Towpath Trail

Fast Riding on Multi-Use Trails


By Pete Medek - 1/2/16

We've all read about cyclist and walker conflicts on trails, whether those trails be multi-use or single track. The focus here is on paved, multi-use trail conflicts.

I used 'Fast Riding' in this blog title for a reason. Most trail users would not identify slow riding as a problem. It's the discourteous, fast-riding cyclists that buzz walkers without so much as a "how do you do" that usually raises blood pressures. And understandably so. It's dangerous. So... why do they behave that way?

Road cyclists should be familiar with that question. They ask it themselves after being buzzed by a driver on the road. So there's some common ground here, when you think about it.

Those Bad Apples

The "bad apples" on the bike trail are a rather select group. They have to be fit enough to buzz walkers. (A slow speed buzz just isn't the same.) They also have to develop some arrogance and indifference toward fellow trail users, like they own the trail. Much like some drivers on the road. And perhaps they have either: not experienced the hierarchical pitfalls on the road, or they choose to pass them along when they are not low man on the totem pole.

What's puzzling to me, is that buzzing peds on a trail is also dangerous for the rider. Any unexpected sudden move by a walker into the rider's path at the wrong moment and whammo, everyone's going to hit the deck. So, these riders must also have little regard for their own safety, or simply haven't considered this danger.

And that's unfortunate, because it's actually quite easy to ride fast and safely on many Ohio trails. I'll cover how to do just that in Part 2. And if your local trail seems to have an overabundance of "bad apple" cyclists, it could be due to another reason, which I'll cover in Part 3.

Continue with Part 2 below.

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Fast Riding - Part 2 - 1/10/16

By Pete Medek

Let's face it, fast-riding on bike paths is often as common as its motorized counterpart, speeding on roads. And that's not likely to change anytime soon. So rather than talk about bike trail speed limits and the difficulty of enforcing them, let's look at how one can ride fast, yet safely on multi-use trails.

Bicycle Freeways

Many Ohio bikeways traverse rural, relatively unpopulated countrysides as they move between villages, small towns and even larger cities. This often translates to miles of open multiuse trail during a ride. For the cyclist that wants to ride fast, or just burn some extra calories, this is ideal. It's like riding a wide-open bike freeway.

And frankly, I have no doubt that this is what lures fast riders to the trail. It's a tremendous feeling to ride an open ribbon of asphalt without the worry of sharing the space with cars. There's a sense of freedom that all trail users can relate to.

Smart Fast Riders

However, even along desolate stretches, one will encounter trail users from time to time. What now? Can you just blow by these slow movers? Sure, if you don't mind risking biting the asphalt. It's surprisingly easy to go from great trail ride, to asphalt faceplant. Just ask any cyclist that's had a dog dart in front of their front wheel.

Here's the thing, the smart fast rider knows that by sharing the trail with different mode users, he needs to expect the unexpected and plans ahead. Therefore, he does not pass at high speed. He also knows who the vulnerable users are on the trail and doesn't treat them poorly, as he is sometimes treated on the road by drivers.

The Safe Pass

When you break it down, the safe pass is rather complex. But once you become used to performing it, it becomes routine and simple. Here's how you do it right.

  • Slow speed & scan - as you begin to approach any trail user(s), regardless of their direction of travel. You scan for potential problems (earbuds, long leash, erratic behavior, etc.). Do approaching riders see you while they're busy chatting with their buddies? Make eye contact and give a shout-out - "HEADS UP!" - when necessary, to avoid a head-on collison.
  • Make sure the oncoming lane is clear before attempting to pass.
  • Give warning before overtaking - "passing on your left!" or a ring from your bike bell is not simply a courtesy, it reduces your chances of a collision because you've made others aware of your presence and intention.
  • Look over your left shoulder before moving to your left - or check your mirror to make sure you are not about to be overtaken by a faster rider coming up from behind.
  • Give a wide berth & pass at proper speed - just as you expect cars to give you 3-feet or more of clearance on the road, you should move over to the far edge of the pavement when passing users moving in the same direction. The proper speed for passing is the speed at which you can safely avoid or stop regardless of what happens around you (dog bolting at your wheel is a good measuring stick). If there's a toddler on the loose, go even slower.
  • After passing, glance over your right shoulder - before moving back over to the right side of the trail. Not only as a courtesy to those you passed safely, but while you were passing, a rider may have approached you from behind and may be overtaking you on your right (expect the unexpected!).
  • Move safely back to the right and resume speed. If the trail is open, resume fast speed, if you like.

