Friday Group Ride #150

There is snow on the ground here now, the remnants of last week’s storm. It’s been frigidly cold, and so the sun melt that comes during the day has really only shrunken and compacted what fell. The edges of the road are smeared with ice where the melt has run off the curb and refrozen overnight. It’s rideable, but narrowed and a little unpredictable.

And so the commute gets a little nervous, the six inches or foot we’ve lost to the ice making the whole parade of us, cars and bikes, a mite tighter than any of us would choose. Twice on the way in just this morning, I was nearly squeezed out coming into lights.

I think a lot about how we share the road now. Having been hit a couple times, just riding along minding my own business, following the rules, I am far more careful in traffic than I was ten years ago. This has made the whole city riding experience better and less fraught. The more I follow the rules and ease up on the speed, the more friendly waves and space I seem to get.

I have changed, and certainly the driving zeitgeist has changed as well. With the wholesale adoption of mobile phones came a dark period, every other driver seemingly barreling along with their head down, but that has possibly eased up a bit, the spate of accidents and deaths that resulted perhaps curbing the worst behavior most of the time. It’s hard to tell with all the variables changing almost all the time.

There was a time when I believed that a war of sorts would develop between riders and drivers, so hectic and angry were my commutes, but in retrospect, I think that was more about me and my attitude than the world at large. I felt entitled to my piece of the road, and I made a lot of noise when I didn’t get what I thought was mine. I was younger, and thought I knew things.

Today, I ride pretty easy, though conflicts occasionally arise. I have bad days with my own attitude, and my analogs behind their wheels have their own trying times. We are all just trying to get somewhere, and sometimes we step on each others toes (faces).

This week’s Group Ride asks the question: How is it where you are? Do cars and drivers get along? Is it getting better or worse? How are you changing? And what future do you see for riding your bike on the road?

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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  1. Ashley

    I used to be over cautious riding through cities, and I actually found that I had more near-misses when I wasn’t able to make a decision on the road. I’m now way more comfortable riding through town, and it’s the suburbs that can be worse as far as drivers not paying attention or thinking they own the road.

    Growing up in NW CT I never really had an issue like this, but now in the suburbs of Boston I get more people honking at me for no apparent reason, as well drivers taking more risks with my life.

    That said, we have had a number of fatalities in town in the past year, but there’s a lot more talk of bicyclist and pedestrian safety than ever before. We’re heading in the right direction.

  2. pavel

    We had an enormous rise in the number of cyclists on roads here in Montreal over the last couple of years. At the beginning it was a bit of war, but I feel like it got much better. However, I cannot say whether it is me riding and thinking differently or the drivers got used to the presence of cyclists. It’s true that the situation always gets a bit worse after the end of season when the bike paths and reserved lanes are closed for the winter, and this seems true for cycling on road in general, not only for the places where there effectively was a bike path. As if that closure marked the end of the right to ride a bike on the public roads…

  3. Wsquared

    The car/biker confrontation got pretty acrimonious last summer here in Boulder County, CO. The local papers regularly published letters to the editor and “hotline” phone calls from drivers complaining that bikers were hogging the road, disobeying traffic laws and generally inconveniencing motorized vehicles. There were calls for banning bikes on roads etc. I experienced a noticeable rise in horn honking and gratuitous middle fingers aimed at me when I road along minding my own business, entirely within the law.

    I’m not sure why this happened, but I can guess. Road biking has always been popular in Colorado, and has become even more so. Big charity rides are common. There are lots of riders on the road in the summer. The US Pro Challenge brought even more attention to biking. Some politicians and talk show hosts have gotten a lot of mileage out of bashing and mocking bikers.

    It all came to a head with the following incident was recorded not far from where I live, and then was widely broadcast by local TV stations.

    This sparked even more discussion about cyclists, and believe it or not, some ignorant people blamed the bikers for the incident. I believe the anticyclist voices are in a minority, but they are loud, persistent and spew alot of misinformation.

    Politicitions pay attention to loud noises in the media. I believe that if we don’t stand up our sport and out rights on the road, they could be legislated away or severely curtailed.

