Category Archive: advice

I skipped Flying Wheels

I was supposed to cross Flying Wheels off my bucket list today, but skipped it because it seemed like a bad, stressful idea.

Here are my excuses:

  1. I needed to be at the start line in Redmond at 7:00 am and was having a lot of trouble falling asleep Friday night.
  2. The 520 bridge was closed, requiring a long detour around Lake Washington.
  3. Last year it was apparently not a good time.

Most riders, of course, didn’t pee on other people’s yards, liberally apply the middle finger, or start brawls in coffee shops. Most drivers were probably irritated at worst. But, there’s something about being on the road in any kind of vehicle that turns people into monsters and leads to problems, as Louis CK perfectly describes. When you’re vulnerable, it’s scary and leads to being defensive and confrontational.

I’ve ridden on the roads through which Flying Wheels passes, and while it’s a beautiful area the experience is stressful. There are a lot of high-traffic, two-lane roads with no shoulders and no buffer for cyclists when cars and trucks try to pass. The residents genuinely do not want cyclists there and are extremely frustrated and scared by the large packs of bikes that infest their roads every summer. I can sympathize to a degree; I get nervous around cyclists when I drive, too.

The safest rides I’ve been on through southwestern King and Snohomish counties were with ride leaders that had the group do two important things. The first was to enforce riding single file, no exceptions. The second was breaking up into subgroups of four or five people with at least three car lengths between them. This provided cars with spaces in which to hang out and leapfrog their way through with much less risk of being caught between cyclists on the right and oncoming traffic. If you just have a long line of dozens or hundreds of people there’s just not much drivers can do; they’ll just get frustrated and try to speed past. The real jerks amongst them will purposely buzz you to teach you a lesson, because their irritation is worth much more than your life.

But that’s a cohesive, disciplined group. What happens when you have a few thousand people with varying levels of experience riding in these events? You get a lot of this:

  • Riding two-, three-, or bajillion-abreast instead of single file. Legally, you can ride two abreast in many areas but it’s usually unsafe. It totally prevents cars from being able to pass, and the cyclists that do it are usually completely oblivious to their surroundings.
  • Riding with headphones, thus being oblivious to surroundings. Cue the argument that plugging your ears up and filling them with sound doesn’t impair you at all. You’re so very, very wrong. You’ll hear cars and bikes behind you way before you see them, and you can tell how close something is to you through hearing. The distraction will prevent you from paying more attention to your surroundings in general.
  • Not being predictable. Always ride in a straight line. The most common manifestation of this problem is something that I see almost every day when I’m riding around Seattle: swerving in and out of the parking lane. Yes, you feel safer because you’re temporarily not in traffic, but when you swerve back in you’re likely to get crushed in between the back left corner of the car you’re turning around and the car behind you that you didn’t know was there. Or smack into the cyclist to your left—that you don’t know is there—when you speed up and lurch back in.
  • Riding too close together. When someone slams on the brakes ahead of you or doesn’t gear down enough to make it up a hill, you’re going to have a very unpleasant encounter with their rear wheel if not the pavement.
  • Not signalling. At the very least, always signal that you’re slowing/stopping and preferably call it out as well. This prevents the people behind you from ramming you because even the most observant are not prescient. I’ve had multiple conversations with my boyfriend about this one and have just given up and started keeping a ridiculous distance behind him.
  • Passing without calling out. So dangerous to the person you’re passing.
  • Ride right on the white line on a shoulderless road. Generally, take the right third of the lane so that you have space to move over if you have to.
  • Not letting people pass. I got run off the Sammamish River Trail a few weeks ago when someone decided to swerve to the left of the trail after I’d called out and started passing in the formerly-wide space to their left. On the road that would have pushed me into traffic.
  • Overreacting. If a driver is purposely trying to goad or scare you, just pull over or slow down and let them go. It’s not worth it. If another cyclist endangers you, get out of the situation, yell at them if you need to, and let it go. Otherwise, you’ll have a miserable time and be more likely to put yourself in dangerous situations because you’re pissed off.

I’m leaving “not following the rules of the road” off this list because it’s a more general issue (and following the rules of the road is sometimes a bad idea, but that’s for another day).

I’ve pondered many times how to teach people to ride more safely in groups outside of a formal setting. Modeling good behavior is definitely helpful. I saw several people learn about calling out hazards and signalling on the STP last year, and in a few cases people directly asked me about it because I am a grand master of signalling. Confrontation is alienating and doesn’t work. Having a quick rundown of SMART riding helps, but isn’t enough. A long safety lecture before a major ride will probably be paid attention to as much as the ones on airplanes. Mailing out literature along with registration packets might help. I don’t have a good answer here.

So, in lieu of the ride I was supposed to do I plan to do one tomorrow through the towns south of Seattle. There’s apparently going to be a lunch stop in Kent, and who can resist that?


The most important thing I learned during the group rides last year was to prepare early. The training rides I’m doing this year mostly start at 9:00 am, which is a blessed relief from last year when they started at 8 or 7. I’m not a morning person by far, so trying to get ready and get out the door on time was just not going to happen. After a few weeks I came up with the following checklist and also realized that my life is smoother when I prepare everything I need the night before, a philosophy I follow for work days as well.

Thanks to preparing early, I can usually be out the door in 30 minutes.


Things I always keep in my saddle bag

I like to keep the amount of prep I need to do to a minimum, so I keep all of the bike kit in my saddlebag and leave it there. I have duplicates of most of these items that I keep in the pannier I take to work so I don’t have to worry about switching things back and forth. In addition to the items below, my boyfriend keeps a first aid kit in his bag.

  • Tire levers
  • Spare tube
  • Patch kit
  • CO₂ inflator
  • Backup CO₂ cartridge
  • Bike multi-tool
  • Lip balm (laugh all you want, I’m OK with being addicted)
  • Rubber gloves

One or two days before the ride

  • Go through supplies and find out if there’s anything we need. Go shopping that day and pick them up.

The night before the ride

  • Make sure my RoadID (our “ticket” to the group training rides) is in my handlebar bag.
  • Stock my bags with all of the energy snacks I’ll need.
  • Print a cue sheet and put it in the cue sheet holder on my handlebar bag.
  • Put my wallet (actually just cards, cash, and a rubber band) in my handlebar bag.
  • Download the GPX file for the ride on my phone.
  • Fill up water bottles and my CamelBak. I put these in the fridge, then put my keys with them. That way, I know where my keys are and am less likely to forget water.
  • Inflate tires.
  • Check brakes.
  • Put my bike clothes in the bathroom so that I don’t need to think at all about what I’m going to wear.
  • Put my shoes, handlebar bag, helmet, glasses, gloves, jacket (if I’m bringing one), and waterproof gear (if needed, but since I live in Seattle I usually pack it just in case) in a paper grocery bag. I try to pack things in reverse order of when I’ll need them. I then put that bag in my car. That way, everything I need is already packed. My boyfriend doesn’t like this strategy so he loads his stuff in the morning.
  • Start the rice cooker if that’s what I’ll be eating for breakfast.
  • Make sure I know where the ride start is and get directions if needed.
  • Do all pet-related chores.

The morning of the ride

  • Snooze a few times and remind myself that I actually enjoy these rides.
  • Get dressed.
  • Eat breakfast. This is usually rice or instant oatmeal.
  • Put the water from the fridge in the car.
  • Put my boyfriend’s stuff in the car.
  • Break open a few bags of energy chews and put them in the pockets of my skort so they’re ready.
  • Load the bikes.