The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Courtesy, Legality, and Cycling

When I was growing up, my mother talked about "heaping coals of kindness" on people who wronged me. It took many years before I really understood what she meant. Now that I commute by bicycle, though, I have the opportunity to put this good advice into practice on an almost daily basis.

Let's take a little vignette from my commutes last week.

A gentleman in a small pickup truck honked at me twice in the same place on different days and rolled down his window to admonish me to get in the bike lane where I belonged. I know he thought he knew the law. However, as a certified League Cycling Instructor and employee of the Bicycle Alliance, I knew that RCW 46.04.670 and RCW 46.61.755 clearly delineate the bicyclist's right to the full roadway. (Check out all the laws relating to bicycling in Washington State if you ride on the road -- it pays to be informed.)

That said, I knew that this gentleman was mistaken. Yet instead of reacting angrily when he honked at me the second day, I smiled and waved as he went by. Why? Because when I ride my bike, I represent all bicyclists. My courteous smile and wave could very well make the difference in his interaction with other bicyclists in the future. And sometimes, responding to rudeness with courtesy and kindness can be my most effective rebuke.


  1. Agree.
    I ride the road at the sufferance of no one, but rather as a free citisen in accordance with the RCW.
    In other words, I'll be the judge of my own safety, not the guy in the SUV.

  2. Right on, Katie. An angry reaction is almost guaranteed to escalate the situation. Some cyclists try to "educate" offending motorists, but this rarely succeeds in the heat of the moment. I'm with you--I believe that courtesy can be contagious.