That line from the movie The Hunt For Red October has taken on new meaning for cyclists on Multi-Use Trails. In the movie it is used to announce when a Russian submarine turned stopped and turned to see if anyone was following it. In cycling terms, it describes when a pedestrian or runner does a 180 degree turn immediately in front of you without looking or warning.
I don't intend this post to slam runners or walkers in any way. I honestly do both and it is actually quite hard to remember to look and signal before you do a turn... especially when running. You're thinking about 100 things and in your zone a bit... and the possibility of a cyclist coming up behind is not always top 5 on that list of things.
This morning's commute involved the rare, and extremely dangerous Crazy Ivan executed by a large number of runners. I slowed as I approached a group of 8 runners. I rang the bell once from 20 bike-lengths back. I rang it again at 10 and a third time at 5. I then called out "passing on your left". The MOMENT the words left my mouth, all 8 turned left into me.
I don't entirely know how we all survived unharmed. I flat-spotted a rear tire, grabbed a fist full of brake, made a strange noise and did a bit of agricultural exploration. At least 3 of the runners did some fancy dance moves as I rolled through the middle of their running pack. Two of them screamed. None of us made contact. I kept the bike upright. 3 of them rushed over to apologize. No-one was angry. There was no bad outcome out of the whole thing... in fact, two really good outcomes. There are 8 runners that are a lot more aware of the need to look over their shoulder before doing quick changes of direction and I get to write a little about how to help prevent incidents like this.
From the cyclists point of view, it helps to warn early and often. I try to warn twice by bell and once by voice. If I get a wave on the first bell, I will forgo the second bell and just talk to the person. It also helps to slow down a bit. I know that interrupts people's workouts, but we shouldn't be pushing the speed envelope around other trail users anyways. Think of it as an opportunity to accelerate and build some of that power in your legs. You'll benefit next spring and live to see it too. ;)
From the runners point of view, it helps to be very aware of your surroundings. Headphones are never a good idea on a multi-use trail. I know walkers and runners (and cyclists for that matter) don't want to hear that, but it is true. I hear people say they can hear cyclists approaching, but that is really impossible. Some of us fixie riders are virtually silent unless we announce with bell and voice. Additionally it takes the focus of your mind away from your surroundings. That is the actual reason for having the headphones on... letting your mind focus on something other than the work that your legs and lungs are doing.
All trail users need to keep a closer eye and more attentive mind to their surroundings on the trail. I think we're all guilty of letting our guard down from time to time. It is human nature and most of the time it doesn't hurt anything. Now and then the situation gangs up on us and a lapse in concentration can contribute to an accident.
Keep it safe out there!
Happy winter riding!