Arizona Road Cyclist News

In this issue:
                Crashes Mar El Tour de Tucson
                Do Today’s Traffic Laws Make Sense for Cyclists?
                The Hour of Power, a Bunch of Crazies?
                Stretching Revisited

Crashes Mar El Tour de Tucson:

Last Saturday’s annual El Tour de Tucson attracted more than eight thousand riders but was marred by several crashes, the most serious of which occurred when an elderly male hit-and-run driver made a left turn in front of a group of about 60 cyclists on Ina Road and took down ten of them. Luckily there were no fatalities, but five cyclists were transported to the hospital, and as this was written, one of the cyclists, Gary Stuebe from Surprise, Arizona, near Phoenix, was still in serious condition with a head injury including a fractured skull. At last report he had been transferred from a hospital in Tucson to one in the Phoenix area.

The car, which suffered damage on its right side, is said to have been either a gold or silver colored Honda or Toyota. According to witnesses, the car stopped briefly, and the driver got out to survey the carnage before fleeing the scene. The driver is described as being about six feet tall, weighing about 190 pounds, wearing dark-colored clothing and glasses, and sporting a short haircut. Witnesses say that several bystanders took photographs of the incident, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department requests that anyone having photos, especially of the driver and his car, submit them to the authorities to aid in the investigation.

Several other accidents that did not involve automobiles sent four other people to local hospitals. One of the crashes involved the team that later was the first to cross the finish line. Unfortunately the Tour de Tucson, like other mass cycling events held in Arizona, tends to attract cyclists who are strong enough to draft but who do not have the experience to ride safely in tight packs, and these events can and do therefore produce spectacular crashes.

The top rider of the Tour was David Salomón of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, who arrived at the finish line fractions of a second ahead of teammates Carlos Hernández and Edguardo Lugo, completing the 109-mile ride in 4 hours, 20 minutes and 35 seconds, an average speed of 24.9 mph. A fourth teammate, José Valdez, came in about five minutes later. The speed would have been slightly faster if the team had not been briefly delayed by a freight train and if Hernández had not been involved in a crash. Another teammate, Antonio Aldape, abandoned the ride after he also crashed.

The first woman rider was Erica Allar of Fogelsville, PA, who also came in first in this year’s Tour de Phoenix. Her time in the Tour de Tucson was clocked at 4 hours, 38 minutes and 2 seconds as she ended her ride in a sprint finish against former Olympian Mari Holden of San Diego. Allar is a competitive cyclist who attends Penn State.

Do Today’s Traffic Laws Make Sense for Cyclists?:

Why do most cyclists roll through stop signs when the intersection is clear, especially four-way stop signs, without coming to a complete stop? Why do cyclists get impatient waiting for red lights to change and ride though them when there is no traffic present? Are we inherently scofflaws, or is there a reason for our behavior? Why do we ignore traffic laws while riding our bikes that we would not think of ignoring while driving our cars?

This cyclist behavior is perfectly logical, although illegal. Traffic laws were designed for motor vehicles, and cyclists were taken into account as an afterthought. Take stop signs for instance. A motorist who stops at a stop sign can then quickly accelerate through the intersection by placing a slight force on the gas pedal. Not so the cyclists, especially the cyclist who is not able to come to a complete stop without putting a foot on the ground. After stopping, the cyclist must push off with one foot to get the bike moving again, fumble with that foot to clip in, and then slowly accelerate through the intersection. The automobile driver may react by asking, “So what? Bicycles travel more slowly than automobiles, so what does it matter if it takes them longer to clear an intersection?” The answer is that the more quickly a cyclist clears the intersection, the less automobiles drivers are inconvenienced and the more quickly the cyclist gets leaves a relatively dangerous area, where a high proportion of traffic accidents occur. It is often safer and more efficient if a cyclist slows at a stop sign, and if it is safe to proceed, accelerates through the intersection without stopping. This can be especially true at four-way stop signs, where the cyclist can more easily fit into the flow of traffic if the cyclist keeps both feet on the pedals and is ready to move quickly through the intersection when it is the cyclist’s turn.

