When Cyclists Complain About Cyclists

Copenhagen - Strandvejen 1955
[image via Copenhagenize]

Spring is here and the number of new cyclists is multiplying rapidly. It's fantastic to see so many people in Cambridge and Somerville going about their day on two wheels, as if this were entirely normal and natural - which of course it is. But with more bicycles on the roads, this is also the time of the year for complaints: motorists complaining about "scofflaw cyclists" and cyclists themselves complaining about "newbies."

While motorist hostility is nothing new or surprising, there is somewhat of a debate in the bicycle blog world as to whether it's right for cyclists themselves to criticise other cyclists' behaviour. On the one hand, when cyclists don't follow traffic laws and behave recklessly, they not only "make all of us look bad," but actually endanger us. The biggest example of this that I experience in Boston, is when I am intentionally riding toward the left of the bike lane in order to avoid the door zone, and a cyclist passes me on the right. I have also had cyclists nearly crash into me as a result of their running a red light: Ironically, those who do so tend to watch out for cars but not for other bicycles. Naturally, I find such actions disconcerting. I feel no common bond with those who jeopardise my safety - regardless of what mode of transportation they are using.

But when cyclists criticise other cyclists, I wonder about its overall effectiveness. Do the scofflaws feel shamed and curb their transgressive behaviour in response to the critical rants of law-abiding cyclists? Or is it more likely that they carry on just as before, and it's the timid, fledgling cyclists who are scared off from even trying to navigate such a treacherous landscape? This is what I was thinking while reading this post on BostonBiker this morning. While I actually agree with most of the points the author made, the tone just seemed so hostile. It also made me uneasy that the author criticised "new cyclists" - while themselves having only begun cycling this past winter. I have been cycling for over two years in Boston, including winters, and still consider myself to be fairly new at it. While I am safe, law-abiding and friendly, I am not perfect and sometimes make mistakes despite my best intentions. Is there a cyclist ranting about me on their blog because I neglected to signal a right turn last Thursday? A depressing thought.

I would not go so far as to suggest that cyclists must not criticise other cyclists, as part of some Velocipedean Brotherhood Code of Honor. But there has to be a way to discuss these issues in a more constructive manner. Do you complain about other cyclists when you think they are behaving recklessly, or do you opt for a united front? Is there an approach that accomplishes both?


  1. Do I complain about other cyclist when they are riding recklessly? Yup. I would like that dialogue to be as constructive as possible, but sometimes the only possible dialogue is to yell at them as they zoom past you, run a red light, then another, filter past two motorists driving at a responsible speed and cut them off before turning left without signaling. Sorry. I'm reliving my morning experience. Chances are I'll be coming across those two drivers tomorrow morning, or the next, or the next... something tells me they'll possibly be more hostile towards me than they should.

  2. We depend on the goodwill of motorists for our safety, and in return we owe them basic courtesy. Part of that courtesy is obeying the law -- at least in cases where it makes a difference to someone else. I do run the occasional stop sign, but only after I've slowed down for a good look to make sure no one else is being endangered or even inconvenienced by my actions.

    I find it frustrating how motorists love to point out chronic cycling offences while turning a blind eye to those of drivers. Yes, we cyclists almost never come to a complete stop at stop signs, but what percentage of drivers never exceed the speed limit? I don't know what it's like in Cambridge, but in Vancouver BC I'm sure that 90% of motorists drive faster than the posted limit at some point every single time they get behind the wheel.

  3. This sums my feelings up quite succinctly.

    I feel no common bond with those who jeopardise my safety - regardless of what mode of transportation they are using.

    I can only hope that there is a solution; but the more time goes on the more despondent I get. This past week (so far) has been brutal with regard to the amount of people that I have seen acting without regard for themselves and for others...

    ...it seems that we are in an era of detachment -- which is to say that so many people are locked in their own heads that they have difficulty actually interacting with other human beings on a 1 to 1 level.

    This goes well beyond cycling, too. As I walked down the sidewalk, I can't count how many times people barge by when they have plenty of room to step around, when my only options are stopping to let "Master Lord or Lady" (As I am sure that is how they regard themselves) or a collision is a tree or a garbage can.

    Driver/Pedestrian, Driver/Driver, Cyclist/Pedestrian, Cyclist/Driver, Cyclist/Cyclist, even Pedestrian/pedestrian... all these relationships are troubled at best, and hostile at worst, and none of the groups have any sense of camaraderie.

    The root, I fear, is deep. MOST (not all, so there is a sliver of hope) People barely regard each other as people on the best of days... and as soon as the other is doing something just different enough, other people become "the Enemy".

    It's a sad state of affairs.

    Please don't nail me to a tree, but, sometimes all I can think of is "how great it would be (for us) to be nice to people for a change,?"

  4. I'm a regular reader of yours as well as Boston Biker (and now of Two Wheeled Redhead... what is it with bike blogs and that hair colour? :) and can only wonder if this is really any different than anyone else being critical of others engaged in a similar activity. When driving I see other drivers constantly on mobile phones and displaying other idiotic skills, when shopping others buy what I have no taste for or am opposed to, and who doesn't criticise what is perceived to be poor parenting skills or lack of social common sense? (Fill in your own scenario there.) Is it self righteous smugness? Do people really feel they are helping? Or more importantly do people really listen to a strangers advice?
    I usually just mumble and shake my head in frustration, but try to take each situation individually. It's a tough call and this may make for some interesting discussion.