    So, I submitted the following guest editorial to our local paper, The Longmont Times Call. Believe it or not, the angry letters and hotline calls pretty much ceased after it was published. I like to think I had something to do with that. I strongly urge anyone reading this to speak out in there own communities.
    (Sorry, I couldn’t find a link, so I am reprinting it here.)

    Sharing the Road

    I am an avid cyclist who also drives a pickup truck. I’ve lived & worked in Boulder County for more than 25 years. Every day when driving or riding, I see motorists who speed (epidemic on the Diagonal bypass & rural roads), don’t signal, roll past stop signs, or are all over the road talking on cell phones or texting. Most drivers are law abiding, but I regularly see some who could be ticketed. I don’t pursue them banging on my horn or write angry letters saying all cars should be banned from the highways, despite the fact that hundreds of Coloradans die yearly in motor vehicle accidents. I let the police do their job and I like driving my F-150.

    I also ride my bike about 100 miles per week, often near Hygiene, which is a popular route because of the wide shoulders. Yes, I occasionally see riders who don’t stop properly at intersections or signal. Cyclists should obey the law and significant violations should be ticketed by the police, but the contention by some that 90% of cyclists are law breakers who endanger others is nonsense, just as it is to characterize most motorists that way.

    How often are cars meaningfully delayed by cyclists in the real world? While driving, I can’t remember the last time I was delayed by even 30 seconds getting from point A to point B by having to slow down to pass a cyclist. I am also delayed by elderly motorists who drive slowly, funerals, trains, traffic jams, pedestrians, road work, fire trucks, buses, school crossings, ambulances and civic events in downtown Longmont. Those are all just facts of life that everyone has to deal with.

    From my everyday experience, bike riders try to keep to the right on the road because they don’t want to die. Cars kill cyclists, not the other way around. That’s a powerful incentive to stay out of the way of 4,000 lb. vehicles. If there is no shoulder, like on County Line Road, 99% of the time a driver has to wait only a few seconds before they can safely pass a biker. Such delays really are insignificant.

    Neither bikes nor cars are going away. They both have the right to be on public roads. Rules that apply to cyclist/motorist encounters are easily understood and are there to save lives. They are what they are, not what some might wish them to be. Everyone should follow traffic laws before doing something stupid or blowing their stacks. Better to cool down and enjoy your trip.

    Win White

  4. Brian

    I find I have really no issues here in the South Shore. The worst I’ve had is an aggressive beep from an elderly driver. 3 years of riding and have been treated well by the drivers down here.

    For some reason the Blue Hills drivers are very agressive lately. I think more commuters are using it for a shortcut and try and speed through there.

  5. Chris

    I too ride more cautiously and respectfully than I might have a decade ago. By and large, the drivers here in Vancouver, BC seem to be courteous, with the occasional beep or shouted obscenity being the exception rather than the rule.

    Might be making a move soon to a smaller town and hope to find the drivers there as accommodating.

  6. Josh Kadis

    I live in New York City. More specifically, I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan.

    It’s chaos. No cyclist, driver, or pedestrian follows any predictable set of rules, with one strange exception. Drivers for some reason obey they NYC-specific rule that you can’t make a right on red. However, they have no qualms about running a red light when they’re not turning.

    Everyone hates everyone; it doesn’t matter whether you happen to be using the same mode of transportation. The drivers are angry. The pedestrians are clueless. The cyclists are reckless.

    Riding in Central Park or Prospect Park (Brooklyn’s half-size version of Central Park) removes cars from the equation and replaces that danger with boredom.

    On the other hand, Mayor Bloomberg has made huge improvements for cyclists here, and Transportation Alternatives is a great advocacy organization.

  7. Vince

    Austin has a better than average situation that most cities in America. This continues to improve, on the infrastructure side at least. The help of the Dutch Cycling Embassy has been great so far.

    This year has not been without it’s challenges. Currently 3 deaths (2 in the middle of the night) and one girl is fighting for her life:

  8. Sam

    I ride in Madison WI. There’s lots of infrastructure here for us and many cyclist take advantage of it in the wrong way. But of course we have quite the cross section of cyclists, be they uninformed or true professionals.

    Commutes are mostly blase. I ride slower than I did five years ago and the rides are more pleasant. If you take it down from you ITT pace and realize that were you’re going isn’t going anywhere, commutes get easy and people in cars don’t get so bummed out. When things go wrong with a car, a simple thumbs-down sends a clear message without aggression.

