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Why Do Spandex Wearing Cyclists Ride Like Such @$$#0£€$?


This post is a long time in coming.  I’ve finally had enough and it’s time to explain a few things so hopefully the those who don’t ride can understand better why we ride the way we do.  And it’s Lycra now, spandex is too ’80’s, by the way.

1:  What’s with the running or rolling through stop signs?

There are several reasons behind cyclists rolling stop signs, and we’ll get to those in a second.  What is unacceptable is a cyclist shooting through an intersection with a stop sign with traffic present, to beat a vehicle to the right-of-way.  This is stupid, ignorant and dangerous but it does happen.  If you are a cyclist who tries to beat cars to the right-of-way so you don’t have to stop, you are not intelligent and you’re giving us a bad name, please stop.  Oh, and the tie goes to the vehicle that can squish you.  That said, the intersection is the most dangerous place on a roadway for a cyclist.  We try to get through them as quickly and safely as possible.  Personally, I’ll track-stand to a stop and then go, but I’m known to blow a stop sign or two to get through an intersection before a car gets to it (where it’s plainly clear that I will have the right-of-way if we both come to a complete stop, simply so we can avoid the whole, “You go”, “No, you go” situation.  Where this gets tricky is the right of way.  If I’m getting to the stop first, I have the right of way.  I stop, unclip, touch the ground and go through because the other car waits for me, right?  In a perfect world, yes but in our world, no.  As soon as I push off, the car that was late to the intersection goes because they’re impatient.  Instead, I track-stand to a stop and go through the intersection before the car has a chance to stop and start up again (always keeping my eye on the car to make sure the driver actually stops).  Call it creative stopping.  However I slice it, I want out of that intersection as quickly, but safely, as possible and coming to a complete stop, touching the ground and restarting is exceptionally slow.

2:  While we’re on stop signs, why does a whole group of 20 cyclists go through an intersection all at once, even when they stop? Shouldn’t they have to each stop and go through one or two at a time? 

This is a bike hater’s favorite argument but it’s not very well thought out, if technically correct.  If you’ve got several cars traveling to the same destination together, you would expect that each car in that caravan will stop at the intersection, allow the other three vehicles clear before going through themselves.  So, shouldn’t all 20 cyclists stop at the intersection, pull up to the line one or two at a time, wait for traffic to clear, two go, the next two stop, wait for traffic to clear and go, and so forth?  Again, we have to refer back to getting through the intersection and out of the way as quickly as practicable.  Now, let’s be clear, what I am proposing is nebulously illegal.  If a group is stopped by officers, there is a chance they’ll be ticketed.  In our neck of the woods, as long as we stop as a group, the local police allow us to proceed as a group.  However, let’s look at this rationally:  If a group of cyclists comes to an intersection and we stop, we wait for the intersection to clear and we go as a group, we can entirely clear an intersection, the whole group, in less than ten seconds.  On the other hand, if we go through two-at-a-time, then wait, two more, then wait, two more, then wait…  We can clog an intersection for several minutes.  Not only do we take a ridiculously long time to get through an intersection, you’ll have the lead guys slow-pedaling down the road to wait for everyone to catch up which will stretch the group out and make it more difficult for the vehicles behind them to pass.

Now, here’s where this gets really interesting:  Think about being a motorist behind that mess of slow cyclists taking several minutes to clear an intersection.  It would be worse, take longer, than waiting for a train to go by.  You think motorists are mad at cyclists now.  Good Lord, that would be madness, anger and aggression on a whole new level.  In a group setting it only makes sense that when it’s safe to do so, the entire group goes through at once and gets out of the way.  It’s the safest and quickest way for us to get out of motorist’s way so they can get to a place to pass us.  Is it legal?  No, but pick your poison:  Wait a little bit and pass us after the intersection, or wait a whole lot longer.  I can tell you, as cyclists we don’t want motorists waiting any longer than they have to.  The longer a motorist has to wait for us to get the hell out of the way, the less likely it is we’ll be hugging our wives and kids after the ride and the more likely it is we’ll end up in hospital bed.

