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On Us.
By Tom Demerly.

Henry Rides a little bike in our new store


I took a driver’s test recently and failed three questions.

One question had to do with the appropriate use of a baby seat in a car. I don’t have children so I am unfamiliar with how to use one of those things. Another question asked how many drinks I could have before it was unsafe for me to drive. I don’t drink, never have, so I was unfamiliar with that too. The third one had to do with towing a trailer. I don’t have a trailer so I didn’t know the answer to that question either. Those three questions may apply to some presumably large populace who like to have a few beers, hitch up the boat, throw Junior in the back seat and take a nice drive- but they don’t apply to me. I don’t drink, don’t have kids, don’t own a trailer.

One thing I do see frequently when I drive is a person riding a bike. I thought it was odd there were questions about drinking and driving, towing trailers and using baby seats but nothing about appropriate driver conduct around people riding bikes. As drivers, just exactly what are the rules surrounding bikes? What are drivers supposed to do? Let’s say I am towing my trailer, have two child seats properly attached in the back seat, have had no more than two beers three hours prior to driving (or whatever) and I am driving down Hines Drive and come across a group of people riding bikes on the shoulder of the road. As a driver, what am I supposed to do? Do I slow down and stay behind them? Do I sound my horn? Should I just pass them? Do they even belong in the road anyway? That was never covered in my driver’s education and no one ever mentioned it on the driver’s test.

It’s the time of year when we’ll all be out on the road trying to moderate this undefined relationship between cars and bikes. Ever year- every single year – someone I know is killed by a car while they are riding their bike. Every year. Who will it be this year? It is sometimes a good customer, once a close friend, always some kind of acquaintance. But every year someone dies.

Someone will die soon. Killed on their bike by a car. I see the weather forecast for this weekend and I worry it will be in the next three days. It was a few years ago about this time of year when a friend of mine died. Hit by a car. On the way home from my store.

Here is what you need to do this weekend: People driving cars do not know what to do when they see cyclists. We must take responsibility for what to do when we ride. We, as cyclists and triathletes, must take responsibility for keeping ourselves safe, avoiding accidents, being proactive, being defensive and maintaining a high degree of situational awareness while riding. Driver’s education in Michigan and in most states does not instruct drivers on what to do when they see cyclists in the road- so drivers do not know. They cannot be held responsible. They have not been instructed. The responsibility for surviving this weekend rests solely with us: The bicycle rider.

I could go on about how the state needs to implement instructions about cyclists on the road in driver’s education. I could talk about how most police officers don’t even know what appropriate conduct for cyclists and motorists is. Those are worthwhile discussions. But they won’t get you through this weekend and this summer alive. Those are matters for legislators, voters, politicians. One advocate for our sport in Michigan, Todd Scott, has put a lot of good work into an initiative to add information about cyclists on the road to Michigan Driver’s Education programs. But until the good efforts of Todd and others become law, it is all on us. This weekend we will be cyclists and the only thing that matters is getting in a good ride and coming home safe.

This weekend before you go out on a ride be sure your helmet is correctly adjusted. Know where you are going before you leave and have some understanding of what the traffic volume will be. Let someone know you are going and when you will be back. Carry identification in your jersey pocket where it can be easily located if there is an accident. Take your cell phone. Ride in groups and give cars a wide berth. Be more aware than drivers of what is going on around you. Never assume a driver will stop for you or move over for you. Never respond with anger or antagonism to any driver who shouts at you, uses their horn or behaves in a threatening manner toward you. Simply grant them the right of way. Cars are bigger than bikes. Bikes always lose.

This weekend- and every weekend- take responsibility for your own safety on the bike. No one else will. Drivers have been instructed what to do with a trailer, a child seat and a six pack, but they have no instructions about what to do with us- the girls and guys on bikes trying to share the road.

The responsibility for moderating the relationship between cars and bicycles on the road is ours as cyclists: It is all on us.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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