Bikes And RR Tracks

Fritz at the Bicycle Blog asks the question:

I’ve heard people talk about the danger of train tracks while cycling and I witnessed this first hand last weekend in San Francisco. I was standing near some SF Muni trolley tracks and saw three cyclists drop their front tire into the track and eat the pavement.

Three out of multiple dozens is a relatively small percentage I guess, but that’s still more than I would have expected. I ride along streetcar tracks almost every day without incident. Sure, care needs to be taken, but it doesn’t seem like a great deal of bike skill is needed. Unless I cross at a nearly right angle, I unweight my front wheel as I cross the tracks to prevent a fall. If my rear wheel drops in, I accelerate and bounce it back out.

Am I mistaken? Am I just lucky? My guess is these people weren’t paying attention, but is avoiding falls around train tracks a secret skill for which instruction is required? Would an instructional video be helpful?

I don’t know if a video is necessary; just make sure you always cross at a right angle. When the tracks are perpendicular to the street, that won’t be an issue. When they cross at an angle, though, you have to swing out into the road in order to come at it at a right angle.

Still, my all time worst wreck was crossing a set of tracks on 1st Avenue South in Birmingham. I left my house on my mountain bike, headed to the trail behind the local Jewish Community Center. That trail was only a mile from my house, but that mile was straight up Red Mountain. To warm up my legs before hitting the mountain, I took a longer route near downtown. That’s where I encountered the tracks. I knew how to hit them safely. I just didn’t do it. Why not? Dunno. My front tire slid into the slot between the asphalt and the tracks. My bike suddenly stopped. I kept going. I hit the pavement with my head and the back of my shoulder, rolled a few times, and came to a rest splayed on the side of the road. At least four cars passed me while I was laying there. When I could get up again, I saw I had cracked my helmet, torn my shorts and jersey, and was bleeding from several different spots. My bike was fine, though, so I got back on and finished the ride. I was very sore for a few days afterwards.

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