Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Confession of a Ride Leader
I organized and led rides in the Dallas area for many years. Group rides, competitive time trials, bike rallies, and taking folks on weekly urban tours of Dallas utilizing the bike route system. One ride I organized resulted in over 1,000 (one thousand) cyclists, from all over the Metroplex, converging on Downtown Dallas for Sunday brunch.
On rides I led, I always had a ride leader and "point" rider (who would switch positions). The point rider's job was to set the course and the pace, and to try and make sure all traffic controls were obeyed. The point rider obeyed all signs, and stopped for all yellow lights, regardless if he/she could make it through, knowing that the following cyclists would be tempted follow, even if the light turned red. The ride leader's job was to ride at the rear of the group (riding up into the group to share tips), to make sure no one got dropped, to coach on technique, and to police the group. Any rider who refused to obey the law, or who rode in an unsafe manner, was given a warning. If they continued unsafe practices, they were asked to leave the ride.
Absolving oneself of responsibility by making a "speech", or signing a waiver, is not a sign of responsible leadership. I realize a bicycle is primarily a toy to a lot of people, but it can be a deadly toy if not used properly. Attempting to turn streets into playgrounds can have very serious (and deadly) consequences.
On one ride, a young man (with a wife and infant son at home) had a mechanical failure on his bike, and something fell from his bike into the front spokes and became lodged behind the fork blades. He was traveling about 16-18 mph on a open road, and was immediately flipped over the handlebars and onto his head. His new, properly fitted, Specialized helmet afforded no protection, as his skull was pressed down upon his vertebrae. I knelt beside him and held his hand as he was dying.
That young man's death will always be a burden to me, but I know he died due to no fault in my leadership. We obeyed the laws, we took no undue risks, and I even ran through the ABC Quick Check to have everyone check their bicycle's condition. Had he died because I let him ride in the wrong lane, going the street the wrong way, or running through a stop sign/signal, my burden would instead be my guilt.