Please note that I am not encouraging this type of behavior. I am merely stating that it would be more logical, more efficient and safer if cyclists were permitted to treat stop signs as yield signs. However, in Arizona, they are not.

How about red lights? When no other traffic is present, the tendency of most cyclists is to stop at the light, look both ways, and then ride through the light. At many traffic lights where a minor street intersects a major street, the minor street only receives a green light when an automobile triggers a sensor buried in the pavement. These sensors supposed to be and can be sensitive enough to be triggered by a bicycle, but usually they are not. If there are no cars on the minor street, the only way the cyclist can trigger the light is to go up on the sidewalk, press the button for pedestrians, and return to the street. That tactic will not work if the cyclist is planning to make a left turn, however. I have yet to see a pedestrian push button that triggers a left-turn arrow.

Few cyclists realize that riding through a red light isn’t always a traffic violation in Arizona. If a bicycle cannot trigger a traffic light, the light is considered defective, and the cyclist is legally permitted to proceed cautiously through the intersection despite the red light. The same rule applies to cars. However, if you want to be able to defend yourself against a traffic ticket in court, before you ride through that red light, be sure that your bicycle cannot trigger it and that the light will not change without being triggered.

In at least one state, traffic planners and lawmakers have recognized that the same rules do not always logically apply to cyclists and motorists and are rewriting them accordingly. In Iowa, a cyclist is not required to stop at a stop sign but is required to yield to traffic with the right of way, if present. Cyclists are required to stop at red lights, but then they are permitted to proceed through the red light if it is safe to do so. In other words, they may treat stop signs as if they were yield signs and red lights as if they were stop signs. In California, the city of San Francisco is debating the introduction of similar rules. Perhaps this enlightened thinking will one day spread from Iowa and San Francisco to the SUV-infested streets of Arizona. Until that happens, to avoid traffic tickets and possible points against your driver’s license, please make complete stops at stop signs and do not go through red lights unless you are positive that you are unable to trigger the light and there are no cars present to do it for you.

The Hour of Power, a Bunch of Crazies?:

The Hour of Power is a twice-weekly bicycle ride that begins in East Phoenix and lurches through the hills and curves of the Town of Paradise Valley. The ride meets at 5:30 a.m. at the corner of Exeter Boulevard and 64th Street in East Phoenix and proceeds north into Paradise Valley, passes the entrance of the Camelback Inn, careens at high speed through the twisting streets around the west side of Mummy Mountain, then heads north to East Doubletree Road. During much of the year, the ride picks up speed on Doubletree and then turns south on 66th Street to speed through the through winding roads of the Camelback Golf Course to Northern Avenue. After proceeding west on Northern Avenue, aka Mockingbird Lane, the ride climbs the back side of Mummy Mountain and descends Hummingbird Lane. After regrouping, the ride travels north to Northern Avenue and retraces the route at a more leisurely pace. The ride back is a time to chat and maintain friendships.

Many of the riders on the Hour of Power are present or former racers, so they have the skills to maneuver in a tight pack and have little fear of diving into corners at high speeds side by side. Among cyclists who have never ridden the Hour of Power, its riders have a reputation of being a bunch of crazies who have no compunction about risking their own necks and those of everyone in the vicinity in a testosterone-fueled frenzy to be the first through the next turn, usually in pitch-dark conditions. That view is exaggerated. For one thing, there are a few women who do the ride, and these ladies are all good-looking athletes without moustaches and with low testosterone levels. For another, almost all of the riders are highly skilled and used to riding safely wheel to wheel and shoulder to shoulder at high speed. I write “almost all,” because unfortunately there are sometimes a few riders in the pack whom the others wish were not there.

