Everything Motorists Want to Know About Cyclists
By Bill Schneider , 11-04-09
A few weeks back, I wrote about the rage a few motorists have for road cyclists. This week I’m using a Q&A format to address some of the reasons for the anger – things many motorists might not understand about cycling and cyclists and why they do the things they do.
Q. Why do cyclists ride in the traffic lane instead of on or right of the fog line?
A. Most highways don’t have shoulders large enough for road cycling, and many that do aren’t maintained or have rumble strips, which makes cycling nearly impossible if not dangerous. Consequently, most experienced cyclists ride about a foot into the traffic lane because it discourages motorists from making the worst decision they can make when approaching cyclists from behind – trying to squeeze through in the same lane at high speed. One minor adjustment by the cyclist could cause a lethal accident; all it takes is a glancing blow by a side mirror. Instead, motorists should wait for a safe passing lane and cross the centerline and not get within five feet of the cyclist, which brings me to the most important words in this commentary: Share the Road, Not the Lane.
Q. Why do cyclists ride on roads when there are sidewalks or bikeways?
A. I’ve ridden my bicycle for 40 years without having an accident involving a motor vehicle, but I’ve had several involving other cyclists, pedestrians and dogs. Consequently, I avoid sidewalks and bikeways, which are occupied by pedestrians, dogs and kids on BMX bikes.
Residential streets cross sidewalks and most bikeways, and stop signs are positioned to encourage motorists overdrive sidewalks or bikeways before stopping, making it dangerous to ride there unless you want to go very slowly and don’t mind stopping or almost stopping every block. All this discourages cyclists from using bikeways specifically put in by city planners to ’solve" the conflict with motorists. And I don’t believe adult cyclists belong on sidewalks.
Q. Why don’t cyclists always signal their turns?
A. Laws requiring hand signals were written when most bicycles had coaster brakes instead of handlebar brakes, but even then, cyclists often had to keep both hands on the handlebars to safely turn, whereas motorists can signal a turn and keep both hands on the wheel. Most cyclists signal most of the time, but in some situations, cyclists can’t remove one hand from the handlebars or brakes and still adequately slow and safely turn.
Q. Why do cyclists sometimes ride in the left lane on a four-lane street?
A. Most state laws define bicycles as vehicles, and no vehicle can make a left hand turn from the right hand lane, so cyclists have to move the left lane to comply with traffic laws. Cyclists should, however, only ride in the left lane when making a left turn.
Q. Why do cyclists take the whole lane when riding down a steep hill?
A. When on a steep descent, cyclists need the whole lane to safely make the curves. They can’t ride on the shoulder where even a tiny patch of sand can cause a life-threatening crash. At these higher speeds, motorists should experience minor inconvenience, less than coming up behind an eighteen-wheeler geared down to reduce speed on a big hill.
When riding a two-lane road and backing up traffic on a long descent, cyclists should pull over, if possible, to allow motorists to pass. This is common protocol in Europe and other places, but unfortunately, many cyclists in the United States aren’t this courteous.
Q. Why do cyclists ride so far from parked vehicles?
A. Any cyclist who has ridden extensively on city streets has been "doored," so it has become accepted practice to ride a "door’s length" plus a few inches from parked vehicles. Motorists should check for oncoming cyclists before opening doors, but many don’t.
Q. Why do cyclists look like they aren’t riding single file?
A. Experienced cyclists ride in what’s called a paceline, and when riding 6-12 inches from the next cyclist’s wheel, any minor slowing can cause a serious crash. That’s why cyclists ride slightly off to the side. Also, drafting is critical in cycling, and riding slightly off to side often gives a better draft.
Q. Why do cyclists hate stopping at stop signs?
A. It’s much easier for motorists than cyclists to stop and get started again. Nonetheless, cyclists should always stop at stop signs. It’s the law in every state except Idaho, but they hate it because they lose hard-earned momentum and have to unclip and clip up again, which makes bicycle commuting much harder and slower – and it’s already so slow and so hard that it discourages most people from doing it. No excuse for not stopping, but that’s why they don’t do it.
Q. Why do cyclists ride on roads that weren’t made for bicycles?
A. I hear this question a lot, and the answer is simple. Almost no roads, if any, are made for bicycles. Ditto for the rest of the world. American roads are probably more suited for cycling than roads in Europe and elsewhere. Simply put, the rest of the world doesn’t even worry about it. Motorists accept cyclists and have learned to share the roads – all roads – with cyclists.
If I missed a question you have, put a question in the comment section, I’ll try to answer it.