by Vanessa McCracken
Discount offer from Sunnyside Bicylces at the end of this post!
Because of what I do, people tend to bend my ear with their complaints about cars and cyclists. Cyclists tell me about the impatient, aggressive drivers they encounter, and drivers just love to complain about rude, clueless cyclists. (Lucky me gets to hear it from both sides!) Listening to these complaints, though, I am always struck by how seldom I have encountered a similar incident. I am out on my bike a lot. I’ve ridden thousands and thousands of miles on the roads over the last decade, and my positive interactions with drivers far, FAR outweigh the bad. I can honestly only recall three or four times over the years where a driver has been blatantly rude to me while I was out on a ride (not counting the jerk who drove by while pointing and laughing at me in my spandex, which genuinely hurt my feelings).
A few years ago, I wrote a blog titled Dimples for Diplomacy. In it, I examined why my experience has been so positive, and concluded that it comes down to the simple fact that I’m extra smiley on the bike. My suggestion was that if everyone smiled a bit more while out riding, the relationship between drivers and riders would improve automatically. It was a short, fast, simple suggestion meant to encourage riders to think and behave a little more courteously out there, with the assumption that courtesy begets courtesy. Smile, and the world smiles back at you (yes, I actually said that in the piece, and yes, I genuinely believe it).
I think it’s time, though, to expand my Dimples for Diplomacy idea into a full-blown Courtesy Campaign. Before each of our group rides, we talk about the importance of doing our part to represent cyclists well out on the road, and how it is critical that we ride courteously and predictably so that drivers feel confident and comfortable sharing the road with us. We stress the importance of stopping at stop signs and riding single-file when a car is behind us.
We ask riders to take turns with cars at four-way stops and to go through them in groups of four to six cyclists instead of 20 to 25. Similarly, it’s always good to space yourself out in groups of four or five on narrow roads or long climbs so that drivers can pass you more easily and safely than if you are clumped together in a pack of 20. We ask riders to be predictable and clearly signal their intentions, checking to make sure the road is clear behind them before pulling out into the lane to pass or drop back.
Other tips for riding safely and courteously include riding in the rightmost lane in the direction that you are going when riding through an intersection (i.e., don’t ride in the right-hand turn lane if you’re going straight); using a flashing headlight and tail-light even in daytime to help drivers see you. If you have to stop for any reason, make sure you get completely off the road and don’t obstruct it in any way. Wait until it is clear to re-enter the roadway (I know this seems obvious, but I’ve seen it happen enough times that it warrants the mention).
The number one complaint I hear from drivers is that they are just scared to share the road with cyclists because they don’t know what we’re going to do. The more visible we are, the more predictably we ride, and the more clearly we communicate our intentions with the drivers around us, the easier we make it for drivers to share the road with us.
Of course, the Courtesy Campaign extends to drivers, too. First of all, drivers, there is simply never an excuse to act aggressively towards a cyclist. At the end of the day, no matter who is following the rules of the road or not, it is just not okay to use a two-ton vehicle as a weapon against a human being on a 20-lb bike. And speaking of following the rules of the road, I know it should go without saying, but please stop at stop signs, stop at red lights, and put the phone down while you are driving! When approaching an intersection and looking for cross traffic, please look for cyclists in the bike lanes, too, before pulling out to cross the road. Wait to pass a cyclist if you cannot pass them safely and with a three-foot clearance.
A basic traffic principle is: First Come, First Served. A cyclist has the right to be on the road and a vehicle approaching from behind does not have the right to overtake it unless it can be done safely, and with three feet of clearance. I feel like this deserves repeating: A Cyclist Has The Right To Be On The Road And A Vehicle Approaching From Behind Does Not Have The Right To Overtake It Unless It Can Be Done Safely And With Three Feet Of Clearance. Communicate with the rider just as clearly as you hope the rider would communicate with you. Smile, be patient, and be courteous! We’re all just trying to get where we’re going safely. Let’s be kind to each other and watch out for each other along the way!
Before you go, check out this awesome Share the Road PSA from the City of Fresno. I promise I’m not just saying that because I’m in it!
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Sunnyside Bicycles Fresno is at 6105 E. Kings Canyon Road (Kings Canyon/Fowler next to GB3 and Baked Sunnyside) and can be reached at 559-255-7433.
Sunnyside Bicycles Reedley is at 1760 11th Street (off the bike trail between G and I) and can be reached at 559-726-2153.