Never mind the occasional torrential downpour or or hailstorm, the arrival of spring means it’s time for those of us who enjoy two-wheeled methods of locomotion — bicycles as well as motorcycles — to take to Colorado’s highways to commune with nature. (Oh, well, OK, I should have included three-wheelers such as the Can-Am Spyder or sidecar motorcycle rigs.)
Whether one’s two-wheeler is motorized or pedal-powered is immaterial because we face a common peril automobiles or trucks, scornfully called “cagers.”
Unfortunately, “cagers” are often oblivious to either bicyclists or motorcyclists. I ride both, so I am keenly aware of this issue, which became even more dangerous with the advent of the cellular phone.
On any Sunday, you’ll see scores of motorcyclists on the more scenic Colorado highways, such as Colorado 105 south to Palmer Lake and Monument; Colorado 46 through Golden Gate Canyon; the Peak to Peak Highway or Colorado 119 to Boulder Canyon, for example. You’ll also see gaggles of bicyclists on the same roads.
These are often winding two-lane mountain roads that motorcyclists call the “twisties,” replete with mile after mile of double-yellow “no passing” stretches.
Or at least there used to be no passing until August 2009 after former Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and then Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, got the Legislature to pass the Bicycle Safety Act, which required motor vehicles to give cyclists a 3-foot berth when passing.
The law, eagerly signed by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who like Brophy is an avid bicyclist, also allows motor vehicles to cross the double-yellow if there’s no oncoming traffic to provide that margin of safety for bicyclists. The law permits cyclists to ride two abreast on highways so long as they don’t impede traffic.
That’s the ideal. The reality is that some bicyclists don’t always ride single file, which can slow traffic or drive an impatient cager even further across the double-yellow lines than is prudent. If there’s oncoming traffic, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Some motorists take the bicycle passing rule as carte blanche to cross the double-yellow lines to pass conventional traffic. That’s apparently what happened in January 2014 when 83-year-old Kenneth Hosch of Golden, driving southbound on Highway 93, crossed the double-yellow lines into the northbound lane and collided with Sgt. David Baldwin, a Jefferson County deputy sheriff on motorcycle patrol. Baldwin was killed in the crash, and Hosch, who pled guilty to vehicular homicide, was sentenced to six years in community corrections.
Baldwin, a much beloved biker, who often volunteered for motorcycle events in the metro area, was posthumously honored with an annual charity event named the MC-1 Honor Run, after his radio call sign.
And, as always, motorists should be on the lookout for bicycles or motorcycles from the opposite direction before making left-hand turns. My motorcycling friends and I have experienced countless near misses with motorists who make left turns against oncoming traffic.
Bikers should avoid hot-dogging or other dangerous riding habits. (Like the string of crotch-rocket motorcyclists who recently passed my fellow motorcyclists and me by riding on the double-yellow lines.)
Not smart, considering preliminary figures from the Colorado Department of Transportation show 103 motorcycle fatalities during 2018, or 16% of a 630 traffic deaths in Colorado.
What’s called for is greater alertness and common courtesy by all hands: Cagers, cyclists and motorcyclists, so all can safely enjoy Colorado’s beautiful (if run-down) highways.
Peter G. Chronis is a retired Denver newspaper writer.