Time was when a mean dog was the worst thing I feared when I rode my bicycle. Now I know better.
The biggest danger on the roads I travel doesn’t have sharp teeth and powerful jaws or wear a spiked collar around his neck. The predator who terrifies me most often has a cigarette in one hand, a longneck bottle in the other, and a cell phone wedged between his jaw and shoulder.
And he doesn’t seem overly concerned that my life is in his hands.
My riding companions and I do all we can to protect ourselves from him and his kind. We wear helmets and padded gloves and brightly colored clothes. We have flashing lights on the back of our bikes. We
ride on the correct side of the road-right, flowing with the traffic-and quickly fall into single file whenever we see or hear an approaching car. So far, we’ve been lucky. A few near misses but no direct hits.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for Alan David of Crossville. While riding his bike on Burgess Falls Road in White County three weeks ago–in the middle of the day, no less–he was struck by a pick-up
truck. He died five days later in Erlanger Hospital. The driver who hit him has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, second offense DUI and driving on a revoked license.
Last I heard, he was in jail awaiting trial. Sadly, there are plenty more just like him still on the loose.
And those who drive drunk or distracted aren’t the only threat to bicyclists. Just as frightening, but a lot more puzzling, are the drivers who notice cyclists but treat us with contempt. As in laying on
the horn. Shouting curses. Using obscene gestures. Throwing things.
Thankfully, their numbers are small. But I just can’t seem to figure out why anyone would behave that way toward a person on a bike.
No one seems to mind slowing down to look at deer grazing on the side of the highway. Or stopping completely to allow a mother goose and her goslings to cross the road. Or swerving to miss a squirrel. Why would a driver become enraged over getting stuck for a minute or two behind a
bicyclist on a sharp curve or steep hill?
Maybe it’s ignorance. Maybe it’s envy. Maybe it’s having a long way to go and a short time to get there. Or maybe it’s simply having the type of personality that makes road rage seem okay.
I can think of only one way to change such an attitude. It’s not an easy fix. But I’m convinced that if drivers who scorn bicyclists could trade places with them for just an hour or two, they’d have a
whole different outlook.
They might view this little piece of heaven where we live through different eyes. Rolling green hills. Pastures dotted with livestock, including-on the routes I ride–some of the prettiest mules ever to draw
a breath. Ponds teeming with waterfowl. A late summer moon coming up over one shoulder while the late summer sun sets over the other. Bed sheets on a clothesline, flapping in the breeze. Roadsides teeming with black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace and chicory.
Riding a bicycle gives a person plenty of time to take those things in. To breathe deeply. To enjoy the journey.
To those many, many drivers who offer bicyclists a friendly wave, an encouraging toot on the horn, and a willingness not to follow too close, thank you. Every time I ride my bike, I try to remind myself that for every jerk on the road, there are dozens of courteous and conscientious drivers just like you.
To those who don’t fall into that category, I have only one plea.
Share the road. Our lives depend on it.
(September 2, 2012)