Having just come back from a cycling trip in Canada, it was with heavy heart that I read about this cyclist’s death on the road in Manitoba.
I know this sort of thing happens all the time, and cycling deaths can occur without the aid of cars, but after riding 1000 km to get to my hometown last month, I was struck once again by the obvious – you have a better chance of biting it on big, fast roads, than you do on small, quiet ones.
My route to Gaspé began (once we got out of Montreal) on secondary roads that started out rolling through suburbs, then farming/tourist towns. The speed limit was low for the most part and there were no 18-wheelers. There was also usually a shoulder to ride on. I felt safe for 500 km or so.
But then, around Rimouski I think, the highway to my south ended, and I immediately started to get banged around by the walls of air that large trucks blow in front of the them, both coming and going. The road – still well shouldered – became faster (90 kph) and busier and I started to feel less relaxed. More than once I wondered how easy it would be for a vehicle behind me to not notice me (maybe he/she is texting…) and drift into ‘my’ shoulder. Occasionally there was no shoulder at all (very occasionally) and that ‘drift’ didn’t have to be very big at all anymore.
I never felt really afraid, but since I don’t ride roads like this much in France, it made me happy of where I live.
Many cyclists get angry with drivers, whom they see as ‘hating cyclists’ (some element of truth, I think) or ‘resenting them’ (ditto), but lots of accidents can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the piece of earth the bike and car are rolling along is not very perfectly designed for both a high-speed, steel-encased driver, and a totally-exposed, slow-moving bike rider. Drivers make mistakes, just as cyclists do, especially on long-haul highways like I was riding along in Canada. But it’s probably in our (the cyclist) interest to be more attentive than the people driving those rolling missiles behind us. They will win every time.
8 thoughts on “Another One Bites The Dust”
The theoretical discussion (or argument) is very straightforward. However, as you say, the practical solution, given our nature to err, as well as limitations on available financial resources and constraints related to legacy and physical structure, is not obvious for all roads. A difficult one…
I’ve made some generalizations about drivers in the area I live in. The French and Germans are very good at giving you a wide berth by generally moving completely into the opposite lane. The Swiss by contrast are more inclined to stay closer to you. I generally hug the curb when I’m riding but my friends will often ride out further. Through towns it’s different. The French seem more inclined to race to the intersection and have their nose sticking out into your lane. The Swiss don’t stick their nose into the intersection. In general. I also repeat a mantra to myself ‘even if I’m right I’m wrong’, to calm myself if a car does something stupid. We haven’t a chance against them so usually try to ride politely. Usually.
Funny, I just saw a French guy ‘stick his nose’ out today on the road!
Somehow the risks of cycling seem more real than the risks of driving and yet I should probably be more worried about driving than cycling now that old age has slowed my reaction times down.
From your blog it looks like you’ve solved that one, Tom. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a car.
I’ve always felt “The Big One” (the accident that will finish me off) will occur on a straight and lonely road in which a driver briefly loses concentration, drifts too far to the right, and hits me. I’ve found that urban cycling is actually much safer, given the larger number of cyclists on the road and the slower speed of the cars. Drivers are expecting you and can more easily react given their slower speeds. Suburbia, in my opinion, is the worst – cars traveling at near-highway speeds with few/no cyclists and no cycling infrastructure. Cyclists aren’t expected and drivers are there in huge numbers moving at high speeds. Be grateful there aren’t many suburbs in Languedoc.
I never really had to deal with real suburbs on this trip, and anyway, it was early Sunday morning when we rolled out of Montreal so pretty quiet. I grew up in a giant suburb, basically, and I can’t imagine ever riding my bike on the actual roads of that town.
I saw the title of this post, read the first two lines and decided not to finish it while still riding Paris to Nice. So, I have only now decided to read it, my touring bike stowed back in bag in Paris, awaiting some letup in the Air France strike. My comments are generalized to roads in France where there are more cyclists and drivers seem to be more aware of us. That may or may not be true.
I’ll take my chances on: first, the little roads, with little traffic. Second the somewhat bigger roads with more traffic, even fast traffic. Uncomfortable without a shoulder, but not so scary. Last the wider, fast heavily trafficked roads with little tiny, variable shoulders; sometimes there, sometimes not.
But the most dangerous road I used was beautiful: a narrow, old road, often exposed, usually with no shoulder. It climbed, descended, wove its way up into the mountains, designed for the traffic it expected 50, 75, or more years ago, I imagine. The problem was that over the years since it was built, it has become extremely busy, with many many heavy construction trucks, logging trucks, double trucks (cab pulling two big trailers) semis etc. No shoulder, no way cars or trucks can give a bike the mandated 1.5 meters if there is anything with 4 wheels in the oncoming lane. There just isn’t the necessary width there. Blown around, no room for error on anyone’s part.
I no longer think that the color and width of roads on Michlin maps tels me as much as I previously thought.