As a cyclist, I’m tuned in to any bicycles in my vicinity. Sometimes, I even notice the familiar movement of a two-wheeled vehicle out of the corner of my eye, which I attribute to a bicycle, even though the cyclist hasn’t fully come into my line of sight at that point. Essentially, I can sense a bicycle nearby.
I do this whether I am riding, walking or driving; it’s second nature. Evaluating the rider and the bike has also become second nature.
I’m not looking for anything in particular when I observe a cyclist. I just take in the image and form some sort of opinion.
You can tell a lot about a cyclist by the way he or she rides. Riding style, dress and bicycle type all convey messages about who the cyclist is, or, at least, who he appears to be.
Most of the time, I do not judge the cyclist in any way. I’m fairly noncommittal when it comes to cycling, having no strong preference for bicycle type or attire. Riders should follow their own instincts and be themselves when they ride — up to a point.
There comes a point where you have to wonder about certain cyclists. They do such bizarre things that you can’t imagine what they were thinking when they engaged in certain actions.
Take, for instance, a stunt I saw the other day. Granted, it’s winter and few cyclists are on the roads at this time of year. Those who are on the road are either diehard cyclists or inexperienced lunatics who don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.
The stunt in question occurred on a four lane road. Traffic on this road usually flows in the range of 35-45 mph, with an occasional racing type whizzing by in excess of 50 mph, in a 35 mph zone.
On this particular day, I was on foot. I was walking along a major road when I saw a cyclist riding the wrong way in the middle of the inside lane. To be clear, he wasn’t riding the wrong way along the edge of the road, he was in the middle lane, near the double yellow line.
Such a sight stopped me dead in my tracks. Could this really be happening? If I had been in the movies, or more appropriately, in a cartoon, I would have rubbed my eyes to see if the image in front of me would change.
I looked for other methods to test the veracity of what I was witnessing. After making certain I was awake, and not dreaming, I watched this guy zipping down a steep hill along the double yellow line to the left of the cars driving towards him.
To my complete and utter dismay, no one blew the horn at him. The drivers were probably too surprised to react.
I cringed as I watched more than one car swerve to the right to go around him. A couple of times, I was sure he’d get hit. One wrong move, I thought, and a car would certainly flatten him.
Despite all the cars dodging him, he stayed his course. It was as if he expected them to accommodate his strange desire to ride down the middle of the road. What was this guy thinking?
That’s the problem: he wasn’t thinking at all. He didn’t seem aware of how dangerous his actions were, so he couldn’t have planned this maneuver as a show of bravado — or anything else for that matter. He didn’t understand cycling. He didn’t understand safety. He didn’t understand how his actions reflected on other cyclists and how much harder he was making it for them to share the road with cars. Neither thinking nor understanding was part of what he was doing.
Somewhere along the line, after he acquired a bicycle, he renounced rational thought. Perhaps he thought that use of a bicycle did not require thought. After all, bicycles are much simpler vehicles than cars.
Simplicity can be deceptive. Sitting above two wheels, set in motion by a set of pedals, can seem like something so easy to do that one doesn’t have to give it a second thought. Certainly, riding is easy enough. Getting the hang of balancing a bike takes practice, but after this has been mastered, there isn’t much more to riding.
Yet, there is a lot more to utilizing a bicycle. Just pedaling a bike doesn’t qualify as cycling. Much more knowledge is needed to be a cyclist. Knowledge of the road, knowledge of safety practices, and knowledge of how to share the road with cars goes with the territory.
Information of this sort should be disseminated to people when they purchase a bike. It should also be made freely available through local governments, bike share programs and advocacy groups. It’s not so much a question of telling people how they ought to ride, but rather a means of informing them that it is necessary to have knowledge and to think when you’re riding a bike.