The Discrimination Against Cyclists
Cyclists go places; car drivers go places. The only difference between cyclists and car drivers is that cyclists ride bikes and car drivers drive cars. Does this one difference mean that cyclists should endure the physical and verbal harassment of motorists and ordinary people? When you go out for any kind of a bike ride, do you want to live in mortal fear of cars?
The fact that cyclists are discriminated against cannot be avoided. Many car drivers obviously think that cyclists don’t belong out on the road and should be riding on the sidewalk. This discrimination leads to a lack of respect by car drivers when confronting cyclists on the road. When I ride on Huron River Drive with my dad, we are never surprised to see a car come speeding up from behind us, narrowly missing us by only feet. This kind of disrespect leads to an alarming rate of biking crashes involving cars, which translates to roughly two killed cyclists per day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Center for Statistics and Analysis (Darlington 63)
Is this discrimination lawful? No! Cyclists have the same road rights as motorists. The State of Michigan Legislature states that
Each person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped or operating a low-speed vehicle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to the provisions of this chapter which by their nature do not have application
In other words, cyclists are bound to the same rules that car drivers are bound to. Cyclists have a right to ride on the road, but since drivers don’t know the law, they continue their verbal and physical abuse of cyclists.
Maybe cyclists are actually in a position to discriminate against drivers. After all, what has a car ever done to help the environment? Sure, Honda can sell a new Hybrid that will apparently “help” the environment, but it merely limits the damage that its fumes produce. All cars are powered by engines which produce fumes that damage the environment. All bicycles are powered by a person’s legs, and do they produce fumes? No. Therefore biking is better for the environment than cars and provides quality exercise for people of all ages, without the loud and sometimes dangerous attributes of cars. Biking provides a positive way to travel, exercise or compete, which is by far better than sitting in the middle of a traffic jam with people angrily honking their horns at you.
Why would a person look upon a cyclist with disrespect and contempt? One reason might be the image of racing in general. The pro racers who compete in Europe undergo severe pressure to take performance enhancing drugs, EPO in particular, a drug producing red blood cells. To a professional cyclist, resisting performance enhancing drugs could mean the end of his or her career. Frankie Andreu, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong stated,
You had riders who shouldn’t have been in the front group leading up the climbs and riders who should have been there who weren’t. It was probably a division between EPO users and non-EPO users. It seemed like more and more were starting to join the [doping] program so that they could actually compete in races, instead of just hanging on (Walsh 60)
It is a common belief among all hardcore cyclists that Lance Armstrong has doped, although Armstrong never tested positive for taking performance enhancing drugs. Countless pieces of evidence have proven his guilt and if American public finds out, it will be a dark day. It seems that Lance Armstrong is cycling’s ambassador, famous for his amazing comeback against cancer and his seven victories in the Tour de France. If the media reveals that the only racer that the average person knows about was a miracle of drugs, all cyclists will be looked down upon. If only the media exposed all the good things in professional cycling! At least in cycling many of the dopers are caught! Other sports like baseball don’t seek to punish steroid abusers.
Many outward things that people notice about cyclists communicate that cyclists are freaks, cheaters and eccentrics. For, in what other popular sport do competitors wear spandex, and even shave their legs? Since people only see cyclists’ outward appearance, they may figure that cyclists’ inward appearance is as extreme as their outward appearance.
Finally drivers may dislike cyclists on the road simply because of they’re in the way. Long time racer and author Jamie Smith, sums it up:
We train on the roads. Not on the sidewalk, not in a field behind the school, not in a gym, not in a lake, not in a bowling alley, but right there on the road where people can see us, and worse: people have to go around us, and even worse: sometimes they have to slow down for us. There's the conflict. That's what separates silent wonder from verbal scorn
Perhaps we cyclists have contributed to our own poor image. There may be rude drivers, but there are certainly rude cyclists as well. Last summer, I was riding with some of my dad’s teammates, when a car came by us and didn’t give us much room. One of my dad’s teammates “dropped” one of his water bottles, which “accidentally” hit one of the car’s tires. I thought to myself If we don’t want drivers to think we’re rude, then why do that? The person who was driving that car may generalize all cyclists now, simply because of one man’s actions. These rude cyclists poorly represent the sport of cycling to the world. If we want to show people that cycling is a positive sport we must show them courteous cycling.
Many people have seen the good in cyclists, for there are cities in the USA that protect and support them. Cities like Portland, Oregon and New York City have made more room for bikes on the shoulder and protected cyclists from “right hooks” at intersections by setting up “bike boxes” that let cyclists wait in front of cars while waiting for a green light (Yardly The New York Times; Neuman The New York Times). It is wonderful to know that cyclists can safely ride on the roads in Portland and New York City, but I don’t want to move to one of those places just to ride safely. In fact, I’d prefer to ride safely in my own state.
I believe there is something inhibiting us from making the entire USA a biking-friendly place: we cyclists need to change our image. We need a successful, non-doping pro-bike racer, whom the American public can identify with. On a personal level, we need to refrain from yelling at mean drivers, we need to quietly suffer when they harass us, knowing that it will help the sport in the long run. We need to make a stand as ambassadors of this sport that teaches discipline led and brings together many wonderful people.