Grass roots movements are awesome. We've seen so many examples of how the common person can become empowered, educated, and even eventually able to give one of those super amazing, somehow loosely qualified TED talks, having earned "expert" status without ever attending any kind of school.
I enthusiastically support these new found freedoms of leadership, or even leaderless movements.
Hey, if people listen, or follow, then you got it...right?
One thing I can't really condone, however, is disorganized, reckless behavior.
Recently I've noticed more and more posts on social media complaining about bicycle riders. Being an avid rider myself, I always chime in on these posts on the side of the riders. It occurs to me, however, that I might be blinded by my own biases. Of course many of the commenters I "interacted" with were complete turds, too many jokes popping off about running over cyclists, or bumping into them. And some of these lovable people like to complain that cyclists are just "in the way."
To let some of you off the hook here... I am not talking about you if you respect cyclists and just want them to obey traffic laws. I'm with you on that. Cyclists who are riding in crazy, out of control ways are part of the problem. I'm talking about those people who just don't want cyclists on the road.
So, why did I initially bring up grass roots movements? Because, aside from the complete bozos who just don't want cyclists on the road, or, as one real charmer suggested "if they want to ride their bikes they should put them on the back of their VW bus and drive to wherever they want to ride," which, guys who say stuff like this are just hopeless, but...aside from these goofballs, there seem to be a number of people complaining about cyclists who ride in groups and become unruly and don't obey traffic laws.
If the comments are even a slight sampling of the experiences between drivers and cyclists then we have a problem.
I've heard the grouchy grumpies like "it's called a sidewalk, not a side-ride" and "they think they can just go anywhere they want." Well, yes...bicycles do exist in a slightly more flexible, liminal environment between merely walking or merely riding in a car. You should be happy that whoever is on one of those wheelie things, zipping around on campus, or down alleyways, or across fields or abandoned lots is not crowding up our already overloaded road system, or pumping out more ozone creating gases to screw up your kids' lungs. Leave these good people alone. YES, they need to give way to walkers, not zoom up behind you unannounced and make you spill your coffee. But they'll be gone before you know it, off to live their annoyingly healthy lives, zipping by other people in the neighborhood.
I've heard drivers complain about sharing the road with "those bicycles" thereby requiring that process so antithetical to American life...the process of thought... "they slow everything down and get in the way" or "I just can't believe they ride there" or "if they were considerate they would choose their route better" or "I can't stand it when they ride up hills and I have to pass them or wait, it's so inconsiderate." Well, I imagine if you didn't have a stick in your craw you could count in seconds how long most of these encounters are. And, if it's longer than seconds the cyclist is probably doing everything in their power to stay as far to the side of our inadequately designed, poorly maintained, un bike friendly roadways.
That being said, I am a firm believer in self policing. As a biker I will not just assume that bikers are above reproach. So, returning to the grass roots "organized" bike rides... If you are one of those who organizes group rides, I implore you to take a minute before each ride to remind people of their responsibilities to others who use the roads. And make sure your group is riding with some sense of orderliness and not creating a dangerous environment, or in any way expressing disrespect for other drivers, or the law. Respect for other drivers IS part of the law. And as an operator of a vehicle on public roadways you need to obey the laws. If you are going so far as to organize group rides, please, go so far as to organize them well. Drive your bike, don't just ride it. Riding implies slightly less control than you should have. And if you're creating tension between cyclists and car drivers, you are ultimately putting other cyclists at risk, by raising the potential of conflict.
Cyclists are ambassadors for the potential of future cycling interests and agendas. If you, or your group, contributes to further marginalizing cyclists in the minds of your fellow citizens you hinder the ability of activists to promote pro-cycling legislation and pro-cycling infrastructure development. It's the people's taxes that have to pay for improvements. Why give them more reason to balk about investments in bike lanes and other necessary expenditures? Making motorists hate cyclists is a dangerous and seemingly counterproductive way to gain allies.
If you're all kicked back on your group bike ride with your happy smile, just goofing your way through stop lights or ignoring stop signs, as much as you arrogantly think you are furthering the interests of cycling...you are actually a major problem. Even if you manage to finish your ride without creating some false martyr for the cause of cycling by having one of your riders smacked into the pavement by a car, you still didn't help things out. You caused more tension in life. That doesn't seem to be the goal of any cyclists I ever talk to. Proper, healthy cycling requires harmony with your surroundings.
The reality is, Americans are not yet smoothly accepting of cyclists on their roadways. They should be...but they aren't. At this stage of the ballgame cyclists need to be hyper aware that cars do not have a clue what to do when they encounter you. Even well intentioned drivers can cause problems due to the perceived novelty of cycling, stopping when they shouldn't, refusing to pass, trying to be nice by letting you go first...which might get you killed if other drivers don't understand what is happening.
It really should be that people, cyclists and motorists all simply obey the traffic laws (It needs to be noted that this applies to bikes only when they are engaged in roadway activity. Many municipalities actually legally allow cyclists to operate on and off the roadways, sidewalks included. It isn't a matter of "fairness" but of appropriate use). Some American drivers, however, seem to enter a slight state of shock upon encountering a cyclist and lose all sense of reason.
Please, car drivers, try to realize all cyclists are not out to simply clutter up your roadways. Frankly, it is usually the opposite. And try not to develop a sense of angst toward cyclists which might unintentionally lead to bad driving decisions on your part.
Please, cyclists, obey traffic laws while on the roadways, and respect other pedestrians when not. Don't contribute to the creation of an environment which might or might not directly hurt you, but even indirectly might cause some car driver, hopped up on soda or coffee to take it out on the other guy down the road.
Helmets? Well, I wear one. Check your local cycling laws to see if you are required to wear one. The jury is still out on whether or not they are a good thing in general. And many anti-biking motorists would mockingly suggest without one you would simply be tempting a Darwinian moment.