One of the rides I took this past summer got me thinking. It was in an area close to where I work, but since I work 30 miles from where I live, I don’t often make the trip there just to ride my bike.
But this was an informal group ride. We broke into several smallish groups, depending upon the distance we planned to ride. I was in the 41-mile group. We left the parking lot behind a large outlet shopping center and reached country roads almost immediately. I was reminded how much I enjoy riding in the area as we were pedaling down a narrow road under a canopy of trees. In our record hot and dry summer, it was nice to ride in the shade for several miles.
The roads snaked in and out of forest and farmland. The hills added interest without adding pain. I was out in front of the small group I was with, when one of the guys on the ride caught me at a turn. We pedaled side by side for a bit, then he started a conversation.
“Are you from Austin?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I really enjoy riding here. You get in the country so quickly.”
“Yep,” he said. “The roads are good, the traffic is light, and I never get the finger or get honked at by drivers.” It turned out he was from that area, and rode these roads often.
“One person told me once that there’s a difference between the farmers east of the interstate and the ranchers to the west,” I said. “The farmers are nicer to bikers.”
“That could very well be,” he replied. “But I also think that if you’re just a courteous rider, that goes a long way toward keeping drivers friendly.”
Now there’s a short and simple biking philosophy. Just be courteous. I thought about it for awhile. I would have pursued the conversation, but by this time, the other rider was well ahead of me.
We talk a lot about the rights of cyclists, especially when we read news accounts of cyclists who have been seriously hurt, or even killed, in mishaps with motor vehicles. We ask for things like three-foot passing distances, designated bike lanes in town, the right to ride in traffic without worrying that we’ll get clipped from behind by an impatient driver.
But what if we just rode courteously?
And how is courteously different from vehicular cycling?
I think it’s a combination of things. It’s riding like you’re a vehicle, obeying all the traffic laws such as stopping at red lights and stop signs (I said stopping at stop signs — not looking both ways and barreling through). It’s signaling turning, slowing, and stopping.
But it’s also using common sense. If a car is coming from behind, ease over a little more to the right so he doesn’t have to endanger himself by crossing a double yellow line into oncoming traffic. That’s provided you have room to do so with endangering yourself, of course. It’s making yourself visible — we’ve talked about this just recently — by sitting tall in the saddle and wearing bright colors. It’s riding without antagonizing drivers.
What the other biker said out on that country road during a glorious ride was right on the money, I thought. Courtesy goes a long way. I’m going to do my part to spread it further.