In which Fred encounters a road hazard.
Fred! How's it going, buddy? How's the biking?
Well, not too bad. I took a ride the other
day, you'll be glad to know.
You did? Great! Were you riding with friends, or
just on your own?
Oh, just on my own. I rode my bike around the
All that way, huh? Well, I guess that's a start.
Now if you...
And I gotta tell you, you haven't been doing your
job. I almost had a wreck!
Oops. You mean it was my fault? What did I do
Well it wasn't your fault, exactly. But you sure
didn't warn me about this! And I almost got it, too, buddy. Could
have been bad.
Well, Fred, what was it? It wasn't a car, was it?
Nah, there aren't too many cars on my block. Most
of the people moved out after I moved in. It was a turtle. You never
told me about the turtles.
Did you say turtles? You almost got hit by some
I almost hit a turtle! Shoot, I'm not that
slow! This turtle jumped out in front of me and I almost hit him -
or her, I'm not sure which. You never told me about watching out for
I admit it - it did kind of slip my mind. Of
course, turtles haven't been that big a problem lately. Kind of
rushed right out there, did he?
Hey, all I know is all of a sudden there's this
reptile right where I was going. I only missed him by a couple feet.
It was scary!
This does bring up an interesting point. We spend
a lot of time worrying about cars, and I've talked a lot about cars,
but most cyclists' crashes and injuries haven't been caused by cars
You mean it's been mostly turtles all along?
No, but it's been mostly road hazards. See, I'd
say a turtle is just another road hazard - though not a real common
one. But if you ask a biker what caused his last fall, I'll bet over
half are from some road hazard.
Well if it's not turtles, then what?
A road hazard is anything that's not a smooth dry
piece of road. Anything slippery, for instance. And we're not just
talking about ice! Wet leaves in the fall are just as
slippery. In the summer, rain on steel manhole covers or
train tracks is dangerously slick. You don't want to hit these
things while you're leaned over in a turn, or while braking hard.
In fact, the road itself can be very slippery
when it first starts to rain, before the oil drippings get
washed off of it. It pays to take the turns slower in the rain.
Yeah, but I don't ride in the rain.
But there are lots of dry road hazards too.
Hitting a pothole or a rock can cause you to fall. And
the scariest of all are the slots!
What the heck are slots?
I'm talking about any kind of slot in the
pavement that runs close to the direction you're heading. A slot is
anything that your front tire can slip into, that keeps you from
turning the handlebars.
The most notorious are drainage grates and
railroad tracks when they're parallel to your path, or nearly
so. But any slot can be really bad. The grooves that Amish buggies
wear in the road can throw you. Even the edge of the pavement
itself can act as a slot.
I don't get it. What's the problem?
The problem is, you must be able to steer
your front wheel to balance! That's how you keep the bike under you!
When your front wheel gets into a slot, you can't steer it, and it
gets whipped sideways right out from under you. You're down before
you can blink! Or the wheel might stop dead, and you go over the
handlebars! These things can make some nasty falls.
OK, you've scared me. So what am I supposed to do
about all these road hazards?
There are several things. First, if you've
practiced, you may be able to whip your front wheel quickly around a
small hazard, while you and the rest of the bike stay in a straight
line. John Forester calls this trick a "rock dodge". It
does work well for dodging small stones or bumps. See, if your front
wheel makes it around a hazard, your back wheel won't make you fall.
It'll just bump over it. But you have to practice rock dodges
to learn them.
The second trick also takes practice. You can
learn to do a sort of partial wheelie. Just lift the front wheel
over the hazard. Again, if the front wheel makes it, the rear will
bump around, but it won't knock you down.
If we ever ride with experienced cyclists, you'll
notice riders calling out warnings like "Hole!" or
"Grate!". You should do this too.
The last trick is the easiest. Just try to watch
where you're going. Ride where the road is smooth!
You know, I had been kind of looking at my cute
neighbor just before that turtle ran out...
You mean she hasn't moved away?
No, but her house is for sale.
Stay vertical, Fred.
- © Frank Krygowski