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Sharing the road – Insights from an experienced road biker

By Kevin McCarty

Today I’d like to write about bicyclists. Not spandex-wearing Tour De France competitors atop $15,000 uber-bikes; rather, I’m talking about the regular local Joe who suddenly appears on a slow-moving two-wheeled apparatus on the roadway ahead of you when you’re taking your kids to school, going to the grocery store, or late for a doctor appointment. Worse yet, the guy is taking up half of your lane, and cars are approaching in the adjacent lane, effectively preventing you from getting by. What are you supposed to do?

Well, I’m a local die-hard recreational bicyclist. You’ve probably seen me riding along Water Street in Silverton, or maybe you’ve come across me as I meander around on the back roads between Silverton, Mount Angel, and Scotts Mills, getting some exercise and fresh air while enjoying the beauty of our wonderful Willamette Valley. And it’s true; I’m probably only going around 15 miles an hour. But, for me that’s a pretty good clip.

In the past several years of regular riding around here I’ve paid attention to how drivers respond to my sudden appearance on the road ahead of them. I am happy to report that the vast majority of drivers will cut a respectable arc around me, and many even move completely into the other lane as they pass me on the road. And if there is a car approaching from the opposite direction or a curve in the road coming up, most drivers will slow down to my speed behind me and wait for a clear path before zooming on by.

I like to think that I am a responsible, conscientious rider. I wear a helmet; use a rear-view mirror; signal when I turn; try to follow the laws; and am generally very friendly and respectful of others on the road. If there is a designated bike lane or paved shoulder, that’s where I ride unless broken glass or other debris prevents me from doing so safely. If there is no designated bike lane or paved shoulder, I try to keep my wheels somewhere around 12 inches inside the fog line or curb.

Some drivers seem to think that I should be hugging the white fog line for dear life and stay completely out of the roadway. But there are several valid reasons for bike riders not to do so. The aforementioned glass or debris that suddenly appears in the roadway ahead is one example. And wind, all by itself, can sometimes force a bicyclist to deviate several inches one way or the other. The most troubling example, however, is the driver who apparently thinks that when I hug the fog line it is an open invitation to pass me at will, and will whiz by at 50 to 60 miles an hour without even moving over – sometimes when there is oncoming traffic in the other lane. So those extra 12 inches not only give me a little wiggle room; they can also act as a deterrent to those who clearly do not have my safety in mind.

A quick shout out and thank you to the men and women of our wonderful City of Silverton and Marion County road maintenance crews for doing such a great job of keeping our roads and paved shoulders free of glass and debris. Riding in and around Silverton is always such a pleasure. And a quick reminder for those riders who apparently do not know or understand some of the basic rules of the road. Please be aware of those around you and learn the safety rules. I have seen adults riding on the downtown sidewalk (illegal and dangerous); riding against traffic (illegal and very dangerous); and I have twice seen one local teenager ride without a helmet and against traffic while texting (illegal, very dangerous, and really?!?).

I guess my intended message here is that motor vehicles and bikes share the road, and we all need to follow the rules and be patient and respectful of all the different means of transportation out there. After all, we all live, work and play here in this beautiful part of Oregon.

Kevin McCarty is a retired attorney and proud member of Silverton Rotary.

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