Two wheels good, four wheels bad

There is likely to be a bit of salty language in this post. Consider this your official naughty language warning.


Have you noticed that assholes always seem to find each other? My series on Felons Behaving Badly should have pointed that out to you a long time ago. But it also works on among what you would call “normal” people as well. Case in point…

Out in rural Orange County, where the roads are two lanes, winding and narrow, a war of the wheels has been going on for years.

Read the whole thing. I’ll be here when you get back.

Back? OK. Let’s point out some things that should be obvious, but apparently aren’t discussed in polite newspapers. Bicyclists can be real assholes. As a guy who rides a bicycle, I don’t even except myself in this generalization. We can be real assholes sometimes. We don’t strictly follow all the rules of the road. We ignore stop signs and stop lights if we feel like we can do so. We take up space that we shouldn’t take up, and because any mistake will injure or kill us, we act like it’s always the asshole in the car that’s at fault.

Auto drivers can be real assholes too. They can pass too closely. Get impatient and pass when it’s not safe. Blow their horns for no earthly reason. All kinds of stupid crap that gets people hurt, killed, and frightened half to death.

Here’s the thing. When you get a critical mass (I’m not talking about Critical Mass, a group of assholes who probably should be sterilized with a chainsaw) of cyclists in one area, you start to see things that are completely outside the experience of auto drivers. Double Pacelines come to mind.

To cyclists, this is just basic sensible riding. It saves a lot of energy. To automobile drivers, it’s a bunch of assholes on bikes hogging the road. There’s nothing for this but to educate people on what’s going on. Oh, and to tell cyclists to stop running double pacelines on unsafe sections of road. That whole reciprocal responsibility is a bitch, isn’t it?

Another thing that cyclists could do that would make them at least emotionally more stable is to start taking count of the good things that happen while they are riding. I ride alone, so I don’t really have the issues associated with group riding. I occasionally get a guy being a jerk, but he’s so vastly outnumbered by the people being excessively cautious that it’s actually noteworthy that someone was a jerk. I’m out riding and I’ve got a crowd of people in cars being Southern polite and all of a sudden some idiot shows his ass. It’s jarring. But it’s jarring because it’s so far outside the norm that you wonder what planet he came from.

I ride in southern Wake County and northern Johnston County for the most part. Now unless the people in those areas are vastly different than the people in Orange County (Chapel Hill and the surrounding area for people not from around here) then the problem is one of what the riders are bringing to the experience along with some history of conflict. Here’s some things riders can do to make their world a better place.

  • Don’t hog the road. Ride as far to the right as practical. Don’t ride in the dirt, or do something dangerous to yourself, but don’t wander about the lane either.
  • Take ownership of the ground underneath you. Wishy washy people get run over, both metaphorically and literally. It’s yours, make people see that.
  • Don’t blow stop signs or signals unless it’s completely safe to do so. You violate someone else’s right of way and YOU are the asshole. We all know that bicycles will not trip lights. Don’t be stupid about it.
  • Use (polite!) hand signals to indicate to the cars what you expect them to do. I frequently signal cars that it’s OK to pass. I can see over hills before they can, and I have a better idea of how long it takes to pass than they do. I’ll hold them in place and then set them free when it’s safe.
  • Wave. No, seriously, wave at people. A friendly wave to people who’ve met the minimum politeness requirements when dealing with you will bring many benefits later. It also makes you feel better. The automobile driver thinks, “Hey, I’m a good person for being polite. I’ll do that to the next rider too.”
  • Take the lane if necessary. Sometimes it’s better to physically block a car with your bike than allow a situation to develop that will end up badly. Make sure to convey to the car your thanks for his cooperation after you’re done.
  • Remember that cars mostly have no idea how to interact with you. They don’t know what you’re facing. They don’t know what you’re likely to do. They don’t know why they should have to put up with you. Convey your intent and then reward compliance.

Here’s what cars can do to make it easier on bicyclists.

  • Stop blowing your horn at me. I know you’re there. I don’t need you to scare me with your horn right before you pass me. Please stop that.
  • Pass with care. But get it done in a hurry. I don’t want you next to me any more than I want to delay your drive.
  • Wave. Be friendly. A good attitude is contagious. Catch one and spread it around.
  • Keep in mind that you might get a scratch on your paint. I might get dead. That doesn’t excuse me being an asshole, but slow your roll, Turbo. I’m doing my best to get out of your way.
  • Come join us. It really is as much fun as it was when you were a kid.