    I’ve noticed it’s those without an outlet for speed and daring that take it to the edge in traffic.

  9. Eric

    When I commute by bike (which, a few months back Robot and another reader gave me some good tips, thanks for that!) I’m on my beater bike, wearing low key street clothes and a backpack. I seem to get more space compared to when I’m on my road bike dressed in roadie clothes. Whether it’s cars giving me plenty of room when they pass or being waved through at an intersection. I don’t have numbers to back it up, but I sense it. In turn, I rarely get riled by whatever happens while I’m commuting. I still get shafted on occasion but my blood pressure doesn’t spike over it.

    And thinking about it overall, at least on my end of town, relations appear to be better between cars and bikes.

  10. Doug

    Here in New Jersey, I hear a lot of stories from other cyclist about drivers being very aggressive (I know, who would expect that in Jersey?) My experience though has been that in general, while drivers may not appreciate cyclist on the road, they don’t go out of their way to put cyclist in danger. Sometimes a polite conversation at stoplights go a long way towards educating drivers about how to safely coexist.

  11. Pat O'Brien

    Here in Cochise County, things are pretty good between drivers and cyclists. However, we did have a cyclist killed this year by an inattentive driver right outside of Sierra Vista, AZ. That put every rider here on edge, including my wife and I, and you would not believe the wattage of the blinky lights now being used here. Our chief concern is still distracted drivers with cell phone use and texting being the top causes. I see it almost every day whether driving or riding. The other big problem is cyclists running stop signs. Overall, this is a good place to ride, especially certain routes which are just great, such as highway 90 from Sierra Vista to I-10. Out and back it is 68 miles of rollers with gorgeous scenery. And they have clean porta pots at the Border Patrol checkpoint!

  12. LesB

    Riding here in SoCal I can say that the great majority of drivers are more courteous to me on the bike than they are to other motorists.

    For example, at 4-way stops drivers will as often as not will hold their position to let me blow through the stop sign. In my years of riding I remember only one motorist going hyper-spasmotic over my not coming to a full stop at a sign — and he was behind me. Oh, and one other who took issue. He was the highway patrol, and he gave me a ticket.

    Re the stop sign non-issue: Yes, cyclists should not just blow thru stop signs without slowing or looking. But necessarily coming to a full stop when the coast is clear is not safe biking.

    And large part of the acrimony from motorists is the anal-retentive notion that bikes should come to a full stop at signs (as if all cars do!). That could be fixed, as has been done in a couple of states, by making it legal for cyclists to regard stop signs as yield signs.

  13. mwmike

    Been commuting 16+ mi/day for 13+ years in metro Phx. (Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert) with only one accident (totaled a Specialized Allez – right hook into the bike lane) and no injuries. I ride the sidewalk where there’s no bike lane (even salmoning at times) and never have a problem. 99.9% common sense.

  14. Pat O'Brien

    I agree that stop as yield laws for cyclists is a great idea. Some states already have it. But, I don’t consider running stop signs a non-issue. They may be anal retentive, but they are the majority on the road and have a 2 ton weapon to back them up. If we set a good example, maybe the driver that sees it will give a cyclist a break later on.

  15. Carrie Schmeck

    Try having a ponytail. It seems to help. 🙂

    Don’t know if it’s just my imagination but it seems like my girl groups don’t experience the level of acrimony. Is that because people are nicer to girls or are we less aggressive riders? I wonder.

    My basic rule is to always assume cars don’t see me and that I will be the one to die if I’m not on the offensive. It can’t work against swerving texters behind me but there will always be variables, whether in a car or on a bike.

  16. mwmike

    Pat – You’re gonna teach respect, courtesy, and driving skills by setting “a good example”? Good luck with that.