  5. Vorpal Chortle said...
    "...and now of Two Wheeled Redhead... what is it with bike blogs and that hair colour? :) "

    Could correspond with mild insanity?
    I mean, fascinating eccentricity.

  6. I have been riding for practical purposes for over 26 years now, and it never even OCCURRED to me to be critical of "newbie cyclists". Furthermore, if another cyclist wants to blow through red lights, I could care less, as long as I'm not riding through the intersection with a green light at that moment.

    When rolling through four-way stop signs, (usually after slowing considerably and never if another car has reached the stop sign first), I do check for other cyclists, especially from the uphill direction. I've had a few close calls, but I can't really fault the other guy since we were both rolling the stop.

    What does annoy me is on the rare occasion when I'm driving and two cyclists ahead of me are riding side-by-side, and don't drop back single file after a while. This is a courtesy I always extend to motorists when I'm biking next to a fellow rider, and to continue to ride two abreast does nothing to engender good relations with motorists.

  7. I used to, and still do voice my opinion. I know, weird. Once a normal-looking vagabond tried to block, then elbow me. I told him to fuck off. A pretty witty comment, I thought. Little did I know he was fueled by crack. Not knowing he was chasing me he caught up. Dressed in work boots and multiple flannel shirts he said, "I'm gonna cut you up, mfer." At this point I have to step on the gas because, you know, I don't normally drop a rock before I ride. I had to some pretty fancy lane splitting with narrow gaps to stop his mtb bars from getting through.

    I've been saying there are too many bikes on the road for many years to bike guys, kind of as a joke but it’s the truth too. I can’t tell you how many group rides I’ve come upon which seemingly did their best to piss off the world.

    Re: out of the door zone, passed on the right - blame it on limited infrastructure. If I'm hauling ass and come upon a rider on the L side of the lane I can a) look over my shoulder for traffic and go out into the lane if it's clear. If it's not I have to brake and wait or b) keep my eyes on the road and split on the R. It's easier just to do b) if you know traffic is heavy. As the rider behind I don't necessarily want to be the one who gets pushed into the lane by a rider hugging the L bike lane marker. No need for yelling on either party, just keep going.

    These guys who yell at redheads are just asking for trouble.

  8. You could also ask - what's the effectiveness of complaining about any group? Complaining to a cyclist - who's run a red light, say - is one thing (and good luck with that). Going home and writing a rant on your blog (not your blog personally, I mean 'one's blog'), or a newspaper website just seems a bit pointless. As indeed is writing a rant about the driver who just cut you up. After all, when did you last read a rant written by a driver about what cyclists do and think 'gosh, good point, I really should look less smug while I'm riding'? The only purpose it serves is to say 'I'm not like those cyclists, I'm a good cyclist', but it doesn't really make much difference because the drivers who think all cyclists are scofflaws don't read cyclists' blogs on the whole, and it makes reading about cycling on the internet terribly depressing. I know I've done it myself in the past but these days the only behaviour modification I attempt is smiling and thanking people who are helpful and pleasant, greeting anyone who'll catch my eye, and ignoring everybody else.

  9. Daniel M said...
    "...if another cyclist wants to blow through red lights, I could care less, as long as I'm not riding through the intersection with a green light at that moment."

    This has actually happened to me at least twice in the Boston area within the past 2 years. I must be exceptionally lucky. The first time it was a boy on a brakeless fixed gear. I caught him in my peripheral vision and saw the horror on his face at not being able to stop, so I slammed my brakes and yielded at the last moment. The other time it was someone wearing the uniform of one of the local cycling teams, apparently on a training ride. He yielded to me at the last moment, but was visibly annoyed.

  10. Velouria said...
    " Do you complain about other cyclists when you think they are behaving recklessly, or do you opt for a united front? Is there an approach that accomplishes both?"

    There can be only one "united front" for ALL cyclist from newbie to pro rider. That being a front that follows the Rules Of The Road that applies to ALL vehicles (a bicycle IS a vehicle in all 50 states) to apply in full to those cyclist who use our roads/paths.

    I predict that as cycling becomes more main stream ,with the associated rise in ridership, bicycle testing and training for the safe use of a bicycle on common roadway areas will have to become the norm. Just like all motorized vehicles require proof of operator capabilities so will the cyclist in time. There are just to many crazy lazy riders to avoid this restriction so that all riders/drivers are on a more level playing field.

    This increase in cyclist numbers has now reached the point here in Illinois that the governor has directed the Sec.of State to list "dooring' and other types of cyclist accidents on the reports that are used to report accidents rates. . In other words the cyclist is no longer iinvisible to state government. Rider skill set testing is now just around the corner IMO.

    Don't like the prospect of having to prove you can ride a bicycle safely on public roads? Fine, there is still dirt riding and track racing for you just stay off the roads.

  11. I had a recent encounter with a motorist who honked and then aggressively passed while I was taking a lane legally. I actually had a civil discussion with him afterwards, and he admitted (interestingly he was contrite and not justifying) that he was unusually annoyed at me on a bike because he'd just been cut off by two guys running reds when he had the green.

    I've also been to multiple advocacy meetings where pedestrians, who should be our natural allies in livable streets and traffic calming, oppose bike lanes because they're worried about encouraging the cyclists that they see as dangerous. I know, cars are more dangerous to peds, but I see bikers downtown shoot through pedestrians' right of way all the time, which isn't winning "us" (people on bikes) friends.

    So as a cyclist on the road, I do care if other bikers run red lights, even if I don't happen to be in front of them at the time.