I’ve had people scream at me. It’s bizarre. It’s like a completely different universe intruding on the one you normally live in. In my universe, people are really polite. They give me at least 4 feet of clearance while passing, many give me the whole lane. I have actually seen a VW New Beetle stare down an oncoming Dodge 2500 dually towing a trailer. The Beetle got all four wheels into oncoming traffic and accelerated at the Dodge. You could see that his attitude was “My lane now, Bitch! I’m passing a bicycle! Slow down or get rammed!” The Dodge, wisely in my opinion, slowed down to allow the pass. I waved my thanks at the Dodge. He waved back. Nice people here in North Carolina.

To a less spectacular extent, I see the same thing every time I go out on my bike. Friendly people everywhere, all doing their part to avoid running over the fat dude on the funny looking bike. I have to wonder, if your experience is different, what are you bringing to the encounter that changes things?

And yes, I carry a gun while I ride. It’ll come out if it’s necessary. But for the most part, I deploy waves and smiles more than the average Prom Queen and I’ve never even considered pulling the gun.

17 responses to “Two wheels good, four wheels bad

  1. I live in Durham County and have yet to see a bicyclist obey the traffic laws. I have followed a bicycle on two lane roads and waited until it was safe to pass only to have the bicycle pass me on the right while I was stopped by a light, and then ease through the intersection on a red light. Now I have to follow and pass him all over again. I would never endanger anyone but I do think bad thoughts every time I meet one of these assholes on the road.

  2. I will add a couple of recommendations for Bike People:

    Wear something in light colors or better yet something reflective. I know black is back in fashion, but being the run-over fashion plate must suck bad. And please, this goes double at night.

    Put lights & reflective stuff in your frigging bike. Make it flashing lights. It has to be visible front, back and sides. And don’t choose the smallest version as you are competing with a world that is shedding more light per second that those stamp size “safety lights” emit in a year. If I can’t see you, you may be in for a nasty surprise.

    And above all remember: The Laws of Physics trump The Laws of Men. And you ain’t made out of rubber.

  3. As a trucker, I can tell you the absolute majority of cyclists are definitely a$$holes. That’s all I will say, anymore and I shall become profane.

  4. The only cyclists I can’t stand are the ones that insist on doing their rides on heavily-traveled 2 lane roads between 6 and 8 AM, or 4 and 6 PM.

    Pick a different road, or pick a different time. Those of us in two ton conveyances are trying to get to work on time, or home. I have to travel those roads at those times. Cyclists do not.

    (Bonus points to the guy I routinely see at 5:15pm firmly in the middle of the “homebound” lane–right next to the several-million-dollar bike path the county put in a couple of years ago)

  5. Yu-Ain Gonnano

    Our heaven forbid they use the completely empty side walk. That’s just crazy talk.

  6. The operative word in Sidewalk is “walk.” Not “drive” nor “ride your bike.”

    Anyone over the age of 12 who rides his bike on the sidewalk should get a stern talking to by the first available police officer. Bikes are vehicles and belong on the road.

  7. Rob in Katy

    I particularly appreciate them taking up a 75mph lane doing 20 while hogging the entire lane. They you have the brain surgeon that will do that little pass and come out all the way just as you are passing in a 6Ton truck with a 5Ton trailer at a 45mph speed differential. I appreciate all you bikers (I rode until I figured out that physics stuff), but given the choice between you and endangering my family, you lose because I will not take my family into oncoming traffic to save a fool.

  8. Where do you live that bicyclists ride on roads with 75 MPH speed limits?

  9. George P. Burdell

    @Sean: Judging by his screen name, I’d say Katy, Texas. There are at least 2 states that allow bikes to ride on freeways on the shoulder (OR, AK) when there is no reasonable alternate route, so it’s not at as farfetched as it sounds. Now whether it’s a good idea to do that or not is a different question…

    @Yu-Ain: Statistically, riding a bike on the sidewalk is the most-dangerous place on a road on which to ride a bike. Drivers in driveways are looking at the immediate sidewalk to see if a pedestrian is in it, not 50-100 feet down the sidewalk for a bicyclist traveling at 10-20 MPH. Drivers in the road, looking to turn into a driveway are not looking for a bicyclist on the sidewalk either. In both cases, it can lead to a driver turning right into the path of a bicyclist, potentially causing serious injury.

