On Where We Ride Our Bikes

Though not quite as bad as the Aristocrats joke, some driving/riding habits are pretty bad.

As the warmer summer season settles in, more and more people in Portland, OR, and around the US, are pulling out their bikes and pedaling around to both work and play.  Summer also brings more folks out of their houses, into cars, and onto roads as they drive to or for fun and frivolity.  It is this season especially that we are reminded of a common expression.  “Man!  People in [insert major city] can’t drive!” 

We have all said it. You know it.  I know it.  You have probably even said it about your home town (It’s use has been recorded everywhere that human drivers haven’t been replaced by robots).  And if you are willing to admit it, someone has probably said it about you.  People are imperfect, and their driving is the same.  Why, then, do new (and some experienced) cyclists ignore even simple best driving practices? 

Because people are imperfect.

As I sat in my car waiting for the truck in front of me to turn right (onto a one way road), I watched a cyclist pop into view from around the corner of a building and then blow through the crosswalk in front of us (which had the blinking white stick figure signaling to “Walk”).  In this extended moment, traffic had weaned, the driver in front of me, who was not looking for pedestrians, let alone a cyclist, pulled forward into the crosswalk (to make his turn) and nearly flattened both the cyclist and his $2,000 bike between the pavement and one ton of combustion engine, steel, fiberglass, and guilt. 

Over the last month, I have seen far worse infractions of driving/riding safety rules, and I want to say “Man! People in Portland can’t ride!”   But it is not true (on the whole, that is).  There is no Bike permit, no test people have to pass to know best practices.  Car Drivers do have that test (if you like to call it a test), but even best practices get ignored by seasoned drivers and riders who grow impatience or fearful of impatient drivers behind them. 

So what would I like to see?

1.  Everyone remember Cyclists are on a vehicle too.  If a cyclist is slowing you down, chances are they are riding properly.  Love them for that, and, if you need to, wait for a good time to pass.  The alternative is to encourage poor cycling habits (like weaving between roads and sidewalks) – which are sometimes convenient to cars, but ultimately lead to a cyclist landing on your hood – or worse.

2. Cyclists doing their homework (well everyone really). It doesn’t matter if you cycle recreationally, commute daily, or never plan to ride a bike in your life.  Take a few minutes to read (or re-read) “Where To Ride On The Road”, a short chapter in Bicycling Street Smarts, by John S. Allen.  John S. Allen is Cycling Instructor and bicycle advocate.  This quick read will help you become a better and safer rider and driver in streets that are increasingly shared by both bikes and cars.

If you treat riding a bike the way you treat driving a car (or motorcycle) – stay visible, give yourself room, go with the flow, and drive in a straight  line – you are much more likely to get to your destination safely and confidently.   Oh, if you are going to use a cross walk, please walk your bike.

For more about cycling practices, bicycle repair and DIY projects, touring, bike lingo and a vast wealth of opinions and information, visit the late legend Sheldon Brown’s webpage.

Kicking Asphalt

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