Long-distance bike races bring safety reminder for Kansas drivers

The longer, warm days that come with this time of year bring long-distance bike races across the state and beyond.

Monday, riders participating in the 4,200-mile Trans American Bike Race made their way to Kansas on the route that begins in Oregon and wraps up in Virginia.

With that, the Kansas Department of Transportation reminds drivers to take extra caution with more cyclists on the road. In the last two years, a pair of Trans Am riders died after cars hit them in western Kansas.

Last year, a car hit a St. Cloud, Minn. man about 12 miles west of Scott City. The rider, 64-year-old John Egbers, died from his injuries at a Wichita hospital.

In 2017, a car hit a 61-year-old San Luis Obispo, Calif man about eight miles east of Leoti. Rider Eric Fishbein died at the scene.

The safety reminder from K-DOT comes ahead of riders' arrival in Kansas and hopes that all of them make it through safely this year. The Trans American Bike Race is one of many cycling events in or through Kansas this summer, K-DOT says.

"Motorists should expect to see an increase in cyclists during these warmer summer months and are reminded that Kansas law requires that motorists treat cyclists like any other motorized vehicle on the road," K-DOT says. "This includes moving over and passing like you would any other vehicle only when safe to do so and requires that motorists must have three feet of space between the cyclist and vehicle when passing."

Another, even longer race underway is the Texas 4000, covering 4,000-plus miles from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska. The race is a charitable ride geared toward raising money and awareness about cancer research.

Monday, two University of Texas students competing in the race were among the group biking through Kansas. The Kansas winds proved especially challenging for the riders.

"We had somewhere between 15 and 20 mile-per-hour headwinds the whole time," says University of Texas student Varun Rajaram.

Rajaram says he didn't have a passion for riding a bike until he and the Texas 4000 group got involved to fight for something bigger than themselves.

"This is sort of a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can take a summer to just give and to do something to a purely good cause," he says.

In Wichita, there aren't many areas with bike lanes, but that shouldn't matter when it comes to drivers and how they share the road, cyclists say.

"We look for cows on the road. We look for deer on the road. If you're driving, looking for anything around you or in front of you, that's kind of what your responsibility is as a driver," local cyclist Dale Lebar says.

Lebar says Kansans may not know about the three-foot passing law. This law requires passing vehicles to give at least three feet of clearance to bicyclists.

Lebar discussed two crashes last year, one in which a cyclist died and another in which the cyclist was critically injured. In both cases, he said the accidents could've been avoided had the drivers kept their focus on the road.