…but then again, so are some of the people who ride bicycles on public roads.
I have no idea how to turn the tide, but I have clearly observed an erosion of motorist acceptance or at least tolerance for cyclists here in our little part of the world. At the same time, I’ve also seen three types of “people on bike” behaviors that do nothing to reduce motorist angst:
- The unpredictable civilians on bicycles in street clothes who use them for transportation because that’s all their budget will afford them and who typically end up being on roads and sidewalks during commute times. They’ll ride against traffic instead of with it, jump from sidewalks to street and back, ride in crosswalks as if they were pedestrians, etc. As a motorist and motorcyclist, these folks scare the bejeezus out of me so I’m sympathetic to motorists who develop a bias against the presence of people on bicycles on public roads. However, unlike most other cyclists who are also motorists, the non-cycling public doesn’t draw a distinction between someone on a Walmart Schwinn in blue jeans, flannel shirt and ball cap and someone on a $5,000 Trek Madone in a cycling kit and helmet: they’re just idiots on bicycles where they don’t belong.
- The urban cyclists / bicycle messengers in quasi street clothes who also tend to ride their fixies, single speeds or “cross bikes” in congested areas during drive time and, like the first group, don’t adhere to the rules for the road but with focused intent: they look at the motoring and pedestrian world as an obstacle course where the goal is to get through it as quickly as possible without regard for how their behavior helps to shape negative images of cyclists to the non-cycling public. Again, as a motorist and motorcyclist I’m put off by these folks on bicycles as well, more so than the first group because of the arrogant attitude that seems to go along with the genre. Once agin, to non-cyclists anyone on a bike is just another idiot riding a bicycle where it shouldn’t be, reinforced by the lack of respect for the rules for the road and “game playing” nature of their riding behaviors.
- The club riders who ride in groups and bottle up traffic. I don’t think I need to spend too much time describing this group as many of us have probably been part of one at some point in our life or at least encountered them on a Saturday or Sunday morning.. or worse yet, in the late afternoon in urban areas towards the end of commute time. This is the group that probably causes trouble for the average cycling enthusiast who is out riding in a cycling kit or kit-like lycra clothing with helmets on road-racing inspired bicycles since any angst that has been created by the aforementioned group gets dropped on the lone cyclist or, in our case, the lone couple out for a ride on their tandem.
What brought all of this to the fore was an encounter with a motorist on yesterday’s afternoon tandem ride. I should note that the road we were on — Due West Road at the far-west end that I refer to as the Paulding County Connector — seems to have more than their fare share of motorists who like to pass us with minimal distance with or without on-coming traffic and/or otherwise make it known that they don’t like sharing the road with cyclists. In this instance we had a large lifted crew cab Dodge 4WD diesel come up behind us while we were rolling along at about 25 mph in a 35 mile section of road who had to pause for a moment until there was a break in on-coming traffic: that all seemed good. However, as soon as he was clear of us he decided to “Roll Coal” for about 50 yards down the road “just for fun” and to immerse us in a cloud of sooty black diesel exhaust. My immediate thought was, “Were you born an asshole or did you just grow into it?” It was a rhetorical question given where we live, as we have more than our fair share of proud 3rd through 1st generation rednecks who go out of their way to demonstrate the stereotype as often as possible.
So, to our fellow tandem enthusiasts, do your best to remain visible and don’t be gutter bunnies. Know your roads and ride defensively. The only way I’ve found to maximize our survivability along this stretch of road is to ride a foot to the left of the fog line so that motorists have to yield to on-coming traffic instead of trying to squeeze by since they’re obviously unaware of Georgia’s 3-foot law and otherwise more concerned about getting to Starbucks 4 seconds faster than our getting home safely. After all, we’re just idiots on bicycles riding where we don’t belong.