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Palo Alto Bicyclist Killed During Sierra Century

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By Sean Rabé

A 56-year-old Palo Alto bicyclist was killed Saturday morning outside of Fiddletown during the Sierra Century bicycle ride when he attempted to pass a tractor and was swept under the vehicle´s wheel.

Ronald A. Gordon died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

According to California Highway Patrol reports, Gordon was riding his bicycle westbound on Fiddletown Road in an area with numerous curves. Ted Carter, 50, of Fiddletown, was driving a Caterpillar tractor in the same direction when Gordon came upon the tractor.

Gordon then attempted to overtake the tractor at a high rate of speed by crossing over the double-yellow lines. While in the opposing lane of traffic another vehicle approached in the opposite direction. According to the CHP report, Gordon abruptly re-entered the westbound lane and drove his bicycle directly into the side of the tractor. He was then swept under the wheel. The impact resulted in massive and unsurvivable injuries to Gordon.

This is the second accident in as many years for the Sierra Century. Last year a couple was run off the road in an apparent road rage incident.

Ride coordinator Dale Tudor said the Sierra Century´s parent organization, the Sacramento Wheelmen, will be researching its options and will be discussing the situation with local law enforcement.

“Hopefully we will be welcomed back,” Tudor said Monday. “This was a very unfortunate accident.”

Tudor said the organization has taken several steps to increase rider awareness of traffic laws and to provide a safer environment since last year´s incident.

“We have banners along the route and the coordinators remind the riders that they have to ride single file as the riders leave the starting gates,” Tudor said. Additionally, the ride has 13 vehicles patrolling the entire route with magnetic signs reminding riders of the rules, including that they must ride single file.

“The Sacramento Wheelmen take their responsibility to safety seriously and discuss safety on our Web site under ´Rules of the Road,´” Tudor said. “We have a dedicated captain for the Sierra Century in charge of community outreach and rider safety.”

Tudor said the organization had several signs urging riders to obey all traffic laws as well.

The organization also ran advertisements in the Ledger Dispatch.

Tudor said the ride has doubled its efforts with the CHP and local law enforcement and that both the CHP and Amador County Sheriff´s Office were receptive to that. “We were happy to see law enforcement take a more active role,” he said.

Jackson CHP Lt. Commander Erik Knudsen said Tudor has been working really well with the CHP on resolving past issues. “They formed a partnership to have the CHP assist with the race more,” Knudsen said, adding that Sierra Century paid for some of the CHP officers to help control major intersections along the 100-mile route.

Knudsen said motorists in the area are getting very frustrated with the riders because the riders aren´t following the rules of the road – many of them ride three or four abreast.

“Why are bicyclists allowed on these country roads, that are already treacherous with their blind corners and narrow access?” asked one e-mail sent from a Fiddletown resident to the Ledger Dispatch. “Fiddletown Road should be closed to bicycle traffic unless we build them a bike lane.”

Several postings on the rider comment board of the Sierra Century´s Web site expressed similar sentiments.

“When motor traffic passed riders going up the grade, this made for a dangerous combination as cars/ trucks often were in the same lane I was going down and they couldn´t see me because of the many blind corners,” one posting said. “I would strongly encourage not having bikes going up and down grades at the same time unless motor vehicles are not allowed.”

“I agree with another rider´s comment that the two-way bicycle traffic on Ram´s Horn Grade is dangerous and is asking for an accident,” another posting said. “A noticeable number of the uphill cyclists were two or three abreast riding near the center of the road. With impatient auto drivers passing, I found the descent somewhat scary.”

Knudsen said the CHP will be meeting with the ride´s coordinator to discuss the issues – a kind of “debriefing” to talk about how accidents like this weekend´s can be prevented “We´ll sit down and say, ´Look, this is what we saw, what can we do to prevent this.´ When anyone comes here – be they bicyclist, motorist, whatever – they need to follow traffic laws.”

Knudsen also said that the CHP will start issuing citations for those riders who aren´t following traffic laws during next year´s ride.

“The conscientious majority of bicyclists follow the rules,” he said. “Others, though, will do what they want. If we can´t get them educated on following traffic laws we will start citing them.”

According to a news story posted online by the Palo Alto Weekly newspaper, Gordon was a well-known dentist in the Palo Alto area and was an avid outdoorsman. He had practiced dentistry in Palo Alto for 30 years. He is survived by Judy, his wife of 22 years and two children: Joshua, 18 and Amanda, 20.

Reprinted with permission from the Amador Ledger Dispatch