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Guest Post: What does safe cycling in Dallas mean? – Eliot Landrum Cycling Savvy DFW

Submitted by on May 7, 2012 – 10:08 pm5 Comments

“Be safe”, you hear folks tell you as you cycle away. We hear it everywhere in cycling circles. But what exactly does that mean? Wear brighter clothes? Be more vigilant for rogue motorists? Wear 1500 watt blinking lights to out shine the sun? Wear the most expensive helmet money can buy? Pick low-traffic roads? Don’t text and cycle?

Eliot cycling in Amsterdam

I probably never gave all of these questions much thought a few years ago when I was blissfully loading my bike onto my car rack, driving down to Valley View Park, cycling down White Rock Creek Trail and doing a few laps around the lake. I also probably didn’t think about any of those questions when I was doing Hotter ‘n Hell, Collin Creek Classic, or any of the other numerous rallies I have participated in over the years. Rallies like those clear the roads of other road users and allows free access through most intersections–something that we simply don’t see in normal everyday, urban riding. So safety in those situations does just mean helmet, hydration, and a good bike.

A few years ago I moved within 2 miles of the lake since I was basically living at the lake in the summer anyway. Safely getting to and from the lake still seemed like a challenge. There are some great local shops that I wanted to get to via bike, but Garland Road, Buckner and Gaston seemed to kill my ambitions.

At the same time as my move into the city, I was taking some business trips to Amsterdam. Several times my co-workers and I would rent bikes instead of our typical rental car. It was fantastic riding to work, to the pub, to a restaurant…all without conflict and all feeling so normal. The itch to start riding for transportation rather than just for exercise was slowly growing on me…

But I never felt safe in Dallas. American bike culture constantly tells us that it is dangerous to ride in our cities (remember the “be safe” fairwell?). All the motorists seemed hateful and angry all the time. The people who rode wherever they wanted to go seemed to either be hippies or speed demons who didn’t mind getting hit. I decided to try the white-knuckle approach for awhile and be the speed demon. It was stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. That wasn’t the relaxed, natural, everyday cycling that I was remembering from Amsterdam!

So, like anyone my age, I started googling. Surely other people have figured out ways to bring safe, relaxing cycling to their cities! It didn’t take me long to come across the videos and little animations that fill the pages of Commute Orlando. These folks seemed to be Average Joe and Jane, and were sharing strategies that they had learned and discovered. I’ll admit, a lot of what I was seeing, though, seemed really out there. But, I figured, the proof will be evident pretty quickly once I start trying some of the techniques. Either these Commute Orlando folks are full of B.S. or they are on to something good.

a Cycle Savvy DFW student

Little by little, I started trying some of the tricks I was seeing in the videos and animations. I didn’t have the whole picture, but I was starting to see some significant improvements. Motorists around me suddenly started being more friendly and courteous. I was able to venture out on to bigger, faster roads to cut my trip times (and avoid those pesky stop signs). I kept going back for more and pretty soon I had watched every video on the site and replayed every animation they had. Surprisingly… East Dallas was slowly turning into my very own Amsterdam.

Not long after I had started practicing some of the techniques from Commute Orlando, a new bicycle education program was born from the material on the website. The key folks behind Commute Orlando put their brains together and recognized that by putting together the “best of” of the website, filling in some missing links, and adding a hands-on bike tour, they could have a world-class bicycle education program. That program is now called CyclingSavvy.

Another cyclist here in town, Waco Moore, was a few steps ahead of me. He was also going through a similar experience but decided pretty quickly to take advantage of this new program. He flew over to Orlando, took the program as a student, loved it so much that he flew back a few months later to take the Instructor training course. It didn’t take long before Waco was holding the very first CyclingSavvy workshop in Dallas… and I was one of the first to sign up.

The weekend course was truly a game changer for me. I had read a lot, watched a lot, and practiced a lot up until this point… but I still felt like all of this was for really experienced cyclists. However, I was fortunate enough to have a brand-new cyclist in my class as a fellow student. She had just bought her bike a week before taking the workshop. As I watched her maneuver the exercises, and then genuinely smile at the accomplishment and empowerment she was gaining through the day…. I knew I had to become an instructor too.

So nearly a year later, here we are. I have now co-taught weekend workshops all spring with Waco and Richard Wharton (who went to become an instructor at the same time as me), and have a couple more in the next few weeks (before it gets too hot!). We’ve seen all types of cyclists: roadies with thousands of miles under their tires, moms who want to bike to their neighborhood coffee shop, new cyclists who want to start commuting to work, and everyone in between.

Every one of them rides away with a smile and amazement at what is accomplished in a weekend. They are discovering that Dallas is actually a fantastic place to ride and it has many great streets to enjoy. They are discovering that the roads aren’t filled with hate, instead, they’re filled with our neighbors and our friends who just want more communication and predictability from cyclists. They are discovering that the friction, the stress, the anger on the roads… all of that.. can be mitigated with simple tools and problem solving.  They are discovering that being fast has nothing to do with being safe after all.

They are discovering that their options on a bicycle are endless.

CyclingSavvy DFW has two upcoming workshops that you can sign up for. The three-part clinic has a Friday evening classroom component, a Saturday morning parking lot skills training, and a Saturday afternoon experiential road tour. The entire weekend is $75 and can be taken May 11-12 in Dallas. A fall schedule will be coming out soon and will be announced on CyclingSavvyDFW.org and the Facebook page.

CyclingSavvy DFW operates beneath Florida Bicycle Association, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit. For more information about CyclingSavvy, visit its website at http://CyclingSavvy.org. CyclingSavvy DFW’s local site is http://CyclingSavvyDFW.org and has reviews of the course, more details about the workshop, area maps, and much more. Feel free to email Eliot at eliot@cyclingsavvydfw.org.

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Eliot Landrum has been riding bicycles of all shapes and sizes since he was a kid, and has found a new love of cycling in Dallas as an adult. Eliot shares the joy of safe cycling with others through the CyclingSavvy DFW bicycle traffic safety workshops and leading small social rides in East Dallas. You can find his photos and various geeky writings on his personal blog.

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