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The Workout: A Cautionary Tale for Cyclists

Going fast is great, but not at the expense of safety.

The other day, I had a nice reminder about the importance of riding safely and wisely. I saw a cyclist almost get hit by a car.

I was running with a friend on the trail where it intersects with a busy road. The traffic signal started flashing “Don't Walk” as we crossed, but we made it to the other side with plenty of time. We continued running up the trail, and then, from the opposite direction, a cyclist came speeding around the corner. He showed no signs of slowing down.

“He's not going to make it,” I said to my running companion. I turned around to see the guy riding into the intersection just as the traffic signal gave drivers the green light. He kept going, forcing the motorists on the far side of the road to jam on their brakes to avoid hitting him. One car was almost hit by the car behind it. “Idiot!” I yelled as the cyclist sped away.

It made me really mad.

I have to confess that as a cyclist, I understand what was probably going through his head as he approached the intersection. The “Don't Walk” had flipped from flashing to steady, so it was obvious the traffic signal was changing, but the cars had not yet started moving again. If he stopped, it would have meant jamming on his brakes – he was approaching the intersection at a pretty fast pace – then unclipping, pushing the pedestrian button, and waiting for the traffic light to change again. It would have meant a delay, and more importantly, it would have lowered his average pace.

As cyclists, we've all been there, out on a good ride, thrilled about pushing our average speed higher and higher. We don't want to slow down for anything. There's a great sense of accomplishment when rolling back into the driveway having gone further and/or faster than before.

But.

This guy was one second – even less – away from getting knocked to the ground. And if there had been a chain reaction, an impact from a car further back in the pack pushing a car into the cyclist lying on the pavement, it could have been deadly.

And why? Because unclipping is annoying? Because it's a bummer to have your average speed drop after all that work?

It made me angry because incidents like that make motorists hostile to cyclists. Heck, I called the guy an idiot and I was just a mere spectator. He was reckless, and he put the burden on motorists to keep him safe in spite of his irresponsible behavior. He created a problem for the drivers, a problem they didn't deserve. No wonder motorists hate us.

It made me mad because what if a driver had hit him? Imagine how horrible that person would feel, even if it had been impossible to stop in time. It's not fair to saddle someone else with that kind of guilt.

But it mostly made me mad on behalf of his family, the ones who were a fleeting moment away from getting the dreaded phone call: “I'm sorry to tell you there's been an accident.” I thought about his wife, kids, brothers, sisters, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. I imagined his children growing up without a father just because he didn't want to take the time to stop at a red light.

I doubt anyone has ever stood at a funeral and said “On the bright side, he was pushing an impressive 22.7 average mph when he died.” No one would care that he had to unclip and pause his ride. They would just care that he was gone, forever.

I'm a cyclist. I understand the myopia that can overtake you on a ride, especially towards the end. I know what it's like to be almost home and want to get there as quickly as possible. But taking a few extra seconds or even minutes to get home is better than never getting there at all. 

Jeanne Sager September 01, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Not only do cyclist not pay attention to traffic lights, but they often ride 2 or 3 side by side and motorists have to go around them on busy streets. This is quite difficult and often dangerous!
Elisabeth Lewis September 01, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Sue - Thank you for saying what a lot of us runners, drivers and pedestrians feel. The "near misses" are way too frequent and as you said, not worth it! Libby Lewis
Vicki Hofstetter September 02, 2012 at 05:09 PM
The arrogance, rudness, bad language and "flipping the bird" of the cyclists is out of control. I am a cyclist myself and my husband a SERIOIUS one. Neither of us would EVER behave the way most of them do and I doubt they are even from the North Shore. I drive up and down Sheridan Road several times a day for my work and one of the most beautiful drives in all of AMERICA becomes unpleasant in the summer.
RMGreen September 05, 2012 at 02:17 AM
And, it also sets a terrible experience for my three sons who ride their bikes to school each day, stop at stop signs and obey most biking safety rules for children, and then watch adult "competitive cyclists" ignore all rules of the road. This may not seem like a big deal, but it teaches a terrible lesson that cyclists are above the law...at least in the eyes of the children watching.

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