Cyclists As Drivers

Parked Bikes


Driving is both mechanical and analytical. Drivers learn how to operate a vehicle, how to navigate a vehicle through a variety of traffic situations, and how to apply the rules of the road. But, one thing can’t be taught: judgment.

Judgment is a product of learning from experience. New drivers exemplify this. They are consumed by the act of using the car’s controls to maneuver it through traffic. For them, driving is a physical task, not one of reason. And by going through the motions of driving, on different roads, at different times, they gradually pick up the skill of driving.

As a driver gains experience, he or she begins to see driving as something that can be done more efficiently through anticipation and masterful movements through traffic. While this recognition can bring with it the ability to drive more safely, more often than not, it results in dangerous behavior with the goal of making good time or beating traffic.

Experienced drivers, unlike their novice counterparts, take calculated risks. They become cocky through years of driving with no (or few) accidents. This makes them feel invincible on the road. Such people drive as if nothing could stop them, and nothing could go wrong, due to their perception of having immense skill. In short, these drivers overestimate their driving ability.

As part of this phenomenon, drivers take risks with the lives and safety of other road users. In most cases, they don’t do this out of malice. They see their actions as innocent because they are convinced that, due to their great reflexes and timing, they will escape every negative situation with all parties unharmed.

The problem with this magical thinking is that all parties do not escape unharmed. Some road users are more vulnerable than others, and they can’t rely on the skill of conceited drivers because their very lives depend upon it. When drivers misjudge, vulnerable road users bear the brunt of their actions.

An example of this occurs when drivers pass a bicyclist, only to cut him off by turning right directly into his path. Drivers don’t see this as endangering a cyclist because they are only concerned with their ability to overtake the bicycle, as the faster vehicle, which they see as evidence that they can turn before the cyclist catches up with them. Part of this is the result of their inability to gauge a bicycle’s speed, relative to a car.

In general, drivers don’t think like cyclists, or pedestrians, for that matter. They see the road in terms of the interaction of motor vehicles. But, such a view is a form of blindness. It is a visual impairment which harms others, indirectly, through myopic perceptions.

What’s strange about this blindness is how specific it is to drivers. Other road users, namely cyclists, have developed acute road vision. In the place of blindness, they envision things on the road which are imperceptible to drivers and pedestrians. Their vision is enhanced through experiencing the road outside of the norm.

Norm, in this sense, means through the lens of motor vehicle operation. Roads, to cyclists, are not paved areas where cars can roll unimpeded by rocks and trees. They are avenues of travel, a means of moving from point A to point B by the use of one’s own powers.

Cyclists, by way of of self-preservation, must take in everything on and around the road. Imperfections in the road are just as important to them as cars stopping or turning in their path. Awareness is a matter of survival for a cyclist. And that awareness is honed, over time, into an art form.

It might seem that this awareness applies only to the act of cycling on a road. But, this is not the case. It becomes part of a cyclist’s world view, one which he takes with him into other activities, including driving.

As difficult as it is for some drivers to believe, most cyclists also operate motor vehicles at one point or another. Some, in fact, drive more than they bike. But, there is a difference between cyclist-drivers and car-only drivers; the former have an added experiential component, which broadens their perspective.

When cyclists drive, they see parts of the road and surrounding scenery that drivers are oblivious to. The cyclist-drivers keep an eye on the road for potholes, with a view to carefully steering around them to avoid damage to the car. Cyclist-drivers not only see cyclists, but they look to the right of their cars before passing to the right of a turning car or turning right themselves because they know, instinctively, that a cyclist could be coming up the road.

Upon exiting their cars, the cyclist-drivers look in their rear and side view mirrors to see if a cyclist is near their car before opening the door. Drivers, on the other hand, tend to fling open a car door and swing their legs out onto the road without looking for oncoming traffic. If anyone is likely to lose a car door or a leg, it’s a fatuous driver.

Cyclist-drivers also give cyclists a wide berth. They understand how typical it is for a cyclist to encounter glass, storm drains, potholes or other debris, and how a cyclist might need to suddenly swerve into the road to avoid a crash.

This awareness of other road users isn’t confined to an understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist on roads dominated by cars. It goes beyond that because cyclists must be alert and ready to react at all times.

Perhaps a better way to describe it would be to define cyclist-drivers as being attuned to the life of the road. For, in some sense, roads are living things, filled with different vehicle species, competing for resources, in a food chain of sorts — all in the name of survival.

Understanding the nature of roads is what separates cyclist-drivers from other drivers. And it’s what makes them an integral and necessary part of modern transportation.

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