previous page: 5.8 Guide to Spectating at the Tour de France
page up: Bicycles FAQ
next page: 6.2 League of American Bicyclists

6.1 Bicycling in America


This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.

6.1 Bicycling in America

From: Jobst Brandt <jobst.brandt@stanfordalumni.org>
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2000 17:08:29 PDT

(or How to survive on a bicycle)

In America, bicycling appears to be an unacceptable activity for
adults. It is viewed as a pastime reserved for children (people who
are not old enough to drive cars). Adults who sense they are
violating this stricture, excuse their bicycling as the pursuit of
physical fitness, referring to their bicycling as training rides.
Rarely do you hear a cyclist say "we were bicycling" but rather "we
were on a training ride". Certainly most of these people never race
although one might assume, by implication, that their other rides are
races. Some also refer to themselves as serious cyclists, a term used
to describe riders who, typically, keep track of pedaling cadence and
other bicycling statistics, thereby giving proof that their riding is
not child's play.

In contrast, Europeans seem able to accept bicycling as a proper
activity for all ages. That is to say, motorists do not treat
bicyclists with apartheid and bicyclists do not feel the need to
justify their pursuit as anything other than bicycling, for whatever
reason. In Europe cadence on speedometers is an un-marketable
function for no obvious reasons, however, one could imagine that for
the average cyclist it is a useless statistic, except for "training

With this perception of bicycling in America, non cyclists and some
occasional cyclists are offended by others who bicycle on public roads
in the presence of automobile traffic. "Get the f#%k off the road!"
and similar epithets are heard from drivers, some of whose cars are
equipped with bike racks. I find it is similar to gay bashing; by
expressing public outrage they demonstrate abhorrence of unacceptable
behavior. The same is true of bicyclists who deride others in public
for not wearing a helmet. Aggressive self righteousness is probably a
fitting description.

Another motive behind such behavior may be a sense of dissatisfaction
with ones life. Anyone who is perceived as having fun, or at least
more fun than the subject, needs to be brought down a notch.
Psychologists who have interviewed youths that go "wilding" have
gotten responses to the effect that "my life is terrible and I can't
stand people who are having fun". So these youths attack others and
beat them bloody. In a manner that may not make sense to others, they
bring their victims down a notch to achieve parity.

There is little doubt that bicycling has its hazards. You can fall by
running into a pothole or an obstacle, by riding into a grating, or
falling on loose gravel or a slick manhole cover. There are enough
hazards without the threat of being run down by a car. However, the
whole sport loses its appeal when motorists, who believe that adult
bicycling is offensive, actively engage in making it a deadly

The scenario:

In a typical encounter a driver says to his passenger "You see that
guy on the bicycle? That's a dangerous place to ride." while slicing
within inches of the cyclist. The passenger is truly impressed with
the danger of bicycling, especially in the presence of this driver.

I don't understand how drivers justify such behavior but I think I
know what is going on.


o The buzz and swerve routine:

A driver slices dangerously close even though there is no opposing
traffic. Then he drifts to the edge of the pavement to make clear how
far he went out of his way for the cyclist. His desired path was even
nearer the road shoulder than at the passing point. The buzz and
swerve is executed equally well consciously and subconsciously.

o Center court, extra point:

The car, on a visibly empty stretch of road, travels perfectly
centered between median and edge stripes, even when this requires
passing within inches of a cyclist. It appears that the driver is
awarding himself points for not flinching when passing cyclists and
extra points for proximity. In the event of a collision it is, of
course, the cyclist who swerved unexpectedly. The precision with
which the driver executes this maneuver, in spite of the danger, makes
the center court game conspicuous. People generally don't drive
exactly centered in a lane, especially when there is an obstacle.

o Honk and slice:

The buzz and swerve or center court routine can be enhanced by honking
a single one second blast. This is usually done at a far greater
distance than a sincere warning toot; about 200 yards works best.
This is a great crutch for the driver who subsequently collides with
the cyclist. "But I warned him!"

o The trajectory intercept:

A car is traveling on a road that crosses the cyclists path at right
angles. The car and bike are equally distant from the intersection
but at different speeds. With skill, the driver of the car can slow
down at a rate that lets him arrive at the intersection at the same
time as the cyclist. The bicyclist who has a stop sign may now come
to a complete stop and wait for the driver who is only looking out for
the cyclist's safety. If the cyclist doesn't stop, the driver honks
and yells something about breaking the law.

Extra points are gained by offering the right of way to the cyclist,
in spite of moving through traffic in the adjacent lanes.

o The contrived hindrance:

A driver refuses to pass a cyclist on a two lane road until the
passenger asks how much longer they must follow this bicyclist, or
until the following cars begin to honk. Then, regardless of
visibility or oncoming traffic, an inopportune pass is executed after
which each of following drivers makes it clear when passing that it
was the cyclist who was responsible for a near collision.

o The rear-ender:

While riding down a mountain road, the cyclist catches up with a car
that notices his rapid approach. If an oncoming car approaches the
driver slows down, obviously for safety sake, and then suddenly slams
on the brakes when there is no place for the cyclist to go. Bicycles
cannot stop as fast as cars since cars can safely skid the front
wheels but bicycles can't. This game is the more dangerous variation
of speeding up every time the cyclist tries to pass but to drive as
slowly as possible everywhere else.

One explanation for these maneuvers is that the driver recalls that
riding in the mountains was always too hard and riding down hill was
scary. This cyclist can't do what I couldn't do and I'll show him a
thing or two. Thus the driver proves to himself that not riding in
the hills was for safety's sake, it had nothing to do with physical
ability. It fits into the "I'll teach that smartass a lesson." There
is little risk for the car because in a rear-end collision the vehicle
behind is, with few exceptions, found at fault.

So why does all this go on and on?

It is not as though they are all hostile drivers; some are just
frustrated drivers. They may still be getting even for some bicycle
accident they had in their youth and don't want others to get off any
easier. Some are angry at having to spend the time behind the wheel
while other "irresponsible adults" are playing on their bicycles. I
believe the meanest ones are insecure people who don't feel as though
they are accomplishing what they expect of themselves and don't like
to see others have it any better. Many drivers believe that the only
part of the road to which a bicyclist is entitled is the road
shoulder, unless it occurs to the driver to use that part too.

A bike rack on a car may lead you to believe that the driver has a pro
bicycle attitude. Some people use bike racks to transport family
bicycles to a park where they can be ridden safely without venturing
onto dangerous roads; roads that are meant for cars. Among these
people are some of the strongest opponents of general bicycling. They
take refuge in the belief that, if they should run you down while
playing center court, it would prove that you should bicycle as they
do, and not get in the way of cars.

What to do? Don't fuel the flames. Don't return the rudeness that is
dished out. Take legal action where appropriate (and possible).
Don't posture in traffic drawing attention to some undefined
superiority to people who sit in cars. Don't balance on your bike or
ride in circles in front of cars waiting at a red light. Don't make
moves in traffic that are either discourteous, or at best, awkward but
legal. If you hear loud knobby tires coming, believe it! That guy in
the extra tall pickup truck with the all terrain tires, dual roll bars
and multiple searchlights is not a friend of yours coming close to say
hello. Give him room.


Continue to:

previous page: 5.8 Guide to Spectating at the Tour de France
page up: Bicycles FAQ
next page: 6.2 League of American Bicyclists