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Beware the flag, man


The other day, I went for a recreational ride in the country.

Not far from town, I was surprised to encounter a flagman, though I don’t know why I was surprised. I had read on this very Web site that the stretch of road I was on was to have work done and that traffic would be restricted to one lane. Thus: flagman ahead.

I guess I just didn’t think it could happen to me.

In a car, I see flagmen as necessary evils.

On a bike, I see them as, well, just evil.

In a car, flagman zones are inconveniences at best. You stop, wait a few minutes for oncoming traffic to clear, cheer a little when the flag dude flips his sign from STOP to SLOW, then continue on your merry way.

But on a bike, I find the whole encounter fraught with peril.

In the best-case scenario, other road users know about the flag zone and avoid it, leaving the cyclist all alone with the two flagbearers. You jolly with the guy on one side until it’s time to go, then say thanks as you ride past the guy on the other side. Easy peasy.

Trouble is, it never works that way.

Instead, it seems I always end up in the middle of a string of cars. We wait, and the drivers become increasingly hostile. Finally, it’s our turn, and the cars in front high-tail it out of there. The cars behind, however, get stuck behind slow old me. They get mad. Then madder still. There’s no room to pass. Finally, we make it through the flag-controlled zone and the cars behind go screeching past. Meanwhile, the cars headed the other direction see the guy on the bike and the backup behind him, and they start to steam that they had to wait even longer because of that jerk on the bike.

I have to admit, sometimes I try to get right up on the car in front of me (kids, don’t try this at home) and draft awhile. It’s always amusing to see unsuspecting drivers looking in their rearview mirrors and finding, well, me there, pumping away. Normally it doesn’t last long, though a few kind souls have played along, keeping a slow enough speed I can keep pace for the length of the flag zone.

I don’t understand the ones who step on it instead. I guess they’re afraid I’m going to pass.

Earlier this week, though, I developed a new reason to dislike flag zones.

On the outbound leg, I was struggling along into a headwind, with all the traffic ahead of me. I lost myself in thought after a while and was surprised to look up and see cars coming right for me. The far-end flagman didn’t wait and sent the oncoming traffic. No biggie. There still was an unused half lane on my side, so I slid over and rode unmolested.

On the leg back, I remembered the near-miss and, taking advantage of a tailwind, started time-trialing it as fast as I could so I wouldn’t lose sight of the cars ahead of me.

Unfortunately, I lost touch about a mile from the far end and, again, was dismayed to see a string of cars headed right for me.

This time, there was no half lane at my disposal, no shoulder and nowhere to go. I envisioned an ugly scene as the lead car saw the bike in the road and panicked, slamming on the brakes. Cars behind followed suit. Tires screeched. Vehicles nosed into the pavement. An SUV went into a barrel roll. A semi hauling propane jackknifed. Flames leapt. Explosions rocked the countryside. The horror! Oh, the horror!

So I did what any prudent cyclist would do and pulled over until the way was clear, then pedaled the final mile in solitude.

I thought about lipping off to the flagman as I rode past, but decided against it. The last thing I need is more bad flagman karma. So I wished him a good day instead.

He yawned in response, then flipped his sign from SLOW to STOP.


kusp8 8 years, 4 months ago

Hey, easy on the flag guy, he's getting paid around $8-15/ hr (last time I checked) to swivel a pole! Do you have any idea how hard that is !? ;)

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

Ask the two guys who got hit by that crazy woman. Good blog as usual. It has to get pretty boring standing out there for hours. Do they switch guys on and off from one job to the other? Hey since Rambo 5 is coming out, how about you making a viral video of yourself as Rambo on a bike. You could point to the flagman and snarl, "You drew first blood!"

puddleglum 8 years, 4 months ago

bike riding has become so dangerous that nobody should ever ride a bicycle ever again.... this time i mean it.

Linda and Bill Houghton 8 years, 4 months ago

I have yet to have a negative situation with a flagger and have had a couple of positive ones. Both were on U.S. 40 between Lawrence and Topeka.

One was a fairly short lane blockage and the flagger waved me on through when I expected them to change the direction. In appreciation of this courtesy I rode though as fast as I could.

The other was near Tecumseh. They were moving a house closing the entire highway. Cars were being sent off on a side road. The flagger told me to go on through, just get off to the side when I met the house.

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