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Thank You, not F*** You

Published October 19, 2011

I confess: I’m conciliatory toward car drivers. And hard as hell on my fellow cyclists.  

My goal on every bike ride is to say, “THANK YOU!”, wave and smile to at least three car drivers. “F**K YOU!” has left my vocabulary. Well, OK, under my breath sometimes. 

On the other hand, I am not at all shy about calling out my fellow cyclists, as calmly and neutrally as possible, when they misbehave. 

For example, sitting at a red light. A fellow cyclist looks both ways and blows right through it. I say, “Red means stop.” In as neutral a tone of voice as I can muster. 

I wish I could tell you this has an immediate effect. Having done this hundreds of times, on average, six out of 10 flip me off. But you gotta try. 

Does this seem backwards? Aren’t cars the danger to us and therefore, car drivers the enemy? I certainly have cycling friends and colleagues who see it that way. 

Here are my reasons for calling a scofflaw a scofflaw: 

• I’m right there. Sitting at a red light, seeing a cyclist run it, I can say something and know they’re going to hear me. And maybe even pay attention. 

• I have some credibility. As a fellow cyclist, I’m more likely to make an impression than a car driver leaning on the horn. 

• The cops aren’t going to do it. It’s clear that fear of being caught and fined is about the only thing that promotes law abidance. And if Boulder is any indication, enforcing traffic laws on cyclists is a low priority. 

• We all suffer when cyclists break the law. The general public’s attitude toward cyclists is shaped by how we all behave. Especially how the worst-behaved of us behave. 

And the reasons for spreading love with car drivers? They are generally surprised and delighted to get positive vibes from a bike rider. Hopefully it will impact both their attitude and their behavior toward cyclists in the future. 

I hear the arguments that car drivers disobey the law just as often as cyclists. Everybody speeds. Sorry, not buying it. Slight speeding is culturally accepted. Blowing a red light, not. 

Cyclist misbehavior is so much more visible. Riding the wrong way down a one-way street: Car drivers never do that. And seeing cyclists do it just reinforces drivers’ negative attitudes toward us. 

Just today, I saw a BMXer walk his ride right into the grocery store. “The bike racks are over there,” I said. “I don’t have a lock,” he responded. “Well get one, what you’re doing is bad for everyone who rides,” I said. The response: “Don’t tell me what to do.” Again, did I do any good here? I don’t know. Maybe someday. 

It kind of reminds me of politics in a strange way. I’ll argue about fine points of policy for hours with a fellow liberal. We have some common ground. Some hope of mutual enlightenment or attitude change. 

And I wouldn’t spend five minutes trying to convince a Tea Partier (or a car driver) of anything. No hope of changing their mind from where I sit. Politically or on a bike seat. 

So in conclusion: I urge you NOT to sit silently. On a group ride, at a traffic light, wherever. Speak up when you see illegal or discourteous behavior. Silence implies consent. 

If cyclists don’t pay attention to and “police” each other: How is our reputation for bad behavior ever going to change?

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