3:  Why don’t cyclists ride on the gravel shoulder, off of the road or why don’t they pull over, off the road when traffic is present?

Now, there may be rare instances when pulling over to let traffic by might make sense.  If I’ve got several cars behind me waiting to pass on a winding mountain road, it would make sense for me to pull off the side of the road to let the cars by if safe to do so (and I have done this in the past).  However, we cannot stop going uphill.  Why?  We can’t start back up safely, going uphill.  It’s too unstable and shaky.  We have to wait for a flat spot if we’re going to pull over, otherwise we have to start downhill and try to turn round, in other words, pull a U-turn on a winding mountain road, to head back uphill.  This is simply stupid and impossible to do safely.  In this case, a motorist must try to think a little more like a cyclist.  If we’re going to pull over to let you by, it’s going to be on flat ground or on a downhill section.  To get to the gravel shoulder, we are required, as cyclists, to ride “as far right on the road surface as practicable” except when debris or uneven pavement make doing so not practicable.  The gravel shoulder is not “the road surface”, the whole shoulder is debris and it is not safe, especially for a road bike, to travel on.  Also, “as far right as practicable” is determined by the cyclist, not the motorist.  We see the road with a clarity that you cannot possibly understand.  Hitting a pothole might mean a new wheel for a car.  For a cyclist it means several weeks in the hospital and possibly reconstructive facial surgery.  Gravel, for a car, is a minor nuisance.  For a cyclist (or a motorcyclist for that matter), it can mean an utter loss of control and a serious accident.  We have to be very careful when choosing when and where to pull off the road, if we do so at all.  What doesn’t make sense, ever, is a cyclist pulling off the road for a lone motorist or two so they don’t have to slow down for a few seconds to wait for traffic to clear so they can pass.  My friend and I were honked at by a motorist in an SUV, he started honking about a quarter-mile back and laid on his horn until he was right on our backs, before he passed in the oncoming lane.  No other traffic was present for more than a mile in either lane.  We were less than a foot, twelve inches, from the edge of the road (or more than “as far right as practicable”) yet he expected that we would pull off the road because he blared his horn.  He then stopped his vehicle, blocking the entire lane, to yell at us for not pulling off the road.  He yelled out the window as I passed to his left, entering the oncoming lane, “Do you wanna get run over!” Um, no not really.  I also don’t want to share the road with a dumb, obnoxious old man who has no clue.  Unfortunately, I have to play with the cards I’m dealt.  Finally, and this is important, I cannot safely ride on a gravel shoulder.  I have to consider whether the ground is stable (when was the last rain, will my tires sink? Etc.), whether erosion makes the shoulder unsafe…  The shoulder, is never a safe alternative, especially while I’m moving forward on a bike.  If you want, or expect, a cyclist to pull off the road onto the shoulder so you can pass, that desire is ignorant, impatient and wrong.

4.  Why do cyclists ride where my wheel should be on the road?

Believe it or not, this question has a very simple answer:  Safety.  See, “as far right as practicable” means “what is safe” for the cyclist.  If I hug the white line on roads with anything but the widest lanes, I might give a motorist just enough space to squeeze through without having to cross over the yellow line.  That motorist also might not have enough room and hit me with his/her mirror.  That’s a broken arm or back at a minimum.  More than likely worse.  If I ride where a vehicles tire would normally be on the road surface, motorists must pull into the oncoming lane to pass.  While this admittedly sucks for motorists, it’s vastly safer for me.  In other simpler terms, if I leave a keyhole for a motorist, they’ll try to fit a car through it.  I’ve seen this happen by the way.

5.  What about running red lights?

I can’t imagine any scenario, ever, where running a red light would be wise for a cyclist.  I never have and never would purposely run a red light.  Too much bad can come from that, no matter how clear the intersection looks.  Cyclists who blow traffic lights are in the wrong.  Every single time.

