Looking back over the “Cycling Around” columns I’ve written it does occur to me that I often talk about a motorist’s perspective or comment on how motorists do — or should — treat cyclists when they encounter them on the roads. So I do wonder just how many motorists would ever actually read a “Cycling Around” column.
Sure, I can understand that the other class of “bikers” in our world—those who ride motorcycles—might mistake it one time as a column addressing issues affecting them. They might even empathize with our frequent complaint that we often seem invisible to those behind the wheel of a car or truck.
I know a lot of motorcycle riders who have the same concern and can, all too readily, tell you the horror stories what happens when motorists don’t see them until it’s too late. A “biker” on a motorcycle and a “biker” on bicycle share pretty much the same comparative disadvantage whenever they have an up close and personal encounter with a motor vehicle of the four-wheel species.
But those who drive that other species of motorized vehicles? Why on earth would they pay any attention at all to a bicycling article? That raises the question: Why on earth do I ever talk about their point of view or their behavior on the road when it comes to the cyclist?
Well for one thing, I like to think it helps cyclists better understand the perspective of the motor vehicle operator. And we really need to be honest about one thing here: just as it was pretty common knowledge that illegal gambling was always going on in Rick’s Café Americain in “Casablanca” (“I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that gambling is going on here,” says Capt. Renaud as he closes down the nightclub, just before being handed his night’s winnings), it’s fairly well known that most cyclists also moonlight as motorists. That’s not so strange.
What is peculiar, though, is how completely compartmented we cyclists can be when thinking about motorists! You sit down for a bit with almost any cyclist — especially when they’re still wearing their “kit” of spandex and cleats and sunglasses with weird little rear-view mirrors attached — and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve never even been in a car, let alone driven one.
There isn’t an ounce of “motorist” you can detect anywhere! Seriously!
(Now, if you follow them back to the start of their ride, you’ll see that side of them emerge as quickly as a chameleon changes color as they load their bike on the rack and … climb behind the wheel and start the engine!)
But I try not to let brutal honesty get in the way of optimism.
Rules of the road
Which brings me to a recent change in Washington State law. Effective January 1, 2020, motorists in the state have a new set of requirements they have to meet when passing “vulnerable road users”—pedestrians, scooters, bikes, and (of course) tractors without a cab.
On roads with two or more lanes in one direction, drivers now have to move left into an adjacent lane “when practical” while passing a vulnerable user. On one-lane roads, they have to give at least three feet of space when passing; if there’s not enough room to do so, they have to pull into the oncoming lane “if that other lane is clear.” Fines have gone up for failing to obey the new rules.
Now there may be some motorists out there grumbling about the fecklessness of our elected representatives and the *&$%!! cyclists who pushed for the legislation and, yet again, trod upon (well, rode roughshod over) the motorist’s rights to unimpeded travel. “They should be giving me six feet of space!!!”
And there are no doubt lots of cyclists muttering, “No, duh! About time we had some sensible rules designed to really protect us “vulnerable road users!”
Why, you might even find the latter in a coffee shop taking a break in the middle of a ride, and if you follow him back to the ride’s start where he parked his car, you’d find that other fellow, sliding as easily (and obliviously) into his motorist mindset and persona as he did sliding behind the wheel of his car — Capt. Renaud in Rick’s, pocketing his winnings while locking the place up.
Fortunately, these particular personalities are rare.
The vast majority of cyclists are grateful for the more specific margin of safety being codified in the law, even though they know the vast majority of motorists are properly cautious when passing a cyclist and give more than ample room for safely doing so. The vast majority of motorists no doubt appreciate the greater specificity in the law, but figure that’s what they’ve been doing all along anyway, so…no big deal.
The point is it’s good for everyone — even the tractors without a cab!
The real point is that my trying to convey this to motorists in a column on cycling is likely to have only limited impact. Then again, maybe, on occasion, it could be “the start of a beautiful friendship!”
Ken Stringer is President of the Olympic Peninsula Bicycle Alliance. For more information on cycling in the area, go to www.olympicpeninsulacycling.com, or contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.