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The Dan Henry: A tribute to the man and the method

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Time to geek out on route marking!

What are those faded paint markings you see on pavement? In some cases, they’re the markings of utility workers, but often they’re Dan Henry directional markings. Dan Henrys are the most popular simple, effective and easy-to-see route marking technique for cyclists. 

The exact history of the Dan Henry is not very clear. But we do know about the man. Sadly, Dan Henry died March 15th. He was 98.  From his obituary,

An early advocate for biking facilities in Santa Barbara County, Dan Henry’s enthusiasm for the sport and impact on the local cycling community is reflected in the bike route on Alamo Pintado and Grand Avenue in Los Olivos being named after him.

Henry wrote poetry about the joys of cycling, which he would hand out to strangers. He also designed and built a road bike with front and rear suspension, for which he received a patent, as well as a hammock-type “sling” seat that he found more comfortable than a traditional bicycle saddle.

He spent 25 years as a pilot for American Airlines, which fired him three times because of his insistence on bringing a bicycle along on his flights so he could ride it after landing. Each time, the pilots union had him reinstated, but after the third episode in 1963, he retired the following year.

We will remember him for the markings and ultimately guiding cyclists from start to finish of many of your favorite rides. 

Effective Use of Markings

Good course marking is consistent, designed for cyclists and thorough. For every turn, there must be at least three marks. One well in advance to prepare, one to indicate a turn and one after the turn to provide confidence that the turn was correct. Additional markings might be needed depending upon the circumstances, such as the speed at which the rider will approach the marking, complexity of the intersection and other local factors.

Why Aren’t They Always Used?

Though Dan Henry’s are generally what cyclists prefer to see on organized rides, in some cases they cannot be used due to local municipal restrictions. Often these regulations come from a mis-informed administration or past conflicts. Drivers have been known to misinterpret poorly placed and sized Dan Henry’s as markings intended for them. Yes, an elderly woman once drove off the road because of a Dan Henry. We’ve heard the stories and while they’re not common, it only takes one instance for a municipality to take the cautious approach.

Proper placement and sizing is key. Dan Henry’s should be visible to cyclists but subtle to someone looking from a car. They should be placed where cyclists are intended to see them. 

How did I get lost?

You have your map and you have been following the Dan Henry’s, but now you are lost. How did that happen? Most likely you were admiring the scenery and missed a cue. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. And it’s not entirely a bad this, for admiring the scenery is a big reason we ride our bikes out in the countryside.

It’s easy to want to blame the ride organizers when we get lost, but let’s face it, we all make mistakes once in a while. Back track your steps and get back on track. Check our rider map, many include a phone number you can call and a support person will guide you back to the course. Yes, always bring your cell phone on an organized ride. The small weight is well worth it for such situations. 

Dan Henry, the man, set an easy to follow standard. He was an individual and so are we. It ultimately up to us to be prepared, be alert, and enjoy the ride

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