If even one driver who hates cyclists reads this column (and next week’s column), I’ll not only consider it well worth the time I spent writing it, but also a big victory for public safety.
The vast majority of motorists courteously and safely share roadways with cyclists, but a very small minority not only aren’t courteous, but for some unexplainable reason fill up with rage whenever they see cyclists on the road ahead. Anybody who regularly rides bicycles on paved roadways knows about this minority. They not only think cyclists have no right to use public roadways but also show their anger by shouting obscenities and giving out the universal salute and even do all sorts of outright dangerous things like coming up behind cyclists blaring their horns, purposely passing inches from handlebars at high speed, or throwing beer cans and other objects, which become lethal missiles for somebody on a bicycle.
I’ve been an active road cyclist for thirty years. I only see this type of hazardous, embarrassing, and downright un-American behavior once or twice each year, but that’s enough to remind me it’s still a serious problem. And I constantly ask myself what causes this amazing anger? What makes a few people so furious at cyclists that they purposely do things that could not only kill somebody, but also destroy their own lives?
Each year, I try to convince myself it’s getting better and our culture is gradually changing to recognize that cyclists have as much right to use public roadways as motorists, something the rest of the world understands completely, but I might be fooling myself.
I suppose cyclists deserve partial blame. No doubt some cyclists don’t follow the traffic rules, unnecessarily inconvenience motorists, and have a self-righteous attitude that shines through their Spandex. But you could say the same about most groups. And is this enough to cause the rage we see and read in comment sections? How many motorists follow all the rules of the road–always drive the speed limit, always drive a straight line, always stop at stop signs, always use their turn signals?
Cyclists have lapses of judgment. I’ve lost my concentration and done stupid things on my bike. How many motorists have never done the same when behind the wheel? Why are miscues by motorists more forgivable than those made by cyclists?
When I’m on my bike and come up behind a truck grinding down a big hill or a cattle drive or street sweeper and have to slow down, do I immediately fill up with anger and flip them off when I ride by or yell, “Get a bike”? Hardly. I’d be embarrassed if I even thought about it.
When I see a driver weaving around while yapping on a cell phone or rolling through a stop sign or not using turn signals or not stopping at a crosswalk, do I ride up beside him or her yell, “Get the fuck of the road”? No, but I’ve heard this from road-raged drivers way too many times.
I have, incidentally, stopped cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road, using cell phones while riding or riding the wrong way on a one-way street and suggested, politely, that they refrain from this dangerous behavior.
I can’t prove it, but I suspect many motorists who can’t control their temper when they see cyclists have flagpoles in their yards, are big on the constitutional freedoms we enjoy in this country, are proud to be American. Yet, they’re unable to accept that cyclists have the same rights they do? They can’t understand that we also like the Bill of Rights, have motor vehicles in our garages, and pay the same taxes they do? Lots of cyclists, believe it or not, have flagpoles, own handguns, and drive big pickup trucks. I even proudly ride around with a flag on my bicycle on Memorial Day and Independence Day.
I only hope one of these over-raged motorists who purposely hazes cyclists reads this column and takes the time to answer those questions in the comment section because I’d really like to know what motivates them to have so much anger toward cyclists.
Footnote: Next week, I’ll try to answer some of the concerns I speculate might anger motorists such as why cyclists don’t use bikeways, can’t always use turn signals, avoid riding on shoulders, don’t always ride a straight line, take the whole lane on steep hills, and don’t always ride single file.