[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Winning Respect From Motorists
The majority of motorists are not the cyclists' enemies; the same people pass us every day, and we affect how they think about us.
Questions Does sharing the road involve some behavior modification on the part of cyclists? Are the people who pass cyclists all strangers? Do they recognize you from previous occasions? Are all motorists our enemies? What are ways in which cyclists can help motorists? Can the roadway be considered a community? Does it pay to be friendly? How can cyclists get along with truckers? Is it necessary sometimes to fail to cooperate in order to gain respect? Is touring more dangerous than local travel? Should one stop to talk to or help the offensive motorist? Are the majority of motorists people we want to offend?


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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.

Egotistical risky 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 place.

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.

When traveling 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.

Generally, when 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 themselves.

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