I Am a Cyclist, An Open Letter to Car Drivers Everywhere
I am a cyclist. I get on my bike and go for a pedal as time allows. I do it because it is what I do for exercise and recreation. I like the freedom. I like the rythym. I love everything about it, except one thing: People driving cars.
I am under constant siege by people in cars. When I go for a bike ride I am typically alone. I try to go out when the traffic is at a minimum. I stay as far to the right on the road as I can without inflicting another kind of danger to my health. I am simply a man on his bike. Unfortunately I am not safe.
In the last 10 years, 7,000 cyclists have lost their lives in motorist accidents. Our goal is to decrease this number.
So what is it about a guy, or gal, on their bike that causes so much aggravation to people who drive cars? Is it because we look different? I wear a helmet. I don't have a couple of thousand pounds of a metal shell protecting me. I wear tight shorts with padding in the seat. Why? Because it make the activity more comfortable and it's hard enough to fight through the wind without baggy shorts flapping around. I wear gloves. Ever taken a fall at 20 miles an hour? The first thing that happens is you put your hand out to cushion the impact. Know how long it takes for road rash to heal on the palm of your hand? A long time. And it hurts. I wear sunglasses just like you. You wear them to keep the sun out of your eyes and to look cool. I wear them to keep the sun out of my eyes, to look cool and to keep debris out of my eyes. I wear a shirt with pockets in the back. It's my glove compartment.
People tell me they are mad at cyclists because they get in their way when they are driving. I'm sorry that I am going 18 mph in a 30 mph zone that you want to go 45 mph in. It's tragic. Wait for a safe place to pass. But why would you give me the one finger salute as you go by? Why do you need to throw your half empty water bottle at me? Why do you need to fling your cigarette butt at me when you pass? I don't think you'd do the same to someone in their car. Why the disrespect?
And why are you so impatient that you can't even pass me when it's safe? Do you have to be in such a hurry as we both crest a hill that you endanger yourself, a driver in the other lane and me as you pass to the left on a little country road, as we go over that hill? Why so impatient?
Why do you feel like you have to speed by me at 55 mph when neither of us have a shoulder to travel on? Even worse, why do you have to play chicken with me to see how close you can get to me? I think 2-feet at 55 mph is a little close dontcha think? If you slow down and give me a little room then you can simply speed back up when you get around me safely. Is it that hard to press back down on the accelearator? Why is 5-10 seconds so precious out of your life that you are willing to sacrifice mine for it?
Why the hatred? I am riding a bicycle. I don't pollute. I don't use any gasoline in my travels. When you pass me by in your dual-king cab V-8 pickup truck towing a boat, you should be thanking me that I'm not using any gasoline in my recreational activity that you are, and will be, using. You would rather throw your fast food wrapper at me instead and tell me to get off the road. The very road that my tax dollars helped pay for too.
And by the by kind driver. It is absolutely and completely legal for me to ride my bicycle on the roads. It is absolutely not legal (in most communities anyway), to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. So stop telling me to get on it! It's a sideWALK. Not a sideCYCLE. If we get on the sidewalk we get yelled at by the walkers. We get on the road and get harrassed by drivers. I like to go fast anyway so I'll stick to the roads.
Tell your governments to build shoulders, at least, on the roads they build. Governments do not want to spend the money on bike lanes because they say no one will use them. Yet, when you ask people why they don't ride their bikes they say there aren't any place safe to do so. Catch-22 if I've ever heard one.
So I brought up legal stuff. Yes, I know you have all seen the cyclist that blew through the red light. Or didn't stop at the stop sign. Or was riding four abreast with his crew keeping you from being able to pass comfortably. These cyclists are jerks. No doubt about it. And since you never speed or do a rolling stop through a stop sign, I'm sure you are justified in getting huffy with these two-wheeled miscreants, right?
I see a lot of things when I ride my bike. You might be amazed at the number of fresh beer cartons I see on the side of the road during my early morning Saturday bike ride. Lots of people in cars are pigs in other ways. Cigarette butts adorn our roadways like you wouldn't believe. Litter is still a problem. I think if more people got out of their car they wouldn't be so quick to chuck stuff out of their windows.
When I'm riding my bike I feel smug. This past weekend I had the amazing opportunity to follow behind a hawk soaring 50 feet above me for like a quarter of a mile. It was beautiful. I'm glad people in cars never get that experience.
When I ride my bicycle I have to ride perfectly. Particularly on the Tennessee roads I ride on. There are no shoulders. The roads are built for 1930-40's farm traffic, not suburban dwellers driving around in their Suburban gasoline chuggers. If I make a mistake it puts me in the path of a vehicle behind me that isn't giving me much room to work with anyway. Car drivers aren't worried about being perfect. Why, they have too much stuff going on: Unwrapping a Big-Mac, getting the DVD spun up for the twin spawn in the back seat, texting their boyfriend the location of the par-tay, lighting up that cigarette or fumbling about with the iPod, all at a comfy speed of 50 MPH in a 35 MPH speed zone.
The problem is, if I'm not perfect I pay for it with my life. If you aren't perfect, I pay for it with my life. It doesn't matter if you are right or I am wrong, or I am right and you are wrong, when it comes to sharing the road, the cyclist always, always, always loses. Always.
The next time you drive by me and decide it would be a great time to throw your soda can out the window in my path, consider if you would like for me to throw the same can at you when you are walking into the Feed and Choke for your 5 o'clock feeding. I doubt you would be very amused. I am certainly not amused at your antics that you perform from your car when I am riding my bicycle. A little respect would be really cool.
And for those of you who drive by at a reasonable speed and distance, who give a little wave and maybe a little knowing smile: It does not go unappreciated or unnoticed. Thank you. Believe me, we see and notice everything.
More by this Author
Mountain biking Bear Creek Trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. The trail is full of tight single track and well ridden double track. It connects to miles of forest service roads.