By Martin E. Comas, Orlando Sentinel
February 21, 2010
EUSTIS – Almost every Saturday morning, a group of mostly-middle-aged bicyclists meets at a church parking lot to start long rides along the rural roads of north Lake and south Marion counties.
Along the way they’ll keep one principle in mind:
“We know that we’ll never win an argument with a car,” said Dave Viney, 59, of Leesburg, and one of the group’s regular riders. “We ride safely to respect the spirit of the law.”
That gracious attitude may surprise many motorists – particularly those in fast-growing Lake – who say that increasingly large herds of bicyclists create dangerous situations on the roads because they refuse to move over to let vehicles pass.
But if an impatient motorist honks or makes an obscene gestures at these bicyclists, they won’t return with similar rudeness.
In fact, they’ll give out a friendly wave, according to Bob Porter, 51, of Eustis, a serious bicyclist who regularly rides with the bunch. After all, it’s tough being angry at someone who is courteous.
“So that next time the motorist will think: ‘Hey, those guys aren’t so bad’…Our goal is to try to increase the awareness of safe bicycling, that it’s a good, healthy activity.”
Since 2000, Lake County’s population has soared about 40 percent to more than 300,000 residents. That means more cars on the roads competing with bicyclists, who long enjoyed miles of asphalt to themselves on Saturday mornings.
“Ten years ago, we used to be able to get on [State Road] 44 in Eustis and ride to DeLand and only be passed by a relatively few number of cars,” said Ken LaRoe, 52, of Eustis and an avid bicyclist. “But today, I dread riding on 44. It’s horrifying. The traffic is unbelievable.”
LaRoe – who frequently rides with the Saturday morning group from Trinity Evangelical Free Church – recently helped launch the Lake County Bicycle Alliance. The group encourages more cooperation and friendliness among motorists and the two-wheel crowd through a public-awareness campaign. LaRoe is founder and president of First Green Bank in Eustis, which has sponsored billboards designed to humanize bicyclists.
The alliance lets bicyclists know that they have to follow the same rules of the road as motorists, including stopping at traffic signals, riding on the correct side of the road and not riding more than two abreast.
The group also makes it known that motorists have to create a 3-foot buffer when passing a bicyclist.
“We are people that love to ride our bikes and we want to keep it safe,” LaRoe said.
Porter said a couple of summers ago he took his two sons on a bicycle trip to France to ride the same routes that were part of the Tour de France.
To his surprise, French drivers would often wave to let bicyclists pass.
“It [bicycling] was part of the fabric of their society, so much so that you could even interact with the motorists,” Porter said.
He hopes that same attitude would come to Lake County.
“Cars can get frustrated if you’re not a good rider,” Porter said. “But it’s a two-way street. We also need to be courteous.”