Editor's note: In honor of Bike to Work Day 2013, we're re-sharing Jef Otte's timeless advice for drivers from 2011.
Used to be, the only adults who rode bikes were either weird fitness freaks or those with multiple DUIs. Times have changed, however, and more bicyclists than ever are taking to the pedals and jockeying for road space against drivers in an atmosphere of barely contained and increasing animosity. And the problem isn't going to go away.
[In 2010], Denver Bike to Work Day drew out some 30,000 riders, and this year's event (coming up on June 22) is expected to attract even more -- meaning the only question is, in the immortal words of Rodney King, "why can't we all just get along?" Answer: because a lot of people are being real dickheads about it.
As a daily bike commuter myself, I tend to sympathize with the terrifying, irritating and sometimes just downright confusing situations bicyclists get put into every day -- but I also own a car and drive in the city, so I'm well familiar with how annoying bicyclist's frequent habits can be on the other end. So in the interest of fostering a community of peace and empathy where riders and drivers alike can hold hands and sing songs about harmony and shit, here are a few guidelines for cooperative behavior that people need to start observing immediately, whether their vehicle has two wheels or four.
Use your turn signal Here's the thing: When I am riding a bike, I'm not occupying an actual lane of traffic; rather, have a few feet of lateral space toward the side of the road. What that means is that, when you're turning right, you're crossing directly into my path. The moral: I really need to know if you're about to turn right. It is imperative. It's nice to know if you're turning left or going straight, too, so I can avoid having to adjust my trajectory.
Don't wantonly run red lights/stop signs But let's be honest: When you're stopped at an intersection and I'm coming up on your right, there's a good chance I'm doing that because I'm about to run a red light or a stop sign. And it's totally a bullshit habit, I know. There's nothing more nerve-wracking for me as a driver than having a dude on a bike dart out in front of me, so please: I know we don't want to lose that precious momentum and everything, but let's all agree that blowing red lights -- even on a bike -- is bad. Continue for more ways not to be a dickhead on Bike to Work Day.
Look out for the bike lane There are precious few lanes just for bicyclists, so it's extra infuriating when cars not only take up the six lanes they're already allotted, but feel the need to take up ours, too -- particularly when it seems it hasn't even occurred to them that bicyclists may be using it. Be aware: Check your mirror before you pull out. Better yet, check your mirror before you open your door, too, because a door-check will fuck up your car just as bad as it will probably fuck up the bicyclist -- neither of which you want. And for God's sake, don't park there.
Don't ride two abreast in traffic Yeah, yeah, I know it's legal now for cyclists to ride two abreast, but for the sake of maintaining modestly civil relations between the two factions, don't be an ass about it. The same as we want our bike lanes to be for us, regular lanes of traffic are for, you know, traffic moving at the speed of traffic. Bicyclists are slower than cars, and (particularly if there's only one lane in either direction) it's seriously infuriating to get caught behind a couple of leisurely turds on B-cycles when you're in a hurry. Move over and let the car pass, lest you be tailgated. Continue for more ways not to be a dickhead on Bike to Work Day.
Never tailgate a bicyclist This is one of the worst and most well-meaning offenses we have to constantly endure on bikes: You (the driver) are too afraid to pass us, so you just hover menacingly behind us, which, trust me, is way more scary than just passing, even if it's a little close (yeah, I know, that one-lane stretch on Washington is a bitch). Thing is, we know you're there -- we can both hear and sense your hulking presence -- and we know you're trying to pass -- promise we won't just randomly veer into you.
Don't veer into a lane of traffic Acknowledging, of course, that we do occasionally have a habit of veering. I know I've been there before, trying to get into the left-turn lane and trying to keep up with traffic to do it, but the reality is, bikes are just not as fast as cars -- if bicyclists want to turn left on a bike, we have to wait for traffic to clear. No driver on Colorado Boulevard wants to see us pop up in front of him and frantically try to get from the middle to the left lane while the speed of traffic picks up. Continue for more ways not to be a dickhead on Bike to Work Day.
Don't fuck with us This should really go without saying, but I swear, I get more harassment from drivers as a 200-or-so-lb small vulnerable object moving on the side of the road than I ever do as the driver of a comparatively enormous automobile. People constantly yell and honk at me (yes, even in situations where I have the right-of-way), and I've had shit thrown at me, been edged into the curb -- one time, a dude cut me off and stopped right in front of me for no reason other than to suggest that I get off the road, because apparently he felt my presence was an inconvenience to him. That dude ended up with a free bike after I threw mine through his back windshield (I was younger then and I regret that), but the point is, have a modicum of sense and act like you would in a nature preserve: If you don't fuck with the bears, they'll generally not fuck with you.
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Same applies And on a similar note, let us all refrain from throwing our bikes at people's cars; I've heard of bicyclists who carry around a stick with a nail in it to deflate people's tires if a driver crosses them wrong, and I've heard of multiple incidents involving bike locks being used as blunt objects -- there's really no need for it. Yes, it's true that we are vulnerable and biking is already unsafe enough without the plethora of assholes and idiots behind the wheel -- personally, I've been hit by cars on a bike more times than I can count -- but that doesn't give us a license to be dickheads, too.
In fact, let's just everybody stop being dickheads.
More from our Things to Do archive: "B-cycle-for-free deal on Bike to Work Day a bonus after software glitch fixed."