Colorado biking safety, Dos and Don’ts

At the Collegian I often find myself working late into the evening, putting the finishing touches on a story or interviewing someone after hours. Last week I mounted my bicycle for the late night ride home and, not minutes after leaving the student center, was nearly ridden off the road by a careless bicyclist. If everyone follows a few simple guidelines we can make the bike lanes a safer place for everyone, so here are a few dos and don’ts of bike etiquette:

Do: Always use a headlight and taillight when riding between sunset and sunrise.

Using a headlight and taillight is a major step to staying safe on a bicycle at night, and it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law according to Colorado Statute 42-4-204.

Yes, a light helps you see where you are going, but it also lets others see you. This is especially important in a city like Fort Collins where many bike lanes are on roads and the bike paths are not well lit.

Cutting through campus makes my ride home ten minutes shorter, but I’ve begun to avoid it due to careless cyclists. More than once I have come around the corner and almost hit another bicyclist because they were not wearing a light and were therefore very difficult to see. This may not be only to blame on the lack of a light, the cyclists are often on the wrong side of the bike path.

Don’t: Ride on the wrong side of the road or turn against traffic.

The general rule for bicycle safety and etiquette is to treat your bicycle as if it is any other vehicle, like a car or motorbike. It is stated in Colorado Statute 42-4-1412 that “every person riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle,” meaning always riding on the right side of the road or bike path.

Driving a bike like a car also means signaling before turning, always turning from the proper lane when riding on the road, and passing carefully.

Do: Treat the bike path like a road.

No one would stop driving a car in the middle of the road upon seeing a friend and commence to have a conversation in the middle of the road while traffic grinds to a halt around them, yet this is a fairly common occurrence on a bike path. A good rule is to treat the bike path like it is any other city street. Look both ways before crossing, don’t stand in the middle of the road, and keep to the right side of the path as much as possible.

Though many people use bike paths to walk, roller-blade, long-board and for all manner of wheel based sports, the bicycle is usually the fastest vehicle present. Therefore those moving slowly are likely to be passed at some point, and should keep to the edge of the path to make this easier and safer for everyone.

Don’t: Take up the whole road in a group.

I love bicycling with my friends, and with so many great trails in Fort Collins it makes for a great group activity. It is not uncommon to see a large group of bicycles cruising to and from Old Town on a Friday or Saturday night, and an evening ride along the river makes a great date.

When riding in a group of two or 20 it is important to be considerate of those riding or driving nearby. On a large path or a wide street there is plenty of room to ride three or four abreast, but it is illegal to ride more than two abreast, and can make you a hazard to others. When in a group I ride slower than I normally would so it is necessary to leave room for cars and other, faster cyclists to pass on the left without crossing the center line.

Do: Hang on.

Riding with no hands is great once you get the hang of it, and because of the way a bicycle works it is easy to steer without holding on. Sadly, it is also illegal. Colorado law states that “A person operating a bicycle or electric-assisted bicycle shall keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.” So hang on! But only to the handlebars. It is illegal to hitch a ride by grabbing onto another vehicle, and also terribly unsafe.

Don’t: Drink and ride.

Because bicycle is considered to be largely the same as any other vehicle by Colorado state law, riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol will result in a DUI just like it would in a car. An intoxicated cyclist is a danger to themselves and others, especially when riding on the road. I love to ride my bike to a party or the bars on a Friday night, and I consider it a wonderful device to lean on as I wander home.

Keep riding, and keep having fun, but follow the law and be courteous. Fort Collins is a great, bike friendly community. Let’s keep it that way.

For more information on Colorado bike laws see colobikelaw.com