Hearing the Message: “Get Off the Road!!!”

Over the past few years we have really gotten into biking. We get on our bikes two or three times a week, on quiet country roads, usually aiming to put on 20km or so. We’ve cycled some long self supported tours as well, where, day after day, we will cover 70 to 120 km .  On all of these rides we have generally felt safe and, except for a few incidents, have been treated courteously by those with whom we share the road.

Our last couple of trips have been different. They’ve been rides with a purpose and have put us onto somewhat busier roads. These are still local county roads, main arteries to other places. In these cases we were riding from home to a bigger center. Today it was to do some banking and to spend a few minutes in a coffee shop. Earlier in the week, I rode to the same town for a meeting. The atmosphere on the road was not good, in fact, I’m not even sure it was safe.

It could be, since the bicycle is not a common form of transportation on these roads, drivers of cars and trucks don’t feel the need to give them any respect. It could also be, because there is little respect given, the bike is not catching on. There are certainly more riders than there were when I grew up in the area forty plus years ago, but compared to the number of folks we met on bikes on our latest tour, this area is way behind. On today’s 50 km, middle of the day, ride we did not see even one other person on a bicycle. Part of the problem may the be redneck attitude of drivers toward cyclists. Another piece may be the condition of the roads.

A garbage truck pushed me off the road here earlier this week. the pavement to the right of the white line is impossible to ride on. Photo Courtesy Google Street View

It was about here that we caught the bird from a passing motorist. Again the pavement to the right of the line is unusable. Photo Courtesy Google Street View

Pictures are worth a thousand words. It seems that drivers think that we should ride to the right of the white line and will snuggle up as closely as possible to push us over it. Today, our unwillingness to try to ride on the broken pavement, earned us a close car, and a one fingered salute. Earlier in the week a garbage truck forced me over there. His wheels were not more than eighteen inches from mine. I was shaking (both from the broken pavement and from fear) by the time the truck went by.

Twice in the past week, oncoming cars have passed a slower vehicle despite the fact that I am in the oncoming lane. They cannot give me a meter of clearance if they are passing another car!

The question is “What can be done about it”. Since biking is not a priority, and there are apparently few cyclists, the county does not fix the road and would not consider widening the roads further to provide bike lanes. As drivers continue to harass and frighten cyclists the numbers will not grow. This area would have a lot to offer in terms of bike tourism but the attitudes and the roads will keep that from happening.

Maybe someone will need to be seriously injured before there is any movement to upgrade the roads and enforce the share the road laws. It’s more likely though, folks will just leave their bikes at home because the injury would just reinforce the risk.

We will continue to ride!!!!


8 thoughts on “Hearing the Message: “Get Off the Road!!!”

  1. I mean, that’s the main reason I never tried to bike in SF until last year. Growing up in Oklahoma where there were barely any sidewalks even in a medium-sized town, biking in traffic just always seemed too dangerous.

    Be careful!

    • Don’t worry, we are careful. I’m just afraid that one day, one of these automobile rednecks is going to get too reckless and really hurt somebody. With bikes everywhere in SF, I think drivers are just more aware and automatically drive more courteously.

  2. Driving with bikers is great when they ride properly( single file with reflective gear) Its when you get those groups of twenty that think oh hey, we can ride four wide and not care who is coming over the hill behind us. take the bike lane and I enjoy moving over for bikers ( I know I appreciate it when people move over for me when I’m biking)

    • Thanks Jim,

      Unfortunately, on both of these latest excursions, we were riding properly. Local drivers just seem to want us off the road altogether (in fact in conversation, many locals can’t understand why we are not riding on the gravel shoulder). It really makes it hard to move cycling forward as a viable source of transportation.

  3. It doesn’t need to be like that.

    While biking across the country, Fort Frances, Ontario stuck in my mind as one of the friendliest towns on the route. It is a town of 7500 approximately in the middle of nowhere; there are dairy farms and a lot of rural scenery. The road was a typical rural highway: no shoulder, 80km/h speed limit. Yet, as I approached, I noticed the other vehicles behaving differently — they would slow down and pass when safe.

    In town, I saw this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wildsheepchase/198552320/ “Bicycle Parking Only”.

    In many ways, Fort Frances is the same as your neck of the woods — they just have a different attitude.

    Sadly, Ontario is behind in building bicycle infrastructure. “Quebec spends $200 million on cycling infrastructure and earns $135 million each year from bicycle tourism alone. The US dedicates 1.6% of its transportation budget for states to invest in cycling infrastructure. Ontario has no dedicated funding to support cycling or pedestrian infrastructure.” (http://www.gpo.ca/media-release/gpo-calls-bike-strategy-make-streets-safe-all-users) [But note that for 2013, the Tea Party has mostly gutted the US funding].

    You could always get a GoPro camera…

    • We found much the same attitude, that you did, on our tour this spring through eastern Ontario and Western Quebec; relatively courteous drivers and infrastructure to keep cars and cyclists at a safe distance from each other. It’s here at home that we have an issue and there does not seem to be a critical mass of cyclists to carry change forward.

  4. I bike to work daily (Kansas City suburbs) and I’ve noticed there seem to be waves of unfriendliness toward me. 99% of the time there is an attitude of sharing the road that is a delight to ride in, but it seems when the 1% happens, it happens in bulk over the course of a few days or a week.

    Most of my coworkers affirm what you say – some live close enough to have little excuse for not picking up a bike (at least in good weather), but won’t do it out of fear of the traffic. It creates a downward spiral.

    … but I will still pedal onward, choosing my routes carefully, good weather or bad. … and above all, do my part to not be one of “those” cyclists that the motorists point out as an example of why we don’t belong on the road. I’m sure I won’t single handedly change the majority mentality that exists, but every time a coworker walks in from the parking lot beside me as I carry my cycling gear with me, it sparks a conversation, and sometimes a little bit of interest.

    • Thanks John,

      I agree that it is likely a small, 1% minority that seems to have a “get off the road” attitude. Unfortunately, it takes a lot less than 1% to make the road an uncomfortable, even dangerous place.

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