Too many road cyclists and motorists have established a seemingly irreconcilable disdain for one another. Both insist the other is reckless, self-centered, and consistently displays behavior nothing short of pure jackassery. Each emphatically points their finger at the other, obstinately insisting the opposing party is to blame for the discourse. Certainly, blame cannot be placed entirely on cyclists or on the automobilists, but honestly, what good can come of assigning blame at all? Instead, we cyclists should do our best to successfully and safely coexist with motorists despite the fact we will, probably all too often, encounter a driver whose idiocy and rudeness knows no bounds. Now I know that none of you fit the stereotype of the arrogant cyclist that runs stop signs and rides five abreast with cars queuing up behind, right? 😉 Even still, it can’t hurt to examine some of our on-the-road behavior.
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of two very obvious things. The first is that we are vulnerable – very much so. They’re surrounded by metal and go many, many miles per hour; we’ve got a helmet, a 16 pound carbon fiber bike, and are wearing very nearly less clothing than a sorority girl on Halloween night. Yadda, yadda, yadda – you get it. Cycling is dangerous, and the vehicles that whiz past us make it exponentially more so. When I see a cyclist recklessly weaving through traffic, I think of a Chihuahua snarling and barking at a Doberman. It’s a no-brainer who will ‘win’, so as the saying goes, don’t be that guy or gal.
The second obvious fact I’d like to remind everyone of is that people often do stupid things. And for some reason, this propensity towards moronic behavior intensifies behind the wheel. Let’s not commit the fundamental attribution error by assuming every motoring foul is perpetrated by a halfwit – everyone makes mistakes. But regardless of whether someone is driving poorly because they are distracted by unruly children or are rushing a pregnant wife to the hospital (or they really are simply a terrible driver), you are the one who stands to lose the most during an encounter with them. So keep these two things in mind, and ride defensively. Any driving instructor worth their salt will emphasize the importance of “driving defensively.” Any cyclist without a death wish will apply this same style of cognition to their riding. Do not assume drivers will always see you, and be aware that the onus of your safety is on your shoulders.
Another facet of taking responsibility for our safety is obeying the rules of the road. I’m definitely not going to sound like the cool kid in school for saying this, but those rules are there for a reason. We’re legally bound to follow the same traffic rules that motor vehicles do and we’re more likely to stay safe if we do so. Chad Timmerman, TrainerRoad’s Head Coach, makes a great point: “Driving a car at 4am, most cyclists will wait for a red light. On a bike, many of us seldom wait for a red light if there’s no traffic around. So if a rider is to have a close call with a car, it’s their own fault for choosing when to obey the rules of the road and when to ignore them.” His point is the rules of the road are omnipresent. They don’t disappear just because we think it’s safe to ignore them.
If nothing else, disobeying traffic laws hurts our sport’s reputation. It’s hypocritical to ignore traffic rules and then become enraged with motorists who show a similar disregard for them. I’d be willing to bet that many of the motorists who harbor an unusually robust distain for cyclists didn’t develop their hatred because their childhood bully rode a bike. What’s far more likely is they’ve witnessed a few examples of cyclists behaving poorly and now see all cyclists as inconsiderate jerks who think they rule the road. Thusly, these angry drivers misplace their aggression onto every rider they encounter. No doubt that there are plenty of psychological and biological factors that contribute to these drivers’ pugnacious personalities, but why risk setting them off by running that stop sign?
The unfortunate fact of life is that too many people will lump all cyclists in the same category of irresponsible nuisances to the road due to a single rider’s impetuousness. What will absolutely decimate our reputation is reckless riding combined with irate behavior when a motorist does make a mistake. People will certainly not look fondly upon our sport if they witness a cyclist run a red light and subsequently swear at, flip off, and fling a CO2 cartridge at the vehicle that nearly hit them.
Even if we have a close call – and it is entirely due to the motorist’s incompetence – throwing a tantrum will not serve us well. A basic tenet of social psychology explains that onlookers rarely sympathize with the person who is screaming their head off in anger – even if that person has reasonably good cause to do so. It’s pretty much a common reaction to get angry when a car nearly collides with you, but it’s probably best to try and get the anger under control as fast as possible and just be thankful it was only a close call.
I know, I know, easier said than done, right? Exactly! I’ve been guilty of every single one of the aforementioned behaviors (apart from chucking a CO2 cartridge). Cleaning up my own riding accounts for some of the motivation behind this blog post. Your adherence to proper riding and behavior is not just a drop in the bucket. So stay vigilant against poor driving, and remember that we’re ambassadors of cycling. Our decisions on the bike may have much more far-reaching effects than we’d expect.
Of course, another option is to ride indoors with TrainerRoad 😉