Practice & Repeat

Practice safe passing technique until it becomes routine. Not only will this dramatically improve your safety on the trail, it will ensure that you are respecting all fellow trail users.

And of course, safe passing technique should always be used, regardless of whether you consider yourself a fast rider or not.

That's Not Fast Trail Riding

Some will argue that by slowing down and not buzzing by slower users, you are actually losing valuable speed and time. Well, if you were in a race, I'd say that's true. But public trails are not a race track. Nor are public roadways, for that matter.

And when you think about it, what harm is there in making a safe pass and losing a few seconds? Don't we make that same argument when we're implementing road diets that affect drivers' commute times? When they gripe about losing precious seconds, don't we point to safety for all travelers (vision zero) as the ultimate goal?

Surely even the most hardcore speed demons can understand that those precious few seconds are an investment against breaking one's neck (don't forget that bolting dog!), messing up that expensive bike, a potential trip to the hospital, a potential lawsuit, etc. All things that none of us would care to experience. And as it turns out, can easily be avoided.

Wide Open Multi-use Trails? Yeah, Right!

For those that have read this far, at least some may be shaking their heads and saying, "Wide-open trails - Ha! Not where I ride." In Part 3 we'll take a look at more congested trails and what fast riders can do there.

Continue with Part 3 below.

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Fast Riding on Multi-Use Trails Part 3 - 1/15/16

By Pete Medek

Fast riding on congested multi-use trails takes some planning and creativity. Am I kidding? No, not at all.

I'll venture a guess that most cyclists who commit dangerous high speed passes on trails are locals. They are familiar with the trail(s) they ride and use them regularly to commute or for fitness. And as locals or regular users, they are familiar with nearby roads and trail conditions as well.

And that's important, because they probably know things like alternate routes and peak trail congestion times. And they can put that knowledge to good use.

Grinding to a Halt

On some of Ohio's most popular trails, peak usage time can be quite impressive with swarms of people along the trail, rather than small pockets of congestion here or there. This is a red flag for the fast rider. He knows that making good time is a fantasy under these conditions. You simply can't pass when there is a mass of humanity streaming along in both directions on a narrow strip of bikeway.

The Strategy

So for starters, he avoids peak usage times whenever possible. By taking note of where congestion typically occurs, he can plan alternate routes on nearby roads to avoid those sections. And if trail congestion continues to worsen, or the rider simply cannot ride during off-peak times, he may find that transitioning to the road is the best answer to all his fast-riding needs.

No Good Road Routes

What happens when the only roads in the area are highways or seemingly impossible roads to try to ride? For the trails-only rider, the options are clear. Ride the trail during off-peak hours, or find a less-crowded trail to frequent.

The commuter may have more options. Some roads that at first glance look impossibly congested, can be quite bearable during off-rush hour times. A pre or post rush hour ride may work. But then again, a pre rush hour morning ride may work on many trails as well.

For those who use trails at different times of the day to run errands, etc., develop your creative route planning to a fine art. If you prefer to ride fast, it will serve you well.

No Road Route Options, Period

Let's imagine there are no alternate road routes at all, just highway and your trail. (Or the fast rider who refuses to take to the road.) Again, the options are pretty clear. Ride safely during off-peak times, or find a less popular trail.

When Multi-Use Stops Working

When a bikeway provides both recreation and transportation (not just in theory), chances are it will be very popular and may be jam-packed much of the time. There is only so much human traffic that these narrow 10 - 14' wide trails can accommodate.

So, if your local trail is suffering from extreme congestion that results in an increasing number of accidents and cyclist/walker conflicts (& an overabundance of "bad apple" cyclists who have no patience for riding at a snail's pace), take heed. Your trail may be a prime candidate for expansion.

Think about it. What have we done with U.S. roadways for decades? Expand, expand, then expand some more. So why not widen some congested trails? Maybe add a separate lane for walkers (or bikers, depending on your perspective). It's very doable, and far less expensive than roadway expansion, to be sure.

But until that happens, take my advice and always ride safely, whatever the trail conditions. And pass safely. Consistently. As a cyclist, you are (potentially) the menace on multi-use trails.

Remember that stupid driver who almost took your arm off with his mirror? Don't be that guy on the bike trail. Your fellow trail users will sincerely appreciate it.

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