As the person on the receiving end of the “email@example.com” email address, I often get angry emails from people who have a bone to pick with bicycles. Most often these are just rants by someone who thinks people on bicycles are the only road users who break the laws. I typically respond by directing them to my archived post in which I pointed out that most studies show people on bicycles tend to be more law-abiding than people in motor vehicles.
Occasionally those angry emails are like the one below from people like Mary P who have a legitimate gripe:
After still yet another country road ride where the BICYCLISTS are going 2 – 4 wide and blocking traffic, and then have the guile to give me the F You, when I beep for them to move over, I have come to the conclusion that bicyclists think that the term SHARE THE ROAD, means that cars have to share the road but not bicycles. I am so sick of having my country road rides become a perilous event for me — not knowing how to safely pass the bikers without ending up in the ditch — on the wrong side of the road, myself.
I think you need to start increasing your awareness with your members, that SHARE THE ROAD, goes both ways. I am all for biking the country roads, I do it myself, but I am tired of driving those same roads (with my bike in the back of the car) and being treated like I don’t have a right to be there. It is time for bikers to realize that the term SHARE THE ROAD applies just as much to them as it does to the car, and telling someone to F off — is hardly the image you want of bikers in anybodies mind.
The rule of the road is that bicyclists can be more than one wide on the road as long as they do not impede traffic. I know the rules and I follow them, but the masses seem to think they don’t need to know the rules. These bicyclist are making a bad image for all bicyclist and only furthering the bad blood between bikers and cars. So it might be wise to start an education campaign with members that SHARE THE ROAD goes both ways.
I replied to Mary by informing her that the Bike Fed’s Share & Be Aware education and encouragement campaign is dedicated to getting all road users to share the road. I directed Mary to our several yard signs that encourage people on bikes to stop for red lights, ride single file and use the roads responsibly. Much like the “Slow Down” yard signs many people purchase to put in their front yard, our signs are all available for purchase. We also offer them to ride organizers to put up along the route of one day charity rides. Click here to see all our yard sign offerings. Anyone interested in purchasing or borrowing our signs should contact Matt Gissibl in our Milwaukee office. We also have a pamphlet with suggestions on etiquette for safe and legal group rides.
I also asked Mary where she had her most recent experience with a scofflaw bunch of people on bicycles hogging the road and flipping her off. Mary told me the last unsavory event occurred on Seminole Hwy between Lacy Road and Whalen Road. She also pointed out that the Badger Trail parallels the road for quite a while there and wondered why the group chose to ride on a narrow, high-speed highway rather than the dedicated trail. You can see the section from Google Maps below, which clearly shows a the Badger Trail parallel to the highway. Coincidentally, Google managed to capture a person riding a bike on Seminole when their Streetview car drove past.
While the lone person on a bike in this view is riding legally and has every right to be on the road, I do wonder why he would choose a busy old highway over the wide parallel trail with smooth, newish asphalt. I recently pedaled across Wisconsin from Potosi to Milwaukee using almost all trails, and that section of the Badger Trail was one of the best of the entire trip. On my commute to work I sometimes see people riding on busy Canal Street rather than on the parallel Hank Aaron State Trail and also wonder why they prefer the road to a pretty empty parallel trail. Can any readers from Milwaukee or Madison share why they prefer to ride the highways rather than the trails?
I understand that fast group rides tend to prefer the roads over trails, which often have lots of slower trail users riding slowly side by side, walking dogs, etc. But if those groups do choose the road, they must obey the rules, which means riding no more than two abreast and single file if two-up would impede traffic. Having ridden in organized groups many times, I also understand that even when riding two-up, groups sometimes get wider as lead riders drop off the front and drift to the back.
On busy, narrow roads two-lane roads where cars have to cross the centerline to legally pass even a single bicycle, one could argue that riding two abreast is akin to taking the lane, which is also legal. I have also thought that on such two-lane roads with heavy on-coming traffic, it is easier for a motor vehicle to pass a tightly bunched group riding three or four across than it is to pass 25 people riding single file because it is easier to make a short trip across the centerline.
All those discussions are legitimate, thoughtful arguments for group ride behavior, but there is no socially acceptable excuse for patently rude behavior like flipping off other people who are just trying to share the road with us. That goes for people riding bicycles and those in motor vehicles. I’m not talking about whipping the bird to someone who insults you first, or to a person who illegally endangers your life by passing too close, cutting you off, etc. I’m talking about common courtesy, like holding the door for someone behind you or offering your seat on a crowded bus if a disabled person gets on. Those social graces are the foundations of community.
As a guy who has been hit by cars, purposely run off the road, had my elbow bumped by mirrors, called every dirty name in the book, and even told by police officers to get on the sidewalk, I totally understand the many people riding bicycles have a short fuse when it comes to their interactions with people driving motor vehicles. While you have a perfect right to ride around with a chip on your shoulder, I don’t think it is healthy. When we let cars make us angry, we let them spoil our ride. I prefer to try to be Zen about it, like the parable of the priest confronted by a sword-wielding soldier who shouts.
“You fool, don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”
“And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”
I ride my bike for lots of reasons, but the primary reason is because I really enjoy it. There are lots of angry people out there on the road, and so I try to stay Zen about it and refuse to let them ruin my ride by getting me angry. I also ride my bike because I enjoy the interactions I have. When I am on my bicycle, I feel part of the world I am moving through. I am exposed and able to wave, smile, and say hello to other road users. Riding a bicycle is transportation and recreation with a little community building thrown in on the side.
So in addition to thanking Mary for her email and telling her about the Bike Fed’s robust education and encouragement programs for people who ride bicycles, on the behalf of law-abiding people who ride bicycles, I apologized. I honestly feel bad that she has had some bad experiences with rude people on bicycles.
When we ride with smiles on our faces and obey the rules of the road we not only get exercise, get where we are going, save money and save gas, we actually make the world a better place. Like rolling ambassadors for health and happiness, we set an attractive example that might just encourage others to get out of their cars and try riding a bike.