As cyclists, we take a lot of abuse from people in cars. There are few among us that haven’t at the very least been honked at, yelled at, cursed at, or flipped off. In more extreme cases, we’ve been hit with drums, or been knocked off our bikes. In tragic instances, cyclists have even been killed by passengers.
The website Road.cc, in fact, keeps a running tally of cyclists’ close calls with motorists. The latest is “Near Miss of the Day 539,” and I’d imagine that represents the tiniest fraction of those incidents.
It gets worse. Go to any Facebook cycling site, for instance, and it won’t take long to find a discussion of a recently killed cyclist, and non-cyclists who basically say it’s the dead cyclists’ fault. “Good riddance, cyclists deserve what they get.” Frankly, it’s frightening to read some of those threads.
So believe me when I say that I understand cyclists’ frustration and anger and defensiveness. I’m one of you. I’m with you in this 100%.
Where Cyclists Fall Short
I’m also a firm believer in cleaning up my own house before I complain about the mess in someone else’s. And I also think that we, the community of cyclists, need to understand that we’re not always as pure and innocent as the driven snow.
We can yell back, and have been known to return the middle-finger salute ourselves. We’ve blown through stop signs and ignored rules of the road. We’ve ridden two or more abreast when we didn’t need to, blocking traffic unnecessarily—i.e., when it wasn’t for safety reasons.
Let’s just admit it, OK? Like everyone else, cyclists can be jerks. We can be hypocrites, too. Many times I’ve seen in various cycling forums where we complain, quite legitimately, that we’re considered motor vehicles in the eyes of the law, and have all the same rights as cars. But then we sneak through that red light anyway, acting as though we don’t have to stop like they do because, you know, we’re on bikes.
Can’t have it both ways, folks.
Take a Look in the Mirror
As cyclists, I think we need to start with that man (or woman) in the mirror, and make sure we’re doing everything we can to stay safe on the road and be polite to drivers. You can’t control how they treat you, but you can control how you treat them.
Do car drivers bring it on themselves much (most?) of the time? I’d cautiously say yes, because my opinions on this are more anecdotal than scientifically-based. It’s my belief that cyclists by and large do things the right way. Chances are good that we’re not texting people while climbing that hill, for instance, and we pay much more attention to the road and traffic around us than the average driver. It’s a roadie’s survival skill, after all.
I also believe that we can raise the public’s perception of cyclists, so that they won’t automatically hate seeing someone hunched over their handlebars. We can do this by being specially considerate, obeying all traffic laws (even when we think it’s stupid for them to apply to us), smiling more and thanking drivers for seeing us, slowing down behind us, or giving us plenty of room when they pass us.
In the same way we can raise our FTP by training properly and developing good habits, we can train ourselves to be better representatives of all cyclists.
How? We don’t have to scream and shake our fists and throw tantrums because someone cuts us off. We can practice self-restraint and be humble enough to realize that we make mistakes on the bike, too, and sometimes it’s our fault.
Even when it’s not, we can still extend the kind of grace to that driver that we would like extended to us if the error was on our part (that whole “Golden Rule” thing, ya know).
Remember that the next time you’re out on a ride. Let the change begin with you. And I’ll have it begin with me.
Editor’s Note: This article has sparked a spirited debate online. Read more about that here.