Winning Respect From Motorists
Garry Jones started
an interesting thread when he suggested that people were less careful in
passing him and his daughter when the two of them weren't wearing helmets.
Dorre, on the other hand, has suggested that people were less careful after
she started wearing a helmet.
I certainly don't
want to try to determine who was right or wrong; I wasn't there, I don't
know. It's not inconceivable that they both are right. My point was
that I didn't think people would pay that much attention to a hat and that
other causes must be involved.
However, I wonder
if we couldn't get away from the helmet issue and discuss ways in which
our behavior has affected the traffic we drive in.
A lot of people
either don't believe that we share some responsibility for how others behave
or don't want to believe it. They have the "I'll do anything I damn
well please" attitude (as a teacher, I encounter the same thing in the
classroom). I would suggest, for longevity, for a cyclist to rebel
in Byron's "pathless woods" rather than on a busy highway.
behavior also seems to work better in a car, where the driver is isolated
from other individuals, and where other people tend to see him or her as
a car rather than as a person ("that Ford sure is acting strangely"), but
I'd prefer the rebel didn't do that either.
When you ride a
bike, unless there are a lot of other cyclists in your area, you tend to
stand out, and people know who you are. All the time, I have people
say to me, "I saw you riding up on Skyline Mountain last Tuesday," and
sometimes I have to point out that that must have been someone else, "although
I was riding on Skyline Mountain a few weeks ago."
Of course, part
of the reason why I stand out is my yellow jacket which has become as much
my trademark as the Red Baron's painted triplane was his. My yellow
jacket stands out during the day; my lights and reflectors stand out at
night. If there were a lot of Yahoo's on bikes in my area who wore
yellow jackets and were rude to other people or who disrespected the law,
I would get some other color, say bright green.
I have been away
from my local community for several years; now when I ride my bike there,
everyone's giving me a strong wave, showing they're glad to see me, even
if I do slow them down a little.
Of course, these
people are well aware that I'm not riding a bike to make their lives more
difficult; I signal when it's safe to pass on hills and curves, I give
extra room when it's possible, I stop to remove road debris, and I have
stopped to see if I could help stranded vehicles (no mechanical sense,
but I have some tools).
The truth is, whether
we're with a group of friends, at work, writing to the newsgroup, or riding
our bikes down the road, that we are part of a community, and we have to
fit into that community, for better or for worse. That doesn't mean, as
some non-cyclists have suggested to me over the years, that we have to
give up riding our bicycles and try to be exactly like everyone else.
People respect people who are different if those people are considerate
of them. The word "respect" is in itself interesting: literally it means
"look at again" or "take a second look." When you're riding a bike, you
want people to take a second look at you; that way they're not driving
by on automatic, unaware that they missed you by inches.
The cyclists who
commute to work every day must feel this the most strongly, since they
are being passed by the same people every day, often in about the same
But it's still
true for me when I am traveling around the country. That bread truck,
parked at the side of the convenience store, has passed me three times
today. I stop and joke with the driver, "You aren't going to beat
me to Tuscaloosa unless you quit stopping at all these stores." "Are you
going to Tuscaloosa today?" he asks.
through a section of Maryland, I was warned about the dangerous truckers.
No problem. They couldn't catch me going downhill, and I got off
the road when they were going uphill. Soon, all these fellows were
waving at me. They knew it cost me something to pull over; I knew
it cost them something to slow to a crawl on a hill.
In crossing Iowa,
in order to gain respect, I had to act the opposite way. Whenever
a tractortrailer came up behind me while a buggy, truck, or car was
coming the other way, I pulled off of the narrow road. After a while,
I noticed that the drivers were slowing down or speeding up to ensure that
they would pass me just when a vehicle was coming the other way, so I would
be forced to stop. Recognizing that I was being taken advantage of,
I stayed on the road despite the horn blasts, burnt rubber, and black smoke
(I did watch to be sure no one would get hurt). I did this once,
and the problem never happened again. You see, these guys were all
talking with each other on the CB, and they cooked up a pleasant game to
pass the day. Standing up to them was just as important as being
nice to someone else.
I am traveling across country, I get more respect anyway. People
see those oversized bags, and they know I'm not riding around town.
That's fortunately, because my speed and acceleration are slower.
Of course, I attract more calls to "Get off the %$#@! road" too; after
all, this is the bigot's last chance to make the world safe for fossil
fuel summer, but that driver quickly passes.
In several cases,
after I saw the bigot stop somewhere, I stopped to talk a minute.
The same person who had been crude and offensive while passing a cyclist
could not behave the same way when I politely but assertively approached.
In one case, I stopped to help the person who had been rude to me, which
certainly humiliated him more than any insult I could have delivered.
It would be easy
to get angry at everyone on the road after being hassled by a few bigots
and jerks, but the truth is that we are being passed by many more people
who admire us and wish they were brave enough to join us. Acting
in ways that will make these people angry at us will have the opposite
effect from the one we desire. Being a little tolerant and willing
to turn the other cheek while bravely maintaining our position will win
many friends and sympathizers and even encourage a few to begin riding