Monthly Archives: March 2016

Riding on the Roads

I know this weekend was just glorious, and we had a huge turnout for the ride. It was a great ride, despite a couple of little situations that cropped up, and the post ride vitriol we discovered on Facebook. What I want to take a few minutes to talk about is something that plagues the sport of cycling.

The culture of fear.

We as cyclists perpetuate a problem, and because of it, we have a tendency to dwell on some dark subjects. I am going to talk about it for a bit. If you don’t care, tune this out and move on. Some of this is not going to be particularly nice.

So, about the culture of fear. What is the first thing that happens when a cyclist gets threatened, put at risk, injured or killed? The incident goes viral through the communities and cyclists lash out. That angry response emotion is incredibly destructive to the lasting impression we leave on the communities that we live and ride in. We really need to control that part of it, but I fully recognize how tough that is.

But, that is not even the reason I am posting this.

The bigger issue is how these viral stories harm the collective psyche of the cycling community. We are all hyper aware of the risks of cycling, and many of us ride in fear of the traffic around us because of it. That is a huge problem. Being a afraid of the cars around us often leads to decisions in the name of courtesy and being safe, that create additional risks. But it is also creating an us versus them mentality that is, quite frankly dangerous. What we need to get to is not fear, but respect. We need to respect the damage a car can inflict, but not ride in fear of it.

As most of you know, I’ve been riding for a long time. I am not sure I’ve actually quantified it in public. I’ve been riding ( out on the roads ) in and around Atlanta for a little over 28 years. In that time, I have had hundreds of a thousands more positive interactions with cars than negative. It is human nature to hold onto the negative, but the important thing to remember is that these are less than 1%. Just like we get upset that drivers call out the bad behavior of a small percentage of cyclists, we have to remember that the same holds true for the drivers.

In that 28 years I have logged over 100k miles on the road. In that time, I have had two accidents caused by a car ( glass bottle thrown at me from a moving car, t-boned a frito-lay truck that pulled out in front of me ). I have had 2 love taps where I got brushed by a mirror. A fair numbers of ‘honks’, ‘yells’ and ‘jeers’. Those last ones, used to get me wound up, but today I treat them for what they are, fear of a spandex clad butt that looks better than theirs, and some killer legs, and an indication that they saw me, for which I am grateful. The driver that doesn’t honk, yell or jeer poses a greater risk, because they may not have seen me.

Needless to say, I have a healthy respect for the cars around me, but I really don’t fear them. I understand the basic truth: Drivers are every bit as uncomfortable around us as we are of them. The don’t know the laws, they don’t want to hurt us, but they don’t want to risk themselves, or slow down and be inconvenienced.

That said, as a cyclist, I know there are things that we all need to focus on in our road riding.

Move Predictably

In large part this means moving in straight lines. Weaving is bad, and most crashes involving passing cyclists involve the combination of a car passing too close, and the cyclist weaving into the path of the car. There are many causes for this, like moving out of the travel line as a courtesy and running out of shoulder/bike lane/turn lane and abruptly returning to the lane, door zones, potholes, road trash, or even just a brain fart in bike handing.

Be Visible

Interestingly, high visibility clothing hasn’t proven to be all that effective when you are not actively moving to be visible. Unfortunately, the onus of being visible does fall on us. Much like motorcycles, we need drivers to look twice. Like motorcycles, we know they don’t. That means that we have to be aware of sight lines, and when we know that visibility is compromised, we have to take steps to ameliorate that. Moving into the lane, waving, using lights, etc.

Be Friendly

I cannot stress this enough. Perception, as they say, is a bitch. As is karma. Wave, smile, thank drivers for doing the right thing with a thumbs up, a tip of the cap, whatever works for you, but for god’s sake, be friendly. Hostility only breeds more hostility. Deflate situations with a smile and wave. Somebody startles you out of your skin by laying on the horn right behind you? wave, give em a thumbs up and thanks for seeing you. Do not flip them off, do not stoop to their level. Karma will win in the end.

Own Our Actions

Look, at the end of the day, we are a minority on the roads. We have to own that, and when one of us screws up and places others at risk, it is on us to own it. IT is also on us to be inclusive. This is not some exclusive club. When we have these encounters and rants, the best response we can take is not to be belligerent, but instead to offer to own the actions and include the upset party. In the case that prompted this, I have reached out privately and offered to bring the original poster out for a ride with the group some time. I will provide a bike for her to ride, and the instruction to get her out there so that she can understand. The ONLY real tool to make people understand is for them to experience it, and we cannot make that happen through angry responses.

In closing I want to remind everyone of some simple things to remember. The most dangerous thing the average American does in a day is get into a car, nothing else is even close. It is 100x more dangerous than riding a bike on the roads, and yet when asked, the perception is reversed. Bike lanes are not the answer either by the way. Ask yourself, does a bike lane differ from a sidewalk? where are the risks for sidewalks? intersections where cars are crossing them. Deadly is what they are.

Ultimately, cycling is not inherently more dangerous than walking, and despite having the best road conditions in the world, America is the most dangerous country in the world for bicycles. Why? high percentage of sport/recreational usage, a lack of infrastructure, and our car culture. We aren’t going to solve these problems by attacking people for not liking us being out there and putting them into a defensive lock down.

Bicycle Advocacy

Engaging an audience that is predisposed against cyclists is hard. Very hard. Unfortunately, it is also something that we have to do on a regular basis as advocates. I am not a great person to win an argument, because I get too passionate about the subjects, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is that engaging the anti-bike crowd into an honest conversation follows a predictable process.

  1. Humanize yourself by finding a connection to the audience, be it one or a crowd.
  2. Own a negative about cycling.
  3. Establish a common ground, preferably a fear.
  4. Articulate the merits of your position from and education standpoint, keeping it personal to your shared experience.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

You will never change a mind in a single encounter. It takes time, and repetitive erosion of the resistance to the subject in order to truly bring change in an opinion, but it you stick with it, you can eventually change minds.