We’ve all had post-ride arguments about the “safe” way to handle a particular intersection or stretch of road when riding with our group, and perhaps the finest aspect of Facebag is its ability to get various dissonant voices all screaming at each other simultaneously while plodding through the morning email.
These discussions typically degenerate, or lead to nothing because different cyclists have such vastly different perspectives on what constitutes safety. They have different views because for most riders there is no shared platform of ideas about how to ride other than each cyclist’s personal experience.
“I’ve been riding this way since ’84,” “Don’t pull that crap on my ride,” “I never do that,” and “That’s daaaaangerous!” all represent a rejection of shared riding theories and the primacy of personal experience. In other words, people have little to no chance of ever agreeing.
In most fields there are a series of shared practices that form the basis for operating on the road, or in the air, or on the water. The same is true for people who file lawsuits, conduct medical research, build houses, or cook for a living. Only in cycling does each rider make it up as she goes along, blown by the vagaries of the particular group she happens to fall in with.
I’ve been fortunate enough to fall in with a group of cycling instructors who teach bike-in-traffic principles by borrowing from the same practices and ideas used when you teach people how to drive a car. Whether you agree or disagree, sitting through a bicycling class can have a profound effect on the way you cycle. There are different curricula for bicycle riding instruction, but all share a few core elements.
There are lots of reasons that bike instruction hasn’t taken off in SoCal. One is that it’s not mandatory. Another is that people think that because they can ride, they can ride safely in traffic. Another is because people ride for freedom, and what’s more antithetical to freedom than being told how to do something? (Hint: Getting killed or maimed.)
A bike group that operates in what is arguably America’s most challenging group ride environment, the Long Beach Freddies, spurred by the recent deaths and catastrophic injuries of cyclists in the South Bay, paid for and took a course offered by Cycling Savvy, a curriculum that teaches cyclists how to drive in traffic. Spearheaded by Scott Stryker, Bill Holford, Scott Raymond, Bill Harris, and Gil Dodson, the Freddies have begun grappling with the considerable issue of safety that is posed on every one of their M-F group rides.
This is because their route always travels for several miles along extremely congested stretches of Pacific Coast Highway where there is no bike lane, where the shoulder/gutter are filled with debris, pavement irregularities, and where for long sections riders are exposed to the door zone of parked cars. “It’s only a matter of time” was the sentiment that led this performance-oriented Lycra crowd to do the unthinkable: Take bike riding lessons from hairy-legged dorks on cargo bikes.
Cycling Savvy instructor Gary Cziko gave a tremendous presentation filled with facts, laws, video clips, strategies, and advice for how to conquer the fear of cagers and how to turn the roadway into a safe operating space. None of it involved tossing water bottles at offending cagers or the phrase “Fuck you!” The entire gang of speedsters was awestruck by the opening video clip showing Keri Caffrey, a yellow-shirted commuter on flat pedals, totally owning a fast, congested roadway in Orlando by completely controlling the traffic around her.
We all thought the same thing: “If she can do it, why can’t we?”
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Freddies are on the cutting edge of change. One person can’t change the world, but each person can change her world, and in the words of instructor Pete Van Nuys, “When you see things differently, you change the things you see.”
There are multiple levels of change required if cyclists are going to take their rightful place in the transportation network. Some of those changes are legal, some will require cager education, and in some few cases they will require infrastructure. But the one place that change must also occur is among the cyclists themselves. As Brad House loved to say, “I’m not in traffic, I am traffic.”
Taking the time to take a class, think about it, and apply it to your own regular rides will bootstrap safety discussions from “I think therefore it is,” to “This principle suggests that the best choice is [x].” And once you’re educated it’s a tiny step to asking others to take the time to get educated, too.
Shared principles among cyclists for riding in traffic that don’t include flipping off cars? Well, yes.
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