Driver vs. Cyclist: My Experience as Both
Updated: Mar 6, 2019
I was pedaling pretty hard as I was ascending to the top of the hill. I could tell the car behind me was too close, I turned to look, saw his mirror and got disoriented and fearful and in a split second, BAM! I hit the curb, flew over the handlebars and was on the grass by the sidewalk. I hit my fist on the grass in anger because I was riding my brand new bike. I got up, no damage to the bike but the left side of my chest hurt and I knew things would be sore the next day. I mentioned this on Facebook and got many many kind thoughts coming my way, a few people very worried for my safety and some genuine questioned exactly how they should drive when encountering a cyclist. Oh and then the one I deleted from someone that mentioned she was sorry, but in a bike vs. 2 ton hunk of metal she was going to win. So right. I thought it was time to write something about this.
Before I was a cyclist, I was a driver. I have always been polite and understanding with cyclists knowing that they are also allowed to be on our roads and are just out for some exercise. Before I began cycling myself, I had a cyclist yell at me and hit the hood of my car with his hand after I crested a hill and found myself right next to him. I couldn't see him to know to put on my brakes and follow. This was a horrible road to be on, and yet if I had hit him it still would have been my fault. I needed to be a better driver with respect and awareness to the cyclist.
However, that new attitude didn't help me when I was in Florida on a 40th birthday trip with my mom. We were on our way home after being at the beach and I was waiting to make a left on a 4 lane road. I waited for traffic to clear and made my move only to end up hearing a loud bang and having my vision obstructed by a PERSON on my hood. Unless that has happened to you I can tell you the feeling is indescribable. Everything was in slow motion.
I yelled to my mom that I was sure I had killed this person. I was hysterical and then suddenly calm. I got out, saw a man yell, "I'm a paramedic, I'll call 911" with his phone in the air. People came to the side of this person and I was afraid. I called Jay from the middle of the road and told him very calmly that I needed him to listen closely to what happened and tell me what to do. I had visions of being taken away in handcuffs to jail and not seeing my children for a long time.
I explained to him: "I was waiting to make a left across 2 lanes of oncoming traffic. I was in the far-left turn lane. I saw a cyclist in my rear view mirror a while back and paid it no mind. I turned left and she came at me on my hood from the left side. I never saw her until she was on my hood."
Jay: "So you are saying she turned left BEHIND you onto the other street?" Me: "Yes....she took her left turn from behind me trying to get to the street first". Jay; "That's illegal. It is her fault. You did NOTHING wrong."
So I built up my confidence after than conversation and walked over to the woman. I didn't know what others were thinking and figured they thought it was my fault. The woman was bleeding from her head because she was not wearing a helmet. She was saying weird things like, "I'm okay, I just got hit by a train the other day." So, I put my hand on her jeans and prayed out loud for her.
Later the police officer questioned me, several witnesses stepped up for me and then the officer told me that this woman is a known drug addict and a repeat offender. I'm fairly certain she was under the influence at the time of the wreck. I was not issued any citation at all and was told I could leave the scene. But I can tell you that you don't walk away from that without some emotional scars.
So, yes, I can speak from experience, You do NOT want to hit a cyclist and you do NOT want it to be your fault. And in most cases, it WILL be your fault. Like any other issue, there are bad seeds in every group. There are bad drivers, bad teachers, bad doctors, bad cops...the list goes on. But for every bad one that screams in offense, there are many more that are good!
The cyclists that I know would do anything for me! I had a flat when Jay was out of town. He called two people and they both showed up within minutes of each other and practically fought to give me a ride home.When they heard I had been run off the road and hurt myself they were angry like parents often are! They "like" all of my recorded rides on STRAVA even if it's a slow ride or a short ride. They are like family in many ways.
So when I was run off the road last week and cracked my ribs, I was upset and scared and angry.
No I cannot ride on the sidewalk. I tried this theory the other day on my first outing here in Kansas City since my fall. I was going almost 25 mph...on a sidewalk...not exactly what a pedestrian wants to encounter. There were streets I had to stop at to be sure I crossed safely. The whole experiment was ridiculous. So I went back to the road. I had my bright rear light on, my bright shirt and I road a little way from the curb to make it easier for drivers to see me....IF they are looking. One car got too close, hit a pothole and I got soaked, but not hit.
I read this article on bike safety and hope that if you read it as a cyclist or a driver you will see the many ways we can all be safer. I myself will be making a few changes such as buying a mirror and headlamp and sticking to streets with bike lanes (of which there is exactly ONE in my area) and wide shoulders.
Shockingly, Las Vegas is a GREAT place to ride! It is incredibly bike friendly!If you don't exercise you won't understand. If you do exercise you probably think I should try something else. But think about why you do what you do. Hopefully you like it. I choose cycling because I love it and it is the one exercise I can do without pain in my knees or feet. I love that it only takes me 10 minutes to get to a farm with beautiful horses or to ride on a small road with small farmhouses and land. Sure, I walk, I do 9 Round (kick boxing) and I swim some, but my favorite and the one I get the best workout with is cycling. And I do it for more than exercise! It truly makes me happy!
So next time you become frustrated on the road with a cyclist, please just keep in mind, that like any other group, there are idiots out there. There are some that want to make a point and have a chip on their shoulder about drivers. But the rest of us just want to get our workout in and come home safely.