It's a growing cycling fashion statement, a training tool, and an indicator of riding prowess.
No, it's not the latest GPS device or power meter. It's stopping for red lights and stop signs.
It's all the rage, and all the cool kids are doing it, from national championship winning bike racers to downhillers to commuters. What may have started as a countywide crackdown against red light runners is evolving into a habit that quickly differentiates between Marin locals and those passing through, the experienced and those trying to show off. The difference? The experienced, skilled crowd stops for stop signs.
And it's not just cops sending the message.
"I confess, I used to do it," says Sean Fekete, of San Rafael, of yesterday's trend of rolling through stop signs. "I'm cruising along, don't want to stop and then start again."
Today, whether riding after work on a fixed gear or blazing down a mountain on his downhill bike, stopping for stop signs has become part of Fekete's regular riding style.
Why the change?
"I was riding a lot with a bike racer, and she was stopping at all the signs, so I just did it because she was," says Fekete. "Later, I was working with a local coach, and his rule was that if you ran stop signs or red lights, he wouldn't work with you."
Fekete is just one of a growing number of Marin locals who feel intense annoyance at those who don't stop.
"It's lazy and disrespectful," he says. "If you want to ride without having to stop, enter a race. Why give pedestrians and motorists even more reason to hate us?"
"I see people blowing stops signs so often now," says says multi-masters track national champion Pete Billington, also of San Rafael. "It is really frustrating when the same people complain about cars not respecting bicyclists."
What sign running cyclists don't realize is that not only do they stand out to the crowd as either inexperienced or dangerous, they're missing out on a valuable muscle defining training tool.
"Stopping at stop signs really is a good opportunity to develop strong core muscles and even sprinting technique," says Billington. "The tendency to swing the bike from side to side during a sprint is just wasted energy and practicing hip drive and forward acceleration is critical to developing top speed."
Throw that at the next newbie who screams "On your left!" at the next stop sign.
How to Stop for Stop Signs
We asked Officer Paul Stromoski of the Ross Police Department what exactly cops are looking for when it it comes to stopping for stop signs. You may find yourself surprised at how easy it is.
1. You don't have to put a foot down. Come to a complete stop, yes, but it's OK to stop for a split second, and then continue on. "Nowhere in the California Vehicle Code does it say cyclists have to put a foot down," says Stromoski. But if you're unable to maintain a track stand (balancing your bike at a complete stop), then obviously, you should, especially in a situation as described in Tip #2.
2. Give motorists and pedestrians who were at the intersection before you the right of way. This is Driver's Ed 101, and yes, it applies to cyclists. Yield the right of way to those who rightfully have it and you may suddenly find yourself within an intersection of allies. Who wouldn't want that?
3. Cops want to see you physically turning your head to look in all directions. "You might think a peripheral look from the corner of an eye is enough," says Officer Stromoski. "But we're looking to see your helmet actually moving. It's the only way we know you're really looking."
These are three tips that can spare you from expensive traffic fines or from drawing attention to yourself as an absolute novice. They could even save your life. And who knows? They may even help you get to the podium.