After I got over him yelling at me during a crit last weekend (I kid, Spence, I kid), he told me that he was almost hit by a car that had buzzed him earlier in the day. "I've never been hit," he said. "Come close a few times, and I know a lot of guys who have been."
We discussed how it's getting better for cyclists in Omaha. More riders mean more awareness from drivers. More riders means more drivers who personally know someone who rides a bike. This knowledge can help transform cyclists from selfish freaks into vulnerable human beings--at least in the eyes of motorists.
But we agreed there's a threat of a backlash, too: more cyclists on the road means a greater chance that one of them is going to do something selfish and stupid to piss off drivers. Yes, I know--motorists break laws and piss each other off all the time. But drivers are used to being pissed off by other drivers, and even the enraged motorist wouldn't deny the other driver's basic right to use the road. But becasue there are still so few cyclists on the road--even as our numbers in Omaha are growing--whenever one of us blows a stop sign or cuts in front of a car, the result is much more memorable. We're fighting for our right to the road, and drivers can use any and all examples of poor behavior by cyclists to justify their road rage.
That road rage can get us killed. We can't control drivers, of course, but we can control ourselves. We can try to minimize the negative impressions we make.
Negative impressions don't often lead to positive consequences.
So, after my chat with Spence, I trailed off the back of the group ride once the pace ramped up; I promised myself I would take it very easy this week, and for once, I kept my promise. That perspective from the dead-ass end of the group helped me see something that scared the crap out of me. As my group of 5-6 riders descended the hill on North River Dr., a large white pickup (why is it always a white truck?!) rolled along behind us. The driver actually waited to pass until we crossed the intersection with Ponca Rd, and he returned my wave after he passed. Great driver. Very safe and courteous.
After he accelerated away from us, I saw a small group of three trailing riders about 200 yards ahead. They were spread out all over the lane. The truck slowed, signaled, and then began to pass them. At that exact moment, one of the riders, without signaling at all, pulled a U-turn right in the middle of the road, forcing the truck to swerve onto the left-hand shoulder.
Frankly, a less attentive driver might have run him over.
This rider is a guy I know a little. I've ridden with him. He's always been nice to me. I like him. But that u-turn was a brain fart. I'm sure that's all it was; I've never known this guy to ride like a deliberate scofflaw. But that otherwise courteous-to-bikes motorist will probably bitch and complain about that near-accident for weeks. Maybe his frustration will lead to impatience next time.
And that's a negative consequence.
Okay, that's my soapbox speech on bike safety for the year. Here's a supporting opinion from former pro Colby Pearce:
I am more in love with the sport then ever, and yet I still watch a pack of cyclists negotiating traffic or click-clacking through a coffee shop in their cleats, and I cringe. We are truly our own worst enemies. As the planet becomes more crowded and cycling moves from a fringe sport to a mainstream trend, we need to get it together. It is time to stop being entitled and running stop signs because you are lazy, while flipping off SUV’s and mumbling about gas mileage and air pollution, and secretly harboring a silent justification that stop signs don’t apply because you have carbon pedals and you don’t want to wear them out by unclipping.
Most racers I know drive SUV’s to the grocery store eight blocks away to buy organic milk because their legs are too trashed from the 88 miles of riding they just did. It is time to stop riding three abreast while telling stories about the latest doper or taking up the whole lane on a group ride. It is time to be vocal when passing someone on a bike path or trail, because no matter how many times you buzz someone on your bike, it won’t make up for the times you were buzzed by a car at 90mph, but it scares the shit out of the buzzee in either case.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, and anger begets anger — unless you are big enough to stop the cycle. Stop signs are opportunities to improve your explosive power. Single-file riding is a chance to stop talking, which most people need anyway. Bike paths are not places to go 25 mph. If you were in that much of a hurry, you would be in your SUV. These are the examples we need to produce for the next generation of cyclists. There will always be lycra haters, but the way we behave now, we are not helping the situation. At least take away the most basic ammunition.Thanks, pro.
Tonight I'm going to Harrison Elementary School's first annual Bike Rodeo. Activate Omaha managed to scrape up some funds to install bike racks at the school, so the PTA is celebrating the kids' new right to ride to school by hosting a safety workshop and practice session. The other roadie in my house is ecstatic becasue, as "Abbey's daddy," I'm attending in full TT aero gear. I'm going to try to teach the kids how to be safe. I'll also try to connect with some of their parents about the joys of riding.
But I'll probably have to defend my right to road from some dad who's pissed about the actions of "this one idiot in spandex."