As you motor down the highway one lazy Sunday morning your mind is at peace and your body relaxed while you enjoy a nice drive along the coast. The sparkling blue ocean with its reflective glare catches your eye. You find yourself in a world of wonder and amazement.
But that uber dreamy state does not last long. Up ahead of you on the road way is a swarm of weekend bicyclists who have taken up the road and are managing to horde two to three lanes of traffic. Your inner zen experience quickly passes into one of bewilderment, anger and frustration. Do I try to pass this mass of men (and women) and machines or do I just wait for them? Do I honk my horn or say some curse words to get them to move over? What are my options here?
If this sounds familiar then you are not alone. In the last twenty years or so we have seen a preponderance of increase of weekend cyclists taking over roadways and parking lots. From high-level executives to soccer moms these eager cycling enthusiasts don their brightly colored Italian jerseys and tight fitting padded shorts while heading out to their weekend adventure on the road. Unfortunately they do not do so alone. They come along with dozens of their fellow cycling aficionados, also brightly adorned in matching jerseys and shorts.
Cycling on city streets and country roads has always been a European thing. Ever since Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France several times (albeit with the help of steroids), Americans have taken to the streets in hoards. These throngs of cyclists are the new version of the motor cycle gang. Meet up with your crew, go out for a ride and stop to have your Starbucks coffee. All of this while shedding a few pounds and taking in the scenery. Instead of the "Hell's Angels" leather jacket they have a brightly colored Italian cycling jersey.
Here is where the problem arises. Most American streets were never designed to have a swarm of bicyclists travel on them. At best a single cyclist one at a time might be able to manage, but not scores of them traveling in a herd. Most American roads do not have bike lanes on them and are not separated from car traffic. Hence, cars and cyclists often have to share the road.
Sharing the road would not be such a problem if everyone followed the rules. They don't. Automobiles are subject to many rules like signaling when turning, speed limits and where you can park. Bicyclists however seem to believe that there are no rules when riding a bicycle and tend to do whatever they like.
I live in California there is a well defined bicycle law (CVC 21200) that clearly defines how bicyclists should operate a bike
when riding on a roadway. The law clearly states that bicycles must be operated in a safe manner, traveling in the same direction
as traffic, stay as close to the curb as possible, ride single file, signal turns in direction or when stopping and keep plenty of
space between you and the next bike in front of you. Nowhere in the law does it say that pack riding or riding two or three abreast
is legal. This is not a time to trade recipes or talk about your marriage problems when out on the road. As these herds of cyclists
meander down the road they do not think that any rules apply to them.
When was the last time you saw a cyclist make a hand signal that he was turning? How often do you see three or four cyclists riding abreast, oblivious to any backlog of car traffic behind them? When have you ever seen a police officer issue a citation to a bicycle herd taking over a roadway?
We often hear police departments say that they have to prioritize their resources to the most dangerous and harmful ways that citizens could be at risk. What is more dangerous than thirty weekend cyclists weaving in and out of car traffic and taking up a roadway designed for cars? This is a danger to the bicyclist, to pedestrians and to car traffic. Police officers seem like they have plenty of time to write me a parking ticket or a ticket for having expired tags on my car. It amazes me what people think as high priority.
Cyclists like to take advantages whenever possible. Most will pass right through a red light. They think the law does not apply to them. In a outdoor pedestrian mall that banishes bicycle riding they will half ride and half walk their bike because they do not want to appear to be like a normal pedestrian. When entering a left hand turn lane, they will often just cross over onto the cross walk (like a pedestrian) because they do not want to wait like a car has to wait for the light to change.
In several other parts of the world bicycles, cars, mopeds and taxi cabs all seem to share the road together. This might be in places like China, Vietnam and Italy. There is an inner sense of flow where everyone just seems to get along. These are also cultures where a waiting line is also non-existent. If you went into a bakery or a bank the person who could shout the loudest or move up to the front first might get served. I can remember in Rome when two Italian nuns tried to jump in front of me while getting on a train. No matter my religious sentiments, I was not having any of that and their path was quickly blocked.
America is a culture of lines and lanes. We like order. We do not mix things so well. You wait respectfully in line for something you want. When it is your turn you come to the front of the line. We also like our lanes. Bowling alleys have lanes to keep your ball in your lane and your neighbor's ball in his lane. Baseball parks have fences to keep the foul balls from breaking windshields in the parking lot. Highways are normally well striped so that you can stay in your own lane. Even bike paths (when available) are their own lane.
This notion of cyclists merging with traffic and taking up roadways where cars traverse is completely un-American. We like our structure, our divided universe and our own individual lanes. The European concept of bicycles and cars traveling down the road intertwined is a notion that needs to stay in Europe. Pack riding is a completely dangerous and irresponsible operation of a bicycle. If one rider goes down they all go down. If one swerves to miss a pot hole he may take several with him and might even collide into oncoming car traffic. Bicyclists need to ride singe file, as close to the curb as possible and leave plenty of space between each rider. Time for sharing stories will come at coffee breaks or at the end of the day, not during the ride.
One must think that I am just an old retired fart who goes out every day to dust off his "GET THE F**K OFF MY LAWN" sign. On the contrary. I spent many hours in the saddle of a bicycle, probably far more than the current stream of weekend cyclists. I traveled around the world for several years while working for a prominent bicycle touring company taking guests on bicycle vacations. I did not own a car until I was twenty-seven years old and I would ride my bike everywhere I needed to go. I would ride a century (1oo miles) on my day off work for fun. At times I would even get up early and ride my bike from Los Angeles to San Diego (120 miles), take the train back home and be back in bed by 10 pm.
I know a little bit about riding a bike and I also know that this current trend is a mess. Bicyclists need to follow the laws and stay in their lane. Police departments need to leave the donut stores and coffee shops behind on weekends and begin to enforce the laws. Lanes were meant for a reason. Just as the Italian nuns were repelled back to their lane, it is time for cyclists to go back to their lane as well. In America, order and boundaries are the norm. Pack riding was never designed for an American culture.