I came across a cyclist’s traffic law rant a couple of days ago. You can click on the link, or read my summary below:
- He obeys the traffic laws (mostly)
- Riders on his group ride break the traffic laws
- Riders on his group ride endanger pedestrians on the bike path
- Cyclists are their own worst enemy
- He’s gonna quit riding with those wankers
This is a common mix-and-mash polemic bruited by many cyclists, and it combines good points with utter horseshit. The good things are obvious — masses of cyclists who race down a shared-use bike path are endangering weaker, less protected pedestrians. That’s no more acceptable than racing your car on the street. Because you are “training” or in a hurry or because you have to win the sprunt doesn’t make it okay to endanger others.
From there, however, lots of cyclists fall off the logic cliff, and it’s very rocky down below. First, traffic law violations on the street, where a group of cyclists runs a red light or stop sign, are not what causes most accidents. Most collisions between bike and car are caused by car. In non-car accidents, bicyclists typically fall off their bicycles due to road conditions or bike handling errors, not because they were scofflaws.
Here are some examples from the last few days alone:
- Droopy-headed rider hit magnolia seed cone on group ride. Shoutypants, riding behind Droopy, braked. Dreamy, riding behind Shoutypants, wasn’t paying attention, and slammed into Shoutypants, whose face splatted against the pavement. This is a group ride where red-light running is endemic. In three years, and despite thousands of blown red lights, not a single rider has fallen off his bicycle or been hit by a car due to running a red light. Not once.
- Rider 1 was carefully descending from the college. Road construction crew had failed to remove incredibly deep and dangerous sand from the edge and center of the roadway. The sand, from recent paving, was the same color as the new asphalt and almost invisible. Rider 1 slid out, broke his collarbone and three ribs.
- Rider 2 was descending by the accident scene of Rider 1. Rider 2 also hit the sand and broke her pelvis.
- Dude in Santa Monica got doored, separated his shoulder and trashed his $10k bike.
- Rider on Newport Coast Drive was hit by a drunk driver and suffered catastrophic injuries.
- Rider dropping down the hill to the MB Pier almost got taken out by right-turning cager who didn’t see the cyclist next to him.
- Rider slipped on some sand on the bike path and fell off her bicycle.
These aren’t cherry-picked examples; I could easily add a hundred similar incidents. But I couldn’t give you one — not one — example of a cyclist who either got hit or who fell off his bike because he ran a stop sign or a red light. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, so please feel free not to email me your personal experience of how you fell off your bike when you scofflawed a stop sign.
The point is that you need to STFU when it comes to correlating traffic safety to obeying stop signs and red lights. Obeying traffic laws is good for lots of reasons, and having rules within your group makes for better group rides. But the reason people get hit by cars isn’t because they scofflaw. Bikers mostly get hit because cagers don’t see them — they’re impaired, they’re texting, or the cyclist is invisible, hugging the shoulder in a deathgrip.
The idea that cagers will hit cyclists because they “hate us for running stop signs” is as silly as the idea that motorists hit pedestrians because they hate them for stepping out of the crosswalk. For the most part, cagers hit things they don’t see, and if you’re really concerned about not being hit, the best step you can take is to run a bright headlamp and taillight every time you cycle.
Many riders have the mentality of second-class citizens, claiming that motorists “hate” them because they break the law. Newsflash: most of them don’t hate you, and the ones who do are going to hate you whether you stop or not. You, as a bicycle rider, are an annoyance every time you slow down a car or cause a cager to have to do something other than mash the gas pedal and point the car. Stopping at stop signs won’t make you less of an annoyance when you slow down a car, although the cagers might not mutter “fucker” under their breath like they do when you scofflaw through four red lights while salmoning up a one-way street.
Cyclists are not their own worst enemy. Cyclists’ worst enemy is something called a “car.”
If you want to follow the law and set rules for your group, then do so. If your group is a crazy bunch of marauding stop sign killers and that sets your teeth on edge, go ride somewhere else, start your own group, or go to the group at the beginning of the ride and tell them to quit scofflawing. If they laugh, tell you to FO, or shell you on the first climb, then go pedal elsewhere. But quit calling me my own worst enemy, because my worst enemy is beer.
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