The Sun News

Safety means much to longtime bike rider

John Trussell
John Trussell

John Trussell is a bicycle riding enthusiast and advocate for safety who wants to make sure everything shares the road with harm to anyone.

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Retired law enforcement, bicycling advocate

Q: You’re an advocate for bicycling and riding safety — how long have you ridden?

A: Since I was a young kid. I was the oldest of five and when my mom said go outside and play she meant it. My bike was my ticket to freedom, my first wheels. I’d ride all over the place and I don’t know how many trips from where we lived on Sandy Run Drive off Feagin Mill Road to the old Walker’s Grocery at Feagin and Houston Lake Road. Feagin Mill Road was dirt in those days. We’d ride everywhere, stick our fishing poles on our bikes and go over to Leisure Lake before there were houses there.

Q: So you’re from Warner Robins?

A: Yes, Warner Robins High School class of ’69.

Q: What was your career?

A: I retired in 2005 as chief probation officer for the Houston Judicial Circuit. I also wrote freelance outdoor and sports articles and columns as a hobby for newspapers and magazines like Georgia Outdoor News.

Q: Remember your first bike?

A: I remember all about it. My dad went to Western Auto and came back with a girl’s bike that was too big for me with balloon tires. I got grief from my friends but I loved it. I wore it out.

Q: Why a girl’s?

A: I have no idea. It was probably the last one on sale or something.

Q: Your next?

A: Another good kid’s bike, probably from Sears. My first geared bike was a three speed I got from a friend who couldn’t make it work. It was broken and he said if I wanted to fix it, fine — it was mine. I got it working and used it a long time.

Q: Have you ridden straight through from childhood to now? A lot of people leave it then come back to it — or not.

A: Straight through. I guess I enjoy it more than most so I’ve kept at it. I’ve been through a lot of bikes: road bikes, comfort bikes, all sorts.

Q: What do you ride now?

A: A Specialized road bike and a Diamondback comfort bike. I’m older, 66, and don’t do as many organized rides or long rides. I mostly ride in quiet residential areas and places like Callaway Gardens. That’s a great place. Big rides with people half my age and weight aren’t as fun anymore. I like leisurely rides where I can stop and look at scenery or run into a store. I’d usually rather be going 10 miles than 50 now.

Q: Roads are busier than when you were a kid — and paved. Right?

A: A lot busier and a lot more dangerous, with new dangers like distracted driving with motorists talking or texting on cellphones. But I tell you, when I was about 15 I was riding down Feagin Mill, riding on the right side like you’re supposed to, and behind me I heard someone rev their engine. I got a bad feeling and got off the road and I’m glad I did. Two cars were drag racing and didn’t see me. They came by about 80 miles an hour and if I’d been where I was I’d have been killed. Everything in life has its danger. It pays to be safety conscious.

Q: You’ve actively advocated for bicycle safety. Weren’t you instrumental in one of Georgia’s more recent bicyclist-motorist safety laws?

A: I’d become acutely aware of how many cyclists were dying, killed by cars on our roads with little liability and nothing done about it. I looked at laws in other states and 17 made it illegal for motorists to get anywhere from three to seven feet from cyclists. We had nothing. I drew up a law going for the minimum in hopes it would pass and gave it to Larry O’Neal and Willie Talton to introduce in the legislature. It didn’t pass that year but it created a lot of interest. A similar bill measure became law the next year, in 2011. Not mine, but I took satisfaction that something had been done and we had started it.

Q: What are cyclist’s rights? How should motorists pass and treat cyclists?

A: Cyclists have the same rights as motorists and drivers should expect to give them those rights. And cyclists have the same responsibilities, too. If everyone drove politely, responsibly and watched out for each other that would make such a difference — motorist to motorist, too. Cyclists have the same rights to be in in different lanes at intersections. As far as passing, if you can’t pass safely it’s like being behind a car: you have to wait, go slow. It’s no good getting mad. When it’s safe to pass, do the same as passing a car: safely move into the left lane and go around, just as if they were a car.

Q: What are some cyclist safety tips?

A: Wear bright clothes, wear a wristband with emergency info, have plenty of water to stay hydrated, carry a cell phone, wear glasses sunglasses or sunglasses — a bug in your eye at 20 mph is a big deal. Of course, wear a helmet. Ride on the right side, with not against traffic, and be conscious of traffic. Get off the road and let cars pass if they’re lined up behind you. That’s easy, it’s safe and it’s just polite.

Q: Despite dangers you still advocate for riding and have written a book. How did that come about?

A: It grew out of my outdoor writing. A friend, Don Pfitzer, wrote a Falcon Guide to hiking in Georgia and the publishers wanted him to do one on riding. He told them he didn’t ride but recommended me. I worked on “Road Biking Georgia: A Guide to the Greatest Bicycle Rides in Georgia” for three years and it came out in 2008. I wrote about 40 or so different rides from every corner of the state covering all rider skill levels, plus it’s family friendly and has a lot of history, local color and safety information. The publisher cut out a few rides and some things like elevation levels I wish they’d kept. It’s on Amazon and is still the only book of its kind out there.

Q: What are a couple of top rides?

A: There’s the Bike Ride Across Georgia, or BRAG, that’s a good organized ride. There’s the Silver Comet Ride out of Atlanta to Alabama that incorporates some abandoned railroad lines which is a great, fairly easy ride on a good path — I wish we’d do something like that around here. I love the Callaway Garden paths and they’re close by. Same for riding Pine Mountain and the Wheels of Fire Ride that supports their fire department. It’s hilly but a good ride along the ridge. I’d also mention the Savannah Historic Ramble, riding the Columbus River Walk and riding at St. Simons Island and Jekyll. The Bike Store here in Warner Robins organizes rides for all skill levels so they’re worth talking to.

Q: What are top suggestions for someone starting or restarting?

A: Focus on safety. Ride close to home and break into it easy. No 50 mile rides; do a little then a little more. Get a good bike with good tires, good components. Junkers aren’t worth it, especially for adults. Get good advice and a good fit. A pro setup gives an easier ride. Decide what you want: a road bike, mountain bike, hybrid, comfort bike or whatever.

Q: Is it as much fun as it used to be?

A: Oh yeah. Every day outside with the wind in your face, self-propelling here to there is a great day. It’s a great stress reliever and terrific physical and mental exercise. If you don’t go at it too hard, it’s gentle on your joints and body. You can always jump on your bike and go.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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