I wrote “Bicyclists vs Cars” a few days ago, and I have more amazing tales to tell.
Too many cyclists do not follow the rules of the road. Too many motorists do not even know that cyclists are vehicles by law and are granted the same rules that apply to vehicles. This results in a lack of respect by both for the other.
One of the worst times for cyclists to ignore the road rules is when they are together in large groups, such as club rides. The lead riders might slow down a bit at a 4-way stop and see no immediate threats so they yell “clear” and proceed on through. The group mentality then kicks into gear (“I MUST remain with the group at all costs”) and everyone just flies though the intersection, which is bad enough because they’re ignoring the stop sign. But the group will also play follow-the-leader regardless of any changes that might develop. For example, if a car comes from the right or left and stops, they’re forced to just sit there and watch all the cyclists ignore the stop sign when it should be the car’s turn to proceed. What kind of opinion do you suppose that engenders in motorists toward cyclists?
Of course, it’s not just cyclists in groups. Way too many cyclists ignore stop signs and red lights in general. And then they wonder why motorists have low opinions of them. Cyclists claim they run signs and lights only if it’s not hurting anyone else’s rights, but there at least three problems with that: 1) anyone observing the cyclist ignoring the law, whether they are directly affected or not, will lose respect for the cycling community as scofflaws; 2) the cyclist gets too used to his habit and goes beyond what he can defend as proper. For example, he pushes the envelope and causes reactions motorists to brake or swerve because they don’t know just what the cyclist will or will not do; and 3) see the group mentality argument above.
Too many motorists do not realize we have a right to the lane, even if there is a shoulder or bike lane. I encourage cyclists to share the road and use the shoulder if it’s ride-able, but often times it’s not. Yes, we are supposed to ride as far to the right as practical, but “practical” must be determined by us, not the motorists. “Practical” can be riding down the middle of the lane, as I described in my previous posting on Bicycles vs Cars. In these cases, if a car comes up from behind, I find it helps to put my left hand outward in a slanted-down position, halfway between the signal for stopping and a left turn. This tells the driver that you know he’s there and you’re riding in the middle of the road for a reason, and not just being a jerk. In my experience, the motorist seems to then “get” why you are riding where you are.
The subliminal invitation to pass when it’s unsafe to do so
Do you know how when you hold a door open for an upcoming person, they always start running or hustling to get to you quickly? Something unspoken is telling the person he should hurry and not inconvenience the person holding the door.
A similar kind of unspoken message occurs when a cyclist rides as far as possible to the right of the lane (e.g., no shoulder), and oncoming cars or a blind hill or curve prevent a safe pass. The approaching motorist might not really think there is enough room to pass safely (at least three feet of clearance) and would normally therefore slow down and wait until he can cross the center line to pass safely. However, a cyclist riding as far to the right as possible is sending an unspoken “invitation” to the driver to go ahead and pass. The cyclist is conveying “Go ahead, I’m way over here so that you may pass me.”
This is the very reason a cyclist should take the lane (ride near the center of the lane) — to prevent a motorist from thinking he is being invited to pass when it’s actually unsafe to do so. Once the car is able to cross the center line safely, the cyclist should move to the right, wave the car around him, and wave a thanks as he passes. This “teaches” motorists how to properly pass, and shows you are being considerate to him.
Of course, the cyclist cannot dart out to the middle of the road if the oncoming passing car has already gotten too close. This is why all cyclists should use a rear-view mirror, to constantly monitor what’s coming from behind and move out well in advance of a dicey situation with passing and oncoming vehicles.
P.S. I personally do not try this on busy highways, which is why I don’t ride on one unless it has a sufficient shoulder. Yes, I have the right to the lane even on a busy highway, but I ain’t pushing fate and trusting that cars on a busy highway are going to slow down for me and do what they are more willing to do on a less-traveled road.