Mmmmm… no, not quite. The other kind of bad rap.
So, you’re giving cyclists a bad rap, and it would be great if you could just cut it out.
Yesterday I was coming home from a race in the hills and a friend of mine and I were descending one of the faster and more heavily trafficked hills around Adelaide (Greenhill Rd, if you know Adelaide). It’s fast, it’s one lane in each direction, and it’s usually pretty easy to keep up with traffic. Sometimes you can go faster than the rest of traffic, especially around corners, of which there are a fair number, and you can’t see out the other side of them.
As we were about half way down and while we were following a car at a reasonable distance, another cyclist came past us and sat on the cars bumper. As he went past my friend, who was in front of me, he was apparently already yelling and swearing about the car being in the way. He proceeded to then ride the bumper around a few corners and kept popping in and out of the oncoming lane, eventually going around the car. When I say riding the cars bumper, I mean maybe a couple of inches away, without any exaggeration. Some minutes later, after the descent, and at the next stop light, he was there waiting at the red light. Clearly, he wasn’t doing it because he was in a hurry, which is rarely the case, if ever. After the descent he slowed up quite a bit, if there was any doubt.
It’s fun going down hill at a fast pace. Some people go faster than others. It’s also fun driving a car at a fast pace, and that’s all well and good. The trouble is when you start behaving like a dick, doing it when and where it is not appropriate. On a public road is one such situation, but behaving in an unsafe manner is a problem whatever the context might be. It’s more of a problem as the speed increases, but especially as the number of unknown and/or changeable variables increases. On a public road many things can happen that you aren’t expecting, or that you can’t react to fast enough even if you are expecting it. I’m getting a little side-tracked by speed here – this guy was being a dick regardless of how fast the speed was. This video is a tame version of what I am talking about:
A loud minority of the general public believe that cyclists are no better than the little crusty, dangly bits of poo stuck to the end of a homeless dogs butt-fur. These people will always exist. Maybe it frustrates them that cyclists can do what they are doing – getting from A to B – for free (given the number of people still harping on about rego), and are healthier… and smarter and better looking too. So there.
So, cyclists relationship with these people is rocky, and here is where it gets tricky for cyclists: cyclist behaviour.
Often enough, “motorists” like to cite things that cyclists do that annoy them, like wearing lycra, and cycling in the “driving lane”, and ringing their bells. These things are ridiculous. About as ridiculous as cyclists saying that motorists are annoying because they wear shoes.
Sometimes motorists are left with a bad taste in their mouths because a cyclist displays certain other habits. Like tailgating your car – much closer than any other car would – at 70kph, down a curvy road. Like actually coming out of nowhere at a high rate of speed. Like blowing stop signs or red lights when there are other road users around. Like leaning on a car at a red light. Like riding on an occupied footpath when it is not a shared one. Like passing pedestrians too fast and too close. Like riding at night with no lights. I could go on and on.
Sometimes, cyclists truly are giving cyclists a bad rap. Sometimes, it is our fault. Sometimes, no, wait, each and every time we ride, we need to take responsibility for our own actions and think about someone other than ourselves. Sometimes cyclists just need to grow up.
Two things to make clear here: 1. The vast majority of things that “motorists” accuse “cyclists” of are the exact thing that people do in cars all the time, and oddly enough, many things that “cyclists” accuse “motorists” of are the exact thing that people on bikes do sometimes. 2. That doesn’t make either party any better or worse. Just because the other person does something we don’t like, that is not an excuse to do something they don’t like. That’s the adult part. An adult would rise above petty revenge and simply act responsibly even when, and especially when, “they” don’t.
I’m not perfect, you may be surprised to hear. “Cyclists” aren’t perfect. “Motorists” aren’t perfect. Not all bad actions are done with intent (even though they are done without consideration, but that’s for another time), but when a bad action is done with intent or without due consideration – and you can usually tell – it almost always causes anyone that witnesses it to form an opinion of the actor. These actions of cyclists and motorists are often witnessed repeatedly, and especially when witnessed repeatedly, even by the same person, they usually form a stereotype in the person’s mind. The more egregious and/or the more directly the action affects the person, the stronger their opinions are and the more the stereotypes will stick. So, you get a lot of “motorists” saying that “you cyclists always…”. That’s not true, of course, but like many stereotypes, somewhere deep down, it has a legitimate basis.
We need to realize that if we have any interest in changing the general populations opinion about cycling and cyclists, then we have to take responsibility for our actions. Our actions need to ensure our own safety first and foremost, but they still need to be done in a responsible and predictable manner. Let me remind you again of this: I am not suggesting in any way that cyclists are solely responsible for our own safety, and I am not discounting the huge responsibility that motorists carry to ensure that those around them are safe. That they hold the greatest potential for death cannot be overlooked. I am saying that we are responsible for our own actions, plain and simple.
If you are riding at 5am and there is no one around, I don’t really care if you go through the red light if there is no one coming. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it…
If you are approaching a red light and there are cars banked up waiting, then you need to wait. I don’t care if you could go, you need to wait. The same applies to every other rule of the road, for every other road user (edit: since writing this I have softened my stance on this, but in theory, I still support it).
It works like this: the roads have rules, as does the rest of society as we have arranged it. You have a choice between what mode of transportation you can take. If you choose one that uses the roads, then you need to abide by the rules of the road. That’s the arrangement. That’s how it works. You are not special because you ride a bicycle, and you are not more important because you drive a car. Sure, you might pose less danger when behaving like a dick much more on a bike than in a car (which cannot be overlooked), but that does not mean that you should, and when you do, you are only reinforcing the (unreasonable) negative stereotypes that people have about cyclists.
“But I can get to my destination so much quicker if I just nip through a few red lights, and it’s not hurting anyone!”, you protest. Yeah. So could a bus, or car if they didn’t stop when they were supposed to. But that’s not how it works. That’s not how life works. You can’t just take things that aren’t yours, and you can’t have everything the way you want it.
I know that I’m essentially saying that everyone should become perfectly considerate of others all the time, and I know that is about as realistic as calling for world peace. Maybe another way to look at it would be to say that, if you aren’t going to be a good cyclist, then don’t say anything about bad drivers.
If you want to play the game, you have to play by the rules. Otherwise the game doesn’t work. If you don’t like the rules, then get them changed. In the meantime, spare a thought for the huge majority of cyclists whose reputation you are tarnishing because of your petty, insignificant desire to play by your own rules.
That applies to everyone.
(a further edit: there are circumstances where I would actually disagree with myself in regards to this topic, but then, being non-commital about everything doesn’t really make for a very interesting read, now does it?)
Header image: source