Show some manners, ya road hogs

Be careful what you wish for, lest it roll up wearing tight pants, a superhero jersey and a bad attitude.

It happened to me.

Let me be clear: I’m not a Serious Cyclist. I’ve been riding a long time (39 adult years, I just realized with a jolt), and I’ve gone farther in a day, a year and in my lifetime than many people who take themselves seriously. But I’m pretty slow, I don’t wear the right clothes, and until recently, I didn’t have the right bike.

Also, judging by the Serious Cyclists I encounter, my attitude needs work: I don’t think all drivers are jackasses, I don’t consider every right-of-way violation a challenge, and I don’t flip people off.

Very often.


As a long-time rider, I’ve seen cycling’s popularity wax and wane but always hoped it would catch on. Slowly, and then in a flash, it has. When I started riding to Reno from Verdi in 1979, I often went a week without seeing another cyclist. On the same trip now, I might see 40. I’ve gotten what I wished for: clouds of bikes, right here in Reno.

I liked it better before.

The problem is what the problem usually is: too many people and too much testosterone, some of it flowing in riders of the wrong gender.

I sympathize completely with riders who say it’s tough on the road, that drivers don’t recognize them. Been there, done that, got the stitches. When cyclists start “demanding” the “respect” they “deserve,” though, I sidle to the other side.

I live along a 25-mile loop popular with Reno riders. On a nice weekend, 75 of them might pass my house. Half of those, when they go by, are riding two or three abreast, holding up traffic. If someone tries to pass, or taps the horn, they’re likely to flip the bird. The other day I followed four beefy trundlers for half a mile at 12 mph before edging left to go around them. As I pulled abreast, one pounded on the roof of my car and bellowed, “Share the road!” It was one of those moments that makes me wish Mazdas came with machine guns.

More important, though, behavior like that complicates my life, and the lives of everyone who rides, because it makes drivers mad. I can’t prove that, but I have anecdotal evidence:

I estimate I’ve ridden 35,000 miles in and around Reno. That’s not a lot for a Serious Cyclist, but it’s a lot.

For the first 30,000, when bikes were rare and riders tended to know the rules, I had no trouble with cars. No aggression, no close calls, no thrown objects.

In the last 5,000, in the post-Lance Armstrong era, it’s a different game. Drivers are more aware, which is good, and many will cut cyclists some slack.

Here’s the anecdote that provides the evidence, though: Most of the time, I ride in baggy shorts and a T-shirt, on a bike with fenders and other clues that have come to mean “casual rider.” On those days, drivers tend to be the picture of courtesy.

Sometimes, though, I ride a racier bike, stripped for speed, and I wear my Tinker Belle tights and flashy jersey. With no other changes, I find that drivers are less patient, cut closer as they pass, back me down at intersections and take right-of-way whether it’s theirs or not.

I yield, of course—I know who’ll win a crash between a 22-pound bike and a 3,000-pound car. But I can’t help thinking that it makes a point:

It isn’t bicycles that cause the trouble. It’s bicyclists.