Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Stop Sign: While A Nuisance To Many, They Can Actually Make You Stronger And Faster.

A Stop Sign make you stronger and faster?  How can that be?  To many a cyclist, the Stop Sign is a conundrum.  It is an Enigma.  It confounds, confuses, and infuriates.  It is to be scoffed at and even ignored.  Well, in actuality, the Stop Sign can be so much more. 

Many, many miles ago, I used to ride with a club which completely ignored Stop Signs.  At first, I went with the flow and jammed right through them, too.  It felt liberating, yet it felt weird.  It was kinda’ like being nude in public.  Yes, it may have felt like I was free, but in realty, my stupidity was laid bare for all to see.  The public has a right to expect much more from us. 

After a period of time I could see frustration on the faces of drivers which had no idea what to do with cyclists disobeying the traffic laws.  So, I went to THE source – Our California Highway Patrol (CHP) for answers.  And, I got them.  In basic terms, they told me this: “Bicycles in the State of California are bound by the California Vehicle Code (CVC).”  So, the reality of the law is this: Same road - Same rules.  Yes, it is that simple.  There is no exemption for cyclists, just as there are no exceptions for any motor vehicle, pedestrians, dogs, cats, Smurfs, or Unicorns.

So, whether I was riding with a group or solo, I took the CHP’s information to heart.  I began to follow the rules just as if I was driving my car, and yes, that included Stop Signs.  It was then I began to discover three things of extremely significant importance.  One, I was now being consistently dropped from groups by obeying the law.  Two, the surprised stares and verbal “Thanks” I was receiving from drivers was completely unexpected (including one fellow that said he had never seen a bicycle stop for a pedestrian in a cross walk before, when I stopped to let him pass, per the CVC).  And finally, by stopping at every Stop Sign and signal, I had to work extra-hard to catch back onto groups or getting back up to my regular pace when riding alone.  And that was when I began to notice the single most important benefit from stopping – I was doing Intervals and getting stronger without even knowing it.  Who knew, by the simple virtue of making every stop, I was going to get stronger?  It was a beautiful revelation. 

See, that was what I meant in the title of this article with the term “Stronger and Faster.”  I became a much better rider than I would have if I had “Gone with the flow” by blowing through stop after stop.  By unknowingly doing multiple intervals on long group (and solo) rides, I was getting more of a health benefit than I could have ever imagined.  I found I now could run down any break-away, I was much quicker from standing starts, and I was now better able to get up to, and sustain, a given speed.  One time I was even asked if I had batteries in my bike.  On one group ride, a lady exclaimed, “How can anyone launch off a stop and get up to speed that fast without an electric motor of some sort?” (Editors note: I don’t ride with that group anymore, as they still insist on rolling through stops at will)

So, the next time you are cruising along at 20-plus MPH, feeling like you are in the break-away at the Tour de France, remember two things: One, you are not on the Tour, and two, Stop Signs are the law, and you owe it to others, as well as yourself, to do the safe, and lawful thing.

Besides, stopping will make you much stronger and faster.

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