My non-cycling friends seem to have three main questions when it comes to cycling. Their first question is why do cyclists ride two and three feet from the edge of the road? The second is why don’t they use the paths that were built for them instead of riding on the road? The last common question non-cyclists ask is why do they run stop signs or resist stopping whenever they can? I am going to take each of these questions and give an answer that might help lower some of the frustrations non-cyclists have with cyclists on the road.
I want to point out two things before I delve into answering the questions. First there is a difference between bike riders and cyclists. Bike riders are mostly enjoying the views, getting a little exercise and/or going from one place to another. Cyclists are working out for the most part and trying to keep their heart rates high. I also want to be clear, I am not defending how some cyclists ride, nor am I giving drivers a pass for their rudeness. My goal is to educate non-cyclist drivers – not defend either group. My concern is when drivers are rude and frustrated with cyclists, it becomes a very dangerous situation for all cyclists.
The first question is – why do cyclists ride two or three feet from the edge? It is a safety strategy, not “I am going to be rude!” Cyclists are taught to stay three feet in from the edge of the road in order to ensure car drivers see them and slow down. If a cyclist rides right on the edge, cars will have a tendency to not slow down and get very close to the rider. It is then only a matter of time before a car will come too close, going too fast, and either hit the cyclist or run him/her off the road. Either outcome can be very dangerous for the cyclists. Safety experts have found the safest way for a cyclist to ride on the road with cars is to control the lane, causing cars to slow. I do think some cyclist take this to the extreme and take up too much of the lane without letting cars pass. In summary, when you see a cyclist riding three feet in from the edge of the road they are doing it to stay safe, not be rude. (There’s also a danger of riding too close to the shoulder (or a parked car) and crashing.)
The second question is – why don’t they use the paths that were built for them versus riding on the road? There are some great paths for cyclists and many use them. They are usually old railroad tracks. We have some great cycling trails here in Central Indiana. One example is the Cardinal Greenway rail-trail that spans almost 60 miles; another one is sections of the Monon Trail that works great for cycling. These are not the paths most of my non-cyclist friends are referring to. They want cyclists to ride on the paths built along the roads throughout the city. These are great for bike riders, walking, running, etc.; they do not work for cyclists. As I mentioned above, cyclists are not going from point A to point B, they are working out and need to keep their heart rates high, and to do this they will ride between 18 to 23 miles an hour. These paths are not built or designed for cyclists going that fast. They have bumps, a lot of crossings, people walking and running, there are dogs and gravel, etc.
The last common question non-cyclists ask is – why do they run stop signs or resist stopping? This may be what drives non-cyclists the craziest and I admit I am also guilty of this; most of us do it. This does not mean it is right. Cyclists should never run stop signs and should always slow down at crossings. The reason we do, though, is because we are trying to keep our heart rate high and our shoes are clipped into the pedals. If a cyclist has to unclip and stop it takes a lot of energy to get started back up again. Their heart rates will also drop a lot. This is one issue I think we cyclists need to work on. Getting out into the country as fast as possible seems to be the best solution for me. Again, I am not defending bad behavior, but as a driver, I also don’t want to hit someone on a bike, even if it is his/her fault. Knowing most cyclists resist slowing down and unclipping, I personally try to give them leeway. (There is also the issue of losing your momentum when a quick check left and right before entering and intersection will often allow you to keep going!)
In summary, cyclists are not being rude when they ride three feet in from the edge, they are taught to do this for safety reasons. They do not ride on the paths in town because the paths are not designed for a cyclists going 17 to 20 mph. Lastly, they resist stopping, although they should not, because they want to keep their heart rates up and do not want to unclip. I know we can be frustrating at times but please be patient, slow down and do not pass too close. Cyclists have the same rights to use the road as cars, so we have to learn to coexist and enjoy the ride safely – together!