Ok, since hopefully a lot of the people reading this are non-cyclists and have no idea who I am or what I do, I’d like to start with a little introduction of myself. I’m a professional cyclist. It’s my job to get out and train on my bike in order to do well at races and therefore sell things for my sponsors. I train about as much and as hard as any pro football player, but I get “paid” with equipment, race entry fees, travel expenses, and, occasionally, about as much money as what a pro football player makes in one hour. 99.9% of cyclists that you encounter are doing this for fun- just like you play golf, video games, lay out by the pool, read, drink alcohol… whatever. It’s a very enjoyable hobby and means of staying healthy.
First, I want to acknowledge that some people who are reading this will remain “unreachable.” This person generally falls into one of two categories- one will immediately hit the “comment” button with some sort of “I hate you, get out of here, you deserve to die” message. This person likely goes through life expending lots of energy hating lots of things and people, including the terrible person on a road bike who he/she almost hit because he/she needed to pass NOW, and the cyclist is just “in the way” of their car. The other sort of “unreachable” person views the road as a “motors only” zone, cyclists as idiots with death-wishes, and doesn’t believe that it’s his/her responsibility, as a driver, to watch out for slower moving vehicles (yes, a bike is a vehicle) on the roadway. This person will defend those views with the same fervor that the members of Westboro Baptist church defend their own views on who has a right to get married. If that applies to you, I’m guessing you could save your time and energy by just not reading the rest of this letter.
Now, for the 99% of you drivers out there who, based on my assumption, are normal human beings experiencing a range of normal human emotions when you, in your car, encounter a person riding a bicycle on the road. I just need your attention for a few minutes.
I’d like to start by addressing the issue of the cyclist that everyone (including law-abiding, non-jerk cyclists) dislikes. I’m talking about the guy (or girl) that’s disobeying traffic laws, running stop signs, speeding through school zones, riding the white line to get in front of traffic at stoplights, etc. Also included in this category are the groups of cyclists that erratically morph all over the roadway- often crossing the yellow line into oncoming traffic and/or taking up more than one lane on the road, and running redlights. I’m not justifying this behavior in any way, I’m just gonna say that drivers also do dumb things and break traffic laws. There’s not much that you or I can do about it, so how about we just let dumb drivers and dumb cyclists cancel each other out in this instance. Deal?
Side note- Not included in the “dumb” group are the cyclists (or groups of cyclists) that take up one single lane of the road. While it may make it harder for you, in your car, to pass (more on this in a second), it’s a self-preservation thing. If I ride in the gutter, I’m inviting you to attempt to pass me very closely when there’s oncoming traffic (a.k.a. “Buzzing” me). Getting buzzed is dangerous and freaking terrifying. It’s why there’s a law in Tennessee stating that you must move over to the left lane of the interstate for a stopped emergency vehicle. Cars coming close to your body are dangerous.
While we’re on the topic of passing, I’d like to bring up the fact that Tennessee (along with a lot of other states) has a “3-Foot Law.” It just means that you need to put 3 feet between your passenger side mirror and my body when passing. You know what, though? Only leaving 3 feet is kinda like having only the minimum amount of flair.
If you could, when you pass, pretend like I’m the size and shape of a tractor. The big difference between me and a tractor, of course, is that if you brush up against the tractor with your car, your car gets scratched and dented. If you brush me, I could die. Just think about maybe letting off the gas and getting all the way over in the other lane. That’d be amazing, and would make everyone’s lives less stressful and a whole lot safer.
Now, I realize that this brings us to the sorest of subjects between cars and road cyclists- on a curvy/hilly/busy road, sometimes you have to wait for what seems like forever to pass. This is when I really need you, as drivers, to bear with me. I’m not going to start spouting off about “I’M A CYCLIST AND I HAVE RIGHT TO RIDE HERE BLAH BLAH…” I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that most of you know that it’s legal to ride a bike on any roadway that isn’t marked otherwise. I’m just asking you to think of waiting to pass me by comparing the situation to other, non-car-related life situations.
For example- you’re at the grocery store, waiting in line. The lady in front of you pulls out a checkbook when it’s time to pay. The cashier doesn’t even KNOW how to deal with this because, let’s face it, who the heck still uses checks?!? It ends up taking FOREVER to make the transaction, and, all the while, other shoppers are piling in behind you and wondering why on earth the line is moving so slowly. Do you, A) Start yelling at her that she needs to get a debit card like everyone else and quit wasting your precious time, B)Pull out a gun and threaten her for being such an idiot and holding up the line, or C) Roll your eyes and wonder why anyone would use checks, but otherwise wait patiently until she gets out of the way.
Maybe you hate that lady for doing something that she KNOWS is causing everyone an inconvenience. Does it mean that you’re going to try and intimidate or threaten her for doing so? Probably not. So, let’s relate this back to the cyclist thing. There you are, stuck behind a cyclist, going 17 mph in a 40mph zone, and there are too many curves in the road to see ahead to know if it’s safe to pass. Are you going to threaten the cyclist with a deadly weapon? (yes, your car counts as a deadly weapon) Are you going to act in a way that makes the cyclist think that his/her life is at risk, just because you are getting impatient? I’d hope not.
That’s really my point. I’m not going to ask for the pipe dream of drivers and cyclists riding off into the sunset together on the back of a rainbow-unicorn-pegasus. I’m just asking that when you come across a person that irks you because they feel the need to ride a bike on the road, just don’t be a jerk. Be a decent human being who has respect for the life, hobby, and, on occasion, the livelihood of the human being that’s causing you inconvenience and getting on your last nerve.