Bike trail vet has handy hints


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Recently I wrote an article on the Salt Creek Bicycle Trail, but my original draft was much longer than what appeared in print. I had to cut around 750 words, due to space restrictions, and some useful material was left out. Here, now, is some of that additional information that will certainly be of help to you when you are traveling the trail, whether by bike or by foot.

1. If you don't like crowds, don't travel on the trail on weekends. It's like being on the Chicago expressways during morning and afternoon rush hours. Of course, if you go early in the day, say, before 10 or 11 a.m., the trail traffic will be less. The same goes for after 5 or 6 p.m.

2. Ride single file, keeping in the right hand lane of the trail. This applies not only on weekends, but all the time. I have seen bikers ride two or three across on the trail, and then grudgingly let people pass. What do they think the yellow line down the middle of the trail is for? Cute contrast against the black asphalt?

3. Curves on the trail can spell trouble. If you want to pass anyone, don't try passing on a curve. Pass on a long straight section of roadway. You never know who is coming your way, right beyond that curve. I have seen people carelessly pass on curves, and look so surprised when they find a biker or walker daring to be coming towards them, just around the bend. That is the time when accidents are most liable to happen.

Furthermore, even if you are not trying to pass, go slower and be wide awake to the possibility that someone might be heading right at you in your lane, trying to pass somebody else. And at all times, give notice to the persons you are passing, even if only by saying loudly, "Passing!" You may have to shout it if they are in their own little worlds, wearing headphones and totally oblivious to what is going on around them.

4. Walkers and joggers should use the left side of the trail, facing the on-coming traffic. Just another hazard that bikers have to be aware of. However, some joggers and walkers do not walk into the direction of traffic, but along with it, and you have to pass them. Once again, announce your intention to pass and watch for nasty surprises on the curves.

5. If, while traveling, you see something you want to look at more closely, don't suddenly stop. If you do, don't be surprised if you are hit from behind. You have failed to show your intention of stopping. Just slow down, making sure that no one will crash into you, and pull off to the side of the road. Then do all the looking you want.

6. Racing your bike is forbidden. The average speed for biking is around eight miles an hour. If you don't know how fast you're going, but you seem to be going at a good clip, then you probably are going too fast. Slow down and enjoy the scenery! If you're zooming around, you're missing a whole lot of it.

By the way, the Forest Preserve District wishes you to know that "speed (is) radar monitored." This may or may not be so. I do know that I have been riding the trail regularly since 1993, in all kinds of weather, and at all times of the year, and I have never seen any evidence of this being done.

I have never seen one single Forest Preserve worker with a radar gun, nor have I ever seen even one speeding cyclist pulled over and being ticketed.

7. There are small stop signs on the trail, near the picnic groves or when the trail comes to cross a street or highway. Heed the signs as if you were in a car on a regular roadway, because there may be a car on a regular roadway ready to pass in front of you.

8. After a storm or after a period of heavy gusts of wind, travel the trail with caution. Downed branches and twigs litter the road surface. First, it's no good for tires to be passing over odd-angled twigs. Second, what if you come to a large downed branch and you can't stop in time?

Third, being on the trail when the wind is blowing hard and wild may cause twigs or tree limbs to suddenly fall right in front of you, or even on you. So beware the wind.

9. Watch out for critters. The forest is full of animals, especially little ones like chipmunks and such, who sometimes just love to run across the road in front of your tires. Be vigilant. 10. You never know what may be waiting at the I.H.B. (Indiana Harbor Belt) underpass. Danger here can take many forms. Sometimes people congregate here, especially during sudden storms. Imagine running smack into a small crowd milling around here. Sometimes stones fall from the overhead railroad track ballast. You could hit one of these stones and lose control of your bike. So do not race down into the tunnel. After a long hard rain, the tunnel may even be flooded, and this may last for a few days. This is rare, but it has been known to happen.

Well, after all these dire warnings, I hope you still feel the urge to go out and see what the trail is like.

In summer the trail use increases, but in fall, winter and spring, the difference in traffic is most dramatic. Sometimes you may even think you have the whole trail all to yourself. And to the deer.

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