Imagine yourself enjoying the wind in your hair and the wonderful spring weather. The birds are chirping and the sun is warm as you zip down Northgate and turn onto Rochelle by the park. Then suddenly – HOOONNNKKKK. “Get off the road – it’s for cars, you stupid cyclist!”
This is one of the most frightening moments for bike riders, but it is only a microcosm of the constant danger that they face.
Sitting on a 20-pound piece of metal, clothed in polyester and lycra as a 4,000-pound truck zooms by is frightening. I feel like a lonely kayaker meeting a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. Defenseless. Vulnerable. Exposed.
The other Saturday, someone in a truck decided that his illegal U-turn was more important than my life. He ran me off the road just to gain a few seconds of time, almost pushing me into a tree.
In this fast-paced, dangerous world, can these two forces coexist? Are they doomed to continue this history of class struggle?
Indeed they are not. Bikes and cars can live in harmony. To do this, each will have to make sacrifices for safety. Call it the social contract of driving and riding.
Texas state law reads: “Bicyclists have the rights and duties of other vehicle operators.” With this in mind, the best way to coexist is to practice the arts of Zen riding and driving.
To ride Zen means:
-Use only one headphone (or none).
-Ride to the right of the lanes, but not so far that cars think they can pass without changing lanes.
-Wear reflective or bright clothing at dusk and later.
-Always be aware of your surroundings.
-Always carry identification. A Road ID (see RoadID.com) is stylish and cheap.
-Do not swear at or flip off drivers, no matter how aggressive they are.
-If a driver stops and confronts you, use the bike as a barrier between yourself and the aggressor.
-If in a crash, do not confront the driver angrily, even if it is his fault. Take the license plate number and contact the police.
To drive Zen means:
-Give bikes space, at least half a car’s width when passing, since they can make sudden maneuvers.
-When turning right, check behind you for an approaching cyclist, so that you do not cut him off. This is the most common type of crash.
-Be careful when opening the door after parking, or – wham! This is the second most common type of crash.
-Do not honk if bikes weave into your way; they are probably avoiding a hazard such as gravel or a drain, and you are too close anyway.
-Be patient and slow down, rather than passing in a dangerous area.
-If you do hit a bicycle, treat the situation exactly as you would a car accident. Give insurance, call the police and make sure everyone is okay.
-Remember that the road is everyone’s. Share it equally, even deferentially, with cyclists. They can legally take the whole lane. It is their life that is on the line every second on the roadway.
I ride about 150 miles a week and have (knock on wood) yet to be hospitalized due to a car confrontation. If both groups can maintain Zen while practicing their crafts, we can keep all cyclists out of hospitals.