    Obviously the 2 second interaction isn't a good forum for discussion, but I fear that we do need to do something to head off the confrontation that seems imminent between the increasing number of bikers with a loose interpretation of the rules and drivers who are asked to share the road with them.

    Velouria, I'd be interested in your opinion from a social psychology standpoint what the best way to create "norms of acceptable behavior" in a culture as diverse as city cyclists.

  12. Not much to add. I really think if you don't talk about it and remind people that cyclists have to obey traffic regulations then the problems is only going to get worse. In a weird way, I'm happy to live somewhere that issues traffic tickets to cyclists who get busted for obvious no-nos, like biking into traffic or running the red.

    Mostly, I'm just posting to get the subscribe button again;)

  13. "I predict that as cycling becomes more main stream ,with the associated rise in ridership, bicycle testing and training for the safe use of a bicycle on common roadway areas will have to become the norm."

    Well, it isn't required in any country in the world, even in ones with a large modal share that would be unrealistic in our lifetimes for the U.S., so I don't see why it would ever be a requirement here, or what benefit would be served.

  14. I just read the Boston Biker thing and it didn't really sound all that hostile to me - just bewildered and frustrated. It does really sound like they feel less-safe *and* voiceless in the moment, which is probably why they're writing it.

    I do think, as a newbie, it's helpful for me to see what people are frustrated about, just in case I'm doing it. I've read all the bike etiquette guides but it's good reinforcement for me to read ongoing dialogue.

    And honestly, that post sounded just like the conversation I had with a bike store owner just recently re "other bikers" not stopping for red lights and how frustrated that makes drivers (and pedestrians - I've been on the emergency braking end of that more often than I'd like). And I do also think, given how many non-bikers hate bikers, it's sometimes useful for them to see there's not only the bike messenger type of biker. (I work in midtown west NYC and I can't tell you how much I HATE them myself, especially after seeing people bloody on the ground after one flies through the crosswalk against the right of way, picked up and kept going. Trust me, not going to NOT complain about that no matter how "divided" people think it makes bikers.)

  15. Interesting and surprising (to me) that most of you are all right with criticising other cyclists. In the online discussions I come across it tends to be 50/50.

    Some time ago I was in a taxi with a partially assembled bicycle, and the taxi driver commented on what a nice bike it was and that he used to have a nice bike in the 70s. We talked about bikes and cyclists for a while, he was pretty friendly. Then we passed a cyclist who was "taking the lane" and the taxi driver started complaining. "You know what I hate though? It's these damn idiot cyclists who act like cars"...

  16. I have to say that I don't think it's the "newbies" so much that have ever endangered my safety. If anything, it's the spandex-clad super jocks who seem to enjoy passing me too closely, too quickly, and without any warning.

  17. What Stacy said. Noobs and their clumsiness never anger me. At worst they scare me for their sake, although I never say anything because there is no way for that to not come off as rude. It's the aggro law defiers that get my goat.

  18. Nowadays, I mostly simply try to set a good example, unless I run across a truly "teachable" moment or a wrong-way cyclist, in which case I yell "you're going the wrong way!"

  19. For those of you who experience "teachable moments" and say things, how do cyclists respond? I get nothing but scowling, or worse, even if I point out that the person is going the wrong way or is passing me on the right.

  20. Inimically. C'est normal pour les kids punk.

    You think they don't know they're acting like infants?

  21. The cyclist who totally disregard traffic laws are my big beef. Pretty much without exception, they are spandex clad. Not to say there isn't an exception occasionally, but it isn't the norm. I think this is largely due to the sports oriented cycling culture here in the US. When I was much younger, all the "Nascar motorhead boys" in high school and college behaved the same way except with automobiles. Perhaps it is largely related to racing culture regardless of the transportation mode.

  22. Walt D: I predict that as cycling becomes more main stream ,with the associated rise in ridership, bicycle testing and training for the safe use of a bicycle on common roadway areas will have to become the norm.

    You better hope this never happens, because it will mean the end of transportation cycling. NOBODY except people who are either already crazy about cycling, or people who can't drive for physical or mental health reasons, will bother paying fees to get licensed and take a test to be allowed to ride a bike. And what do you do about children? Do 7-year-olds have to go to the DMV for a cycling license? Just... no, no, no.

  23. I've never criticized another rider directly, but I've certainly remarked to my husband or myself about people riding recklessly. My favorite was the police officer on a bike riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

    There is a woman who I regularly see commuting on the sidewalk past my house and I always think that I should politely let her know that she would be safer on the street (there's even a bike lane!) but then I tell myself to mind my own business. I'm sure if she gets hit by a car I'll feel guilty for not saying something, but I guess I don't want to risk a confrontation. Maybe next time I see her...

  24. I have trouble complaining about individuals. I feel that all of the chaos stems from the lack of proper infrastructure, as others have brought up. It's not like biking in certain parts of Europe, where there are multiple bike lanes and bike traffic lights. We're forced to rely more on our intuition. That, and we do not always see everything around us, car doors, motorists, other bicycles--accidents happen. Unless someone is being blatantly reckless, driving/biking/motoring drunk or drugged, for instance, I don't think it's particularly easy to call anyone out.

    My perspective stems mostly from my experience in Sonoma on A) a bike path designated for getting from one end of town to the other--so long as you can swerve around the diversity of cyclists and pedestrians, often with dogs and children. Or B) On the road, without a bike lane, because after all, the bike path already exists. And there is that shoulder that erratically changes from the size of a bike lane to suddenly! non-existent. So, quickly, choose between the edge of highway 12 or the sidewalk, and watch out for cars turning, bikes coming from the opposite direction and the mailman doing his stop and go dance. DO NOT hit the baby carriages, which also take advantage of the shoulder when the sidewalk cuts out.

