by Maureen Gaffney

While the Napa Valley VINE TRAIL boasts 14 miles of existing, off-road, fully separated pathway devoted exclusively to cyclists and pedestrians of all stripes, accidents do happen. This article about safety aims to remind and inform us all about the “rules of the road/trail” without sounding too much like your mom.

Unless you happen to live adjacent to the VINE TRAIL, we hope that you’ll choose to walk or ride your way to the path, and that means walking or riding with and around cars. Here are a few tips and tricks to stay safe.

Be Visible: Even die-hard, fashion-obsessed roadies have now decided that safety lights—front and rear—are cool. These are easy to come by and rechargeable to boot. And fluorescent/day-glow is back!  It is once again okay to wear a windbreaker visible from space. But please remember this is “okay” only when riding your bike. Do not wear this to lunch, or work, and maybe get dressed in a dark closet and sneak out the back door to save the retinas of your family members.

Be Predictable: Being a predictable rider/strider/walker is key in maintaining your safety on the road or trail. This is just common-sense, a real “duh,” right? Yes, but even the most rule-and-etiquette-savvy among us forget ourselves on occasion. When I’m a pedestrian on a path with pals and I see something shiny on the other side, well, I just walk over and look at it. The cyclist coming up behind me probably didn’t expect that I would dive in front of him (though of course he should ring a bell or call out when passing—see below…). Similarly, when we pedestrians become cyclists, we need to remember how it feels to be startled, to feel “buzzed” by a biker due to the speed differential. Just slow down a bit and talk to your fellow trailmate. We’re all doing the same thing out here—enjoying the Napa Valley VINE TRAIL!

Obey the Rules of the Road and Use Hand Signals: Bike with the direction of traffic and obey all traffic laws as if you were driving a car (yes, that means even stopping at stop signs). Using hand signals to alert other riders and cars of your intentions. Clear communication on the road or trail is paramount. And for god sakes, keep your dog on leash and don’t let the leash become a trip-wire for passing cyclists. 

Be Aware: While people on bikes legally have the same rights as motorists, always be aware of your surroundings. Be cognizant of the cars, other riders and pedestrians around you, and take special care in staying out of vehicles’ blind spots. Make yourself heard when approaching or passing other riders or pedestrians with a bell or by announcing “passing on your left.” Just like driving in a car, reducing distractions and remaining constantly aware of your surroundings while riding a bike are important measures to staying safe on the road or trail.

On The VINE TRAIL: Got a walking group? Part of a cycling club? A stroller posse? Great! We’re so glad you’re here. But remember—others are here too. It’s easy to fall prey to “herd mentality” when amongst a gaggle of like-minded pals, so resist the urge to spread across the trail three or four abreast unless you’re 1000% sure you’re not blocking another user’s progress.

Map it Out: Know your route before you ride! One of the biggest barriers that keeps people from riding is an uneasiness or lack of knowledge of the safest routes. I have been riding bikes for commuting, errands and fun for 40+ years and I am still subject to the unease that comes from not knowing where I’m going. I loathe being lost. Nowadays there are several handy apps that can help you find routes that utilize protected bike lanes, trails and low-traffic streets to give you the safest path possible, with audio and visual cues to help you navigate your entire ride. Set the route, save the ride, and you won’t have to worry about staying on course.

Helmets: Just do it. At this point, you only look weird if you’re not wearing one.