Dodging Traffic while Training
UO Cycling Team coordinator Austin Sommerfield discusses the benefits and dangers of biking in EugeneBy MICHAEL PUTNAM
As the coordinator of the UO Cycling Team, senior Austin Sommerfield is familiar with being a target of drivers who don't care to share the road during his training runs.
"I have been spit on, had water bottles thrown at me, and yelled at," Sommerfield says.
While Sommerfield has never been hit by a car, he has had plenty of near-misses. One of his teammates recently wasn't so lucky.
"He was riding down the bike lane, down the hill, and the driver just turned in front of him as if it was intentional" Sommerfield says of his injured teammate. "He went over the hood, broke his hand, bike was completely mangled, and the driver just took off."
Luckily for his teammate, he was able to get the license plate number of the car as it drove away. The disappearing driver faces legal consequences now.
Stories like this aren't typical for UO cycling team members, since many Eugene drivers are polite to riders wearing Duck uniforms. "Wearing the jerseys definitely helps," Sommerfield says, but it is a privilege that comes with a price. "As UO riders, we always have the jerseys on and we represent the school."
The UO Cycling team trains as early as October, and competes every weekend against other schools from the northwest in a seven week season that starts in March. "Lots of cold weather riding," Sommerfield says of his training this February.
Regardless of the weather, making sure cyclists are safe while training is one of his most important responsibilities as team coordinator.
Poor behavior by his teammates can sometimes encourage retaliation by drivers. Sommerfield often warns his less experienced teammates. "Every person that you tick off on the road might be prone to do something," he says. "Our reputation is on the line every time a car passes us."
Most of the issues with cars are with the big team rides. He outlines the rules of the road for his team members. "When on busy roads, we like to stay in single file," Sommerfield says.
Typically, the less experienced cyclists are the ones who ignore these guidelines, believing that they have the same rights as the cars on the road. Sommerfield admits that while this is legally true, the simple physics of a 4000 pound moving hunk of metal reinforces the reality that the roads are still owned by the cars.
These team rides vary in length from 30 to 70 miles. Destinations include Veneta and Cottage Grove. Variation is the key. "Don't stick in one place for too long because people get sick of it," he says.
Sommerfield loves how easy it is to get out of Eugene for one of his training runs. After just 15 minutes of riding, Sommerfield can find himself outside the busy streets of Eugene onto open country roads where he and other cyclists prefer to train.