Staying safe on remote bicycle trails

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A murder on a bike path in Georgia and an assault and separate gun-pointing incidents on an Indiana bicycle trail show the need for cyclists to consider personal safety when out for a ride.

I don't want to be an alarmist about this. Bike trails aren't dangerous places. I've stumbled across these news stories in the past couple of months, and they may represent the only incidents of violence across the thousands of miles of bike trails used by millions of people during that time period.

Update: The University at Buffalo issued a warning Nov. 17, 2006, that people shouldn't travel alone on the Ellicott Creek bike path, or pathways in western New York.

The warning was made after police linked the late September killing of Joan Diver, 45, to the so-called “bike path rapist.” Until this case, the man had been responsible for nine assaults and two homicides between 1986 and 1994.

DNA from Diver's attacker is linked to the previous cases. She was found Oct. 1 along a Newstead bike path, two days after she disappeared.

Even so, it's probably worth repeating some words of caution.

Bike trail crime

The most recent incidents occurred over the weekend on the Indiana's Monon Trail, a 10-mile bike and hike path in the Indianapolis area. In separate incidents, two bicyclists told police a man confronted them with a gun.

Last month, a  man was approached by four teens on the bike path. Police said the four beat the man, who required hospitalization, and took his bicycle and cash. The four have been arrested.

In July, a 54-year-old woman was assaulted and killed during a solo bike ride on the 60-mile Silver Comet Trail that runs through North Georgia from Atlanta. A 43-year-old convicted rapist was arrested in the case, and the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.

Safety tips

In a Macon Telegraph story about the woman's murder, a Cobb County police officer gave the following advice:
Find someone to ride the trail with you;
Carry pepper spray, but avoid spraying it into the wind;
Carry a cell phone and trail maps to be able to give 9-11 operators an accurate location;
Use the bike as a weapon “by lifting it and twisting it into an attacker or throwing it at the aggressor.”

One of the cyclists who was confronted by a gunman last weekend on the Monon Trail told that he didn't stop pedalling when he saw the gun, but rode right past.

“My thinking was I wanted to get away from him as quickly as I could and not give him a chance to shoot me. If he was going to shoot me, he would have to think this through very quickly.”

Common sense

Common sense also comes into play, just as it does when riding in traffic — don't get in an argument with someone on a trail. Ride away.

Also, I remember reading that if someone appears to be blocking your path to do you harm, ride directly at the person. The initial reaction is to jump out of the way, instead of reaching for the bike.

Does anyone else have suggestions worth passing along?

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