Why So Much Bike Hate?

Plenty of angry cyclists are quick to point out perceived persecution, but you don’t often hear a cyclist take the opposite point of view – that of a rational person who understands the shared responsibilities of the roads and many encourage responsible cycling to get the best commute by bicycle.

On our site, we get labeled everything from bike-haters to car apologists to buffoons for pointing to basic common sense arguments explaining why everything that the bike community advocates should not be taken at face value. Oftentimes, these arguments incorporate pro-bicycle ideas that are undermined by the social irresponsibility of cyclists and their demands. These cyclists may be a minority in their community, but they are by far the most vocal and visible. In their hurry to decry us for speaking truth to the establishment, it tends to go overlooked that two of us are actually cyclists.

In response to the question – why so much hate? – one commenter, who happens to be a cyclist, offered one of the best summaries of the flip side from a cyclist’s perspective that I have ever seen.

This deserves to be quoted at length:

Richard Conroy:
Disclaimer: I’m an avid, lifelong cyclist, daily bike commuter year round (about 100 miles a week), & bike tourist. I work for a bike organization & am a cycling instructor. The reasons why cyclists are so poorly regarded are not hard to understand. This is what I’ve observed about the cycling community, and why I think we invite trouble on ourselves.

In a nutshell, many cyclists want to have it both ways in terms of road safety. They want drivers & pedestrians to act courteously & legally, but many, many cyclists don’t want to act that way themselves. The double standard is glaring, and yes, the non-cycling world notices it. The various blogs, message boards, bike fora, etc. are filled with cyclist stories about rude & dangerous drivers. There are a number of committed cyclists who believe & openly say that cycling on the roads is dangerous. So there’s a lot of finger pointing at others. But on these same message boards, when the topic turns to rude cyclists, obeying the law, stopping at red lights, there is a split in the cycling community. Many cyclists will espouse a “share the road, same roads, same rights, same rules” ethic. Many, many others, however, think it’s ok to blow off the rules, and resent “being told what to do” by other cyclists (note: it’s the state legislature telling you what to do, not other cyclists!).

Even prominent local bike organizations have gotten into the act. One local bike organization can be heard in the press frequently lamenting how dangerous the streets are, that the streets need a better design, yadda yadda (if cycling is so dangerous–why do it? is one obvious question that comes to mind). Yet I know many of the staff of this organization think it’s OK to ride against traffic, ignore traffic signals, & ride on the sidewalk. Sure, their publications urge cycling safely & courteously, but there’s been too many statements from them in the press that preaches a diametrically opposite message. Then we get a prominent local blog, which has twice in the past year, published articles suggesting that traffic law should be amended to allow cyclists to run stop signs & red lights, allowing cyclist behavior that is less predictable, and less in sync with the rest of traffic.

Critical Mass is another case in point, and a glaring example of a supposed bike promotion movement with no leadership, no goals, and no coherent strategy, where the lowest common denominator sets the tone. Some of these people need to study some Gandhi, to understand when law-breaking can be an important part of a social movement, and when it’s just plain mindlessly stupid. “Be the change you want to see in this world” is one statement that seems to be completely lost on the Critical Massers.

In the end, instead of wallowing in self pity, lamenting why cyclists are singled out, maybe the cycling community needs to take a look at itself. Instead of complaining about how dangerous the streets are, let’s talk about what cyclists can do to make themselves safer (thereby making the streets safer as well). Instead of asking for special exemptions from traffic law, lets ask how traffic law can be molded so that riding on the streets seems less scary, and that both cyclists and drivers are accountable for road safety.

The beauty of cycling is its freedom & independence. But freedom also needs to be tempered by self-discipline, and much of the cycling community, especially critical mass, has completely failed to exercise that. Here’s a basic rule of politics: if you don’t control yourself, somebody else–mainly the government–will do it for you, often in a manner that you don’t like.

Amen. Notice how many of those same arguments have been made on this site? (Hint – Every single one of them.)

As of today, no other commenter has agreed with this comment, or even acknowledged it yet.