    It's kind of rough out there.

  25. Erica S. said...
    "You better hope this never happens, because it will mean the end of transportation cycling. NOBODY except people who are either already crazy about cycling, or people who can't drive for physical or mental health reasons, will bother paying fees to get licensed and take a test to be allowed to ride a bike. And what do you do about children? Do 7-year-olds have to go to the DMV for a cycling license? Just... no, no, no."

    All one need to do is look at how the Netherlands is handiing childhood cycle education as well as how they handle proficiency of adult cyclist since they have become a nation on bicycles.




  26. LC - maybe you have a lot of meatheads where you live but to equate racing culture = rude in the U.S. is over-reaching.

    That said a Dutch spandex-clad rider was killed yesterday when he hit a tourist on a bike on a cycle path. He did not represent me or the people I know.

    Bike Ed - good idea. So is drivers' ed. So is ed in general. Is there a problem with being smarter and wiser?

  27. I guess I'll be the scofflaw guy who weighs in first. (For the record, I own no spandex.)

    I know the laws re: cycling, but I don't agree with many of them, so i tend to break them on every ride. I don't care. Here in South Jersey, cops don't care. (The discussions I've had with cops suggest that the cops 'round here are mostly unfamiliar with the laws anyway.) Motorists tend to honk, heckle, and act squeamish while in the vicinity of my moving bike regardless of how lawfully/recklessly I'm riding. The discussions I've had with motorists suggest that the drivers round here are *entirely* unfamiliar with the laws. Like V's taxi driver, they are far more disturbed by the riders who "act like cars" than the "illegal" cyclists.

    Too often, preachy cyclists I've encountered online or in "real" life try to equate lawful cycling with safe cycling. Anyone who has put a decent amount of time in on the road will see that there are times when the legal approach is safest, but there are other times when it is insane. Much of the time, from a safety standpoint, adherence to traffic laws seem to have little bearing on safety. Typically, the legal way is slowest, in terms of the total A to B trip. (There are exceptions.)

    Under the letter of the law, a bicycle is a vehicle, and subject to all the traffic laws that apply to other vehicles. But, in reality, those laws were designed for the dominant form of vehicle, which is IMO very dissimilar to the bicycle. Why would I waste time and effort following these laws? It won't help me avoid tickets, in the area where I ride. It won't please the ignorant motorists, who don't know/don't care. The only flack I ever get from riding outlaw is from slow, dorky guys with pants clips. I don't scowl at these guys, or threaten them, or bludgeon them with my u-lock. I usually laugh their illogical concerns off and continue on my way.

    On a final note, the concept that we must pander to motorists so they'll like us/outlaw cyclists make motorists behave unacceptably towards cyclists? That's gotta be the most submissive aspect of these common pro-car-laws-for-bikes arguments. Why are you mad at the biker for the prejudice displayed by the occasional hot-head motorist? A guy in a car cuts you off or harasses you, and that's the fault of some random cyclist from a few days ago? Ridiculous.


  28. Erica S: "You better hope this never happens, because it will mean the end of transportation cycling. NOBODY except people who are either already crazy about cycling, or people who can't drive for physical or mental health reasons, will bother paying fees to get licensed and take a test to be allowed to ride a bike. And what do you do about children? Do 7-year-olds have to go to the DMV for a cycling license? Just... no, no, no.


    While I completely agree that the idea of paying a licensing fee for riding a bicycle would be a very bad idea, I do think that teaching young people in a consistent and thoughtful manner how to behave in traffic might be a good way to change our attitudes towards cyclists. This post from another blog shows how transportation cycling is taught in The Netherlands, with great success. According to David Hembrow, it is expected that a child will be able to walk or cycle to a nearby primary school unaccompanied by the age of eight. If U.S. children were trained and given the confidence (and had safe routes), think how much more independent and confident they could be. Maybe they would grow up with the habit of getting from point A to B without assuming that a car is the only way to do it!

  29. What goes on in the Netherlands has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in the United States. We may wish to live in an area as bike-accepting as the Netherlands, but it will never happen here, ever. (Outside of maybe Portland or wherever... and even there it's unlikely.)

    What IS likely to happen in the USA if cyclists have to be tested and licensed:
    --Anyone who can drive, and can afford to do so, will do that instead of cycling. Why pay for both car insurance and bike licensing fees when you don't have to?
    --Children will not get trained in cycling, because getting them trained and tested will be a practical and monetary inconvenience for their parents. Therefore, fewer ride as adults.
    --If adult cyclists are forced to spend money for training (in MD, all new drivers of any age have to take driver's ed, my classes were $350), they're just not going to do it. Most people, at least where I live, do not ride for transportation, they ride for fun. $350 is a lot of cash to drop on something you might do every couple of weeks at most.
    --For people who can drive but can't afford a car, but can afford a cheap bike, this is just another tax/hassle that keeps them from the freedom to travel and the ability to work. If you're spending $5000 on a fancy road bike it might be nothing to spend a few hundred on bicycle training and a bicycle license, but for someone who cycles because they don't really have any other option, that could be devastating.
    --In places where they can't get driver's licenses, cycling is one of the only ways many illegal immigrants can get to work. What happens to them under mandatory licensing laws?

