Years ago, we bought a house in suburban Denver. We chose that particular house in part because it backed to a bike trail. Beyond the trail was a dry creek bed. That dry creek had “flash flood risk” written all over it, and I knew enough to check local flood plain records before we signed on the dotted line. The house was high enough that it wouldn’t be a problem. One day I got to see a flash flood with my own eyes. It was a raging torrent carrying lawn furniture, umbrellas, plastic swimming pools and logs past our home. The bike trail? What bike trail?
It wasn’t until years later when I started to notice that this particular set up was not an anomaly. Most urban and suburban bike trails follow watersheds as they course through town. To urban planners, this is just common sense. The land lies in the flood plain and isn’t good for much else, so why not turn it into a recreational resource? Granted, it won’t be available when the water rises but so what? For most folks, it’s just fun and games.
This is why those urban cyclists who cycle the most will tell you that they cannot rely on most cities’ trail systems as a way to and from work. This is why many prefer the roads to bicycle trails. Roads are a priority to society. Communities work to keep them open, come hell or high water. This is problematic in several ways, not the least of which is that when trails are underwater, cyclists are forced to share roads with motorists who are generally unaccustomed to seeing them.
Here in the Midwest, when water rises it stays high for weeks and maybe even months at a time. We lost a major bridge on our local bike trail to high water this past weekend. So far, the only estimate I’ve heard in terms of re-opening is “a year and a half.”
So it looks like I’ll be on the roads a lot this summer. Truth be told, I’ve been gravitating away from the trail and towards the roads (both paved and unpaved) for some time now. This is fine because I went to school and learned how to ride the roads. Most people haven’t, though. They unknowingly put themselves in harm’s way because there’s a right and a wrong way to cycle on the roads and they’ve never bothered to learn the right way.
Nor have they practiced. Practice makes perfect, and if you’re a regular trail rider you’re probably not comfortable sharing crowded city streets or high speed county roads with motor vehicles. You have a different set of risks that requires a different set of skills.
If you cycle enough, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself on the road. There’s no escaping it, even if your city is loaded to the gills with off-street cycling infrastructure. This isn’t necessarily bad news. Despite what you may think or hear, roads are not generally unsafe if you know what you’re doing. The problem is in trying to tackle them without a clue.
I think it’s so important for any adult (and even teen) who rides a bicycle to learn how to ride it properly. His or her life may depend on it and at the end of the day I believe with all my heart that safety is primarily the responsibility of the person with the most to lose. This is why I choose to teach the League of American Bicyclists SMART Cycling curriculum. SMART Cycling teaches you how to safely ride regardless of conditions. You’ll learn what the greatest risks are. More importantly, you’ll learn the skills and techniques necessary to avoid them when you can and mitigate the damage caused by them when you can’t. The course will give you “perspective” about your cycling. It’s dirt cheap and you’ll come away from it with skills that will serve you as long as you ride a bicycle or drive a car in a place where other people are riding bicycles.
I am based out of Jefferson Iowa, but am available to teach SMART Cycling throughout western Iowa, eastern Nebraska and adjoining areas. I don’t mind traveling and I’m certainly not doing it to get rich. The two day, 14 hour class (including 7 hours on the bike riding in traffic) will set you back $100. You’ll get far more than that in return. Classes of four to six cyclists work best. Companies and civic organizations are welcome to sponsor.
Who needs SMART Cycling? Bicyclists, for sure, but also anyone who comes in contact with those of us on two wheels. Law enforcement professionals, educators, and city leaders all benefit greatly from learning the curriculum. So do people who are interested in integrating cycling into a community’s tourism or lifestyle mix.
The best thing about SMART Cycling is that it gives you the confidence to ride safely regardless of the conditions you find yourself in. I still remember when I took the course myself. It opened my eyes and it took my cycling to the next level. More than that, though, it completely changed my life. It made me realize that cycling was transportation, and if I wanted to do it there was absolutely nothing stopping me from recognizing the health benefits and pocketing the financial savings that were part of the deal.
Feel free to reach out when you’re ready to take the next step. We’ll start by talking and see what makes the most sense for you. Where we go from there is up to you.