Photo: koldo_studio/Shutterstock

How to: Be Good (Better) Drivers and Cyclists

Sustainability Lifestyle
by Carlo Alcos May 10, 2009
In honor of National Bike Month, Matador Trips co-editor and cyclist Carlo Alcos offers some tips for road users–those on two wheels and those on four.

It’s ironic that I was thinking of this topic the very moment a driver opened his door just as I was approaching. I yelled out “Jesus! What the…”, as I swerved around, but he didn’t even give a second look.

As the cycling movement gains momentum, and as Matador publishes more pieces like Bike Touring Montana: Classic Big Sky Rides, The World’s 15 Most Bike Friendly Cities, and 6 Reasons To Go By Bike, now is a good time to freshen up on some basic considerations for drivers AND cyclists as we share the road.

The following tips are hardly new revelations; they are common sense. Although, based on direct evidence, I could be wrong. These have all been repeated time and again in any number of magazine articles, television shows and driving courses.

But as long as drivers and cyclists are behaving badly, it can’t be said enough.

Editor’s note: The cyclist in the image above was killed when a car door was opened in his path. He was thrown into traffic and struck by another motorist.

6 Tips For Drivers

Cyclists are here to stay. Year after year, more people — perhaps frustrated by traffic, petrol prices, or climate change — are making the swap to self-powered transportation. It’s a growing trend.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cyclists are around:

1. Take your foot off the gas pedal

You won’t save any time by speeding dangerously around a bike rider. Trust me. You’ll get stopped 100 meters up the road by the traffic light. At which point the cyclist will pass you to get to the front, and then you’ll start the exercise again.

Be patient. Pass only when safe and pass slowly. You’ll still be on time for your meeting if you drop it down 20 km/h for a few minutes.

2. Shoulder check

Yes, a given. But you’d be surprised how many times I see someone making a turn without checking their inside lane. Or, maybe you wouldn’t.

3. Respect the bike lanes

Think of bike lanes as another car lane. You wouldn’t block other cars, so don’t block cyclists. Don’t park in ’em, don’t idle in ’em, and pay extra attention around them.

4. Don’t speed up to make a turn

If you’re making a right turn (or, left in some countries), and a cyclist is between you and the intersection, allow her to get past it. Don’t gun it to 80 to pass, and then cut her off as you slow down to make the turn. Again, you will not get where you’re going faster.

5. Watch those doors

As alluded to in the intro, when you park and are about to get out of your ride, check your mirrors and look over your shoulder for any oncoming bikers.

6. Put the mobile phone down

‘Nuff said.

The overriding message: Slow down and pay attention. I know it’s difficult in today’s hyperspeed society, but it’s important. Just think, this could be your wife, son, mother, grandpa on that bike. If you hit a cyclist, how would that impact your life? Not really worth the risk, is it?

6 Tips For Cyclists

We need to accept that we also have a part to play to ensure that not only are we safe on the road, but everyone else too.

1. Be a sore thumb

It’s in your best interests to be seen under any circumstance, so stick out. Wearing bright, reflective clothing and using lights (preferably flashing) at night is the best way to be seen. Another way to make sure you’re seen is to always make eye contact with the driver when you’re in a dodgy situation. Never assume anything.

2. Show your intentions

Be obvious when you’re about to make a move. Use hand signals. In those hesitant situations where driver and cyclist aren’t sure what the other will do, I find it best to wave them on, unless you’re clear on their intentions.

3. Obey the road rules

You’ll just piss off motorists to no end if you’re constantly weaving around, running red lights, and getting in their way. While it can be said that drivers won’t save time by speeding, the same is true for riders. The difference is, they’re in a big hunk o’ metal and you’re not. Which brings me to my next point…

4. You will always lose in cyclist vs. motorist

Regardless of who is in the right, the laws of physics rule. If you have to be inconvenienced because you have to slow down or make a stop due to the moves of some airhead driver, don’t hesitate, just do it. Sure, some hapless souls have been richly compensated after being hit, but I’m sure if you ask them, they’d rather it never happened in the first place.

5. Keep your cool

I know, I know. It can get maddening out there sometimes. But keep your cool and turn the other cheek, lest you end up in a court bind and broken finger like this guy.

6. Put the iPod away

I’ll admit, I listened to music while riding only until recently. One day a fellow cyclist said to me, “that’s very dangerous, mate” (of course, I had to take out an earphone to hear him) while stopped at a red light. At the time it angered me, and I even wrote a nasty post about it.

But in the end I knew he was right. And the thought of that voice running through my head for the rest of my life if I ever did have an accident while listening to my iPod clinched it for me. Time to put it away.


Do you have more tips for drivers or cyclists? Can we all just get along? Any stories from the road that you’d like to share?

Please comment below!

And don’t forget, May is National Bike Month in the US.

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