    I am totally in favor of VOLUNTARY education (preferably starting in elementary school, although it's not like you can ride to most schools in the USA) but as soon as you involve the government, fees/taxes, licenses, the whole deal... all you're doing is driving potential cyclists away. This leaves only the core of people who really REALLY like their bikes, and/or people who can't get a driver's license due to disability, illegal status, economic reasons, etc. And maybe that core is pretty big in Portland or Boston... but outside of the big bike-friendly cities it's a very tiny group. It's a tax/restriction on some of the people in our society who are the worst off.

    /soapbox :)

  30. Screech said...
    "I guess I'll be the scofflaw guy who weighs in first...

    I know the laws re: cycling, but I don't agree with many of them, so i tend to break them on every ride."

    That's a big issue as well. A considerable portion of the "scofflaw cyclists" don't agree that what they are doing is wrong. As a "cycling culture," we are a fairly disjointed one if it cannot even be agreed among cyclists what constitutes appropriate road behaviour.

  31. Erica S. - I agree with you. And no, I don't think that core group you describe is big in Boston at all. I think people cycle here because it became increasingly easy to do so. Infrastructure, other people cycling, infrastructure... And I also think that the availability of inexpensive and comfortable vintage bikes had a lot to do with it.

  32. When someone is coming head on towards me whether it be someone salmoning or inappropriately passing a pedestrian at high speed during rush hour on the MUP, this is when I try to have my teachable moment. I usually get 0 response.

    What's worse are all of the people that are plugged into their electronic devices whether they be on foot, bicycle or car, it is impossible to alert them to impending danger or to communicate with them, though they are often endangering themselves or others by being so plugged in.

  33. Erica - bike training currently is free in many communities. You are making up numbers as to what it really costs. No one said the DMV has to administer this.

    If you want your kid to ride the energy you expend as a parent to teach your child or get him to the training is nothing. What would you prefer to do: advocate against training on someone's personal bike blog?

    If adults don't want to cycle because of nominal fees who cares? The road and paths will be safer for those who drive and ride. That's the hypothetical goal of an education system. If the goal is to get more cyclists on the road, more of V's situations will occur without proper training. The amount of money a person spends on a bike is irrelevant; this is about safer riding.

    Illegal immigrants won't be necessarily tied into a governmental bike education system if it's community-based. No need for Big Brother to know.

    Enforcement of theoretical bike license holders is theoretically zero, so it's a moot point but at least more riders will be on the road riding legally and those who aren't licensed might infer that's the proper way to ride.

    To claim bike licensing is wrong while proposing hypothetical outcomes with hypothetical licensing requirements is pointless. In crowded streets people must learn how to behave. Exhibit A: NYC.
    This ties in nicely to the anti-American post: we don’t know how to behave because we were never trained properly because we are against rules because we are a nation of individuals. Simplistic but telling.

  34. Ground Round Jim said...
    "...to equate racing culture = rude in the U.S. is over-reaching."

    I think it depends on local culture more than anything. Here in Boston I very seldom have problematic encounters with road cyclists - if anything, they are probably the most courteous as a group, at least in my experience.

  35. The guys with a hundred thousand miles in their legs don't need to salmon or impact other riders negatively. Those in my group who do that are corrected; if they do it again they're asked to leave. Education on the road, as it were.

  36. One writer describes the early school age cycling education in Europe. Another says it won't happen here. Actually, it already has. I rode a cycle to public school in the US from around 1952 until 1964. And the bike racks were full until close to the end of that time. Did I have any cycling education. Yes, I was lucky to have a cycling father who rode with us and taughts us - from before we had BI-cycles because we had chain drive tricycles even earlier. Now I live in the wild west (of Canada) where, outside of the major cities, they still act as if cycles belong anywhere but on the road.

  37. Let's see how long it takes to get a hundred thousand miles in your legs.

    Let's imagine you cycle on average at 12mph. So, 100,000 / 12 = 8,333 hours of straight cycling.

    Let's say you cycle on average 1 hour per day, every day of the year. Or two hours every other day. Either way, it will take 8,333 days. And, that's almost 23 years.

    So let's imagine you start cycling this regularly at 17. For your 40th birthday, you can ask others in your group who salmon to leave.

    Sounds exciting.

  38. Like Anonymous 1:33AM, I also experienced bicycle training in the late 50s/early 60s and I lived in a tiny copper-mining town in the Canadian Shield, so training for kids is nothing new in North America, even in the sticks.

    The reason government-mandated testing and licensing is unlikely to happen is that if they are going to charge us to take a rider's test and pay for a license (and maybe even register our "vehicles"), then they would also have to be content with us riding at twelve miles per hour in the middle of the "car" lane - and all the traffic behind us be damned - or they would have to provide us with some good infrastructure to justify the fees we are paying.

    They'd rather not see either of those scenarios.

  39. LC99, unsafe cycling doesn't originate from road race culture. Thats just absurd.

  40. "Velocipedean Brotherhood Code of Honor"

    Does the Brotherhood have a coat of arms?

  41. Being the well-bred wheelman that I am, I have no recourse when confronted with scofflaws and scoundrels but to offer a slap of my cycling glove and issue a challenge to answer their rudeness on the field of honor.
    For such purposes I always carry a brace of Shimano dueling swords on my travels. I have vanquished many of these "outlaw" cyclists in such fashion.

