Dispatch Columnist Joe Blundo Talks About Learning to Ride the Streets

Dispatch Columnist Joe Blundo commented in one of his offerings a while back that he likes to ride, but he's just not comfortable doing so in traffic. So to his rescue came Gordon Renkes, a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor from Columbus.

This is a great column that discusses taking the lane, cyclist rights, and my personal preference on the segregation/integration issues as regards cycling traffic (I'm also an integrationist).
So to Speak
Class makes bike rider less shaky on streets
Tuesday, September 30, 2008 3:09 AM

I wrote a column on July 22 declaring that, although I ride a bike, I avoid the streets. Too dangerous, I said. I stick to bike paths.

This prompted Gordon Renkes, a veteran rider from Clintonville, to offer me a lesson on riding in traffic. He's a certified instructor with the League of American Bicyclists (send him e-mail at gdr1950@sbcglobal.net or visit bikeleague.org).

Because $4-a-gallon gas has made biking a hot topic, I decided to give the class a try. And so, on a recent Saturday, I found myself pedaling down Weber Road with a COTA bus on my tail and a stream of cars coming in the other direction.

I wasn't exactly delighted to be in that situation, but Renkes says it's where cycling is safest -- provided the cyclist observes the rules.

"If you're behaving like traffic, then everybody understands what you're doing," Renkes said.

Regular students of a certified instructor spend several days learning how to survive in traffic. Renkes gave me a two-hour "crash course" -- not a literal description, thank goodness.

Renkes, a 58-year-old laboratory manager at Ohio State University, is no wild-eyed bike cowboy. He uses hand signals, wears a helmet and has about 30 years of bicycle commuting behind him.

(He even rode to cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack a few years ago.)

He has had one accident: While in graduate school in California many years ago, he collided with a Volkswagen Beetle that failed to yield on a left turn. He crash-

landed -- fortunately without incident.

"I could tell I wasn't hurt, but I just laid there awhile to torture (the driver)."

To avoid similar misfortune, Renkes told me:

• Don't hug the curb. It might seem safer, but it makes me less visible to drivers and more vulnerable to getting clobbered by an opening door. Evidence also suggests that traveling too far to the right encourages motorists to pass without adequate clearance.

• Use the left lane when appropriate. As a slower vehicle, I should stay in the right lane most of the time. But some cyclists abruptly cut across two or more lanes to make a left turn. That's hazardous.

• Stay off sidewalks. Cars turning into driveways or pulling out of side streets often nail cyclists on sidewalks because they aren't expecting a fast-moving vehicle there.

(For a summary of state bicycle laws, visit www.dot.state.oh.us and click twice on the bicycle symbol.)

In the often-contentious world of cycling advocacy, some favor segregation (bike paths, bike lanes) and others integration (streets).

"I'm an integrationist," Renkes said.

Bike paths have at least two flaws, he said: Too few exist to make bike travel practical, and studies have shown they have a higher accident rate than city streets (although the accident will not involve me and a 2,000-pound Honda).

My quick course also included a safety check (my crank is a little loose) and practice in the art of looking back while keeping the bike straight.

I've done some limited street commuting since and have found it less intimidating but not yet comfortable.

On the other hand, when cycling through traffic, you never want to get too comfortable.

Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.


People, not speed.