Good Karma

27 Oct

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I recognized something recently while riding – cyclists sometimes irritate me as much as drivers do.

Drivers still scare me more, pose a bigger risk to me, but the behavior of many of my fellow cyclists is questionable too.

Recently on our way back from a ride, we encountered a group of about a dozen cyclists.  They were stopped at a red light waiting for it to turn.  The majority of the riders were completely stopped, one foot down.  There were two riders though that were riding around in circles in the other lane (opposing lane – only a two lane road) to avoid having to actually stop.  The cars turning left and those turning right so they could proceed down the road, had to stop and wait for these two clowns to get out of their way – which they weren’t too quick to do.

That incident, besides being incredibly stupid and dangerous, did nothing to improve relations between drivers and cyclists.  I’m a cyclist and it angered me, I can just imagine what the drivers thought.  No doubt, it furthered what was probably an already negative opinion of cyclists at least by some of the drivers.

Several years ago I read a piece in Bicycling magazine by editor Bill Strickland, relating an incident he had with a rude and careless driver.  Initially he reacted as most of us would, he became angry.  When his anger subsided, he ended up talking to the driver and the driver apologized.  Strickland recognized at that point that every encounter with a driver provides the potential for a positive experience or a negative one.  Negative experiences further the divide between cyclists and drivers – they do nothing but perpetuate the problem.  He decided at that point that from then on he would not react in kind to rude drivers.  Instead he became an “ambassador of good will” for cyclists.

Ever since I read that article I have ridden with the same philosophy – to be an ambassador of good will on the road.   Meaning, when I ride I follow the law and when I encounter a rude driver I do not react in kind.

The results have been significant.  The majority of drivers give us more space when passing (a minimum of 3 feet clearance is required by law in OK and 14 other states) and are more courteous in general.  It is rare that we get the rude drivers, it happens, but it is definitely the minority.

This is what I know, and it’s actually pretty simple:  Bad behavior brings more bad behavior.  Good behavior improves your chances of being treated fairly and negative likewise improves your chances of getting that back.

I choose the positive approach, when out on the road cyclists need all the good karma we can get.

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2 Responses to “Good Karma”

  1. Brian September 1, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    I appreciate your point of view in this post. I also strive to follow the letter of the law, and try my best to not create any unnecessary inconvenience for drivers around me. It seems the last couple of commutes that I’ve run into a greater than average number of impatient drivers, such as ones that pull into the oncoming traffic lane when approaching stop signs. Fortunately, since most of my commute is through neighborhoods, I rarely feel my safety is put in jeopardy. I just can’t help but wonder if some of the drivers that are so anxious to get around me already have a bad viewpoint of cyclists based on prior experience. I try my best to keep a positive outlook when things like this happen, and am finding it is becoming easier to continue enjoying my commute after the little traffic irritations occur.

  2. Susan September 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Hi Brian, I can’t honestly say I stop at every stop sign, getting out of my neighborhood if no cars are present I go, always after checking twice and slowing down to a crawl. I do stop at all red lights and stops when traffic is present. If there’s a line of cars I get in line and take my turn. I try to play fair.

    I often have the same thought as you when a driver seems not to trust that I’m going to stop, etc. that they have had experiences where cyclists haven’t. I know I frequently witness it. I’ve also noticed that my average speed goes down 1-2 miles especially on my ride east of Edmond with stop signs at EVERY mile. And I see cyclists keeping their average speed up by blasting through the stop signs. Sigh. All we can do is what we can do so I try to behave in a way that’s predictable and puts a positive image of a bike rider in a driver’s mind. It’s not fail proof, there are jerk drivers out there that regardless of how law abiding I am they don’t want me on the road and they let me know it. Fortunately those times are the minority.

    I’m glad you’re able to bike through neighborhoods, and stay off busy streets. That keeps the irritation factor down and keeps you safer. Thanks for the feedback and happy riding!

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