June 29, 2012

Ride like you’re invisible

Commentary by 1st Lt. Zach Anderson
931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs

(AFNS) — Lt. Col. Clinton Burpo was in trouble.  Just moments earlier he had been midway through his commute to work, riding his bicycle along the same route he did every morning.

Without warning, something slammed into him from the side, knocking him off his bike and onto the pavement. He suddenly found himself lying face down in the street, staring up at headlights barreling toward him.

“I was lying in the middle of two lanes of traffic and I looked up and saw cars coming at me at 40 mph,” said Burpo. “I jumped up and started waving, but they didn’t see me even with all of the reflectors I had on. They blew right by me at full speed. One even ran over the back tire of my bicycle and kept going!”

As it turns out, Burpo, a logistics readiness officer assigned to the 931st Air Refueling Group, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., had been broadsided by a motorist who had failed to see him at an intersection. He ended up walking away from the incident, but knows the outcome could have been much different.

“I got lucky,” he said. “I just got banged up a little. It was a small car. If it had been an SUV or something larger, I might not have made it.”

It’s this incident Burpo refers to when discussing his philosophy on bicycle safety.

“Always assume you are invisible,” he said. “When you are on a bicycle, no one sees you and no one is looking for you. Take precautions with the idea that no one can see you, and you will be much safer.”

Burpo speaks from experience. He began using his bicycle to make the 24-mile round trip commute from his home to McConnell AFB in June 2006 as a way to save some money on gas and get in some extra exercise. Since that time, he’s logged more than 21,700 miles on his bike, and has learned a thing or two about making a two-wheeled commute safely.

With more Airmen riding bikes during the warm weather months, Burpo has some words of advice.

“If you’re going to commute or ride, always do a good route study before heading out,” he said. “Even if you have to go a little out of the way to be safer, it’s far better to do that than to take a risk. In my case, I actually ride two miles out of the way just to take a safer route to and from work.”

According to the 931st Air Refueling Group safety office, riding in traffic requires Airmen to be extra vigilant.

“Like most states, in Kansas traffic laws apply to anyone riding a bicycle on a roadway. This means that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities that are applicable to motorists,” said Master Sgt. Felicia Sanders, the 931st Air Refueling Group ground safety manager. “That being the case, it’s extremely important that Airmen riding bicycles in traffic know the traffic regulations and understand and obey all traffic signs.

“Riders should ride to the right, with the flow of traffic, and it’s crucial to stay alert. Listen to traffic, and watch for any situation that might cause you to lose control of your bicycle.”

Burpo agrees. “When I ride in traffic, I use a combination of riding on the streets and the sidewalk. If you are on the street, get over to the right as close to the curb as possible. Depending on the area and the traffic, I’m not ashamed at all to get up on the sidewalk to ride,” he said.

Burpo also discussed the importance of having on the proper clothing, including an approved bicycle helmet, as well as a high-visibility, florescent-colored riding jersey, along with plenty of reflectors on the bicycle and the rider.

“I wear a backpack when I ride, and I even have a reflective belt strapped around that as a precaution,” he said.

And while the mornings and evenings are well-lit during the summer months, Burpo said it’s a good idea to have lights on your bicycle as well.

Burpo said he definitely encourages other Airmen to take up bicycle commuting, especially when considering the health benefits and financial advantage of saving money on gas purchases. But for all Airmen who do ride, he said there is one rule of thumb to always keep in mind.

“You can never, ever ignore the fact that other people are not looking for you when you are on a bicycle. You’ve got to pretend you are invisible. That’s the biggest thing.”

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