Oh, hell no.
It’s true, like it or not, that our behavior on the road can affect how drivers respond to us. And yes, we have as much responsibility for avoiding confrontations on the streets as drivers do, even though they have to potential to do far more harm.
Sharing the road goes both ways, requiring all road users to observe the law and show courtesy and respect for others. And yes, that includes you and me.
But you can take that philosophy too damn far.
A bicyclist and writer for New West does exactly that, arguing that cyclists must “do what they can to stop angering and inconveniencing motorists.”
It’s not like the writer is completely out of line. Of the five pieces of advice he offers, four make perfect sense. For the most part, anyway.
He tells riders to hold your line, noting that riding in a straight line is “perhaps the best habit a cyclist can have,” in terms of safety and allowing drivers to maneuver around you.
He suggests wearing bright clothing — which is something I’ve always advocated, despite the current fashion for muted earthtone bikewear — as well as using lights and reflectors in low-light conditions.
And as many others have, he notes that there is safety in numbers, and that more bikes on the roads means drivers will get more used to sharing them with us. However, he also says cyclists should ride single file; mostly true, even though it can be safer to ride two abreast in some cases in order to control the lane and increase visibility.
He also instructs riders to obey traffic laws. Again, good advice, although there can be cases where what’s safe and what’s legal aren’t always the same thing in a world where traffic laws weren’t written with cyclists in mind.
So far, so good.
The problem comes in the final bit of advice — the first in his list — where he accuses “too many” riders of angering drivers with a “holier-than-thou attitude” and thinking they have special rights.
So tell me. How can any driver — or any other cyclist, for that matter — know what someone’s attitude is without stopping and asking them? Stepping behind the wheel of car or onto the saddle of a bike does not make me or anyone else a mind reader. And whatever attitudes I may ascribe to those I share the road with is more a projection of my own state of mind than any deep psychological insights into others.
Besides, what some may see as a “holier-than-thou” attitude may reflect nothing more than a thorough knowledge of the law and our right to the road.
He goes on to suggest that you never, ever do anything to tick off drivers.
Basically, be constantly careful not to give motorists any reason to dislike cyclists. Don’t take over a road. Don’t inconvenience motorists. Pull over when you have traffic backed up. When waiting at a stoplight, leave room for motorists to turn right on red. Be considerate.
Reward politeness with politeness. Smile and wave when a motorist gives some courtesy and space. Be careful you wave correctly so it isn’t misinterpreted as an obscene gesture.
Yes, it is often courteous to move a little to the left at a red light, so cars can use the right turn lane; however, in places without a turn lane, it’s not always safe to do so.
And you should allow others to pass when it’s safe and there’s enough room. Although nothing says you have to pull over and stop unless there are five or more cars backed up behind you and unable to pass.
Simply put, if they can go around you, you aren’t impeding traffic. Period.
I also believe in giving a wave of thanks when a driver shows me courtesy or operates with unusual safety. But I have a right to be there, and thanking a driver for merely giving me the space the law requires just reinforces the mistaken idea that streets are for cars and that bikes don’t belong there.
And whatever you do, he says, don’t ever express anger or talk to a driver to let them know that they did something dangerous.
Reward meanness with kindness. Even when a motorist cuts you off, yells obscenities or hazes you, don’t yell back or offer up the universal salute. Don’t ride over the driver’s side window for a little chat; this almost never has a good outcome. Again, smile and wave. Nothing will change that incident; but next time, the motorist might feel and behave differently. Suck it up; take one for the team; do it for all cyclists who will come down that road after you do. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
Yeah, I’m just going to smile and wave and take one for the team when a driver leaves me in a bloody heap in the road.
I don’t think so.
And as the cyclist who may come down the road after you, I’d strongly prefer that you politely let a driver know when he or she does something dangerous. My life may depend on it.
Look, I understand where he’s coming from. A little courtesy goes a long way towards making everyone’s trip safer and more enjoyable. And in any confrontation, the cyclist is the one who is most likely to come out on the losing end; after all, we’re not the ones armed with two-ton weapons of mass destruction.
But the sort of condescending obsequiousness he suggests only reinforces the common, but mistaken, attitude that we’re interlopers on the drivers’ turf.
Finally, he concludes by repeating his call for bike riders to be “ambassadors for everybody who rides a bicycle, now and in the future.”
So lets make this very clear.
I am not an ambassador for bicyclists, any more than any driver is an ambassador for every other motorist on the roads.
An ambassador is someone who represents others in a foreign land. But these streets are not foreign territory belonging to motorists.
I belong here. I have a right to be here.
And I’m not going to apologize for it.
Meanwhile, a new survey shows 65% of Brits think biking is normal, and only 7% think cyclists are strange. And 43% wish they were on a bike while they sit stuck in traffic.
I’m not sure I want to know what a similar stateside survey would show.
Allesandro Petacchi jets to victory in a mass sprint in stage 7 of the Vuelta. Christian Vande Velde looks to make a comeback at the Vuelta, if he can stay in one piece. And the Times says new evidence may have surfaced implicating Lance Armstrong in the government doping investigation.
Funding approved for the first phase of the West Valley Greenway. The Southern California Association of Governments prepares to take a collaborative approach by launching a BikePed Wiki website next month. UCLA Today looks at Ayla Stern, new BAC member and co-founder of the Valley Bikery. LACBC looks at Wednesday’s Monthly Mixer. Claremont Cyclist looks back at the weekly Wednesday Griffith Park Ride. Courtesy of dudeonabike, proof that even cars in Oregon can support bikes. Santa Rosa installs a 65-foot obelisk made of recycled bikes in the middle of the city’s automotive district; isn’t every city an automotive district? Cyclists complain about getting bumped from Caltrain. Struggling to focus on the road while riding through Big Sur. A San Francisco conservative — there’s an endangered species for you — ridicules Obama for wearing a helmet, a year after he was criticized for not wearing one; sometimes you just can’t win. The University of Arizona opens an on-campus bike valet. A Spokane city councilman starts a flame war with cyclists, insisting he can be rude if they can and suggests banning bikes “if this ignorance continues to happen here.” A look at the court case that established your right to ride on the road, hard to believe it’s only been 10 years; the lawyer who handled that case says you have to fight for your rights. A cross-country cyclist has his bike and gear stolen in Missouri. Why Chicago is falling behind other biking cities. Some drivers take the blame and some pass it. A cyclist gets hit twice in one month in Downtown DC; bad luck or bad biking? Florida cyclists complain about misplaced rumblestrips on roadway shoulders; at least that’s one problem we don’t have on PCH. Yet. A helmetless Ottawa cyclist dies in a solo accident after flipping over the handlebars. An Irish cyclist is found dead on the side of the road, with no sign of a collision. Bonnie Prince Charlie joins with British Cycling to promote bikes as sustainable transport. A Brit cyclist falls off his bike and punches the paramedic who tries to help him after downing 12 pints. Photos of the latest bikes from Eurobike 2010; the latest bike shorts have a fly. Police in North Wales says no race marshals from the local cycling association, no race. Doubling the number of Danes who bike to work. Yet another warning to beware of middle-aged men in Lycra, aka Mamils.
Finally, in yet another example of heartlessness, a Sacramento cyclist is killed when a driver hits him from behind at 55 mph, then stops, sees a body lying in the roadway, and continues driving for another hour before calling to 911 to report that she thinks she hit a dog.
I swear, there is a special place in hell…