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Cyclist versus Motorist: The Eternal Struggle

It was a nice cool November morning and I was headed home from my ride. Riding straight through an intersection a car came up next to me from behind and as we entered the intersection, the car made a right turn, right into me! I scrambled to react, hit my breaks, turned my wheel, but I was too close and was going down. The car hit the front of my bike and I tumbled into the road, laying on the ground shocked and scared as the car just drove away. I was a bit shaken up, but luckily uninjured except for a few bumps and bruises. I don’t know what the person was thinking. Did they just not care? Were they texting or on their phone and never even saw me? Either way it was an upsetting and frightening incident.

With each passing day I have been feeling more and more like a target on the roads for disgruntled and aggressive motorists. Some days I feel like riding my bike is less training for cycling and more training in survival tactics, trying to dodge speeding side mirrors, car doors, debris and potholes all while riding a bike! When I go out running I find that I get much more respect from cars, but on a bike it’s a different story. Honestly, I am starting to believe that when SOME motorists see a cyclist they only see the machine and not the person on the bike. It’s as if being on the bike transforms me into a non-human piece of moving “traffic furniture” that can be approached without caution and possibly hit without consequence. It’s as if I was an orange traffic cone on wheels.

Maybe it's the orange helmet that is causing the traffic cone confusion

Maybe it’s the orange helmet that is causing the traffic cone confusion

People yell out their car windows at us, not realizing that most of the time we can’t even understand what they are saying. They could be yelling “get out of the road” or they could be screaming the lyrics to the latest Taylor Swift song for all I know! After almost being forced off the road and into a ditch several times recently, I have begun to ride a bit more defensively. Riding a couple of feet out into the road and making it more difficult for cars to pinch me off of it. I am not doing this to impede traffic or be an annoyance to anyone, but I just don’t want my bike ride to turn into an ambulance ride.

The town of Madison (NJ) posted a document on their website entitled, “Frequently Asked Questions for Bike Routes and Lanes.” I found this document was actually supportive of many of the cycling behaviors that normally have motorists yelling and honking at us. Here are some highlights from that document:

Q: Should bicyclists ride with or against traffic?
A: Bicyclists must ride in the same direction as cars. A bicyclist has the same rights and duties as motorists, for example, stopping at red lights and stop signs.
Q: Where should a bicyclist ride if there is no shoulder or bike lane and the travel lane is too narrow to share?
A: The best approach is to position yourself several feet out into the lane where motorists will see you and not be invited to squeeze by in the same lane. On narrower lanes, ten feet or less, a bicyclist may actually “take the lane”, i.e, position themselves at or near the center lane. This enables them to be seen by overtaking vehicles and gives the message that the overtaking vehicle must move left to pass when it is safe to do so.
Motor vehicle drivers must:
• Pass a bicyclist as you would a slow-moving vehicle. Allow sufficient clearance, and ample room for movement and unexpected road conditions. Change lanes and pass with caution only when it is safe.
• Allow bicyclists enough room to avoid colliding with vehicle doors that are opened into traffic.
• Not try to pass a bicyclist just before making a turn. Merge safely where it is allowed, then turn.

Now, while I do believe that many cyclists are doing their best to be respectful on the road and of cars while also trying to stay safe, I will admit that none of us are model citizens on the road one hundred percent of the time. I have ridden with people who take up the whole lane on their bikes unnecessarily, riding out at the yellow line for no reason or riding two or three abreast even when they are aware there is a car behind trying to pass. I do not advocate that at all. We, as cyclists, have to realize that we are, most of the time, slower moving traffic and have to act accordingly. We should be getting over to the right to let the faster moving vehicles pass, just as you would or should in a car on the highway. When you are disrespectful on the bike it breeds disrespectfulness in the drivers and the cycle of cyclist versus motorist continues.

Share the road!

Share the road!

So if you read this and you are a cyclist, be respectful of the drivers on the road. Try to let the cars pass you when it’s safe, don’t ride in the center of the road unnecessarily at busy times of the day (or worse yet, on the wrong side of the road, which is just asking for serious injury or death). Motorists, be aware that we are not moving traffic cones, but in fact people who have families and jobs. The cyclist you almost hit might be your child’s teacher, your neighbor, a mother, a father, and we really have no protection while on the bike besides possibly a helmet. Also remember that we do have a right to be on the road too so please be respectful. Just take a deep breath and give us a second of your time please instead of almost running us off the road.