Monthly Archives: August 2015

Safety on the Bicycle

As an avid bicycle tourist and rider, bicycle safety has become a very important part of almost every ride that I take. Some awful things can happen that can injure everybody involved in a bicycle accident. In the worst case, a collision between a fast moving bicycle and a pedestrian or another person on a bike can be fatal.

Much of my mileage each year is on bicycle trails where I train. These are trails where I share the road with other cyclists as well as dog walkers, people with baby carriages, roller blade people, and runners. That’s the short list because there are other things that sometimes appear on the trail. One of my trails is used by equestrians. I have seen people on unicycles on several occasions. There was a lady walking a llama on the trail one fall day. If it doesn’t have a motor, it is possible that you might see it on a trail.

One way to avoid conflict, accidents, and potential collisions is to talk to other people on the trail. I usually say “passing” to let people know when I am approaching from behind. I say it loud and try to get some kind of response so that I know that I have been heard. Some people have the bad habit of listening to their portable music players on the trail, but I still repeat the word “passing”. If I’m approaching a group of people who are resting or talking along the side of the trail, I like to get them to know that I will be passing. I’ll say either “heads up” or “passing” to get their attention.

Riding defensively works well in other situations. Two examples are children on bikes and blind curves. There are times when an oncoming child will look at you and steer toward you rather than stay on track on their side of the road. A friend of mine had a collision with a child and lost a tooth from his impact with the ground. The child was not injured. When passing a child it is best to stay alert for random motion and to allow room for an avoidance maneuver.

Defensive riding is one of the few things that will save a runner who is listening to music with earbuds. A few months ago I was passing such a person. I was passing on the left side of the trail and I did my usual hail, but all of a sudden bad things happened. The runner came to the point in the trail where she wanted to turn back and made a U-turn right in front of me. My hands were fortunately near the brake levers and when I stopped we were eye to eye.

All kinds of traffic can be a hazard on a blind curve, including pedestrians and other cyclists. Imagine taking a curve  at speed and being confronted with another bicycle doing the same thing from the opposite direction. It is best to slow down and be ready for surprises, including other cyclists who may be careless or inexperienced.

Children need a lot of coaching on a trail. Most parents that I meet on the trail coach their children to move aside and stay on the right when being passed either from behind or by oncoming traffic. I have a lot experience with that from riding with my four granddaughters. They are very good about understanding rules and etiquette, but their thoughts drift and they need occasional reminders.

Riding the roads is another story because cars and trucks do not respond very well to hailing. On the road it’s all about being predictable and obeying the rules of the road. Predictability means that you drive your bicycle as though it were a car or truck, avoiding sudden turns and swerving in traffic. You obey the rules when you honor stop lights and signs as well as signal turns with hand signals and use traffic lanes properly. Personally, I like to have motorists respect me and the best way to accomplish that is to demonstrate that I am operating responsibly.

These thoughts about bicycle safety occurred to me after an incident on a local trail. It wasn’t serious and there was no collision. Every time things like that happen to me I think about them and they reinforce my habits. At my age especially, I can’t afford to get injured and miss a lot of cycling.

Bicycle Riding on Cape May New Jersey

To Cape May Bicycle Ride Photo 01

During the past two summers, My wife and I hosted a one-week family vacation on Cape May, New Jersey. Since I’m not much a a beach person, I rented a bicycle to explore the island. The Village Bicycle Shop was a short walk from the house. They have a large inventory of rental bikes that are in good condition. I got a helmet, a lock, and a basket to go along with the bike, which were included in the rental price. All of the bikes have water bottle cages and I brought my own water and bottle.

I have previous positive experiences with this shop. During a ride a year earlier, one of the six bikes that we rented from them had a flat several miles from the shop. We called them and they quickly sent another bike to us so that we could continue our ride.

The bike that I rented both times was a Jamis Commuter, a low-end hybrid. The one that I had this year was equipped with a fat memory foam saddle. Both front and rear brakes were operated by a single brake lever on the right. It had five speeds selected by the right hand twist grip. The rental would not be a good touring bike, but it worked fine for me for three days and relatively short rides each day. The bikes available at the Village Bicycle Shop are all suited for the tourist clientele of Cape May.

Most often I started my ride on Beach Avenue by riding west toward The Cove. The north side of the street is lined with shops and restaurants and the south side has the beach and boardwalk. It can be very crowded with auto traffic, but I found the drivers on Cape May to be bicycle friendly. That’s probably because there are lots of bicycle riders on the island. The Cove itself is a popular place and it has a small restaurant right on the beach. The waves seem to gather as they break toward the beach. That’s why boogie boarders like to hang out in the water there.

The Sunset Beach and Cape May Light attractions are a short bicycle ride from The Cove. Sunset Beach has some small shops and a restaurant. The wreck of the SS Atlantus is visible just offshore. It was one of a small fleet of concrete ships built during World War I and it rests where it ran aground during a storm. The route I chose by accident to get from Sunset Beach to Cape May Light went through a residential area with some beautiful homes and picturesque frame churches. At the lighthouse, there are several trails for hiking and birding. There was a food trailer selling frozen treats, soft drinks, and water. I enjoyed a flavored ice cup before ascending the light.

The 199 stair climb is worth the effort because of the view from the top. From there you can see the entire island of Cape May and the salt marshes surrounding the light. There is a military bunker on the beach just east of the light and hiking trails below. It’s a perspective that you can’t get from a map and it is an interesting experience once you complete the climb.

Riding toward the interior of the island I found the Willow Creek Winery. Last year my daughter-in-law and I took the winery tour and did the wine tasting. This year I did just the wine tasting with extended family. The best thing that Willow Creek Winery has at the bar is their frozen sangria. They usually have two different mixtures, one white and one red. Both are outstanding frozen concoctions. The wine is good, but not good enough to join the club or to haul home. You can still have a good time there and take home some great sangria in a refillable growler.

There are also at least three farm stands that are off the usual tourist beat. In August they offered fresh peaches, tomatoes, and cantaloupe, among other things. One day I made a special shopping trip and bought five tomatoes, a cantaloupe, and a jar of homemade bread and butter pickles. It was tough to get all of that stuff into the basket on my bike, especially since I happened to pick up a growler of sangria while I was out on the road. By the time I got back to the house with my groceries, the cantaloupe was pretty beat up and two of the tomatoes were reduced to mush by the jarring ride in the basket. The things that survived tasted very good including the scarred cantaloupe.

In the northwest corner of the island a dirt road takes you to the place where the Cape May Canal opens to the Atlantic Ocean. There are some hiking trails there and there are people who park and hike to the beach to fish. The Cape May ferry can be seen on the opposite side of the canal. It’s a quiet spot where you can sit for a while and just reflect for a moment before heading back into the tourist crush of the beach to the south.

The longest ride that I took was a little over 17 miles and I rode the route twice because I liked it. A ride on the island can probably stretched to about 20 miles. In my opinion it is dangerous to venture off the island because none of the bridges are bicycle friendly. You can ride to the northeast corner and, if you are careful, you can make it across the first, smaller bridge to the marinas where you can parasail, jet ski, and paddle board. Those places require reservations, but if you plan your bicycle trip you can make that work. If you do the winery, a restaurant, and water sports, you can easily stretch a Cape May bicycle ride to almost a full day.

Many vacation areas offer similar bicycle riding opportunities. It is worth the effort to rent a bike to enjoy the scenery at a relaxed pace even when the equipment is not ideal. I discovered that Cape May is a great place to enjoy by bicycle.

To Cape May Bicycle Ride Photo 01