I was out for a Saturday afternoon cruise, all by my lonesome a few weeks ago. It’s a rare Saturday I’m not with my friends, but things just worked out that way. I exited a subdivision onto a short, punchy climb and was out of the saddle pushing my way up the incline when I saw a woman and her two young boys riding on the wrong side of the road with a minivan bearing down on them. I, in the correct lane, stopped pedaling and waved to the minivan that it was okay to pass them in my lane. I could see the hesitation by the driver, but he realized in short order that it was going to be safe to pass and did. The boys and their mother had no clue what was going on – they were completely oblivious to the accident they could have caused.
Had I not been paying attention and just kept trucking, head down, it could have gotten messy. In fact, this is exactly how many cyclists riding on the proper side of the road are killed, when a vehicle traveling toward them in the opposing lane comes into the lane the cyclist is riding in to pass – and the driver of the truck, with a mother and two boys bearing down on them on bikes in the wrong lane would have no choice but to try to thread the needle between them and me. Thankfully, I saw that coming a half-mile away.
Now, I’ve made comments to riders in the wrong lane before, but in this instance I chose a new approach. I pulled alongside the mother and started, “Good afternoon. I appreciate that you like to ride in the wrong lane, but I would like to make a couple of observations that you may not be aware of.”
First, I said, if your boys are that far ahead of you and they approach an intersection, say a car is making a right hand turn into their lane, where is that driver looking when he gets to the intersection?
She actually got it, immediately. “He’ll be looking left”. I said, right, and he’ll be pulling out directly into your boys without looking. So that’s the first scenario you have to worry about. Second, you’ve got a car coming at you that wants to pass as you’re pedaling towards it, but there’s a truck coming the other way. The driver coming toward you can’t get into the other lane and you’re closing distance on the truck… surely, you can see the trouble on the horizon. If you’re in the proper lane, with the flow of traffic, the car behind you can slow until oncoming traffic clears, then go around when safe. Not so if you’re in the wrong lane.
And with that, we exchanged pleasantries and I sped off down the road. It’s amazing how a difficult topic like that can be diffused with a good attitude and a smile. The last time I had a conversation with a woman about riding on the wrong side of the road (with her child in tow, for God’s sake), she ended up hollering something about the patriarchy… I’m going to have to change my tactics from now on, because this time turned out much better.
File these two under the old, “We don’t care if you think cycling on the wrong side of the road is dangerous, we know it’s safer, nah-nah-na-nah-nah”… and remember the important rule here: People are going to do what they do. We have to keep our own eyes peeled because we can still, doing the right thing, get stuck in between a rock and a speeding truck.