Bicycling is a popular hobby, but it is also one of the ways that people commute and live their daily lives. One out of eight Americans bicycle on a regular basis, and more are taking up the practice all the time. They ride to work, they ride for fun, and sometimes, they ride on the same roads that you drive. Be prepared to share the road responsibly by reading what a local bike shop wishes drivers knew.
You Have to Share
Never think of bicycles as being “in the way.” For the purposes of driving, you should treat them just like any other vehicle — albeit one that is generally slower than your car.
“I would say cyclists want to be seen as a vehicle on the road, rather a person on a bike,” explains Joe Elfritz of the Cumberland Trail Connection in Cumberland, Maryland. “That being said, there comes a responsibility of the cyclist to obey all traffic laws and signs, and act like a vehicle. Just like there are bad drivers, there are irresponsible cyclists — but, there has to be mutual respect on both sides of the lane.”
Bikes Are Faster Than You Realize
Bicycles can move incredibly fast. Expect speeds as high as 20 miles per hour — and that’s on flat ground. Bicycles going downhill can be traveling at twice that speed. This is important to realize because many drivers overestimate how much time they have to turn or pass the bike and get into an accident because they didn’t know the bike was moving as fast as it was.
You Should Always Leave Room
One way to avoid potential issues is to leave room. This space makes it easier to see how fast a bike is going and keep an eye on any turns or stops the cyclist may be signaling. “Maryland state law requires vehicles to leave 3 feet between you and a cyclist on the side of the road — but other states require 4 feet," said Elfritz.
Please Pass Bikes Kindly
Also, make sure that you are passing cyclists kindly and at a calm rate of speed. You can be going fast, but don’t speed up to pass the bicycle more quickly. Sudden acceleration can be unnerving for a cyclist — and dangerous. Try to be kind beeping your horn as well. If you absolutely need to signal to a cyclist that you are behind them, use a brief honk so that you don’t startle the person on the bike. That could cause a crash.
Make an Effort to Look Around
Speaking of dangerous — another thing that local bike shop owners wish drivers knew about sharing the road with bicyclists is how important it is to always be looking around. When a driver strikes a cyclist, the excuse is almost always the same — I never saw him.
If you make it a practice to stay aware and alert, you are going to prevent that situation from happening. This means stop texting while you drive, don’t lean down to grab something off the floor, and work to be aware of your surroundings when you are behind the wheel. Even if the car is not in motion, you run the risk of opening your car door into an oncoming cyclist.
Understand the Difference
Another opportunity for drivers who want to learn how to responsibly share the road with bicycles is to understand the difference between how a good cyclist rides and a good driver drives. For instance, smart cyclists will often gravitate towards the center of the lane. They do this because the mechanisms that trip the traffic lights won’t work unless the bike is in the exact right spot — which just happens to be in the middle. Some places have bike-friendly sensors located in the shoulder of the road, but these are still pretty rare.
Don’t be surprised if you see a cyclist “take the lane” or ride in the lane even when there is a wide shoulder available. When this happens, the biker may be trying to be safe. The shoulders of roads often contain debris that can be difficult for a bicycle to pass over, and taking over the lane could be the only way the cyclist can travel safely. In this case, the cyclist may need to make a turn or knows that the road goes downhill soon, and you’ll be traveling the same speed.
Try to Be Realistic
Make sure that you are being realistic, too. Bicycles are considerably more vulnerable than cars. The average bike weighs around 20 pounds, whereas a car is going to be closer to 2,000 pounds. In a collision, who do you think is going to win, and who do you think is going to get hurt?
Likewise, be realistic about what you know. Take the time to learn the bicycle laws in your area so you can be the most responsible driver you can be. Driver’s ed classes are a good place to start, whether you're a new teen driver or an adult who needs a refresher on the rules of the road.
Sharing the Road with Bicyclists
When you drive your car, you may need to share the road with bicycles from time to time. Make sure you are being a responsible driver by educating yourself about why cyclists ride the way they do and how you can best ride with them. By making a few small efforts, like looking around, leaving room, and passing politely, you can safely share the road with bikers.