As to the pitch-dark conditions, the ride takes place almost all year, so some or all of the ride often takes place through the darkened streets of Paradise Valley, whose town council has outlawed streetlights as a way of differentiating itself from the blighted surrounding cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale. Therefore, most riders have invested hundreds of dollars in their lighting systems, and the pack does a pretty good job of illuminating the street ahead. Accidents do occasionally happen – in one case a rider slid out on a corner and wound up underneath the SUV of a Paradise Valley policeman, who luckily stopped in time – but accidents are rare and usually not serious. We haven’t killed anyone yet. I certainly feel safer tucked in the middle of the Hour of Power than I would riding in a pack of inexperienced riders on the Tour de Scottsdale or the Tour de Tucson.

As I said, the ride takes place all year long, but it trickles off to a small handful of riders in the winter off-season and swells again in spring when the USA Cycling racing season begins. If you are an experienced and careful pack rider, you are welcome to join us. If you are not, perhaps you should keep everyone safe and give this ride a pass.

Stretching Revisited:

In the last issue of Arizona Road Cyclist News, I included a short article on stretching and promised more detail in the future. Now, during the racing off season, it seems to be a good time to revisit the subject of stretching.

Cyclists are notorious for not stretching. Before and after running events, the ground is littered with sweaty, stinking runners kicking their legs in the air, touching their toes, and engaging in various contortions that probably should not be viewed by members of the opposite gender without the consent of parent or spouse. You seldom see that at bicycling events, even at races. Maybe the runners know something that we do not, and we should pay more attention to stretching.

The thinking of scientists about stretching has passed through at least three stages. When I was young, I was taught to do ballistic stretching, in which a muscle is repeatedly forced beyond its normal range of motion. An example is to touch your toes and then bounce repeatedly to strain the muscle. Ballistic stretching is now almost universally regarded as harmful, and almost all athletes know to avoid it.

Ballistic stretching was replaced by a technique that is variously referred to as static, isometric or passive stretching. These different types of stretching may vary in detail, but all of them involve extending a muscle as far as possible and holding it in that position for a brief period of time, generally between 10 and 20 seconds. Static stretching has traditionally been included as part of a warm-up program before exercising. Now many exercise physiologists feel that that is a mistake. New studies have shown that static stretching before exercise can weaken muscles by as much as 30 percent and for as long as 30 minutes and actually reduce performance. The new philosophy is that static stretching, if done at all, should be done after exercise as part of a cool-down process and not before.

What is an appropriate warm up? A warm up should loosen the muscles, increase blood flow, and increase the body’s temperature. Warm muscles use oxygen and stored fuel more efficiently. A warm-up should begin with moderate aerobic activity. For cyclists out for a ride, that means starting the ride at a moderate pace and gradually building up to speed. If possible, cycle at a moderate pace to the ride’s starting point to warm up and get there in time to do some dynamic stretching. For racers, it means riding the bike on the road or on the trainer, beginning at about 40 percent of maximum heart rate and building up to about 60 percent. The warm-up should last about 10 to 15 minutes with about five minutes of recovery. Then, if possible, the rider should perform a routine of dynamic stretching. After the stretching, try to keep riding about to keep the muscles warm. One mistake that many racers make is to warm up and then sit at the starting line for 15 to 20 minutes, which can be worse that not warming up at all. If doing a time trial, for example, try to keep riding around at a moderate pace until about five minutes before your starting time, do a couple of moderate sprints and then take your place in the line of starting riders.

Not all exercise physiologists are convinced that static stretching is bad. For example, Dr. Gloria Beim, the team doctor for the U.S. track cycling team, is one of its proponents. She continues to recommend static stretching following aerobic activity as part of a warm-up routine.

How often should you stretch? Stretching before your Sunday ride, once a week, is not going to do much good, as I can attest. Experts recommend a warm-up followed by stretching almost every day or at least five days a week. It has got to be a regular routine. Regular stretching seems to improve not only flexibility but also muscle strength. Although some exercise physiologists continue to believe that stretching also helps prevent injury, research does not support that view.

For a specific routine of stretches, perhaps best performed in a gym and not at the starting line of a race, go to this URL and scroll down to page five, “Stretching Routine for Cyclists.”

To repeat the link included in the last issue of Arizona Road Cycling News, a YouTube video illustrating dynamic stretching can be watched at the following URL: