Bicycling at Tahoe-Truckee brings concerns of safety, sharing the road | SierraSun.com

Bicycling at Tahoe-Truckee brings concerns of safety, sharing the road

A bicyclist rides in the bike lane along Donner Pass Road near Donner Lake on Wednesday.
Kaleb M. Roedel / Sierra Sun |

Rules of the road

‘Sharing the road” means vehicles share the road with cyclists — and, just as important, cyclists do the same with vehicles. When we all follow the rules, it provides the best way for everyone to get to their destination in the safest way possible.

For cyclists, here are eight rules and tips to follow, as suggested by Bike The West, a Lake Tahoe-based organization that has been producing quality bicycling events since 1989 in and around the Lake Tahoe area, Northern California and the state of Nevada:

1: You must ride single file, when at all possible, except for passing.

2: Passing maneuvers must not exceed two abreast.

3: Passing is permitted only to the left, and as a safety courtesy, please call out: “passing on your left” when doing so.

4: You must move as far to the right as practicable to allow following vehicles to pass.

5: You must pull off the road surface and stop, if necessary, to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

6: You must stop at stop signs and stop lights and allow pedestrians to cross.

7: You must make proper hand signals when turning.

8: Please be courteous of vehicles turning on to the course from side and cross streets.

PLEASE NOTE: There are other “Rules of the Ride” for safety, such as wearing a helmet and not wearing headphones. Visit bikethewest.com to learn more.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — With winter melting into spring, residents in the Truckee-Tahoe region are beginning to shelve their skis and snowboards and dust off their warm weather toys.

For many, that means breaking out the road bikes.

Quite simply, as the temperatures continue to rise, so does the number of cyclists navigating the Tahoe-Truckee roadways — on weekday commutes to work, long weekend rides, or late afternoon jaunts.

And whether you’re a seasoned road rider or new to pedaling the trafficked pavement, it’s important to keep one aspect of cycling in the forefront of your mind: safety.

But, before one saddles up and starts traversing the Donner Pass Roads and Highway 89s of Tahoe-Truckee, you must first be comfortable with riding among motorists, said Peter Underwood, owner of Olympic Bike Shop in Tahoe City.

“One of the most important fundamental aspects of safety is your bike handling skills,” Underwood said. “That the foundation of your ability to manage the machine sufficiently enough that it can be done safely with other cyclists around you — and with 7,000-pound vehicles that are going really fast.”

For Underwood, he feels the most clear-cut way to tell if you’re ready for road cycling is if you can “ride the white line” — the edge of the roadway, in other words.

“Don’t ride on the road until you can ride on the white line without wobbling,” he added.

Not as if that’s all there is to cycling safely.

For starters, there’s safety gear that can be worn while riding, said Greg Forsyth, owner of Cycle Paths Bike Shop in Truckee.

Helmets are a no-brainer, but there are other less-common riding equipment such as rearview mirrors, turn signals on handlebars and seat posts, and reflective vests.

Sharing the road

All the gear in the world, however, doesn’t grant you complete safety. After all, the predominant travelers on public roadways are not bicyclists.

“You’re sharing the road; you don’t have any more right of way than a car,” Forsyth said. “Just paying attention is the biggest thing. Even if you have the right of way … you stop at a four-way and it’s your turn to go and a car starts going first, you stop. It’s kind of defensive riding.”

Pausing, he tacked on: “Not necessarily all motorists are clued in to sharing the road.”

However, the same can be said about cyclists, Underwood said.

“If there’s a driver that’s not really sharing the road with cyclists, and a cyclist blows a stop sign in front of them,” Underwood said. “Well, now you’ve converted that guy to really hating cyclists.

“There’s a certain arrogance that’s always been attached to the road cycling community,” he continued, offering a quick example. “I was trying to walk across the street last summer and three people on road bikes just about mowed me down … that’s not helping out the cause.”

After all, “the rules of the road — the California traffic law — apply to cyclists just as they do to a car,” he added.

A real cluster

Conflict between motorists and cyclists is especially common when large flocks of riders sidle the roads, Underwood said.

“There’s a culture growing around the fact that people think it’s safer to ride in large groups,” he said. “It’s absolutely not; it’s more dangerous.”

The reason, Underwood said, is oftentimes those packs of riders stray from riding single file, instead clustering into small groups that swell across the white line and into the travel lane.

“Cars have a difficult time on mountain roads passing large groups of cyclists,” Underwood said. “And those cars get pressure from cars backed up behind them, and get pressured to make very dangerous moves around large groups of cyclists.”

Forsyth said riding in clusters is something road cyclists are offenders of “on a regular basis.”

“Riding two or three abreast when there’s no traffic, you’re thinking it’s no big deal,” he continued. “And then a car’s coming around the corner up from behind and they can’t see you.

“You have to be conscious of your surroundings — of cars coming at you and passing you that might not be able to see you.”

Donner Lake dilemma

The growing problem of cyclists traveling in packs is the most common complaint the Truckee Police Department gets from motorists this time of year, said Truckee Police Chief Adam McGill.

Conversely, perhaps the biggest hurdle cyclists face is dealing with cars illegally parked in bike lanes.

For the Truckee region, parking in bike lanes is only illegal along the narrow slab of Donner Pass Road hugging Donner Lake

There, despite signage warning motorists of restricted parking areas and reminding drivers to share the road, like clockwork, beach- and Donner-Lake-dock-bound cars overrun long stretches of the bike lanes.

“Your riding in an eight-foot-wide bike lane,” Forsyth said, “and all a sudden someone who’s driving to the beach thinks, ‘Sweet, I’ll park here.’ And it’s a narrow road. People are staring at the lake and not looking where they’re going.”

A citation for illegally parking in a bike lane is $41, McGill said.

“Most of our citations and enforcement efforts are there (at Donner Lake) in the summer months,” he said. “When people just don’t pay attention and completely block the lane, forcing bikes out into the travel lane, it creates a hazard.”

Keep your distance

There’s another factor motorists must keep in mind — the 3-feet rule.

Thanks to a California law that was adopted in September 2014, drivers are required to stay at least 3 feet away when passing cyclists on public roads.

If caught driving too close to a cyclist, a driver could face a $35 fine, with a heftier fine of $220 for drivers who collide with cyclists and cause bodily harm, according to previous reports.

“The roads are unpredictable,” McGill said. “You want behavior to be as predictable as possible. If everyone follows the rules of the road, drivers and cyclists aren’t caught by surprise.”

The 3-foot law follows in the footsteps of neighboring Nevada’s similar law. California and Nevada are now among 28 states with a 3-foot minimum passing distance law.