Newsletter - 2003 Archive

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Henry Tumbles on the Rumbles

Eric Fergusson


On this year's Flèche Pacifique there was dramatic example of just how dangerous freeway 'rumble strips' (perpendicular grooves carved into the highway shoulders) are to cyclists. It was around midnight when our team left the Hope control. About a kilometer west of the highway #1 on-ramp, Keith, who was riding in front of me, seemed to hit something on the road and swerved right. Fortunately Keith caught himself and was able to stay vertical, and fortunately also, his unexpected swerve didn't take down anyone else… like, uh, me.

Seconds later, around the time we were realizing that Keith had hit rumble strips, Ken yelled from behind to stop. Henry was down. Like Keith, Henry had swerved right after hitting the strips, but was unable to control his bike enough to avoid riding onto the sandy strip to the right of the paved shoulder. Then it was faceplant time. We believe he landed mainly on his head (his helmet casing shattered), but his torso was also affected. When we left him in the Hope hospital it looked like his main problem was a fractured collar bone. In the days following the crash it was Henry's left shoulder that was giving him the most grief.

Anyone who has ridden with Henry will realize the extraordinary irony that something like this would have happened to him. He avoids every imaginable cycling risk including, most famously, the fact that he doesn't paceline ride - sure he takes his pulls, but then he hangs 5-10 meters off the back to avoid the risk of becoming entangled in the mishaps of other cyclist. Henry's extraordinary caution has served him well - he hasn't had a serious crash since he was 15, over 35 years ago. Considering the amount of road time Henry logs in a year, his non crash record becomes all the more astonishing… Henry routinely rides over 20,000 km per year. In 2002 he was awarded the Canadian Kilometer Achiever Program's "Les Humphreys Olympic Goal Trophy" as the man with the greatest distance ridden on a bike in that year: 29, 572 km. If rumble strips can take a rider like Henry down, how safe are the rest of us?

Rumble strips are dangerous not only because of the risk of crashes like Henry's but because they trap cyclists, either on the shoulder, or in the right-hand lane of traffic. To avoid parked cars and other perils on the shoulder it is periodically necessary for cyclist to swing out into the lane and then move back to the right - easily and safely done by experienced cyclists. However, throw a rumble strip into the mix, which the cyclist must cross twice, and it's a recipe for disaster.

The word from Peter Stary [note] on this is that although there has been extensive consultation with cyclists at the Ministry of Transportation, and although there is awareness within the ministry of the dangers to cyclists of rumble strips, the plan to rumblestrip BC is proceeding full steam ahead.

[note] Peter Stary is currently the BC Cycling Coalition's Vice President, and has for many years been one of this province's most important cycling advocates. He has also been a card carrying BC Randonneur since 1986.

Additional - I ran this article past Peter before submitting it to Susan. He suggested the following: "You could refer folks to the BCCC website which contains info on rumble strips and provincial bike advocacy: You could also invite people to write to the Minister of Transportation regarding any rumble strip problems, experiences, complaints, and to send me a copy to for BCCC follow-up. Thanks."