The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Biking is Provocative

"Hey you!  Get off the road!"

Sound familiar?  Your presence on the street has provoked a motorist who shouts this epithet and flips you off as he roars by.  His behavior provokes feelings in you.  Maybe fear if he passed you too closely; maybe anger and indignation because you know have a right to the road.

Biking is provocative.  The act of riding a bike provokes a spectrum of feelings in us as cyclists.  Biking can be liberating, exhilarating and joyous--bringing out the inner child in us.  It's a simple pleasure that can bring an instant smile to your face.  Conversely, navigating an urban arterial at rush hour can make you feel vulnerable and intimidated.  Getting buzzed by an oversized pickup truck or chased by a snarling dog on an otherwise quiet country road is also unnerving.

The act of biking can provoke reactions from others, many positive.  I was biking home from work recently when a pedestrian yelled "yay, cyclist!" at me.  Her cheery response prompted me to smile and wave.  I have also been given a "thumbs up" from motorists, and waves of acknowledgement from fellow cyclists and motorcyclists.

My all time favorite reaction came from a preschooler standing at a street intersection with his mom.  As I approached, the boy started doing a happy dance, pointed my direction and said, "Look!  That lady is riding a bicycle!"  I stopped to share in his delight and learned from his mother that he had just received his very first bike.

Not all reactions are positive, as evidenced in the opening example.  A recent Pemco Insurance poll confirmed that most motorists are uneasy drving around cyclists (see previous blog post).  They aren't sure how cyclists should behave and they don't necessarily know how to share the road with bikes.

We cyclists can do our part to reduce negative reactions from motorists by riding safely in traffic and following the rules of the road.  If you're new to biking, check the Bicycle Alliance website for information on bike commuting, bike maps, local clubs and Washington State bike laws.  Some bike clubs and bike groups offer classes and rides to help you become comfortable biking in traffic.  Contact us if you have need help finding such a class.

The Bicycle Alliance is working to ensure that the next generation of bicyclists will have the proper riding skills through our Safe Routes to School program.  We are training middle school teachers around the state to use our bike skills curriculum with their students.

We are also busy educating motorists on how to share the road with us.  The Bicycle Alliance has developed a Share the Road curriculum that has been incorporated into all drivers education programs in Washington State.  We are now working to have this curriculum included in Traffic Schools (defensive driving classes for motorists who receive traffic tickets).

I like that biking can be provocative, and I do my best to elicit the positive reactions.  What kind of reaction does your riding style provoke?

1 comment:

  1. Despite following the rules of the road and being a safer cyclist, I still get yelled at. If I see there's a car with its window rolling down next to me, I fully expect an earful.

    I do get a kind wave when I let people go by at lights when I'm in the right lane.

    I don't think following the law (to the letter) really earns cyclists much respect. (Do jaywalkers make drivers angry? Maybe a little bit.) What drivers are reacting to is either their fear of cyclists or annoyance at being inconvenienced, and they'll find any justification to rationalize their anger.