By Christopher Cudworth
I have an ugly little confession to make. No, it’s not that I look dopey in this picture.
It’s that I hate sharing the road with some kinds of cyclists as much as you do.
C’mon, admit it. Even if you’re a cyclist or a runner, sharing the road is a total pain in the ass. Especially if those with whom you are sharing the road have no clue how to do it. And those people are plentiful.
We’re in a huge societal transition, it seems. Bicycles are demanding more of the road but people aren’t ready or willing to give it. In some cases, they aren’t able. They suck as car drivers, frankly. They don’t know the first thing about separating hazards so they blast on through hoping they don’t hit anything, and that nothing hits them.
Just 2 weeks ago a cyclist very near my home was struck from behind by a driver who flat out did not see the rider. They were in a line of cars, the first of which got around the rider, but the last car ran smack into the back wheel of the cyclist. Who was wearing headphones. And no helmet. He was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital.
The driver got a ticket for failure to slow speed in order to avoid an accident. Not really much of an incentive to change a bad habit of driving like a pig, now is it? That’s the tarsnake of our current road laws. There’s not much penalty for running down cyclists.
But you have to question what that cyclist was doing too.
Algebra finally makes sense
So we’re almost almost stuck in some sort of wordplay algebra test in which segments of society are heading toward each other at different speeds and it’s up to us to figure out whether they can avoid killing one another. Cars simply don’t want to slow down for anyone. Cyclists simply want the right to go their own speed.
That’s really not much of a formula for Share the Road. Not if we’re honest about it.
But I keep thinking of the example set by an entire fleet of commercial gravel trucks that rolls back and forth on one of the main roads used by cyclists west of our tri-city region. I’ve mentioned them before. These trucks never fail to separate hazards and be kind to cyclists. Ever. I have been passed or approached by dozens of these trucks over the last 8 years and they are unfailingly polite. They weigh tons and tons and yet they can control their vehicle without pause.
Yet a pickup or minivan or sedan can’t handle a cyclist on the road? We can’t buy that. Can’t settle for the poor excuse that someone else “owns the road” either. Because little kids don’t pay taxes.
The cycling factors
The real answer to all this lies with the cyclists themselves. The education of people who ride on the road is proceeding too slowly to keep pace with the number of riders on the road.
That means many lousy riders are making it bad for everyone else. And we must always account for those who have no intention of getting better on the road. Who are oblivious to all else in life, and riding a bike is no different. Unfortunately that might be 50% of the population if the math holds true from other crucial tests in life.
For example, some 50% of Americans interpret the Bible literally even though Jesus by example and the Gospel itself tells us not to do that.
The same group seems to refuses to believe in evolution.
And the value of good government.
Or government at all.
This is called cognitive dissonance.
And unfortunately, thanks to the liberty inherent to our nation, it all adds up to stupidity, motorized or not, set loose on the road.
Even Forrest Gump knew how to put one foot in front of the other. If he’d found a bike he’d have gone even farther afield.
Because, as Mark Twain once said, “All you need is ignorance and confidence, then success is sure.”
Explains a lot
When I come up behind a group of apparently clueless, aimless riders I get as frustrated as the next person. Generally I ask aloud, “WTF?” and then creep around the rider who sits farthest out on the road. It’s a pain. And I can only imagine how people feel that do not like cyclists as a rule of existence. Road Rage is common. Share the road? Fuck that, they say. And then gun their engines as they tear buy.
It is a strange thing to believe in sharing the road and then encounter cyclists who make it impossible to do so. Should I lean out the window and give instructions on the right way to ride? Then I’m just another screaming guy in the car…Or stop the vehicle and wait for them to arrive, flag them down and give a few hints. Then I’m just a weird zealot.
Nope, the only way to instruct other riders is while you’re on the bike yourself. Everything else looks crazy and dangerous to other riders.
Hope for cyclists
There are many cyclists who really do seem to get what it means to Share the Road. They queue up into single file when a car approaches from behind. Or, if they are in a large group, they form a double line of riders that is predictable, confined and passable.
This all happened before, you know. 40 years ago when the Running Boom hit there were drivers who absolutely hated runners. They’d run you off the road. Throw things at you. Scream obscenities about your Mother.
But all that changed with time, and the runners doing stupid things on the road either died or disappeared. Now there’s very few runners you see doing stupid things. Evolution and cultural pressure has worked its magic.
The same thing will happen with bicycles soon enough. It’s too bad people have to die in the process. About 700 of them a year at the current rate in America. Land of the free and Home of the brave. But you’re not quite free to go where you want on your bike, if you’re smart enough to know that. So for know you’d best be a little brave. Instead.
But bravery doesn’t mean stupid. It takes smarts to ride a bike properly.