  42. Your first assumption on the road should be that every other user, whether they are driving a car, riding, walking, or levitating, is unreliable and about to execute some unsafe maneuver. Be aware of everything that can cross your path and prepare to avoid it. This is how to avoid accidents. Sure, the idiot driver or cyclist who breaks the law might hold the legal fault, but we cyclists must take active responsibility for our own safety out on the road.

    There is a big difference between speaking up when a cyclist negatively impacts your safety, and yelling your head off for technical traffic law violations that don't impact you. I think a lot of the pure vehicularists tend to become overly indoctrinated in their own sense of moral righteousness, and feel justified in preaching to the masses. I used to be more guilty of this myself. Certainly we must be aware of the laws that govern us, and follow them as best we can. However, a bike is not a car, and in certain circumstances the laws do not make sense, or can be downright unsafe.

    Most jurisdictions require cyclists to ride as far right as possible, to allow motorists to pass easily (forget the fact that the motorists often ignore the law to allow 3 or 5 feet). However, infrastructure often places us in the door zone of parked cars, and the safe rider takes more of the lane. Bikes are required to stop at red lights, but many red light triggers do not recognize bicycles. A few jurisdictions make it legal for a bike to go through such a light after stopping and making sure it's clear, but not many. Most cyclists have snuck through an occasional red light, even though technically illegal. Even your Boston blogger admits to doing so, though he amusingly tries to justify it by saying it was 2 a.m. coming home from a restaurant (why does that matter?). Your Boston blogger strikes me mostly as a pure vehicularist, believing that bikes should ride only as if they are cars, and never disobey a traffic law. Other cyclists are more liberal, taking to the sidewalk or engaging in technical violations of the law where safety, comfort, and logic dictate. Bikes are eminently versatile vehicles, and we must make use of all the tools the autocentric infrastructure provides us to make it to our destination safely and expeditiously, as long as we are careful to avoid the risks and be courteous to other users (slow to walking speed and give pedestrians a wide berth on sidewalks, avoid the potential for a car crossing our path on a sidewalk, etc.)

    There is a big difference between an experienced rider taking safe liberties where reasonable and convenient, and an idiot riding against traffic going through a busy intersection against a red light, etc., etc. We need not call the former scofflaws and preach at them. I see plenty of the latter, and definitely say something to them. I see a lot of idiot motorists, and will say something to them, too. But as I gain experience and wisdom, I try not to preach. It accomplishes nothing, other than to add unnecessary stress, no matter how righteous it makes you feel.


  43. -I had U.S. bike education in the 70's.. but I also went to Catholic school. Maybe it was part of our teacher's choice that year? I remember getting a nice little booklet and learning all the hand signals etc.

    -Here in NL, you can take bike education and get a diploma. It's not mandatory. I know many other immigrants who so it because they've never used bikes before and they are learning from scratch.

    -My children had bike education in their Dutch school this year. They had tests over all the road signs etc.

    -Dutch people are very forgiving of tourists on bikes... or at least, they were with me when I first started. They would just zoom comfortably around me and smile.

    -I've gotten a few crappy comments from older Dutch males.. (never women for some reason).. and these guys almost always were wearing work coveralls and reeked of beer. I was too slow and in the way of their drunk driving or I had signaled and then put my hand back on the handlebars so I could turn with two hands-- then they accuse me of not signalling. Wahhhh. Sorry you were too drunk to pay attention

  44. Erica S. is right. Mandated bicycle licensing would accomplish nothing but destroying significant transportation cycling modal share before it even got off the ground.

    "bike training currently is free in many communities. You are making up numbers as to what it really costs. No one said the DMV has to administer this."

    If government regulation became mandatory, voluntary instruction would no longer be feasible. The DMV to be involved, or some other equally bloated government agency would have to be created. She isn't making up numbers. She's telling you what mandated driver instruction costs in Maryland, which doesn't necessarily imply that mandated bicycle instruction would cost the same amount. It most likely wouldn't, as it wouldn't require as many instruction hours or expensive equipment, but it would still cause the overwhelming majority of adults to never bother riding a bicycle in the street as transportation ever again, which would create more road danger for all road users.

  45. Cyclists are just touchy people, yourself not excluded, Veloria. Witness your reaction to suggestions that cyclists should wear, well, that thing that goes on the head. The problem, I think, is that cycling culture is so sparse and diverse that we are living in a sort of Wild West culture. Each of us has our own code of behavior, like a gunslinger, and we adhere to it pretty rigidly, and don't like it when others criticize it.
    If cycling became more usual, the way it is in some parts of Europe, I think our independent sets of rules would get submerged in the larger culture as reasonable cycling laws were adopted and enforced. But right now, each of us has our own idea of what's right -- should we stop at stop signs or just yield? What about cycling up an empty one-way street? How long should we wait at a red light that isn't activated by our bike? When should we take a lane? Etc.

  46. I think the post on Boston Biker you link to was not the worst example around, many folks use far harsher language and are much more righteous about the way people "should" ride. But, I do worry when I see this attitude among cyclists. It is harmful to our overall image in the city when exaggerations are made about how many "scofflaws" are out there. Truthfully I think this problem is an one we need to deal with, but let's be honest about how much of what's going on out there is risking life and limb.

    I ride everyday of course, and it's very rare when I see someone risk their lives. Sure, I do see people run red lights. But often it is after carefully looking both ways and with a whole mess of menacing cars and buses revving their engines behind them. To me, this appears to be people acting in the interest of their own safety.

    We do have a job ahead of us as a community however, and that is getting all riders to give pedestrians a wider berth when passing them. The opposition I hear most when I'm in planning meetings is from older people who say they've almost been hit or have been hit by cyclists.

