I hadn't touched a bike in over ten years before I moved to Denver. The thing about using a bike as your primary means of travel is that all you need is a bike. You don’t need a license, insurance, or even a basic understanding of how a bicycle works. You just need a hundred bucks and a Craig’s List offering, then you’re allowed to be on the same roads as people trained to ride mechanical death pods.
I’ve heard people complain how bikers don’t follow the same rules as cars on the road. That they seem to oscillate between being cars and pedestrians on a whim. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. If a biker gets in a car accident, they’re dead. They don’t have two tons of metal and plastic wrapped around an engine that runs on explosions. We operate a millenia-old machine powered by our feet, sort of like how pedestrians get around. If there’s traffic, I’m sure as hell going to pop up on the sidewalk and cruise away from it, cackling gleefully. I believe there are things a biker should be able to get away with that motorists can’t. But there are contextual limits, which I believe are commonly referred to as ‘excuses’, to some of the more supposedly rigid rules.
If you’re sharing the road, stop at red lights. You’d be stupid and mildly suicidal not to. As for stop signs, I’ll stop at a four-way if there are cars also stopped there. If the coast is clear in either case, which is easy to tell because you’re outside and only going about ten miles per hour, just go. It’s a pain in the ass to have to get off your bike, get back on, and pump your way back up to speed. You don’t have to get out of your car every time you stop.
I treat myself as a nuisance when I’m on a road that doesn’t have a bike lane. I’m aware that I’m taking up space, I can be unpredictable as far as swaying goes which can cause a driver trepidation when trying to pass, and I can’t go very fast. Therefore, while I have every right to use the road, I’m also kind of a dick for using it. I get that and try to act accordingly.
I think, hyperbollically and not really, that the Cherry Creek bike trail is the single most brilliant thing Denver has ever built. It goes downtown, uptown, right to my work, and right to my house. I’m in practically no danger since I’m almost never on a road. It rules. But, just as bikers are a nuisance to drivers, walkers are a nuisance on the bike trail. It all comes down to awareness. If you’re on a bike trail, maybe it’s not a great idea for you and your posse to take up the whole trail. Since, you know, there are bikers on bike trails, and they don’t like stopping or slowing down because you can’t move your inconsiderate ass out of the way. The same thing applies to bikers on the road. Just because you’re allowed there doesn’t mean you get to zig-zag through every lane in wonderment of how much space there is. Speaking of which, rule #1:
If you can’t bike in a straight line, get the fuck off the road. And the bike trail.
I can’t stand it when people bike as if they’re skipping down a field of gilded lilies. You’re in an environment full of giant machines that hate you and can murder you by accident. Act accordingly.
There’s a large point of contention between drivers and bikers when it comes to who has the right of way. I’ve heard arguments on both sides; Hell, I’ve been on both sides of every argument. As I said before, everyone should stop at a red light. However, if you’re on a bike and nobody’s coming, go. You’re a nuisance and the closer you can be to where you’re going, and thus not on the road anymorethe better. As far as stop signs go, if you’re driving, for the love of God if it’s your turn, go. It’s not a kind gesture when you watch me slow down, begrudgingly get off my bike because you didn't go, then have you wave me on like some kindly old crosswalk cop. Don’t be confused by the ensuing stream of expletives aimed at you. You earned them. Idiot kindness is the worst kindness. I once had a woman stop at a green light and wave me on when I was standing at one end of a crosswalk. Cars were right behind her. She could have caused a pileup because of some inexplicable need to watch me cross the street. Which leads me to rule #2:
Don’t be nice. Follow the rules of the road and everything will be fine.
There are a lot of bikers out there that don’t stop for shit, and I think that’s affecting the response in drivers. For example, they completely lose their minds. I’ve had more experiences where I stopped at a stop sign and cars refused to move til I left or I’ve almost been run over by some overzealous prick trying to teach me a lesson about sharing the road (namely, get off my road, I’m in a Hummer). In neither case did the driver act appropriately. I know that like a car I’m on wheels, but unlike a car, you’ll fucking kill me if you hit me. If you’re that passionate about teaching me a lesson, how about starting a community class about biking ethics? Both of these scenarios have likewise affected bikers in different ways. Sometimes I don’t stop because I assume the drivers will freeze in my presence. I know it’s wrong, but I don’t want to sit there for two minutes while three different drivers attempt to remember the etiquette for a four way stop involving a biker. Because there isn’t one.
Bikers are basically motorized pedestrians and thus it’s somewhat difficult to tell exactly what the roadside etiquette is. I’d like to see more bike lanes opened up in Denver. It’s nice to have them where they are, but they rarely link to anything, which means eventually I’ll either have to move to the sidewalk and piss off a bunch of lowly walkers or take my chances in the city streets. Neither is appealing, but I gotta get where I’m going. In essence, it all boils down to rule #3:
Be aware of what you’re doing and don’t kill anybody or yourself.
If you don’t want to be run over, don’t run a red light. If you don’t want to get rear-ended, don’t stop at a green light. The rules of the road are fairly simple and encompass both drivers and walkers. Until driving classes include bikers as a distinct, third class (or until I see any evidence that people actually need to take driving courses to get a license in Denver), treat them as if they’re a person on an inferior machine going way too slowly in the right lane. And if you’re that biker? Stop being an asshole.
PS – Did you know you can get a DUI on a bike? I think that goes a long way toward proving bicycles are just deserving of the road as cars. I also think it’s total bullshit that panders to the cab industry, damages bar businesses and is a component of what amounts to a war on nightlife in Denver, but that’s a rant for another day. Seriously though, I wonder if MADD is keeping statistics on teens killed by drunk bikers.
And whether or not that number is zero.