Gravel, elk and clueless drivers just a few of the early-season cycling hazards
March 9, 2009 —
I have spring fever. I doubt I will ski again unless it's an 8-inch-plus powder day.
For me, this means getting outside and riding my road bike and my motorcycle. My regular road bike loop is from West Vail to the dead end on Bighorn Road in East Vail and back.
I am also doing the Triple Bypass (again) this year, and the sooner I get to training, the better. I do have rollers for training inside, but I have always felt like a hamster when I train indoors. I didn't move to Colorado to spend time exercising indoors.
I can't go west of West Vail easily until much later this year, because the bike path from Intermountain to Eagle-Vail is closed until mid-June (or so?) due to elk migration.
Bighorn Road is a great bet, because the shoulder is huge and there isn't much traffic out there. This is a pretty simple loop, with the biggest risks being unaware, cell-phone chatting metal cage pilots, and that unique remnant of winter, gravel.
The roundabouts are also tricky, but they seldom have much gravel, because it all gets kicked to the outside. There are just the occasional tourists who don't understand roundabouts.
On my road bike, I wear a flashing strobe light and bright clothing, but that hardly makes me invincible. Colorado folks (and Eagle County folks in particular) seem to be very aware of cyclists and always give me lots of room.
I have ridden in areas of the country where rednecks think it's funny to buzz you with their pickup truck or throw a can of Coors at you. Based upon my experience, that kind of stuff is unheard of here in Colorado. Yay, fittest state in the country!
Gravel is another problem, especially because here in Vail it's not just sand, it's big, fat, blueberry-sized grains of lava rock, also knows as cinders. These things can take you out easily; my road bike does not tend to stay upright when I ride on blueberry-sized ball bearings.
The best strategy here is to go slow (and take the mountain bike instead of the road bike?) on the first few rides to identify where the cinders are. They tend to generally congregate in certain areas and they don't move until the town sucks them all up with the street sweeper later on this spring.
In the roundabouts, I do my best to make myself as large and as conspicuous as possible. When exiting the roundabout, I always point in the direction I am going. When I am going right, I point with my right arm and hand.
Also, beware your direction at dusk. The blinding light from a sunset means drivers who are headed west cannot see you, or much of anything else, for that matter. For experienced riders, I imagine this is all common sense stuff.
For my motorcycle, gravel is hands down the biggest factor. I stick to I-70 until much later in the spring, because the ceaseless traffic helps toss the cinders to the shoulders.
I have Widder electric clothing, so I can ride comfortably as long as it's above 20 degrees. My motorcycle also has a large windscreen, heated grips, and a heated seat.
I have made an occasional early spring trip over to Loveland Pass. It's stunning, and backcountry skiers and riders looking for a ride back to the top seem to enjoy the novelty of hopping onto the passenger seat of my bike.
The second biggest factor is wildlife. A friend of mine once spotted an elk in the middle of his lane on 131 south of State Bridge just in time to brake hard enough so he "bumped" the elk. It was startled and ran off.
My friend was fine, his bike was fine, but talk about a close call. He actually had elk fur stuck in a seam of his front fender! That sure beats hitting an elk at 50 mph and turning it, and yourself, into bologonese sauce.
I trickle-charge my battery though the winter and always start my season with a review of the systems of my motorcycle. I also read my motorcycling books to get my head back in the right place for riding. These are:
1. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's "Motorcycling Excellence"
2. David L Hough's "Proficient Motorcycling"
3. David L Hough's "More Proficient Motorcycling"
See you on the road. Please, start seeing cyclists and motorcyclists.
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