    In number, the incidence of bikes hitting pedestrians is relatively rare. But it appears that what pedestrians perceive to be close calls is much more common. In general, we all could do better to think of what are actions look like to others, and try to ensure that anyone is watching does not fear for our safety, their own, or that of anyone else when we ride.

  47. One of my favorite quotes ever is from Mary Poppins: Though we adore them individually, we agree that as a whole they're rather stupid.

    That applies to every large group that I've ever encountered...including cyclists.

    United front? uh, no. Maybe a united front of friendliness, but not a united front of cyclists.

    People are just as rude or inconsiderate as they are regardless of their mode of transportation. Granted, people raise the stakes by being rude or inconsiderate with a 3000 pound vehicle as compared to a 30 pound vehicle, but the problem remains the person.

    Do I complain about other cyclists? Sometimes, but usually it's because the cyclist was being rude. Most recently the rudeness was a hammerhead yelling at me for riding next to my child rather than single file.

    The rudeness could also be cycling technique e.g. wrong way in the bike lane - that gives me the choice of swerving out into traffic or forcing the other cyclist to swerve into oncoming traffic - it's just inconsiderate.

    So far, the slogan for the 21st Century is "Everyone needs to accommodate me...NOW." Of course, no one says thank you because they're too busy listening to their earbuds and staring at their iDevice...even if they are cycling.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  48. Velouria wrote: As a "cycling culture," we are a fairly disjointed one if it cannot even be agreed among cyclists what constitutes appropriate road behaviour.

    There is no cycling culture. There is, however, a cycling blog culture, and this is a perennial favorite among a healthy variety of navel-gazing topics.

    It's simple: Ride unto others as you would have them ride unto you. Cast no words of correction unless you be faultless yourself**. Teach a kid to ride a bike. Enjoy the fact that you are alive and riding a bicycle.

    **Admittedly hard to do since complaining became a national pastime. Damn Andy Rooney and his devil spawn.

    PS. Are you British?

  49. "M said...
    "Velouria wrote: As a 'cycling culture...'

    There is no cycling culture. There is, however, a cycling blog culture, and this is a perennial favorite among a healthy variety of navel-gazing topics."

    I disagree. I think that there are local cycling cultures, as well as international ones, that are in "real life," not on blogs - though of course the blog world is connected with the real world, and not a separate entity. In any case, I hear the "should we criticise other cyclists" debate in real life just as often as I see it online. I heard it in Vienna, Austria and I hear it here in Boston.

  50. Jon Webb - It's not that I am touchy about "that topic." It's just that once someone raises it, the comments on ANY post, no matter the subjectmatter of that post, turn into a debate about it, escalating in its nastiness from one comment to the other. This is a moderated blog, and I don't want that kind of verbal abuse here, so I classify that entire topic as inflammatory. It's a practical decision, not an emotional response.

  51. GRJ: If adults don't want to cycle because of nominal fees who cares? The road and paths will be safer for those who drive and ride.

    I disagree, I would feel much safer with more lousy cyclists on the road than being a decent cyclist who is the only one in town. Even lousy cyclists increase visibility of bikes, making them a more commonplace sight on American roads. There is safety in numbers.

    I agree that mandatory licensing is unlikely to happen, they just shot it down in New York last year. But I DO think that if they were able to, governments WOULD force us to get licenses and pay fees without getting anything in return for it. I mean, most people already think that cyclists are "moochers" who don't pay for any part of the road system. In fact some of the editorials in favor of bicycle fees explicitly mention that fees would make us pay our fair share of the road costs. They wouldn't HAVE to build a thing.

    Garth: However, a bike is not a car, and in certain circumstances the laws do not make sense, or can be downright unsafe.

    YES. You don't know someone else's motivation for doing what they're doing, so unless they're personally causing you harm (i.e. going the wrong way in a bike lane, causing an almost-crash), stay out of it. Sure, sometimes I feel a little superior when I'm out in traffic and see someone on the sidewalk, but I take the sidewalk sometimes too, and there are times when that would have been the much safer option. (In the suburbs, sidewalks might as well be bike lanes since you can ride miles without a single pedestrian.) Assume that everyone knows basically what they're doing but also that anything could happen and guard yourself accordingly. Which is also a good attitude for drivers and pedestrians to have.

  52. Anon 1:47 - I didn't check your math but anyway, congrats for the effort. Is there a point? Way to contribute.

    Adam - Stacy isn't right, she has an opinion as do I. Again, hypotheticals in a vacuum.

    We're not going to solve the worlds transpo problems sitting in front of a computer, but just for fun...

    Again, no one said administration had to be at the state level. In a city in MD, for instance, if the goal is to get more riders on the road then maybe don't implement a program until rider behavior is a problem. In NYC and SF rider behavior is a big problem; at this point education is done punitively by crackdown. That takes considerable effort of police resources, time better spent getting donuts and looking intimidating. It's also effective for about two days. A bike ed class for kids in school can be a substitute for PE on some days.

    "...it would still cause the overwhelming majority of adults to never bother riding a bicycle in the street as transportation ever again, which would create more road danger for all road users."

    Not following this logic, but anyway you missed many of my points. Now if we can get the NHTSA to ban broadband capability in Audis that would go much further in sending the right message.

    BTW salmoning was a bad example - I do it all the time some cities, never at all in others. When in Rome.