6.  Why don’t large groups ride single file instead of two-abreast?

Many motorists become upset just thinking about a double pace-line cruising down the road.  Passing that can be daunting.  On the other hand, think this through a bit…  How would you like to pass a single-file line of cyclists twice as long?  Now you know why we ride two-abreast.  Riding single-file takes twice as long to pass and requires a greater passing distance while still requiring opposing traffic to be clear because a motorist cannot get around a group.  We’re actually making it easier for you to pass us when a large group of cyclists rides two-abreast.

Now lets look at a smaller group or just two cyclists…  When I ride with my wife, I commonly ride next to her on the back (quieter, less traffic) roads.  I try to ride in the middle of the lane (that’s the middle of the lane, not the middle of the road) while she’s just to my right, usually right where she would normally belong on a road.  We talk about life, plans, whatever comes to mind.  Now, when traffic becomes present, I’ll speed up and pull in front of my wife so we’re single-file.  If opposing traffic is nowhere to be seen, sometimes I’ll stay right where I am.  The truth is, before you get all upset, no matter whether I’m riding directly next to my wife and we’re taking up half of one lane, or we’re single-file, you’re still going to have to pass us in the oncoming lane.

This changes on busy roads, of course, because two single cyclists riding two-abreast is thought of by many as rude.  We don’t want to give the impression that we’re blind to the notion that we’re a pain-in-the-ass so we choose to single up.  We believe that this is the reasonable thing to do.

So…

The point of this post is to actually show that we’re not really being @$$#0£€$.  Many of the reasons we ride in the manner we do are actually either designed to make motorist’s lives less stressful or to save our skin.  We gain nothing by pissing motorists off.  In fact, messing with motorists increases our chances of never being able to see our kids again, or more aptly stated that they’ll never see their mom or dad again.  We have no desire to poke a tiger with a stick to see what happens.

Oh, one other thing…  What about “spandex wearing Lance Armstrong wannabes”?  I actually had this one hurled at me recently.  Look, can’t we keep this civil?  It’s not like I would call you a fat, lazy couch monkey.

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12 Comments

  1. my1sttrirace says:

    I like this post. I’m guessing the intended audience may not be reached.

    I agree 100% on the red light and stop sign running. I’ve been in groups that were riding erratically, and just turned off a different way.

    I also agree with riding practically. I will move over more to right when it is safe to pass. It safer to be a more decisive when dealing with drivers. I’m sure to look the driver in the eyes, and make my intentions clear.

    When talking to non riders about cyclists, I try to remind them we are people too. We are just out for some exercise and have families we need to get home safe to. Our safety is in the hands of the driver. A little patience goes a long way.

  2. It is actually fully legal to ride next to each other as long as you don’t ride wider than a car would be. Us going single file is kindness, not because we must. It is also recommended for cyclists to ride about half a meter from the curb or white line of the road so cars cannot squeeze past you but must officially overtake you. I could add a whole novel on this road etiquette thingy. After 4 years of commuting everywhere on a bike, I have a story or 2 to tell… 🙂

  3. We’ve got lots of small bendy country lanes so often go into single file as a courtesy, which is often appreciated by a friendly wave. Good feeling all round!

  4. Thomas Clayton says:

    Great Fred!

  5. exmaschine says:

    Reblogged this on The Road to Revelation and commented:
    have a read, as Jim hits on some very good points…

  6. Tony says:

    I rarely ride in groups any more so don’t relate to a lot of this. Must confess, though, while I mostly ride on the Lakefront where there are no stop signs of lights, I do run stop signs when I take to the streets. I watch very closely when approaching the intersection and then – go. Truth be told, I hate to give up my momentum.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Same here Tony, but it’s more than just momentum… First, we can stop on a dime. If we coast a little bit, it’s quite simple to stop within 10 feet… The mechanics of stopping a bike are instantaneous. The mechanics of stopping a vehicle, plus the sheer weight, cause a lag. Finally, without a cockpit, we have a full 180 degree view of the roads… We can make better judgments, faster and easier. So getting out of the intersection fast, where most of us die, makes all of the sense in the world… Even if certain people don’t like it. 😉

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