One of the things I really enjoy about this good ole’ internet is reading other cyclist’s perspectives through their blogs and a couple of forum sites I visit. Over time, I’ve noticed a particular trend, especially among some of those who are “advocates” of a cycling lifestyle. That trend is somewhat loosely summarized by this statement:
Drivers of cars are scumball idiots who are out to get us.
I don’t agree with that attitude. In general, I find that drivers in Springfield, MO treat me safely and courteously when I’m riding our fair city’s streets on my bicycle. Oh sure, there are a few morons out there who will buzz you too closely or feel the need to lay on their horn as they pass, but you know what? I encounter those same morons when I’m driving.
In my experience, the way you ride has as much to do with the way drivers treat you as anything. It’s kind of like you have to earn their respect. Here are my guidelines for “earning respect”.
1) Obey the rules of the road just like you were in a vehicle! That means not running red lights, not cutting across traffic, not riding on the sidewalk or using the sidewalk to get to the front of a line of traffic at a stop light, not cutting across parking lots. To me, a sure sign of a cyclist who doesn’t know what he’s doing on the streets is someone who does stuff like this.
2) Signal your intentions! You expect it from other drivers, why shouldn’t they expect it from you?
3) Be courteous! Quite often, I’ll wave a driver through a 4-way stop in front of me even though I should have the right of way. I especially do this, if I’m making a turn and the driver is coming my or if he/she is crossing in the direction I will be heading. If that driver is going my way, they’re just going to pass me anyway, so I might as well let them go first.
4) Ride assertively! I really believe the attitude you project has a lot do do with the way drivers perceive you. When I’m riding on the streets, I ride briskly. In a lot of cases, I ride almost 20 mph on streets with speed limits of 30 mph. I also ride far enough to the left to stake my rightful claim to the road. By doing that, you can pretty much ensure that the driver will need to wait for an appropriate opportunity to pass, and will pass you with room to spare.
5) Be visible! Common sense tells me that if I’m riding at dawn, dusk, or after dark, I need to have appropriate lights. My personal preference is to go overboard. I use two blinking tail lights, two blinking headlights and two awesome spoke lights. I’m currently searching for reflective tape for the back of my black jacket to add some passive visibility.
6) Be responsible for your own safety! I’m not shy about taking a lane or motioning for a car to stay behind me when the conditions warrant. There has only been one driver that I recall who reacted adversely to me doing so. I decided a while ago that I’m better off to tick off some impatient person and delay them by ten or fifteen seconds than to put myself in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
I often tell people who ask that I feel relatively safe riding the streets of Springfield. It’s not an accident that I feel that way.