Learning to ride safely. Or not.

Great post on the Gary Rides Bikes blog yesterday.

He wrote about repeatedly passing the same rider on a recent ride, since he was the faster rider but stopped for red lights, while she went through them but rode slower. So they kept leapfrogging one another.

It served as an example of the problem with so many riders who blatantly disregard the law — as well any semblance of common sense —  in an apparent rush to get where they’re going. And it struck a cord with me, because I’d been thinking much the same thing while I was riding today.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that so many riders learn to ride, and often, ride fast, without ever learning how to ride well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a stickler for obeying the letter of the law. I think the highest obligation of cyclists is to ride safely — that is, without posing an unnecessary risk to themselves or the people around them. Sometimes that means observing the law, and sometimes that means breaking it. But for a damn good reason.

I got my first real road bike when I was living in Louisiana, and I quickly learned to ride fast and far, dodging pickup driving Cajuns along backcountry bayous. I continued to use the same skills when I moved back to Colorado, and found myself riding rural farm roads and high mountain passes.

But I didn’t become a good rider until I started riding at Denver’s Washington Park.

In those days, Wash Park was the center of the local biking community, and a mecca for cyclists all over the country. Riding there often meant riding with cycling royalty, like Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney, and there were often rumors that Alexi Grewal or Greg LeMond might be somewhere in the vast crowd of riders, though I never saw them myself.

The big draw was a roadway that encircled the park, and was closed to car traffic Monday through Friday, providing a safe, traffic and red light free loop a couple miles long. Riders would start arriving in mid-afternoon; by 5 p.m., there were usually hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of riders circling in the same direction. Gradually, a peloton would form, as the slower riders dropped to the right, and the better riders grouped together and gained speed.

Anyone was welcome to join in, as long as you could keep up — and ride safely. Make a mistake, though, and you’d hear about from the other riders. Do it again, and you could expect a warning bump from a passing rider. Third offense meant a shoulder or hip check designed to knock you off your bike and on your ass.

The same rules held true on weekend group rides. If you wanted to do something stupid and risk you own life, go right ahead. There’d be no shortage of pall bearers at your funeral. But do something that endangered bystanders, risked the safety of the group or brought undue attention from law enforcement, and you could expect to pay the price.

It was a brutal way to learn. But I learned to ride safely. And I learned fast.

That sort of thing just doesn’t happen today. As many people have noted in other forums, there are no training procedures required for cycling, and the kind of education I received wouldn’t survive very long in today’s more litigious society — and probably shouldn’t. And experienced riders, such as myself, have learned the hard way that any attempt to educate another rider these days more likely to be met with a heartfelt “fuck you, asshole” than it is a polite “thank you.”

So new riders are left to learn on their own, for better or worse.

Which too often means they develop the physical skills to ride, without the knowledge that goes with it. They learn how to ride, and in many cases, to ride fast and far, just like I did. But they don’t have a clue how to ride safely.

Or courteously.

Especially in crowded, fast-paced and high-traffic city like Los Angeles.


Apparently, the conflict between drivers and cyclists isn’t limited by the Atlantic. A columnist in Colorado assures a driver that traffic laws apply to teenage cyclists, as well… but walking bikes across an intersection? Get real. Boston riders reveal it’s possible to look good on a bike, without resorting to spandex. And an Ohio man goes to jail for trashing his car after running down a cyclist on the sidewalk.


  1. Dave S says:

    The column from Windsor, Colorado states that bike riders using a crosswalk do so as pedestrians and are supposed to walk their bikes. It does not say that you can’t ride your bike across the intersection, just don’t ride through a crosswalk. Crosswalks are for PEDESTRIANS, NOT VEHICLES of any kind.

    Arvada, Colorado

    “Apparently, the conflict between drivers and cyclists isn’t limited by the Atlantic. A columnist in Colorado assures a driver that traffic laws apply to teenage cyclists, as well… but walking bikes across an intersection? Get real…….”

  2. Gary K. says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog in the post today. My latest post, which I had been poking around with for a while is aimed directly at that educational aspect, though it is meant for informing motorists as well as cyclists. It came out of frustration with reading comments attached to recent media stories, where no one seemed to have a clue what a cyclists rights were.


  3. bikinginla says:

    Dave, you’re absolutely right. Crosswalks are for pedestrians. But get serious — with so many cyclists ignoring stop signs and red lights these days, do you really expect them to get off their bikes to walk across a crosswalk?

    Personally, I do my riding in the street or in designated bike lanes or off road bike paths, and try to avoid riding on sidewalks and crosswalks whenever possible. But if there weren’t any pedestrians around, and I thought it was my safest option, damn straight I’d ride through the crosswalk.

    And besides, the only time I’ve even seen a cyclist — other than myself, of course — get hit by a car, he was walking his bike across a crosswalk. As long as we’re on our bikes, we can do something to avoid getting hit, like brake, turn, swerve or accelerate out of the way. But once we get off, we’re sitting ducks.

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