I love riding my bike. I feel quite comfortable riding on the streets of San Francisco, or the country roads of California’s central valley. From my perspective, what negative interactions I’ve had with cars have generally been due to simple mistakes – misjudging speed, not looking in the right rear view mirror when turning right, etc etc. I’m the guy that spend a lot of time complaining about how dangerous others make cycling out to be. I’m the guy urging everyone to stop the fear mongering.
But then someone has to be an asshole. And that can be just flat out scary.
It was the classic “gun the engine and pass the cyclist as closely as I possibly can” maneuver. Problem was, closely as possible was close enough to catch the back bumper on my leg as (s)he passed. Oh yea … and that maneuver was performed so that (s)he could make a right hand turn at the very next block. And I was going around 30 MPH on a down hill section (speed limit 25 MPH). And had to grab a hand full of brake to avoid hitting the back of the car so clearly I wasn’t holding anyone up.
It quite literally scared the hell out of me. I managed to stay upright so the only harm was mental. But it did immediately fill my head with unpleasant thoughts about the driver. And it definitely lead to an overall feeling of vulnerability.
Will this experience change my perspective the next time I’m out on the roads? Don’t know. Only time will tell. I definitely hope not. I tend to think we find what we are looking for. If I go for a ride expecting motorists to put my life in jeopardy, I’ll find evidence to back this up. If I go out on the road expecting to have an enjoyable ride, I’ll find that too. Unless some obviously contradictory situation comes up such as the one I experienced this morning.
I often wonder if I am being overly optimistic – even naive – in my general feeling of relative calm and safety on the roads. Other times I think it has more to do about the fact that I am quite vigilant while riding. I’m always looking ahead. I’m watching for blinkers or movement in the lane as I approach an intersection that might indicate a car is about to make a right hand turn. I avoid passing cars on the right at intersections for that very reason. I recognize situation where drivers may simply not be able to see me through no fault of their own. I tend to slow down a little in favor of caution, and I have very few altercations.
I also hesitate to tell stories like this one, as people seem to get the impression that this is a daily occurrence for cyclists. That couldn’t be farther from the truth – at least for me. In fact, in the last few years I can only think of 2 incidents that seemed to stem from aggressive actions against me by motorists. Coincidentally, they were both within a couple of miles of each other on 3rd Street in San Francisco. But nothing will stop people from being jerks. Even completely separate bike infrastructure won’t stop people that simply don’t like cyclists. When even mountain bike trails are not safe from aggressive actions against riders, we must remember that jerks gonna be jerks. We must resist the urge to perpetuate the idea that cycling overall is a dangerous activity.