    @WizardPC: Who’s to say that that biker does not HAVE to be on the road at the same time as you? He or she may be on his/her way to work and have to get there just as much as you do. The fact that he/she is using a human-powered (instead of dinosaur-powered) conveyance to do so, or is wearing spandex instead of a wool suit or khakis, is not relevant.

    Remember, a bicyclist + rider weighs generally 300 lbs. tops. A car + driver weighs anywhere from 2250 to 4250 lbs.; an SUV can add another 1000-2000 lbs. to that. The Laws of Physics dictate that the motor vehicle will win that battle just about 100% of the time.

  10. With people texting and driving, I’ll stick to riding bikes off road.

  11. Yu-Ain Gonnano

    “Walk” has about as much relevance to sidewalk as “Park” has to parkway. A sidewalk is a place set aside to not be around 3,000lbs objects moving at high speed.

    Generally speaking, one should act in a manner that causes the least disturbance to the least number of people possible. Cyclists are no exception. Purposefully choosing the road and backing up 20, 30, 40 people behind you instead of getting on the sidewalk where you *might* encounter 1 or 2 people, **maybe**, is selfish, inconsiderate, and rude. You want to be out at 10am on lightly traveled roads that’s one thing. But stay the hell out of rush hour traffic. I have a little sympathy for those in ragged clothes on an old beat up bike. They likely have no other way to commute. But, yes, the guy on the brand new high tech bike wearing spandex has *options*. He’s backing up traffic because his *hobby* is more important than everyone else on the road. He’s just being a self-absorbed dick.

    Oh, and those driveways? They just jump out at you unexpectedly, do they? No way you could prepare for them and slow down. Fifty to 100 feet @ 10-20mph gives you anywhere from 1.5 – 6 seconds of lead time. If cars aren’t looking out for you, you can certainly look out for them. If you can’t maintain that level of situational awareness perhaps you shouldn’t be out riding. But no, let’s back up everyone else so you can turn your brain off.

  12. George,

    If you’re on a $3000 bicycle, it’s pretty safe to assume that’s not your only conveyance.

    If it is, sell it and buy a Honda.

  13. Yu: A bicycle is a vehicle under the motor vehicle code. It is legally required to be on the street, not the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for walking. You don’t get a choice in this. It’s also monumentally stupid to ride on a sidewalk. Get used to sharing the road.

  14. Had a good friend that was very experienced, and even built custom bikes. Blew through a stop sign (coming downhill at about 40 MPH) he thought was clear, and t-boned into the side of a family SUV. DOA.

  15. Living in a rural area near Knoxville, we experience scads of cyclists on our narrow, curving, hilly two-lane country road. Fortunately, most of them, and most of the motorists, act sensibly. But the cyclist asshat is also a known species here; the kind that rides in the middle of the lane, at dusk, wearing all black, without flashers or lights. We’ve also heard of incidents of cyclists blocking vehicles, or swerving in front in an attempt to force the cars to brake. That is Darwin-award behavior. In another incident, a driver swerved onto the wide shoulder of a highway to run over a cyclist who was staying far away from the traffic, minding his own business. Apparently the driver just wanted to run over someone. I’ve become a big fan of bike paths.

  16. Sean: Texas. All unmarked country roads are by default the primafacia speed limit. 65 or 75 on many of our highways. 65 Mph on the road in front of our subdivision. I also wonder Sean, how much road tax do you guys pay to ride on roads designed for high speed autos and trucks and why if it is our road taxes paying for the road up keep, why bicyclists are not required to pay road taxes also and registration fees and keep liability insurance? We are being fair, right?

  17. I’m pretty sure that the state gets more in gas taxes from me than from about 90% of the other drivers. That’s also not relevant. Bicycles are vehicles and are required to use roads. How the state has decided to finance those roads is not connected with how those roads are supposed to be used.

    You are just going to have to learn to share the road.