Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cyclist Converses with Motorist, Part I

A few nights ago, I had a conversation with my folks about how a huge SUV had honked at me and zoomed past my left elbow way faster and closer than necessary on my afternoon ride. I had reacted by sitting up in the saddle, pounding my chest with a gloved fist and yelling, "Yes, I'm here!"

So, my parents asked, "Well, what should we do when we see a cyclist on the road? They scare us!" Wait, cyclists scare motorists? Really? Okay, then! Here's what I'd absolutely love you to do if you encounter me or any other cyclist on the road.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer or a police officer. This essay is a reflection of my own experiences and Minnesota state laws. Laws vary by state and even locality, be sure to check them out. The bold lettering is the motorist stating a question. The italicized lettering is my answer to that question/statement.

I hate it when I see cyclists on the road. I never know what they're going to do. I just want to get past them as soon as possible. What should I do?
Please don't honk your horn. We hate that, and it's dangerous. Cyclists can hear an approaching automobile very easily, an internal combustion engine is quite noisy compared to a bicycle. You don't need to honk to let us know that you're there, often we already know. Just continue to [safely] drive the way you normally do when there are other vehicles around. Be alert and both you and the cyclist should be okay.

But, you're going so... slow on the road! How am I supposed to pass you!?
Safely and respectfully, please. Bicycles are vehicles, too; and in Minnesota they have the same rights and duties to the road as a motor vehicle. If you wish to pass a cyclist, do so in a predictable and safe manner. Don't rev your engine or lead-foot it just to pass. Give the cyclist at least three feet of space when you pass, remember we're not enclosed in a steel and glass box to protect us. That traffic lane is wider than you think, and you might be able to pass without crossing the center-line. But if you aren't sure, err on the side of more room rather than less room, it's very frightening to have a two-ton vehicle buzz by six inches from your left elbow.

The shoulder is wide. Why do you always ride so close to the white dividing line? Shouldn't you be as close to the right as possible?
Yes and no. Statute 169.222, Subd. 4(3) states that a cyclist must ride as close to the right as is practicable. The thing is, there is often a lot of debris (glass, sand, gravel, branches, trash, etc.) on the shoulder that make operating a bicycle more hazardous than it otherwise is. The only clear path is closer to the traffic lanes, where automobiles have blown the small stuff to the side. Hence, that's where we ride.

What if there's no shoulder, only one lane, and you're in it? I want to pass and you're in my way!
I'm very sorry you feel I'm in your way, but I do have a right to the road. If you wish to pass, do so in the same [controlled and safe] manner that you would pass a slow-moving truck or tractor on the road. Wait for a widening of the road, another lane to open up, or a clear lane across the dashed yellow line. Pass smoothly and without honking your horn. If you honk, you may startle me into veering into your path. And that's not what either of us want to happen.

Cyclists are very rude to me when I pass them, even if I give them plenty of room. They yell, flip me the one-fingered salute... What's up with that?
Every cyclist who's ever ridden on the road has had at least one encounter with an angry driver who's done something to endanger their life. Some cyclists' feel that yelling, etc. is their only means of protecting themselves from something/someone that could squash them like a bug.
Personally, I try not to get angry or pay such a driver back in kind. It is childish and gives cyclists a bad reputation. Just smile and wave and let them stew. Getting angry and attempting to "teach them a lesson" (you know what I mean) could end up with one or both of you in the hospital or worse.

This is turning into a long entry, so I'll be posting a second part to this "interview" within the next couple days.

To read Minnesota's laws regarding the operation of a bicycle, go to Minnesota Legislature and retrieve Statute 169.222.

For more information on sharing the road in Minnesota, head to Share the Road Minnesota

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

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