Monday, January 24, 2011

If You Can't Beat 'em , Avoid 'em - How to Ride While Bicycle Advocacy Groups Attempt to Change the World

Every month there is at least 1 or 2 stories in the news about an injury or death resulting in a bicycle vs. car incident. Everyday, I read on multiple internet forums and social networking sites about promoting bicycle advocacy, "getting involved" and reaching out to the community; admittedly I jumped on that bandwagon for some time. I respect these people's desire to make change and becoming the voice for all varieties of cyclists. It's neat to see people get involved.

I've been doing some reflecting recently and realized that I, growing up on a BMX bike and riding far distances everyday to session spots, never had a car vs. bicycle incident. We didn't obey traffic rules, had lights on our bikes, or had to blow a whistle. We didn't have the internet nor were we aware of any bicycle advocacy happening at that time. We didn't wear helmets, reflective clothing or any other "safety" clothing aside from shin guards to keep us from tearing up our shins. But I never, ever had a car entanglement.

When I started road cycling a few years ago, I took all the safety awareness lessons I've been reading about on the web and applied them. Coincidentally, this was the time I was hit by a car. And as recently as yesterday, while riding with my wife on a very wide road, we were hassled by a couple of douchebags who thought it'd be funny to buzz us and scream to scare us.

Usually, when I ride, I never experience these interactions with cars simply because I've re-adopted the way I used to ride when I was a kid. I do obey traffic rules, and I utilize and encourage safety gear like a helmet, reflective clothing and lighting (I'm all grown up now), but I stay WAY off main roads and avoid busy streets as much as possible. I cut through pathways, take dirt paths and residential streets, hop curbs, ride through parks, trails and other "workarounds". If I must absolutely be on a street, I choose super wide streets with large bike lanes or if there is no bike lane, I hop up the curb and ride on the sidewalk. In other words - I've adapted my riding style to survive an environment that is not bicycle friendly. This is exactly the way we used to ride our 20" bikes in the 80's and 90's - but we didn't do it for safety... we did it for fun.

"Work-arounds" like Coyote Creek Trail provide miles of car-free riding

I can't wait for the world to rebuild a bicycle friendly infrastructure, nor do I have the time to go to city council meetings. I don't agree with the way Critical Mass presents itself and I would never get involved with it. But, I do have a BMX background, and I do know how to get in and out of ride in stealth mode.

Next time you route your ride or if you have a daily commute - consider your options. Get comfortable with riding off road, getting up and off curbs without falling and seeing opportunistic alternative cut-throughs in your town. You don't have to subject yourself to becoming a sitting duck out there while bicycle advocacy groups try to change the world.

Hey, if Cru Jones can do it...


  1. Great post Dion - I couldn't agree more.

    My mum is a road rider. Some of the roads she commutes on are ridiculously busy with half asleep drivers full of rage in the mornings. She's been hit by a car three times now, being hospitalised twice!

    I've always liked the option of picking the quiet backstreets to ride on, or shortcuts through a park here and there. My commute in Australia takes around an hour and twenty minutes going the "safe route". I could probably cut off ten minutes riding on the main roads but what is the point in rocking up to work ten minutes earlier when the next day you might not be there at all?

  2. Nice post Dion. Although I'm involved with bike advocacy down here in Auckland and we are fighting for cycling infrastructure (trying to change the world) I get around town in much the same as you do. I've got a mountainbiking background so even my "road" bike is a Surly Cross-Check and it's pretty familiar with riding on sidewalks, through parks, off curbs, along singletrack, cutting through alleyways, down stairs and across golf courses.

    Bike advocates are pretty uptight about bikes being accepted as part of the traffic flow and go cold at the thought of anything that may be deemed reckless or illegal by the general public but I have to agree that riding as you describe is safer as well as more fun. I'm 45 but I haven't forgotten what fun is!

    My friends and I actually seek-out all the little off-road detours and short-cuts we can when out riding. Makes for a more entertaining trip.

    - Antoine