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Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Digression / Diatribe on Cars and Bikes

I have recently completed Drivers' School. I have been driving for about 16 years and decided it was time to brush up on my knowledge of the California Driver Handbook. I feel it is my civic duty to be the best driver I can possibly be.

(Not to mention it kept me from getting points on my license after getting ticketed for pulling a trailer in the wrong lane.)

During my quest for a greater understanding of the regulations surrounding vehicular travel, I was annoyed at the interpretation of cycling and its effect on traffic by those who created my course.

Not till Saturday's ride, did I fully realize how annoyed I was at the tenor of the course as regarding cycling, and better understand the prevalence of their mistaken ideas. Halfway between the cluster of ranches called Briones, CA (Population 25 - if you include the housekeepers) and Orinda (No one cares what the population is, as long as they keep paying the taxes on their estates and Maseratis) on Bear Creek Rd, I was approached by a 30 year old car worthy of a name that starts with "The" and ends with a State or President's name. He slowed as he approached and then pulled off the road to his right in order to begin the long process of negotiating a "U" turn. Waiting till I was close enough to choke me on his exhaust, he pulled around into my lane and slowly chugged down the road. By now I had braked considerably and was trying to stay clear of the smog. Feeling that I had been exceptionally patient and composed, I was surprised to see him gesture to me in a most unfriendly manner. I became less composed. I would have stuffed a handful of energy bars in his tail pipe if I could have gotten close enough.

I felt taken advantage of, and quickly remembered my dismay at the Drivers Course's handling of cyclists.
Let me premise by saying that cyclists often give themselves a bad name. But, that's all I'm going to say about that, since it seems like the major cycling publications lately have been obsessed with appeasing the public with unending stories reprimanding their readers.

Cyclists have a RIGHT to the roadways in California. Period. If you don't like it then drive somewhere else, or stay off the roads. REALLY, if I were a 5 ton tractor taking up the WHOLE road, drivers would give me twice the berth that they do. They would be forced to wait till the way is clear to pass me, rather than squeezing past between me and the oncoming. They would not gesture obscenely at me, for fear that I would lower my mower on them or spray them with organic insecticide at the next stop sign.

Now to my annoyance at my class.
First - There are 108 pages in the Driver Handbook to tell us how to drive. 100 and 8 pages. I think I could tell you how to fly a space shuttle in that many pages. This is beside my point.

The particular course I enrolled in discussed the handbook's mention of cyclists, but felt the need to expand on the subject and thereby insult cyclists in the process. Their main assertion was that cyclists are unpredictable, and thus extra care should be taken when meeting them in traffic. EXCUSE ME!? Unpredictable? I've seen a far higher percentage of unpredictable drivers than cyclists. And, not to mention, exactly how fast are we going, and how close are you passing us, that our unpredictableness is that big of an issue? Granted, I might swerve a foot to avoid a sewer drain grate at the side of the road, but for goodness sake, I have a right to the whole lane if I need it. "Bicyclists on public streets have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers." That means I get a lane if I need it. That means cars pass me under the same rules as if I were any other vehicle, especially when the road narrows. If you can't pass me and give me the same amount of space that you would expect from an 18 wheeler in your BMW, then DON'T! I don't like you riding my tail any more than you do, and will do my best to give you a chance to go by - just like I would in my car.

So my point is, that this course represented what I believe is the general consensus: Cyclists - though allowed on the road - are really just there with permission, begrudged by most, and revocable at will by anyone in a hurry. If you really want to get "doored" next time you're out on your bike, try telling the jerk that cut you off, that bikes were on the roads long before automobiles were, and thus we should be dictating to them the rules of our roads. "And, have a nice day."

Bicycles and automobiles BOTH are operated by living breathing humans. It is the person, not the size of the conveyance that gives one rights. As a human, I have a right to survive my commute just as you do. My method of travel does not diminish my access to our common rights.

This is anything but an original topic, but I had to vent.
To the guy in the big blue 4 wheeled boat - "I hope your dreams are plagued by immense bicycles crowding you in your little "Car Lane," turning right - seconds after passing you, and screaming "GET ON THE SIDEWALK!!" as they sneak up on your left.


  1. Wow!! Interesting. I wonder what rights SC cyclists have. Never ever thought about that. Sounds like the CA drivers need to reread their drive's handbook. And I guess I better reread the SC one. If their rights are the same regardless of size they deserve my respect because of that. Not just because--"My son rides bicyles and I would want someone else to respect him!!"
    I am glad your bark is worse than your bite. Definitely your mother's son. Oh my......

  2. Your argument appears to be that bikes are not the same 'class' as automobiles... yet you have no problem bagging on cities (Orinda) that you perceive as a different 'class'. Ironic that Orinda happens to be one of the most trail and bike friendly cities around.

    Regardless of what the regulations say, bikes and cars are not on the same footing on the roads, just like a Prius and a Hummer are not on the same footing even though they're both 'cars'. Use your judgment when your vehicle happens to be smaller than another vehicle and you're sharing the road.

    For a hands-on lesson in how to watch out for yourself, try driving any kind of vehicle in China or India, then come back and observe with newfound respect the civility of US roadways.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Thanks for the comments. I agree that I spoke hyperbolically about Orinda. If you are an estate owner in Orinda, please accept my apology. I also sincerely appreciate the fact that Orinda taxes have created a relatively friendly environment for Cyclist.

    I personally drive a large truck, and a very nice SUV. I fully understand my presence on the roads, and drive with much greater caution when in the proximity of cyclists, or even those new little SMART cars - for the same reasons.

    My point remains intact - Each person traveling on the road (Prius, Hummer, or bicycle) has the right to survive the experience. The attitude that cyclists are more responsible than drivers for their own survival is fallacious and dangerous to me and my friends.

    And to Orinda Estate Owners - Thank you.