As an avid cyclist and an avid driver, I can honestly say that when I’m on a bike I hate cars and when I’m in a car I dislike driving with bikes on the public roads.
I know that sounds a bit crazy, but let me explain.
First of all, it is important to note that I have biked tens of thousands of miles and completed numerous bike races and long distance tours. When the weather is nice, I ride at least three times per week. I’ll often put in entire days on my road bike – training for a race or just for the fun of it. Whenever I ride, I have to work up the courage to go out on the open road. Part of this fear is irrational, but another part is very real. Last year someone in an old Chevy pickup chucked their hot coffee at me as I rode. I’ve also had coins thrown at me, horns blared so loudly that I nearly crashed. Perhaps the most dangerous situation occurred in High School, when an angry driver tried to run me off the road in a Forest Preserve in Illinois.
As you may have guessed, as an automotive journalist I also spend many hours behind the wheel of test cars and trucks. As a driver, I’ve seen cyclists blow stop signs and stop lights like they were friendly suggestions, pelotons of cyclist taking up the entire road as if they owned it, and cyclist weaving in and out of traffic with complete and dangerous disregard for the rules of the road.
I’ve come to the conclusion that bikes and cars are just an explosive mix on public roads no matter the existence of bike lanes, or community norms. Let’s be real, the community is perhaps the single biggest factor when it comes to bike road safety.
For instance, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that getting on a bike in Florida is a sure way to end up in the hospital. The same cannot be said for Boulder, Colorado – my home town. Nevertheless, a bike-crazy community like Boulder still reports bike accidents and even fatalities in the local headlines.
It probably won’t come as surprise to you that the most common reason for bike fatalities is being struck by a vehicle, according to the Pedestrian and Bicycle information Center. It’s not dogs running into the street, or bad roads, or even rider error. The simple fact is that getting hit by a car is the most likely way to die on a public road.
I know this all too well. When I’m on my bike – the thoughts of texting teens, or drunk drivers, or speeding cars send shivers down my back. If I get struck by a car on my bike I lose big, no matter who’s fault. Several tons of steel, plastic and rubber is the ultimate deadly weapon versus several hundred pounds of carbon fiber, flesh and spandex.
Yet all too often, when I’m inside several tons of steel, plastic and rubber – I forget about the vulnerability of the riders. There’s something about being inside a car or truck that makes me feel like I have greater right to the road than those on two skinny tires. I know this is not logical, but inside the heated, cooled and protected world of the automobile – the outside seems less real and tangible.
From a cyclist perspective, the cars are massive, deadly and terrifying objects that with one wrong move of the steering wheel could end a life. However, the bikers all too often go unnoticed to a driver’s eye.
Don’t get me wrong, when I’m driving on a public road, I go out of my way to give the bikes extra room as I pass. I hate driving next to a cyclist because I know how scary this can be to the rider.
When I see a bike blow through a stop sign or a red light, it just makes me crazy. I know that this gives all cyclists a bad reputation and helps reinforce negative cyclist stereotypes.
Is there a solution to this problem? My best solution is to ride my mountain bike. After all, trees and rocks don’t make left turns into oncoming traffic. But that’s not feasible for when I want to train for a long tour or race.
I suspect the best solution would be to have separate bike paths and roadways, but this is expensive and not feasible for most cities. That doesn’t leave a lot of options. It means when I’m on a road bike, I use bright lights facing forward and backward to help make sure that I’m seen. I also prefer to ride with friends, and I try to ride during the “non” rush-hour times.
When I’m driving a car or a truck, I try to remember how I feel when I’m on a bike. Now you know as well, and hopefully that will keep me safer because I don’t plan to stop driving or riding anytime soon.