A few weeks back I was riding solo early in the morning. It was still dark and there were only a few other riders and drivers on the road.
- 14 tips for safer city cycling
- Should changes to the driving test and ‘close passing’ practice be adopted to make roads safer?
- 9 things you do on a bike that would make people look at you funny in real life
Being the good, law-abiding citizen that I am, I stopped at a red light, and a man in a van stopped next to me. We exchanged a nod and went back to our half-asleep early morning delirium, until another solo rider pulled up, slowed down, looked both ways and proceeded to run the light.
I looked back at the guy in his van. He was shaking his head and I could do nothing but put my head in my hands.
When the light turned green I tried unsuccessfully to chase this rider down, but he had a solid head start and continued to run at least three lights before he disappeared.
Here on the Gold Coast in Australia, there are a couple of Facebook groups that serve as notice boards where people post info on races, rides, traffic hazards and the like. Well, it seems this was not an isolated incident as a few days later someone posted about this red light bandit, identifying him by the surprisingly expensive Italian steed he was riding.
Treat others how you would like to be treated
Cyclists as a community often don’t garner a lot of respect among other road users. This can have unfortunate consequences, whether it be comments yelled from a car window, a close pass or even a collision. Heck, even Chris Froome was run down by an impatient driver not long ago.
Whenever there is a news story about a rider being involved in an accident, the comment section is full of vitriol and hate along with the usual “get off the road” and “I’ll give you room when you start paying registration” comments, as well as a big helping of victim blaming and some name calling to top it off.
When I first started riding seriously back in college at Colorado State University, the then team president (and now VeloNews senior editor) Caley Fretz said something that’s stuck with me ever since: “Don’t do anything stupid in team kit, because you never know who is watching and it makes us look bad.”
At the time, he was speaking to a room full of 18- to 21-year-olds who as a whole were not known for making great decisions. But I think every rider can benefit from a reminder that what we do affects the whole cycling community.
Especially today, with everything being filmed and photographed, public perception has never been more important. It amazes me how many videos there are of drivers and riders behaving badly.
Much like you don’t remember the driver who switched lanes to give you an extra wide birth, or waited until after the blind corner to pass, drivers don’t remember the cyclist who stopped at a stop sign or red light. So when you run a light, or break a traffic law, or just do something stupid in general, you’re making an impression on those around you, one which people will more than likely remember.
Using the road is a privilege afforded to drivers and cyclist alike, and I’ve always felt there is a social contract between road users to be courteous to each other, and more importantly try not to kill each other. Quite often you’ll see sensational headlines about a ‘war on the road,’ and riding in certain places is a bit like being in the trenches, but the cars aren’t going anywhere and neither are we, so let’s coexist!
Is education part of the solution?
I also think that drivers and cyclists have a general lack of knowledge about what riders are legally entitled to do. I’ve explained to many people on two continents that riders are in fact allowed to ride two abreast in places in the US and in Australia, and why it’s safer for both parties involved. On the other hand, I’ve also explained to multiple people on the same two continents that you are not allowed to run a light riding a bicycle.
There is plenty of controversy surrounding the argument for bicycle licensing and registration so that cyclists can be ‘held accountable for breaking the law’. I think there is a much simpler solution. Why not add cycling questions to the driver’s test? How many riders do you know who don’t have a driver’s license or own a car?
Yes, I know there are a few non-driving unicorns out there, but the vast majority tick both boxes. I also know there is much more to this than just whacking a few extra questions into a multiple choice test, but that seems like the most efficient and pain-free way to educate both sides of the aisle.
I’ll admit, I have run a red light in the past, and I’m not proud to say that I have rolled a stop sign too. But, when I have, you can be damn sure there was nobody around to see me do it. That doesn’t make it right, and nobody is perfect.
That said, who hasn’t made an illegal U-turn in their car, gone through a light ‘that was totally still yellow’ or driven a few MPH/KPH over the speed limit — again nobody is perfect.
I’m not trying to apologise for motorists who do the wrong thing or put riders in danger, nor the riders who refuse to follow the rules, but just like everything else in life, you get what you give. So, if you’re openly disrespectful to those around you and don’t follow the rules of the road when you ride, expect to get treated the same way.
And if you’re reading this, Red Light Bandit who lives on the Gold Coast and rides a very expensive Italian bike, stop it! You’re the guy that’s ruining it for the rest of us!