Bicyclists don’t deserve motorists’ rage

Like many people without a car, my bicycle used to be my primary means of commuting.
One blustery September morning on my way to work, I took a right onto a busy street with no shoulder — the only dangerous stretch on my route — and kicked into high gear. I rode as fast as possible to stay ahead of the stream of traffic that was backed up at the light. My goal was to get to the spot where the street widened a half-mile away before traffic caught up to me.
A plastic bag blew into my front tire and got tangled up in the spokes, causing the wheel to stop and, subsequently, flinging me over the handlebars. I flew like Superman (a spastic, screaming Superman) until my right shoulder hit a “no parking” sign and altered my trajectory. My left shoulder landed on the curb, and I kept rolling into the middle of the lane to break my fall. My bike bounced to a halt nearby.
So far, so good.
The realization that I was still alive was rudely interrupted by the reality of a string of 50 cars bearing down on me. No problem. I was in plain view of the first car — they must have seen me, a man lying motionless in the middle of the street, I thought. And I was correct. Of course I didn’t count on the motorists acknowledging this fact by honking their horns and accelerating!
It took a moment for me to believe this was happening. Fortunately, the adrenaline superseded the pain and I was able to grab my vintage Schwinn Varsity and stagger off the road about one second before the stream of cars whooshed by.
Judging from the spiteful letters that appear in the local papers every time a nominal measure is proposed to increase safety and encourage biking as a viable transportation alternative, a number of you are probably saddened because the motorists were not driving fast enough to run me down. As a consolation for these folks, I should mention that I ended up with two separated shoulders.
Motorists whine every time the presence of a bicycle infringes upon their right to drive 20 miles per hour faster than the speed limit. They call cyclists a “special interest” because of the expenditures for publicly funded bike trails. They gripe about the cyclists who feel unsafe on the road and become menaces of the sidewalk. My personal favorite was the guy who “stood tall” against “the naked greed of cycling interests” and protested the cost of painting a line in the street to designate a bike lane in my neighborhood. I guess he does not realize that the three feet of breathing space bike lanes provide only reinforces a current law and would not be necessary if motorists obeyed it in the first place.
Apparently, the only good cyclist is a dead cyclist. I do not know what else could explain the vicious attitude toward people riding bikes. In addition to being in five bike-to-car collisions in my lifetime, I have been routinely cursed at and verbally threatened by strangers for no apparent reason while riding. On two separate occasions, people have thrown beer bottles at me.
Now that I am a motorist (and proud owner of a wrecked Geo Metro), I can see from where the wrath originates — other motorists. I am neither a lip reader nor a sign-language expert, but I have obtained a fairly good idea of what people are thinking when I slow down, signal my lane change and wait for oncoming traffic to go by before passing a bicycle rider.
When I see the nasty looks and gestures in my rearview mirror, it bothers me. What is even more disconcerting is the fact that when these motorists get home, they will not be mad a me — their wrath will be directed at the cyclist who dared use a public road and slow us down.

Ed Day is the Daily’s copy chief. He welcomes comments to [email protected]