Ride of Silence



Make Roads Safer For Bicyclists



You have seen us along rural roads, city streets or riding off a ferry: groups of bicyclists moving like a winding ribbon of metal and muscle in silvery helmets, bright-colored garb and blinking lights.

Cyclists want you to spot them. They share a love of the road, great Washington scenery, cheery camaraderie, a zeal for a healthy environment and good personal health.

We have our own language. If we see shattered glass or a pothole, down waves the hand. If a vehicle is coming, an alert of "car back" is yelled up the line to ride single file. Organized rides have a designated "ridemaster" whose job is to guide, educate and keep cyclists safe.

Even so, a few bicyclists die in this state and hundreds more around the country each year. Many more are injured from car-bike accidents. According to official statistics, there were 50 cycle fatalities on Washington roads from 2003 to 2007. Those numbers may be slight relative to the 2,578 who died in motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents over the same period, or the 343 pedestrians killed in auto-related collisions, but there aren't as many cyclists.

Slapdash motorists aren't always to blame. Sometimes the fault is traced to road conditions, mechanical issues or even the carelessness of the rider.

Some motorists would like laws to restrict cyclists from using roads for which they claim they pay with their tax dollars. That driver ignores that most cyclists are also drivers who share the tax costs of the roads. Our family fuels four vehicles and, with daily van pooling, I log more than 20,000 motor miles a year.

While the majority of motorists are courteous and provide safe distance, most road cyclists have stories of near misses. Last year a motorist lobbed a water bottle within inches of me, then circled back to yell obscenities. While pedaling in rural Pierce County last summer, a vicious dog charged while its owner stood by -- it was all I could do to outrace the beast. I now keep mace handy.

Years ago, my 72-year-old grandfather died from head injuries from a bike spill in West Seattle. It is in remembrance of him and other fallen cyclists that I will join Seattle's Ride of Silence on May 21. This is a national event organized locally three years ago.

In 2005 and 2006, nearly 1,000 riders took to Seattle streets to ride silently in memory and honor of cyclists killed and injured. In a recent article, Seattle ride organizer Gary Strauss wrote the Ride of Silence "builds awareness that cyclists have a legal right to share the roads and acknowledges the tremendous courage it takes for bicyclists to share the road."

The evening Ride of Silence is open to all. The ground rules for participation are simple: Show up and ride at no more than 12 miles per hour. There are no shirts or registration and no fees. You can get more details of the Seattle, Tacoma and other area rides by going to local bicycle club Web sites or bike shops.

We in the bicycling community hope these Rides of Silence will raise public awareness and make our roads a little safer for the thousands of adventuresome and well-meaning cyclists in our communities, for our kids, for our environment and health.

Seattle native Brian Dirks lives in Federal Way and is a recreational cyclist.


“Rules of the Road” for Safe Cycling*

(Mike Gibson and Chris biking through Costa Rica, Jan '07. Photo by Michael Montgomery.)

Below I am repeating something straight from the R of S web site. But it beares repeating. And note the source. (Three days and counting!)


1. Always Wear A Helmet A helmet will not prevent a bike crash but it is good, cheap insurance that may allow you to walk away from one. Make sure your helmet fits and is adjusted properly.

2. Follow The Rules Of The Road Obeying the same traffic laws that apply to motorists allows safe and efficient travel for all. Cyclists who make up their own rules are in great danger.

3. Ride On The Right With Other Traffic Some people were taught to ride on the wrong side of the road so they can “see traffic coming”. This is dangerous and it is illegal in all 50 states. Pedestrians walk facing traffic so they can sidestep off the road, if necessary. But you cannot sidestep on a bike. The accident rate for wrong-way cyclists is 3.6 times as high as for cycling the "right" way. Other drivers look for traffic coming from the usual direction. They usually are not looking for wrong way traffic.

4. Be Visible! Other drivers will not hit you IF they can see you. Bright clothes make you easier to spot in the daytime but they are useless at night. Riding without lights in the dark is a very dangerous mistake. About thirty percent of cycling crashes occur at night although only about four percent of cycling is done then. The reflectors that come with new bikes are grossly inadequate for nighttime safety. Always use a headlight and taillight when you ride in the dark.

5. Learn Proper Lane Position Beginners usually “hug the curb” and then wonder why cars pass so close. Experienced cyclists let traffic pass when they can but they “take the lane” when needed for safety. If cars are passing you too close, move a bit left to signal to passing drivers that they must use another lane to pass. If you collect a string of cars behind you, try to find a safe way to let them pass. It takes practice to learn to ride effectively in traffic.

6. Be Predictable Ride a good, straight “line”, signal turns and generally look like you know what you are doing. How can you expect other drivers to avoid you if they cannot tell where you are going?

7. Be Courteous Act like an adult and share the road with other drivers. If others act like jerks, keep your temper -- don't descend to their level.

8. Keep Your Bike In Safe Condition Give your bike an occasional tune up. Before hopping on your bike, give it a quick check, making sure that wheels are tight and properly inflated and squeeze the brakes hard to see that they work and that cables are not about to snap.

9. Learn From Experienced Cyclists Experience can be a harsh teacher and it is a slow one. It takes at least 10,000 miles of cycling in traffic to become confident if you try to learn on your own. Joining a good cycling club is an effective way to learn the ins-and-outs of safe cycling.

*Courtesy of the Mountain State Wheelers Bicycle Club, West Virginia’s largest bicycle club (with slight modifications by the RoS webmaster).




Have you called the police?

Really, have you called and invited the local police departments in your area to take part in The Ride Of Silence?

Most two-wheeled divisions are thrilled to be asked and take part in such rides. It gives them exposure, AND…it gives the ride credibility and a certain level of assurance. Plus, it’s more people on bikes for your ride.

The print and TV media especially like capturing officers on bikes. Again, it works both ways: both get exposure.

Consider calling the cops. I think you’ll be surprised when they say “yes.”

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway…
This is the time to contact the media (TV and newspapers, local and national) to bring attention to your ride. Type in the station into your search engine and get to the station’s web site. Then go to “contact us.” Be sure to give them the following:

World-wide, one day, one time
Date, time, location of your ride
The R of S web site to cross reference your ride
Purpose of the ride
Your name and contact information

They may or may not get in touch. You never know. But at least you’ll be prepared.

Less than a week to go!

(The above picture was taken in 2004, the second year for the Dallas Ride Of Silence. Two-thousand cyclists attended. It was the first year the ride went beyond Dallas. Fifty locations from Hawaii to Montreal took part that year. As nothing was planned for an ending, what you see above was the first time the cyclists lined up, forming a hallway of bikes on their own, and waited for the last cyclist to finish. It was EXTREMELY touching.)