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The Cycler Chronicles: How to avoid ICS

How to avoid ICS: Or the one that got away

By Ron Cunningham, GLOB Correspondent

CYCLERlogoEDITOR's NOTE: Ron Cunningham is a Gainesville cyclist, Journalist, and Executive Director of Bike Florida.  The Cycle Chronicler is in search of interesting, chain-link connected stories and today he is sharing his issues with a real biking syndrome.

My all-time favorite war movie is "The Great Escape," the 1963 epic about a mass breakout from a German prison camp during World War II. The iconic scene from that movie, of course, is a young Steve McQueen on a stolen motorcycle jumping rows of barbed wire in an attempt to get away from pursuing Germans (which of course he did not). But my favorite character in the film was the Australian escapee, played by James Coburn, one of only three prisoners who actually did manage to get away.

How did he do it? Simple. He walked into the nearest village, got on a bicycle, and pedaled away.

MESSAGE: Nobody notices the guy on the bicycle.

Unfortunately, there's an upside, and a downside to that message. While a bicycle can indeed be an incredibly convenient means of getting around town (or out of an Axis country, whichever may be the case) it seems that all too many cyclists really are invisible to motorists. I've been cut off in traffic by distracted right-turning drivers too many times not to identify with Coburn's invisible-cyclist character.

062813BikerDIt is equally unfortunate that when motorists do take note of cyclists it is usually because somebody on a bicycle just ran a red light, darted out into traffic, is riding on the wrong side of the road or doing something equally stupid and dangerous. When that happens, the offender becomes every cyclist in the minds of angry drivers.

I'm often asked about those errant daredevils when I speak to groups about Bike Florida's "Share The Road" campaign. My stock response is "Yeah, that's a problem, and I wish cops were as aggressive about nailing bad cyclists as bad drivers," or words to that effect.

But back to this problem of ICS (Invisible Cyclist Syndrome). I cycle the streets of Gainesville pretty much every day. I've made a promise to myself that I won't do anything in a car that I can do on my bike, and that includes running errands, shopping, going to the movies, whatever.

062813BikeBI've found that the best cure for ICS is to ride defensively. First and foremost, that means obeying the same traffic laws that motorists must obey. Stop at lights and stop signs and wait your turn. Use hand signals when making a turn.

Wear bright clothing (spandex doesn't have to be your thing to stand out, there's lots of loud and obnoxious garb out there).

Oh yes, and please, wear a helmet.

When I'm waiting at a light to go straight ahead and a car comes up on my left with its right-turn signals on, I try to make eye contact with the driver before moving ahead; I don't assume that he sees me and will give me the right-of-way.

Same thing with cars waiting to turn out of a side street into your lane: When in doubt it's better to be on the safe side and yield.

062813BikerFAnd this is a biggie: If you are going to ride at night, and I frequently do, make sure you have the proper lights fore and aft. It's not only the law, it can save your life. And a fluorescent vest doesn't hurt either. Sometimes I pass Share The Road vests out at public events because I'd rather see them actually out on the road than collecting dust in my garage.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's cool that James Coburn eluded the entire German army by casually pedaling his way to the English Channel. But if you are going to be a serious cyclist in AutoAmerica, you need to take extra precautions to avoid ICS. Stay alert, take note of what's going on around you, and don't take anything for granted.

For more information on riding defensively check out the League of American Bicyclists' web page or the Florida Bicycle Association's ten tips for successful cycling.

And I still love it that Steve McQueen picked the wrong two-wheeler on which to make his Great Escape.

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