Commentary

Riders help promote bike and car safety

Originally Published: February 24, 2010
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- David Zabriskie was seriously injured during a training ride in 2003 when he slammed into a car that turned suddenly in front of him. He was lucky, I suppose. The accident merely hospitalized him with a shattered leg and only slowed his cycling career rather than ending it, as doctors initially feared.

Tyler Farrar's father, Ed, was not so fortunate. A truck slammed into him while he was riding to work two years ago and nearly crushed his body. Ed is a spinal surgeon who has helped others walk, but he never will walk again -- the accident left him paralyzed below the chest.

Those accidents were in my mind Tuesday when the Garmin-Transitions team had a great day of racing. Riding with a portion of the team competing in the Giro d'Italia, Tyler Farrar sprinted to win Stage 10 in Bitonto, Italy. Racing with the Garmin squad that is competing in the Tour of California, Zabriskie raced down the coast from San Francisco to edge Michael Rogers at the finish line in Santa Cruz to win Stage 3 and take the overall lead.

Three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer was just behind in third, leaving the top three finishers from last year in the first three spots, separated by six seconds.

"My goal was to stay with Levi and so today was a success,'' said Zabriskie. "Hopefully, I can stay with Levi in the climbs to come."

I was glad to see Zabriskie win because this is National Ride to Work Week, and his win provided an excellent opportunity to talk about a subject dear to every cyclist, professional or recreational: bike and car safety. Earlier this year, radio show host Tony Kornheiser (who is also a co-host on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption") told listeners that drivers should "tap" bicyclists to teach them a lesson, a comment that outraged cyclists who know all too well the dangers motor vehicles pose. Even a "tap" can send a cyclist to the ground, shattering bones or far, far worse.

"Those weren't very nice comments," Zabriskie said as he coasted to doping control after his win. "I don't think he had much compassion for his fellow man. Even though he retracted it, it wasn't very nice."

Several years ago, Zabriskie started Yield to Life to raise awareness of bike-safety issues. What I like about the Yield To Life website is it places the burden of responsibility on both driver and cyclist. We share roads and we share responsibilities.

"Drivers just need a little more patience," Zabriskie said. "My thing with Yield To Life is they need to realize that it only takes a couple seconds to yield to a life and avoid tragedy."

As for cyclists, "They just need to follow the rules. I would recommend that they ride like they're invisible, that no one actually sees them. You can never be too careful. The car is always going to win if you get hit."

Cyclists and drivers alike can recite at length the stunning behavior they see on the road. I've had completely oblivious motorists driving toward me on the wrong side of the road and SUV drivers purposely veer toward me, nearly running me off the road. I've also seen cyclists bolt through intersections without pausing to stop or even look for traffic, as well as riders negligently taking up too much of the roadway. And, I must admit, I've been inobservant myself behind the wheel and in the saddle. That's the real hazard on the road: well-meaning people who simply get into too much of a hurry or too distracted.

"We all get so relaxed while driving -- we're eating, putting on makeup, talking, getting distracted, but it's all about awareness," said Cindy Farrar, Ed's wife and Tyler's mother. "It's all about knowing that beyond the next curve could be someone on a bike, or a person walking a dog."

This is a simple issue that too often is unnecessarily divided into warring camps. Most cyclists, after all, are also drivers. We have plenty of common ground, even when the roads don't always seem that wide.

Drivers: Cyclists pay taxes that pay for those roads, too, and we have a right to use them the same as you. Give us some room. Remember, if we get off a bike and into a car, we're only going to make traffic worse and slow you down more.

Cyclists: Just because we have a right to the road doesn't mean we own the road. Obey the rules. Don't slow traffic unnecessarily. Ride safely because we can't always count on the same behavior from drivers.

Everyone: Relax and look out for each other. It's easy to do and the alternative can be horrible.

"It's not a disease that needs a cure," Zabriskie said, "it's just people being a little patient."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His website is at jimcaple.net.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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