Bike safety is of paramount importance to many in Green Laker Country — not just avid cyclists such as Mike Schattschneider, left, who was hit by a car last August while riding on County Road T, and Lauree Renaud, right, of Green Lake Greenways. It’s also important to safety officials such as Green Lake County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mark Putzke, middle. Maic D’Agostino photo
Come on, admit it.
You’ve seen those folks wearing yellow spandex, like 1980s superheroes, riding bikes so slender you could run them through a paper shredder.
Maybe you’re driving in your car when you come upon one, and suddenly you have to navigate a 12-foot roadway with your 8-foot car while giving the cyclist — by law — at least a 3-foot cushion.
Many of us in that situation likely vent our unexpected spike in stress, in the form of blame, onto the nearest object:
“Look at these people,” we might scoff under our breath (or over it, even). “Go bike a trail or something!”
Now, venting feels good in the moment, and it definitely wins you points in the Internet’s comment-section blood sports.
But let’s be honest here: While simultaneously complaining about how our culture is glued to screens and missing out on the great outdoors, we also complain about the people who take advantage of a healthy, environmentally friendly and often relaxing activity because they inconvenience us as we zoom by them in our gas-guzzlers.
Lauree Renaud is among those trying to change attitudes towards riders, in part through the cyclist-advocacy organization she helped start, Green Lake Greenways.
“[Greenways] grew out of a citizens’ response to safe biking and options, needing options,” she said.
One of the best ways to make biking safer, Lauree believes, is what we all (hopefully) aspire to be: educated, responsible citizens.
“With our society being so aggressive and negative, now imagine sharing the road,” Lauree said. “I used to hear … about ‘You people and your outfits.’ And they would say it just like that. And I thought, ‘You know what, there has got to be an education process here.’”
Recently, Lauree found some help in increasing bike safety awareness and education through a simple suggestion from an avid cyclist.
Mike Schattschneider came up with the idea of putting a sign about the “3 feet” law on the side of his shed along County Road K, just south of Big Green Lake.
For people like Mike, bike safety can be a life-and-death issue.
And last year, it came far too close to death.
Riding along County Road T with a few others, Mike was hit from behind by a minivan last August.
“My cousin yelled, and I heard a crunch, and the next thing you know, I’m laying on the pavement, on my back, and everybody telling me not to move,” he said.
Mike “went flying,” his helmet and wheels were broken, and he spent two months in rehab.
But he feels lucky.
When cyclists are hit from behind, “40 percent of them are fatalities,” Mike explained somberly.
“I’m more cautious now. I’m more cautious then I used to be,” he said. “… I don’t ride on [County Road] T anymore. I probably could; I’ve got a lot of guts. The stuff I’ve been through in my life, I’m lucky I’m still alive.”
His helmet, Mike said, saved his life, and he strongly believes every cyclist who takes to the road should have a light on her or his bike to alert approaching vehicles.
In fact, Mike’s bike is outfitted like James Bond were riding it.
He wears special sunglasses with a tiny review mirror built into the left lens, rides a bike with electronic shifting and clips his phone onto the handlebars.
Plus a can of mace rests on his crossbar to fend off non-human adversaries: Dogs.
“I’ve been chased by seven dogs at one time,” Mike said. “I’ve been bit four times.”
The mace he carries is the same type carried by county law enforcement.
But while mace may be used in emergencies with animals, the Green Lake County Sheriff’s Department takes a gentler approach in its attempts to decrease roadway accidents — and fatalities —involving cyclists.
Green Lake County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mark Putzke explained that officers like himself promote safety on “both ends of this,” trying to educate drivers, cyclists, pedestrians — even ATV riders.
“There’s only so much roadway that is allocated for so many people, and everybody is after their square-inch [of pavement],” he said.
Lauree praised efforts by the Sheriff’s Department and extensive training many of its officers have undergone on pedestrian and bicycle safety.
“I want them to get credit for that,” she said. “… I think we have probably some of the most educated police officers in the state [on road safety].”
The relationship between the Sheriff’s Department, Greenways and other groups — such as the Green Lake County’s Department of Health & Human Services and Highway Commission — have made roadways much safer for everyone, Lauree asserted.
With a rising number of riders over the years, fitting everyone safely on the road together has become a more pressing issue.
“Thank goodness, not a lot [of cyclist accidents occur],” Putzke said. “It is increasing with the amount of bike traffic, pedestrian traffic and alternative travel that is increasing in the county.”
Mike remembers when he first took up bike riding as an enthusiast, circa 1976, hardly any other bikes were seen in the countryside.
He began for health reasons, like many cyclists do to this day.
“I took a picture of myself one time, and I looked damn fat,” Mike said, adding he lost 50 pounds (although he noted he has gained some back).
He’s had six bikes since then, each with a story to tell.
One he rusted out so badly the repair shop wouldn’t let him ride it home.
After that he bought a titanium frame, which he rode from 1998 until last year, after the accident.
Since then, safety has been his No. 1 concern.
Surprisingly, he often feels safer when a semi-truck is passing him then other vehicles.
He called truckers “very courteous,” adding, “I have no gripe about truckers; it’s the uneducated civilians.”
While some of us might shout, “Get off the road!” and expect cyclists to ride paths, not only do they have a legal right to ride the roads, but they don’t always have another option.
Greenways formed when Lauree helped secure a grant to create Green Lake County’s only paved trail, which runs from the Green Lake Conference Center to the city of Green Lake itself, following along Highway 23.
Lauree noted that, based on their counts, bicycle traffic in that area increased “400 percent.”
“These guys were even trying to get through when I was mowing a path, a grass path [before the path was paved],” she said. “… They really wanted to avoid 23.”
Some day, she hopes there can be a trail connecting Ripon and Green Lake, allowing citizens of the closely linked cities to add a shared cycling route to their jointly enjoyed activities.
But if you see a cyclist on the road, remember:
Give ’em 3 feet.
It’s not just the law; it’s the courteous thing to do.