  17. producifer

    Riding in Los Angeles has been a breeze compared to riding in Chicago- which often seemed like a scene out of Road Warrior. Solo riding has been incident-free here, but my group rides have had some scary moments lately. I think it’s entirely due to the growing size of these rides and the tendency of some riders to blow off so many traffic lights and stop signs. We’re our own worst problem at this point…

  18. bigwagon

    I live in metro Milwaukee and my commute takes me from lonely rural farm roads to urban inner city war zone in the span of less than 25 miles, so it’s an interesting ride to say the least. Up here in the country the cars give bikes a wide berth and I’ve never had an incident. The city is a different story. The roads suck and the cars are driven my homicidal maniacs. Thugs in ghetto cruisers appear to not care who or what they hit, whether it is a car, bus, bike or pedestrian. Speaking of which, in the city, some of the fine citizens are as dangerous as the cars. I’ve had shit thrown at me, been lunged at, had a guy on the sidewalk try to kick me off my bike while he was waiting at a bus stop. Crazy stuff.

  19. LesB

    Comments re Carrie Schmeck’s post:

    “Try having a ponytail. It seems to help”
    There was a post somewhere in about a male cyclist who had a pony tail. Car full of guys passing by, hand reaches out of window and slapps the cyclist in the butt, presumably with the notion that this a gal’s butt. Slapper had a pretty good surprise when he looked back at who he slapped.

    “Don’t know if it’s just my imagination but it seems like my girl groups don’t experience the level of acrimony. Is that because people are nicer to girls or are we less aggressive riders? I wonder. ”
    I’m sure this is true, just from my own attitudes.

    “My basic rule is to always assume cars don’t see me…”
    A trend I dislike is the illegal tinting of car windows, and the lax enforcement of the applicable laws. When meeting a car at an intersection or driveway, I want to make eye contact with the driver for assurance it’s clear to proceed. It’s either very difficult or impossible to make eye contact with the driver of a car with a dark window on the driver’s side.

  20. Noel

    Here in the RTP area of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, et al) I find it kind of hard to judge. It seems like if you’re in the more rural areas, like around Jordan Lake where I usually ride, most drivers are fairly courteous as long as cyclists stay to the side of the road. What seems to rile them up is cyclists riding two-abreast or big groups taking the whole lane, a common occurrence since the area I ride is a frequent destination of both charity rides and club or team training rides.

    Another issue I hear about a lot is cyclists passing lines of traffic and stop lights to get to the head of the line. I’ve seen/heard many motorists say something to the effect of “I’ll give you space when I pass you the first time, but if you ride past while I’m sitting at a light, you’ll get no courtesy from me if I have to pass you again.” On the other hand, when cyclists actually stop and hold their position in the line of traffic at a light, motorists complain because the cyclist can’t get through the light fast enough and they end up sitting through another light cycle because of the cyclist. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    There have been a few accidents and even a couple of fatalities this year. Every time something happens between a cyclist and a motorist and it gets reported on one of the local news channels’ website, a war of words, mostly AGAINST cyclists, flares up. It’s enough to depress and worry anyone who rides. The public mood seems to be just angry, hateful, bitter, condescending, arrogant, and malicious where cyclists are concerned. A couple of quick examples (look at the comments following the storys):

    I try to keep in mind that, like much of the rest of the Internet, the comments are an example of the squeaky wheel being noticed while the rest aren’t, but it still scares the crap out of me.

    @Carrie Schmeck: My wife rode in this year’s le Tour de Femme ( and, while riding single file on a quiet rural road with a 3 other ladies, had a saw blade thrown at her out of a passing pickup truck. She’ll be riding with a GoPro camera in 2013.

  21. Peter Leach

    No snow on the ground here [Canberra, Australia]
    Race start [8:00am] 21.6C.
    Race finish [9:30am] 28.2C.
    Currently [1:30pm] 33.7C

    Cars and riders = get along pretty well most of the time. That said, there’s always few driver who think that roads are made for them alone. My favourite – postable – shouted comment: “Why don’t you get a car and pay registration fees?” At the time, I had three car [mine and two of my children] registered in my name 🙁

  22. A Stray Velo

    I’d have to admit that I’m pretty lucky. I moved out of the US a few years ago and I currently reside in northern europe.

    We are pretty lucky here. Cycling is integrated into the culture here so we don’t have a lot of issues which is really nice. We are in no way perfect but if I had to compare my experiences here to my experiences back in midwestern America, I’m having a hell of a lot more fun riding here amongst people who accept cyclists. Plus I feel a lot safer out on the roads.

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