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Safe Crossing

Cross Tracks the Safe Way
Road Bike Rider's 8/20/09 newsletter at

Although they're not as common as they once were on U.S. roads, railroad tracks pose a substantial cycling hazard. We know a couple of good riders who've managed to fall on them. One fractured his pelvis. (Many TAB riders have suffered injuries in the past few years crossing railroad tracks, and several of our rides - especially the weekend rides - cross several of them.)

Being metal, tracks are very slippery when wet. They may be higher than the road surface, posing a risk of pinch flats or dinged rims. The pavement surrounding them may have hazardous cracks or gaps.

Here are four tips for getting across without squaring up your wheels or falling over:

1. Be perpendicular.
If the tracks slant across the road, check behind for traffic and adjust your position in the lane to cross as close to 90 degrees as you can.

2. Look for a smooth crossing.
Sometimes the road and track level will be more even in the center of the lane where car wheels don't travel. Or it may be smoother along the road edge. Check on the approach and cross where rails protrude less, traffic permitting.

3. Ride like a jockey.
Slow down, coast, hold the crankarms horizontal and support your weight on your hands and feet over the center of the bike. Raise your butt an inch above the saddle. If the tracks are nearly flush with the road surface, glide right over.

4. Levitate over tall rails.
Just before your front wheel contacts a rail protruding from the road surface, shift your weight back a bit and pull up lightly on the handlebar. Do it again for the second rail. Then move forward to lighten the hit on the rear wheel as it rolls over. Do not exaggerate these movements; small weight shifts are enough to reduce the impacts to a safe level at low speed.

What about bunny hopping the tracks? Skilled riders can do it, but we don't recommend it. Bunny hopping two rails requires high speed at lift-off. A miscalculation will bang the rear wheel into the second rail, causing a near-certain pinch flat, dinged rim or even a crash.