Anyone who has ridden a bicycle on the road has probably experienced the near miss. The near miss comes in many different flavours: a sharp turn without a shoulder check, a door opened quickly into traffic, or the worst: the angry driver who feels you’re encroaching on his or her private property.
This situation is more common than one might think—only the serious cases make the news. A recent incident near Rougement, Quebec saw three dead and three injured when a truck struck a group of cyclists riding single file on the edge of a busy motorway.
I’ll be the first to admit that it takes two to tango. While many riders lack the experience to ride safely on the road, it’s unfair to blame either cyclists or motorists for being the sole cause of dangerous road conditions. But if experienced cyclists are encountering dangerous conditions every time they ride, then motorists’ contributions cannot be ignored. The dangers aren’t simply caused by minor transgressions—they stem from drivers’ lack of empathy with cyclists.
Stereotypes of riders have built up some dangerous perceptions among non-cyclists. The notion that cyclists are non-taxpaying, un-licensed, rule-breaking pests is pure ignorance. Many cyclists are also drivers, fully aware of the rules of the road. And as citizens, cyclists also pay local taxes. The bottom line is this: we don’t just need more cyclists. What we need are more drivers to become cyclists.
When we were children, learning how to ride a bike was a major milestone. It became possible to explore further, to go places beyond the reach of foot travel. I fondly remember skinned knees, splashing through puddles, and my father’s inevitable two-hour struggle with the minivan’s bike rack before family outings. Riding bikes defined childhood fun.
As we got older, we traded in our two wheels for four. With this new step, our horizons expanded further—bikes were left for those too young to drive. Many of my friends only got back on their bikes once they realized they could sleep in an extra 10 minutes before an 8:30 class—their ridership is now exclusive to saving time.
The truth is that more bikes on the road means a safer environment for all road users. With greater numbers of riders, drivers are reminded that they are not the only ones on the road, in the same way that a police car reminds drivers to curb their speed. Most importantly, bike riders who also drive cars understand the dynamics of being a smaller, human-powered vehicle among a sea of fast moving, metal boxes on wheels.
What’s my suggestion? Go ride. Not just to campus or to the supermarket. Ride just for the sake of riding. Ride to rekindle that childhood fun. Ride to assert that bikes belong. Bikes aren’t just for spandex-clad athletes, car-deprived students, and kids. They’re for everyone, motorists included.
I’ll see you on the road. Give me a wave or a shout. It’ll be nicer than the near miss.
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