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Vienna Pedaler: Remember Rules Of The Trail

As spring gets into gear, our columnist offers some reminders about best practices for riding the W&OD and other trails.

Well, spring is certainly in the air. This being March in the mid-Atlantic region, we might still get some cold, messy weather, but the overall trend is toward warmer, sunnier days. Just this past Thursday, I was surprised to hear choruses of spring peepers and wood frogs along the on my morning ride. After a remarkably mild winter, we seem to be headed into an early spring, so it’s time to start getting out there for some rides.

Many of you will no doubt be venturing forth on the local trails ... in fact, last Thursday I saw many more folks out than I have on a weekday morning in quite some time. The W&OD, Custis, Mt. Vernon, and other multi-use trails are great places to ease your way back into riding, so it’s no surprise that they start getting rather busy as the weather warms. And with the additional traffic comes additional challenges. What’s most important is . As a cyclist, you’re moving faster than most of the other trail users, so it’s really important that you stay alert and exercise care and caution. Any one of us can tell tales of a careless, discourteous walker/runner/cyclist/rollerblader/etc. - let’s just try not to be one of them, ok?

Some basic trail tips:

  • Keep to the right, except when passing.
  • Warn others when you are passing them - a bell works well, as does a verbal warning, such as “passing on your left”. Often I use both, and I find it helps.
  • Pass ONLY when the trail ahead is clear of oncoming traffic. I can’t tell you how many scary near-misses with head on collisions I’ve had, so err on the side of caution. If in doubt - WAIT!
  • When you do pass someone, give them plenty of room... don’t “buzz” them close to their shoulder... it’s unnerving when someone passes too close.
  • It also never hurts to say “thank you” when someone gives you room to pass, or simply say “good morning” or some other greeting. The more pleasant we can all be out there, the more likely we’ll all get along.
  • Be extremely careful when approaching either children or dogs. Both can behave unpredictably and seemingly irrationally, so be ready for anything, for your safety as well as theirs.
  • Use common sense with regard to your speed. If the trail is heavily trafficked, with walkers, runners, dogs, children, etc, don’t behave as if you’re in the Tour de France and chasing the yellow jersey, ok? If you really need hard training, pick a more appropriate time and place for that than a busy Saturday morning in spring.
  • Be extremely cautious at road crossings!  STOP and look both ways before crossing, and only cross when it is safe to do so. And remember, just because the motorist on one side of the road has stopped, that doesn’t mean the person coming the other way is going to. Only cross when you are sure they see you and are stopping.

Finally, remember as you get out and about on your bike this spring that it’s a new season, for you and for others. Be kind and careful with your body. Don’t immediately push yourself to the limit on your first ride. Ease yourself into your riding season, and it will be more fun and healthier for you. Remember too that most folks haven’t been riding this winter, so they are out of practice as well. And with fewer of us out there on bikes in winter, drivers have gotten out of practice at interacting with us too. So take it easy, and be careful... but have fun!

Craig Burns March 05, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Thank you, if everyone would follow your advice it would be a much more pleasant experience. Nine out of ten (in my personal poll) bicyclists on the W&OD do NOT follow your great advice.
Wien March 05, 2012 at 07:10 PM
My only real issue with cyclists is not respecting the fact that there is a yellow line for a reason; when they ride two abreast, it requires me to move as a runner going the opposite way. Now, I have no problem stepping aside and I often take the grass when I see an oncoming cyclist if I see they're going to be passing. My problem is with those who venture into my side of the trail to either pass or just to ride next to a buddy and expect me to move. Many times I have had to move rather than play chicken with a Lance wannabe. As a cyclist myself, my wife and I never ride side-by-side, there's not enough room on trail and no need to. If we want to have a conversation, we'll find a coffee shop, not while we're riding at a fast pace. Runners/walkers aren't immune either, as I see many large groups of walkers/joggers around the time when Team in Training, pink ribbon walks, and like get started. And these mobs of 5+ people oftentimes are outside their lane as well, walking in a large group 3 abreast. If everyone just stayed on their side of the line and expected others to do the same, there would be far fewer upset people on both sides. Most people pass fairly safely. But it's the ones who expect someone else to yield that you need to watch for (learn the rules; everyone yields to horses, cycles yield to shoes).
Amelie Krikorian March 05, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Could you post a refresher for cyclists on the rules of the road as well as the trail? I have seen a surge in bicyclists doing unsafe things on Old Courthouse, Nutley, Church, and Maple. When I was a child I was told that bikes had to be on the road and traveling in the same direction as the traffic; also that they had to bey stop signs and lights just like other vehicles. I have seen a lot of bikes on sidewalks and riding against traffic, and I nearly ran over someone at the intersection of Church and Center the other day because he not only didn't stop for the 4-way stop, he passed all the stopped traffic (including a couples SUVs and vans) and was impossible to see, then he simply continued into the intersection. He could not see me nor I him until the last second. I slammed on my brakes and honked at him, and he flipped me the bird... he was way out of line and risking his life.
DD March 06, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Some cyclists on the W&OD routinely fly across Cedar Lane and Park Street without a pause, even though they, not the cars, have a stop sign. If they are already in the crosswalk, then obviously they have the right of way. But I'm talking about folks who are approaching the crosswalk at the same time as a car (which would give the car the right of way since the car has no stop sign). Some cyclists in this scenario often fail to stop at the stop sign, enter the crosswalk very abruptly, then expect a moving car to come to a complete stop for them at the very last second. I have seen a lot of close calls, and the cars were only going the speed limit, so if they had been speeding even a little, the cyclists would have been placing themselves in serious danger. As for the guy flipping the bird, that's just another example of the rudeness that has seemingly overtaken this area in recent years. I've been here for 33 years, and I can never remember a time when people were so unpleasant to one another as they are now. It's a shame. To quote Mr. Fricker, "The more pleasant we can all be out there, the more likely we’ll all get along." Good advice!
Concerned Trail User March 06, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Please remind the cyclists and reaally all users of the trails that horses have the right of way. Horses are large living breathing sentient beings and can startle easily if a bicycle approaches them too fast from behind. This puts the person on the horse's back in serious danger if the horse bolts off at a dead run. Respect the horses using the WO&D and the wooded trails.
Tim Fricker March 07, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Excellent points, and you're right, all manner of folks seem oblivious of the meaning of the yellow line. Thank you for reminding us all.
Tim Fricker March 07, 2012 at 12:42 AM
I plan to address road behavior soon as well. We can all use reminders of the rules of the road.
Tim Fricker March 07, 2012 at 12:44 AM
While I will agree that there's a general trend away from civility out there, one positive development I've seen related to bike trails is that more motorists these days seem to stop for cyclists to cross than when I first moved back to the DC area in 2002. That being said, at the overwhelming majority of road crossings on multi-use trails, it is the TRAIL USER who is required to stop, not the motorist, so just flying across the road is a very dangerous and illegal behavior, as you noted.
Tim Fricker March 07, 2012 at 12:46 AM
I think as the years have passed and the region has become more developed, we often forget about the horses on the trail, as the numbers of them seem to have dwindled. But Concerned Trail User is absolutely right... horses can be easily startled, creating a dangerous situation for all, so please, PLEASE give them the right of way and be careful and courteous around our four legged friends.

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