  53. Erica - this is who really pays for roads: http://www.grist.org/article/2010-09-27-why-an-additional-road-tax-for-bicyclists-would-be-unfair

  54. Clearly you're not following the logic that modal share matters. And clearly your opinion isn't going to be changed, so there's really nothing to discuss.

  55. FWIW, I'm completely fine with the NY punitive instruction method, as long as the officers are actually familiar with bicycle code and not just handing out bogus tickets they know will be overturned to meet their quota, or setting up street and signal traps in the park on car-free days (signal traps on car days: good. signal traps on days when the vehicles signals were designed for are not permitted in park: bad).

    I'd also be fine with school instruction, although I'm not sure where the schools would receive then necessary funding, especially for the huge numbers of kids nowadays that don't even know how to ride a bike.

  56. At two years riding in the streets, I know I’m still new to this. But I have developed a mindset about riding with traffic and what I hope others will think about me being on the rode with them. So, as a driver, when I see a biker doing something illegal or stupid, I don’t try to engage them. I think the biker would misunderstand me just because the situation would begin with negative biases. So as a motorist or a cyclist, I just try to lead by example. Recently I was stopping at a red light even though there was no other traffic in any direction except for another cyclist. The other cyclist was travelling in the same direction and ran the light. But he did look back at me. So I hope he felt he did something wrong, and if he didn’t, I don’t think any words would have changed his mind. All other times I try to balance my safety and right to the road with facilitating everyone’s ability to get where they are going. Example; lots of us take the lane at stop lights to keep cars from right hooking us. But instead of getting into the middle of the lane, I’ll often get in to the left edge of the lane, so the traffic wanting to turn right has the room to do that to my right. They’re happy to be on their way and I don’t feel my safety has been compromised. And they are not Unhappy that a damn biker is keeping them from making a turn. If I was in the car, I’d appreciate a cyclist who was thinking about me too.

  57. P said...
    "Velocipedean Brotherhood Code of Honor"

    Does the Brotherhood have a coat of arms?

    Just inquired about applying for one. I was told that I would have to change the name to the more gender-neutral Siblinghood in order to qualify.

  58. I've had a few sharable moments trying to make helpful suggestions. One rider had trouble with islands and debris blocking the shoulder. When I suggested he use one of multiple traffic lanes (with very little traffic), he asked what I meant, so I stopped and explained this.

    The bicyclists I've seen running lights going the wrong way on 1 way streets have generally told me to be careful (yes, this has happened) so I don't even try to educate them.

    I think the code is stronger that no bicyclist dissent is tolerated regarding bike lanes. When asked, advocates will admit the local facilities are poorly designed and violate standards, but they still praise them in public.


  59. The worst most dangerous craziest reckless ride I ever participated in was a training ride for the Chicago bicycle police. No, I'm not a cop. They came by me fast on Broadway, which is a place heavy traffic almost always means bikes stop at lots of intersections, intersections you can't blow off. Well, 20 cops came by me and I hooked into the draft. Made great time for the next mile. Totally terrifying. I backed off when they made an illegal left onto a sidewalk, a sidewalk full of pedestrians. Estimated speed 18-20mph. They weren't slowing, pedestrians jumped.

    Worst incident #2 was Sunday afternoon in Lincoln Park. I was home from the club ride and saw I had done 96 miles. Thought I'd just cruise around until it was a century. Went over to the bike path, hadn't done that on a Sunday for a while, novice bikers everywhere. Jammed with 2 wheel traffic. Three bicycle cops come racing by. 25mph if not faster. I was shaken. Everyone was shaken. I sat up straighter and went even slower to let everyone know that race kit or not I wasn't crazy. Soon I was passed by an older cop in crisp white shirt and captain's stripes. Told him what I'd seen. Described his men to him and he admitted he knew them. We talk a bit and the racing threesome come riding back in our direction, soaked w/sweat, laughing. Captain stopped them and various casual bikers confirmed the story. Captain told the 'racers' they could walk their bikes out of the park and forget about working as bicycle patrol.

    Something about the freedom of a bicycle makes many of us act dumb. Some of us grow out of it. A few of us are just naturally more thoughtful and cautious. Mostly trying to change other people's behavior is futile, so usually best to let it go and enjoy the ride.

  60. http://ronajustine.blogspot.com/2011/04/learning-bike-skills-in-schools.html I found this article in the newspaper last night... thought you might enjoy looking at it since we've been talking about bike education :)

  61. In the country where I live with very high vehicle density, cars packed nose to tail, door to door, some of the cyclist here actually prefer not to stop at certain red lights junctions and I can understand why. Its actually safer for the cyclist this way. It puts them ahead of traffic instead of within traffic.

    Its illegal obviously but the Police here tend to close 1 eye on this matter.

  62. Jon Webb makes a very good point. Even with all of the laws regarding motor vehicle operation, motorists in the US largely regulate themselves and each other. That is because a certain set of expectations has evolved, just out of the sheer numbers of motorists here and the fact that people have been driving continuously for about a century.

    On the other hand, fewer people cycle and there was a long period of time when very few adults cycled in the US. So much of what is accepted in theory and practice was forgotten because, for about three or four generations, nobody passed it down. Now it is being resurrected and, as Velouria and others pointed out, the cycling community is more fragmented than the motoring community ever could be. A lycra-clad messenger on a fixie has little in common, aside from being astride two wheels, with a middle-aged woman pedaling to the farmer's market on a three-speed. Their ideas about what is acceptable behavior on a bike (e.g., whether or not to run lights) are therefore very different.


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