February 3, 2010 – 6:53PM
A dream ride for most of us is pedaling on smooth windy roads carved through mountains without a vehicle in sight. Nobody but you, the road, and the view. However, the reality of it is that we need to share the roads. Some days more than others. This will undoubtedly cause conflict.
One of the most useful pieces of advice that I can give for riding in traffic is to engage with it. What do I mean by this? Allow me to explain.
A good friend of mine taught me to always give a friendly wave to the truck drivers out on the country roads. Most of the time you’ll see those same trucks coming back again along the same road making his round trip. Initiating that interaction by giving a big wave immediately engages them making you slightly more affable. When he comes back and sees you he’ll give you lots of room and 9 times out of 10 he’ll give you a wave back. It was no effort at all for you to make that engagement and it took you one step closer to making it home safely.
When I ride to work I don’t often wear my sunglasses. This allows me to make eye contact with drivers. Most of the time you’ll see the same drivers again and again at the same intersections. If you look a driver straight in the eye and give them a smile at some point you become less of a pesky cyclist and more of a human.
If you’re waiting at the front of a red light and you’re clearly going to be holding up the cars behind you, make eye contact with the driver and wave him through. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be waiting together at the front of the next intersection.
If you’re holding up a car on a narrow road and there’s nothing you can do about it, give him a wave as a thank you for waiting when the road widens up. If there are twists and turns in the road and blind corners and the driver is waiting to pass, wave the vehicle through when it’s clear to pass. It’s amazing how many times the driver will give you a friendly short double honk (not the 5 second agro honk) on their way past.
I’ve had few problems with drivers and am in shock of the stories I hear from others’ experiences. Why don’t these things happen to me? It could be luck, but I’m willing to bet that a large part of it has to do with the way I engage with the drivers. This interaction immediately disarms the driver. It’s not me against them anymore.
Sure there will always be the odd aggressive driver who sees you only as a nuisance, but its always worth being the bigger person. Its amazing how many times that hot headed driver will be in the same lineup as you in the next coffee shop or even at your workplace.
Yes, it is your right to be on the road, but there’s nothing that says you don’t have to be polite out there. It could save your life.