As most of you may know, I live in Austin, TX. I am originally from Rhinebeck and Kingston, NY. Different cultures, different driving styles, different on many levels. Not only am I rabid car enthusiast, I am also a long time cyclist. That’s right, I’m one of those spandex wearing, leg shaving guys on a bike worth more than any of my cars. Yet what does this mean?
In the Austin area as well as others around the country, many cyclists have been the victims of aggressive drivers. Hit and runs, buzzing, and blatant running over of cyclists are either on the rise, or being reported more with backing documentation. (Think bike mounted GoPro cameras.) Before those of you who drive and not ride begin voicing your dissent, hear me out. There is more than enough blame to go around, and there are idiots on each side of the car exterior. So listen up.
First, I’m going to address this issue from the perspective of a cyclist who raced for 22 years against the likes of Hincapie, Armstrong, Julich, Phinney, Hampsten, et al plus lots of today’s young guns. Since 1989 I’ve covered over 300,000 miles by bike, won races, crashed, been on podiums, trained at the Olympic Training Centers, and worked in the bike industry. To get a visual, here’s a shot of me racing in 2010, my last full year of competition. Credit goes to Kevin Saunders, a pro photog out of San Antonio.
To say I’ve ridden in all conditions on all kinds of roads all over the place is an understatement. So with all that experience, this is what I, a cyclist experience and see.
Drivers view us as a pest sometime. If they bother to see us at all. A favorite of mine is the driver who MUST pass me at all costs, risking all of us on the road. Even better is 45 feet ahead they want to turn right, and promptly cut me off. IF I raise my voice, they usually flip me off. Nice.
Another great behavior is I’ll be rolling along on a twisty, rural road with limited sight distances. Rare is the driver who will wait until it’s safe to pass. Heck, I usually wave them by as soon as possible, but for most that three to seven second delay is far too long. In upstate NY a guy in a pickup rushed by me around a very tight blind turn on a 30 mph mountain road, and he hit another car head on 100 feet further. Think about that. Was it worth it?
There is also outright aggression towards cyclists. I’ve had items thrown at me, been hit by rearview mirrors, been slapped on the side by passengers, spit upon, as well as the usual heckling. I know of too many people who have been hit and literally left for dead. What type of people/drivers do these things? Why is it ok to cut us off, to yell at us to get off the road, etc? Would you, as a driver, do these things to another motorist? Driving is a privilege, and it has serious consequences. In a car, we have crumple zones, airbags, lots of protection in that safety cage. On a bike, our crumple zones are our bodies.
All cyclists ask for is consideration and respect, like any other road users. Don’t cut us off, don’t hit us, don’t leave us for dead if you do. Learn your state and local laws. For example, in Austin you have to give three feet between you and the cyclist when passing them in a car, 5 in a large truck. A small amount of common sense as drivers can avoid many many problems. The next time you are waiting to pass a cyclist or a group of them, ask yourself how much time will you save if you rush passing them vs wait until it’s safe?
So, you’ve heard my view from the handlebars. Now for my view from behind the wheel. Just like there are inconsiderate drivers, there are inconsiderate cyclists. When I drive, I cringe when I see cyclists run stop signs, red lights, etc. So here is my advice to cyclists. Ride like you’re on a motorcycle. Let me explain.
DON’T run traffic lights. PERIOD. Stop at stop signs. Blowing through them is a risk to you, and what about the car you didn’t see? Now you are hurt, dead, or shaken up, and that driver will tell the world about the jerk cyclist. Thanks for tainting the public. Also, don’t lane split, or lane creep. It’s just bad form.
Let’s look at it this way: I’m a driver, and it’s busy on the streets. It took me a while to get by you safely, and I made sure to not run you over and give you space. A bit up the road, a traffic light is red. Now what do all of us see who just took pains to not run you over? You creeping up between lanes or alongside us to the front of the line! Seriously? When you arrive at a traffic light, get behind the last vehicle in line. Just like a motorcycle would.
Establish your position in the center of the lane. Be ready to roll with traffic, get up to a speed you are comfortable with, and then move over as far as practicable in the lane to let people by. You’ll be amazed how much drivers will respect your space and appreciate it. Also, this way you are riding predictably. Drivers like that. It makes it easier to pass safely.
Also, please be courteous on group rides. When a vehicle approaches from behind, move over, thin out, make room. Wave to drivers waiting for you to ride by, and to kids, police, as well. Like it or not, as a cyclist you need to be an ambassador of the sport. Don’t yell, throw things, or block the lanes. I personally disapprove of critical mass rides, but that is just my personal opinion.
There is room and time for all of us to not have conflicts. Mutual respect, adherence to the rules, and some common sense and courtesy will go a long way. As a driver, what will a minute or two of delay really cost you in the big picture? As a cyclist, what will a wave, being considerate, and being a good ambassador cost you? Now, what will the opposite behaviors cost all of us?