while doing something that you hope will make you healthier. That’s why I wanted to pass this on to you.

I ride nearly every day on Chicago’s lakefront bike path. This is a beautiful 20+ mile bike path along the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan. If I leave early I can catch some breathtaking sunrises. Unlike most city cyclists, once on the path, I don’t have to worry about cars at all. As I have mentioned previously, I have a pet carrier on my bike and my 12 lb poodle goes with me on most mornings. Of course, that gives me another giant reason for liking the bike path because I feel that I am not risking my dog’s life on the streets.

Lake Michigan on a calm morning not long after the sun came up.

As I have been riding for years, I don’t know when I picked up the habit, but I always signal turns by sticking my arm out. Additionally, as there are often joggers, tourists etc on the bike path I also say in a normal voice, “On your left…” as I pass them on that side. These are simple little things that I don’t think twice about. Many cyclists practice them and they make for smooth riding and reduce problems that might occur even on a path with no cars running on it.

Earlier this week I was out around 7:45 a.m. It wasn’t very busy on the path as the folks with jobs had pretty much finished and were home showering, etc. I ride fast enough to keep my heart rate in ‘the zone’ but am not a speed demon. I came up on a left turn and without thinking stuck out my arm to signal my intentions. Behind me I heard a voice saying urgently, “No, no, no, no, NO!”

I kept my handlebars steady and leaned out of the turn and continued on forward. All of a sudden on my left six cycle jocks swept past me and nearly knocked me down. A couple of them said ‘sorry, man’ as they streaked by.

As it turned out no one was injured or even fell off a bike. No thanks to the cycle jocks. If I hadn’t stuck my arm out the first one would have broad-sided me and the others who were on his rear wheel would have all piled up and landed on me and my dog. I have no doubt that I would have suffered broken bones as a result. I shudder to think what would have happened to my poor dog who would have had three jerks who weighed a couple of hundred pounds all landing on her. I probably wouldn’t have a dog any longer.

As a result of that near miss I now ALWAYS look back behind me before sticking my arm out for a left turn. I am amazed at how close I came to a real personal tragedy and avoided it by the simple courtesy of a left turn signal.

Also, if any of the riders behind me had practiced the three little words, “On your left …” there would have been no problem, either.

I’m not sure I can remember a simple gesture of courtesy paying me such a great personal reward. And, of course, I didn’t do it to get anything back. It’s just the right thing to do for riders behind me on the path.

I think it is fascinating that often when we do something for someone else, or just because it is right, we end up getting some wonderful reward for it.


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Filed under Exercise, life challenges

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