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Moment of truth: Bikes vs. cars on Bay Area back roads

The San Francisco Chronicle: Moment of truth: Bikes vs. cars on Bay Area back roads

Posted on Monday, April 7 at 9:03am | By Tom Stienstra


It always comes down to a single moment. At times on the Bay Area’s back roads, it can be life or death for a cyclist or driver.

I’ve been on both sides of the windshield and can say most cyclists and drivers look out for each other on the twisty two-laners in the Bay Area foothills.

But there are still a few self-absorbed souls who make it dangerous for everybody.

This past weekend, I did trips in both the East Bay foothills, including up Mount Diablo, and on the Peninsula, on several twisty two-laners that lead to Skyline.

The latter included the famed old La Honda Road. The narrow, curvy road rises through redwoods from Portola Valley to Skyline. For much of the route, there is no lane divider or shoulder.

In an hour alone, I’d estimate 250 cyclists made the trek. Most of the cars and cyclists did well to “Share the Road.”

The cars would slow down, drive at the speed of the pack, and wait to pass until the drivers could see well ahead to avoid a head-on collision if a car or bike approached from the other direction. At the same time, the groups of cyclists, when a vehicle approached from either direction, would hug the shoulder, single file.

We’re not talking S.F. street anarchy, rather enlightened people who have figured out how to make it work.

But all it takes is a few who don’t follow the plan and anybody out there can be at risk.

In one moment, while cyclists, all in single file, pushed uphill, a BMW came around a bend downhill as if it was bound for hell, just about ran over a dozen cyclists and nearly hit head-on a vehicle that was traveling uphill at 5 mph.

In another moment, three cyclists decided to pass the single-file row of bikers on a hairpin turn and nearly got whacked head-on by a car traveling slowly downhill.

In these cases, they were just close calls. If the reckless BMW had instead encountered the three reckless cyclists, the story would have had a far different outcome.

Tom Stienstra is the outdoors writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.