Take Care on Bike Paths

Eli Post


Bike Paths offer automobile free riding, and while I don’t wish to diminish their appeal, they also have unique safety concerns. I live a mile from a bike path and use it regularly, but have come to recognize problems that I watch out for. These are listed in the order they worry me or disrupt my ride. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to safe navigation on bike paths, but is more a collection of anecdotes that I’ve collected over the last few years.

Tree roots will grow anywhere there is uncompacted soil and oxygen, which is often under bike paths that wander through wooded areas. Underground roots can result in mere nicks in the pavement or the damage be quite extensive and can cause the pavement to buckle several inches, creating a significant hazard. Some paths are worse than others and you need to take stock of pavement conditions and ride accordingly. I speak here from direct experience after hitting a crack and going out of control. Fortunately the worst damage was to a new pair of shorts.

Dogs on a long leash can quickly get out of control and scramble across the path. I find the best approach is to slow down and ask the owner to “please pull the dog aside so I don’t injure it.” I get many compliments for my concern.

Ten-year olds on bikes do not yet know their own strength and when encountering a sudden incline may wiggle out of line. It’s best to be aware of them.

Couples riding two abreast don’t realize how much space they occupy as they approach from the opposing lane and hug the dividing line. I stay far to the right and remain quiet as I don’t wish to break up a relationship.

Trails cross streets with motor traffic at various locations. These intersections are usually marked with stop signs for trail traffic, but the crossing motor traffic does not have to stop. You do.

Trails are a shared public space, and you will encounter walkers, runners, baby carriages, dog walkers, tricycles and maybe horses. They each have their own pace and other characteristics and need to be respected. It is the nature of these trails that users are moving at different speeds. Parents with children and folks with pets are moving slowly. Bicyclists are moving fast . With a mix of speeds, there’s a need to understand where you fit in, and whom to yield to.

Crashes between cyclists can be serious. Bikes are the fastest traffic on trails. Very fast riding is inappropriate for the trails and should be done on public roadways.

There are some wonderful bike paths in New England, there to be enjoyed, safely of course.