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There are several varieties of bicycling stereotypes out there. As a driver, you've seen them: disobeying the law, flouting the rules of the road, and generally getting in the way of Jane or John Q Public just trying to get to the grocery store or work in her/his car. After all, these streets were built for cars, right?
The first and possibly the most annoying stereotype we'll call the "Arrogant Cyclist." He's the hardcore rider all decked out in helmet, cycling jersey, speedos, and special shoes. He'll peddle through that light changing to red at full speed, maybe with a couple of similarly dressed sidekicks, or possibly at the head of an entire peloton. And you know from the look in his eyes that he's on a mission, that he thinks he owns the road, and--worst of all--that he believes he's cooler than you are.
The second major bicycle stereotype divides itself into two or three subcategories, each of which appears to be a combination of ignorance and fear. But again, the most notable aspect of this stereotype includes violation of the rules of the road. Let's call this stereotype the "Transgressor from Ignorance." Its most obvious characteristic involves some combination of riding on the left-hand side of the street, moseying back and forth onto the sidewalk, occasionally riding through the crosswalk, along with other kinds of erratic and dangerous behavior, demonstrating that these riders are generally oblivious to all other traffic, whether it be vehicular or pedestrian.
I've seen old men ride like this, men who look like they don't have enough money to own a car, and have probably never had a reason to read the California Driver Handbook. That may sound cruel, but after all, we're talking about stereotypes here. I've been confronted by riders like this on my work commutes from Culver City. They're riding along, casually steering their beach cruisers in the bike lane on the left-hand side of the road. I'm in the same bike lane, traveling in the direction of traffic as I should be, and minding my own business, when I find another rider headed straight at me, having just passed over a painted arrow telling him explicitly that he should be going the opposite direction. And I have to maneuver into traffic on my own bike in order to get past him.
Last week I experienced another example of the Transgressor from Ignorance. It's 5:30 in the morning and I'm riding in the dark, white headlights on, on Randolph St. (an industrial street in Bell Gardens) heading towards Vernon on my Culver City commute. Off in the distance I see a small RED light, which turns out to be another bicyclist riding on the LEFT side of the road directly towards me. He, of course, is dressed in all dark colors, with no reflective gear whatsoever. So this guy is violating state vehicle code regarding not only riding the same direction as vehicular traffic, but also requiring a WHITE headlamp (visible from 300 feet, by the way). What are these guys thinking!?!? Are they suicidal?
You'll see another version of this stereotype in school-age children and youth: riding on the left, no helmets, no apparent regard for any other traffic on the street. Maybe their parents taught them to walk on the left side of the street as pedestrians, in order to see the oncoming traffic. Or maybe their parents taught them nothing at all about bicycling, or just aren't paying attention to their kids' behavior. Because their non-helmeted kids are again violating state law in two ways, by riding on the left and by not wearing helmets.
They're not alone in that. Because I've had adult riders tell me they know they're breaking the law, but they ride on the left to protect their own safety. So we'll label that version of the stereotype the "Transgressor from Fear." And as the driver of the vehicle, you know that if anything bad happens between you and a bicycle, you will be held accountable, regardless of how many bicycling rules were being violated, no matter how mindless and erratic the bicycling behavior.
To sum up, let me state that, while my experiences described above were real enough, I have been painting a picture of STEREOTYPES. That picture has intentionally been tongue-in-cheek, satirical, and more or less free of any kind of empirical data. And, as with all stereotypes, these riders do not represent the whole bicycle community, which is more truly represented by sincere individuals who want to obey the law, save fossil fuel (and with it possibly a little gas money), help keep the air a little cleaner, stay fit and healthy, and maybe just enjoy the great outdoors.
Even given this harsh stereotypical picture, bicyclists are still the underdogs. And we'll have more to say about that next time.
Published: June 13, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 09