David G. Smith
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Race Rides, Bicycle Crashes and the Rules of the Road

The cycling community's holiday season was bittersweet this year as it mourned the loss of Herman Shum, 40, who died on December 27 in the midst of a serious bicycle crash during a fast-paced group ride near Livermore and San Ramon.

The ride, dubbed House of Pain (HOP) has three levels and start times: HOP (self-described as a "race ride"), HOP Light (less brutal pace, possible regroups) and HOP Medium (somewhere in between). Shum and between 50 and 70 other riders comprised HOP Medium that morning. Newspaper and rider accounts report that as the group proceeded down Highland Avenue, a rider veered off the pavement and when he veered back onto the road from the gravel shoulder, he made contact with another rider, which caused a nasty crash. Shum, in an attempt to avoid the chaos, veered left, crossed the double-yellow line and flew into the path of a water truck. At least one other rider suffered serious injuries.

Riders that participate in fast group rides need to take special precautions. Even in a sanctioned road race, the roads usually are not closed to cars. Remember to share the road. The center-line rule (aka don't cross it) should remain in effect even during fast group rides. Especially during fast group rides. Situational awareness is key. There was probably nothing Mr. Shum could have done differently that would have kept him out of harm's way. But the more riders can do to ride assertively, but safely (e.g., work on those bike handling skills) and predictably, the better the odds of everyone remaining upright.

Many crashes occur because one or more riders are not paying attention. If a crash happens at the front of the pack, it is certainly foreseeable that the riders in the back of the pack will be affected.

In the case of Shum's crash, there are many possible negligence scenarios. For the sake of argument, the rider(s) that caused the crash could be found liable for negligence for forcing Shum into a danger zone. Also, hypothetically, if the truck driver was speeding, looking elsewhere, or talking on the phone, he could be found partially at fault. I would not be surprised to see a wrongful death suit in the somewhat near future.

If a motorist sees a group of cyclists in his immediate vicinity, he should be especially vigilant. The pack should stay to the right side of the road to let the motorist pass; however, the driver should give them a wide berth. (Remember: Three Feet for Safety!)

We are all traveling on the same stretches of pavement together. Let's work together to keep our communities safe.

My condolences to Herman Shum's family. A memorial fund for his family, which will help with funeral costs and college tuition for his children, can be found here.

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David G. Smith
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Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 925-308-6484
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