There is a human being under every helmet.
Before I begin my letter, you should know that I am new to cycling. I have only been riding for two years. There are many others who could do a better job at this because they have dealt with much more than I have, having put many more miles on their skinny tires. I am writing this from my view. A newbie to a road bike, but nonetheless, I have experienced my fair share of folks in cars with a bad attitude toward me and my fellow riders.
There are a few things that have occurred in my world recently that are prompting me to write this. I live in Sonoma County, a cycling destination. We have everything from weekenders out on rental bikes to world-class professionals sharing the same roads. We also have cars on these roads.
In the past three months, five cyclists have been killed in my county and one seriously injured. There was also an incident where an elderly man chased down a cyclist in his car and deliberately hit the rider. According to the California Highway Patrol, the speed of the vehicles involved played a major role in the deaths of these cyclists.
Also a factor in my writing this letter is a verbal altercation I personally had with a motorist in which I was doing nothing wrong except momentarily inconveniencing him. I slowed him down. He had to wait until it was safe to pass me.
I have found myself defending cyclists on numerous occasions to people whose misconceptions make me crazy. Recently, I’ve seen what people think is harmless joking in relation to the hatred of cyclists, but to me, this kind of humor only perpetuates the problem. So here I go…
Dear Mr. (or Ms.) Motorist,
I am terrified of you. I know that every time I get on my bike, I am risking my life. I know that I will not win in a collision. The fear that I must conquer each and every time I ride is beginning to do a number on my head. I am beginning to think it’s not worth it.
I am a person. You see a cyclist. My loved ones see me. There is a human being under that helmet. There is a human being under every helmet. We are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands, wives and grandparents. Please, do everything in your power to start looking at us as the people that we are. I am a mother, daughter and friend. There are people in my life that love me.
Perhaps if I told you a little more about what brought me to cycling, it might help you to begin to see all cyclists a little differently, because like everyone, cyclist or not, we all have our own story.
Initially, I just wanted to go out and ride. I had friends that rode, so I borrowed a bike. Shortly after, I joined Team in Training with the intent of completing a cycling endurance event while raising money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. My son is a blood cancer survivor. I rode in his honor. And I’m doing it again. This will be my second year. Please think about that the next time you drive past me and yell at me to get off the road as I battle a headwind on a solo training ride.
Now I want to tell you a few things you may not otherwise consider:
Please do not assume that I am being an idiot for riding inside the white line and not riding on what appears to you to be a perfectly good wide shoulder. You can’t see what I can and often times the conditions of the shoulder are not safe. More than likely there is either sand or gravel making it unsafe to travel on. Believe me, that last thing I want is to be any closer to you than I have to be, but I am not going to risk going down on gravel and be thrown across the road into your path.
Do not expect me to weave in and out of parked cars. It is far safer for me to take a straight line than having to keep turning round to see if it is safe to come back out from behind a parked car.
Speaking of parked cars, if you are in one and are going to get out, please look for me first.
Please don’t fault me if I don’t wave you around me on blind corners. Yes, I can see sooner than you if it is safe to pass but I am not going to take that responsibility. You need to see for yourself when it is safe. I am not being rude.
Like a car, I have the right-of-way when I am traveling straight ahead. Do not pull out in front of me or make a left hand turn in front of me when it is not safe to do so. I don’t mind slowing a bit for you, but having to stop my bike when I have the right-of-way is simply wrong and dangerous.
Don’t wave me through intersections or left turns when you have the right-of-way. I realize you think you are being nice but this can be dangerous. I will yield to you when you have the right-of-way and take my proper turn just as a car.
Give me a wave when in doubt. I will wave and smile at you. You have no idea how comforting it is to come upon a stopped vehicle waiting to move into the flow of traffic and be acknowledged that you see me.
Please, please, please, slow down when you see me and please, put away the cell phone.
I know there are rude cyclists out there, just as there are rude people in all walks of life, but please don’t assume that of me just because I am on a bike. It isn’t fair to any of us that are out there on the roads doing our absolute best to be courteous and safe.
In closing, I know that not all motorists hate cyclists. I know there are many out there who are conscientious and careful, because I see you out there, too. Thank you. I am addressing those not like you. It only takes one reckless moment and deep in my heart, I know that the majority of hateful motorists are not hateful people. I know you would feel terrible if you were to accidentally hurt or kill me, or any other human being on a bicycle.
I welcome any fellow cyclists to add anything in the comments that I may have missed or correct me, if needed. Motorists, your comments are welcome, too. We need to co-exist harmoniously. Neither bikes, nor cars are going away any time soon.
Jodee Anello lives in Healdsburg, CA, where upon arriving there three years ago, was finally cured of a near fatal case of wanderlust. She works at a popular winery while she tries to figure out if modeling will ever work out, but even better would be writing, which is her passion. She uses her blog to improve her writing skills with poetry, memoir and personal essays. She is a runner and cyclist and enjoys home improvement projects, landscaping and making garage wine with friends. She is also the number one fan of her son’s band.
Editor: Sarah Winner
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