When I first starting biking as my primary mode of transportation to my office I felt like I was wearing a helmet mainly because I hadn’t rode a bike in something like 15 years. It’s true what they say, you never forget how to ride a bike (barring a debilitating injury) but after such a long time, I definitely wasn’t as confident as when I was a kid. Fast forward to over 6 months of biking at least a couple of times a week, more recently 4 to 5 days a week. I’m not not quite to the point that I take it off any sweet jumps or anything, but I’m not nearly as concerned with busting ass as I was back in November. Full disclosure, I did fall in my driveway a while back, skinned my knee and everything DANG! Okay, so even now that I got my confidence back and all that, I still wear a helmet every time I ride, even if my destination is just 2 blocks up the road. Why? BECAUSE THE WORLD IS FULL OF TERRIBLE PEOPLE. Let me elaborate on some scenarios that I’ve encountered, some of them as recently as this morning.
I ride in the road, I consider it the safest place to be on a bike, even if there is no bike lane. Why is it safer than the sidewalk? Because you’re highly visible especially if you’re confident enough to “take the lane” instead of hiding on the shoulder. When you are on the road, as a rider, you are to abide by the same rules as cars as well as being treated as such. When does it fall apart? When some jerk just decides to meander in front of you. They generally don’t do this to a car, but there’s no hesitation to do it to someone on a bike. I’ve contemplated getting a horn for my bike a la Pee Wee Herman but yelling is just as satisfying.
Drivers that think the bike lane is just a few extra feet of buffer and/or they are drunk
This is one of those things that happens a ton. Driver, usually on their cell phone drifting into the bike lane. Hey asshole, I only get 2 to 3 feet of room over here at most and you think you’re entitled to it? That’s why I have no problem taking the lane depending on the ignorance level of the drivers that day. This is especially true at lights when people want to turn and I’m in front of them. I generally take the lane at all stop lights just to establish my presence. I will elaborate on drivers turning a bit in my next example.
Drivers that think you need to yield to them when they are turning
Just this morning I had an old guy pull into a gas station and immediately come back out to make a U-turn. Part of being a bike commuter is being aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately instead of enjoying the weather, you have to be aware of idiot drivers. Pretty sure if I had someone behind me this morning I would have gotten hit from behind because I had to make such a split second stop. I swear the old coot was asking for an accident with that maneuver. Sadly it’s not an uncommon scenario, same with people turning without their signal. When you make a turn, you’re turning in my lane and often times are going to be cutting me off. I don’t expect you to sit and wait for me to go by (love it when they do though), but I do expect a turn signal so I know what’s up. Going back to the road being safer than the sidewalk, this right-hand turn scenario is one of the most common accident scenarios for riders on the sidewalk. This is mainly because drivers don’t understand when they are supposed to yield to pedestrians and not the other way around. If the light is green, then the pedestrians crossing the street you’re turning onto most likely have the walk signal. On a side note, in my observations the most notorious drivers for this are the ones with Hillsborough County license plates O_o
Other riders that don’t the flow of traffic
When you are biking, you go with the flow of traffic (common knowledge, right?). This is true with the bike lane and is why there’s a big arrow every few feet. But that doesn’t stop a lot of my fellow riders, always the ones that don’t wear a helmet. Just yesterday I got to play chicken with 2 folks on bikes coming right at me. Call me crazy but I wasn’t going to sacrifice my position for someone doing the wrong thing. A few weeks back I actually had someone make fun of me because I was on the sidewalk wearing a helmet. The dude said to his girl “look at him, he has to wear a helmet even though he’s riding on the sidewalk”. Hey you fucking meth head (if you’ve seen “Faces of Meth”, he looked like that) I made the decision to hop onto the sideway because there was traffic coming and I saw your stupid ass was going the wrong way before I made my turn. Not sure what’s worse, looking like a dork with my helmet or being too dumb to understand a diagram on the road.
Yes, you read that right, the yellers. I’m sure I am guilty of it when I was younger, but I’ve yet to have any younger folks do it to me. So what ends up happening is some ignorant asshole will roll up next to me and just yell, I assume because they want to see me get startled and/or fall. Unsure if anyone would stop and help out if I did end up busting my ass, but I assume not. This is probably the most saddening scenario that I encounter on a semi-regular basis. It’s even went as far as having a car drift close to me with someone hanging out the window [I assume] trying to grab me or my backpack or just push me over. Again, really saddened by this, it helps to degrade my already low view on society.
Maybe it would be a bit different if I lived somewhere with regular street cleaning, but the bike lane is basically the gutter. Broken bottles, rocks and other debris. Biking through my first rainy season has been especially challenging because of poor drainage that results in a flooded bike lane. This is frustrating when you consider how small the lane is and how drivers drift into the bike lane. This is another scenario when I will take the lane because it’s actually safer than swerving in and out of traffic to get around puddles and stuff.
Drivers that honk at you to get out of the way even though you’re doing something perfectly legal
I hate this one because it generally happens on roads without bike lanes and a high volume of cars parked on the street. Legally, you are supposed to be something like 5 feet away from a parked car when biking. Why so far away? So you don’t get whacked with a car door of course. I do try to pull off to the right side when there’s no cars, but if there’s a bunch of parked cars I will end up out in the road a bit more. Honking doesn’t make me go any faster and it pisses me off even more when I see those same drivers keeping a safe distance from those same parked cars. Oh so it’s good enough for you but not me?
Drivers that go around you at a stop sign
I touched on it previously but since I was just on the topic of riding on roads without a bike lane this came to mind. Often times when I’m sitting at a stop sign waiting for a lull in traffic so I can get on my way, someone will go around me to get to the stop sign. This is what led to me taking the lane at stop signs. Fact is, I’m supposed to stop at a stop sign just like you are. I do so and wait for a good time to go again, JUST LIKE YOU. Taking the lane is often just a way to cockblock someone from being a jerk.
Bus drivers evidently have the right of way
This is a bit of a late day amendment as this happened for the first time on my way home today. So, I’m not sure if this is the case in other cities or states, but in my part of Seminole Heights in Tampa, Florida the bike lane is shared with the buses. The lane itself has the typical bike lane graphics but then periodically (at the bus stops) the lane is wider and it says “Buses Only”. Today I had a bus speed around me and cut me off to get to the bus stop only to stop immediately when it got there. I’m really unsure of what the legality of the lane is, but having a huge vehicle speed past you and then immediately cut you off AND STOP is terrifying. I’m not sure what the city planner was on when they made that decision but it was a terrible one. I get it, it’s one lane and giving the bus some room helps to keep traffic from being stopped and backed up, but to give bus drivers (which I already consider horrible drivers) a free pass to run over bike riders is completely unacceptable.
So do you even like commuting via bicycle?
Don’t let all the negativity fool you, I absolutely love it. I’ve been able to save a ton of money on gas, I get to feel like I’m a bit more environmentally conscious than I used to be and hell, biking has contributed a ton to my own fitness level. Ideally I’ll be a bike commuter for as long as I’m able. Do you bike to work? I would love to hear about your trials and tribulations.