SHERIDAN — When the weather warms and the sun shines in Sheridan County, many area residents dust off their bicycle seats and take to the streets and trails on two wheels.
Each year, though, both cyclists and those commuting by car debate the rules of the road.
Sheridan Police Department Lt. Travis Koltiska noted that cyclists on the road follow the same rules as drivers.
“There are several key safety tips for cyclists when traveling around Sheridan,” Kolstiska said. “The first and most important is to wear protective equipment, especially a helmet. Injuries can be minimized through the proper use of a helmet, and other safety equipment that is available.
“Second to that is to obey traffic laws,” he continued. “Bicyclists on the streets have to follow the same rules of the road as vehicles. They must stop at stop signs and red lights, signal turns, yield to pedestrians, etc. One other tip is to equip your bike for visibility. Utilize reflectors and lights, as well as make sure your bike is maintained and in good working order.”
Koltiska also pointed out that when cyclists are traveling in areas without a bike lane or bike path, they have the option of traveling on the street or sidewalk, except in downtown Sheridan where they must travel on the street. Sidewalks present their own dangers for cyclists and pedestrians. If a cyclist is on the sidewalk, he must follow pedestrian rules.
“That means crossing only at a designated crosswalk and making sure vehicles are going to yield to you before proceeding across the street,” Koltiska said.
Drivers, too, must acknowledge that cyclists have the same rights to the roadway as drivers.
While rules of the road appear pretty straight forward, rules of the trail are less clear.
“While there are no official ‘rules of the trail’ like ‘rules of the road,’ there are some practices that have been adopted broadly around nation,” said Chris Vrba, director of marketing and development for Sheridan Community Land Trust. “A standard rule-of-thumb is that ‘wheels yield to heels’ and everyone yields to equestrians. Why? Well, even though a horse is a horse, of course, of course, the hooves you meet don’t likely belong to Mr. Ed, Wilbur’s not on the reins, and, let’s face it, you’re no Dr. Doolittle.”
But Vrba acknowledges that wheels yielding to heels isn’t a perfect rule. What’s most important for recreationists to remember, he said, is trail placement, especially when someone heading uphill encounters someone heading downhill. In those cases, Vrba recommends whomever is heading downhill yield to the person heading uphill.
When cyclists encounter non-cyclists on the trail, Vrba recommends making a little noise before you get too close to the non-cycler to avoid startling them.
“I try to cough a little bit ahead of time,” SCLT executive director Brad Bauer said. “It seems that startles the people in front of me less, and when they look back I say which direction I’m going to pass.”
Vrba also noted that it’s typically easier for those on foot to step to the side of a trail, which also helps protect the edge of the trail from damage that can be caused by bicycles.
“It’s a lot less destructive to the edge of the trail and to the vegetation along the side for a hiker to step off trail to let a bike pass, than a biker and their two-wheeled transporter to go off trail,” SCLT trails manager Tami Sorenson said.
When it comes down to it courtesy goes a long way in avoiding accidents, Vrba said.