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Cycling isn't all fun and games

The Columbia Daily Tribune: Cycling isn't all fun and games

By ROBERT JOHNSON
Monday, April 16, 2012


Every time you drive, another driver likely causes you to slow down or stop when you otherwise wouldn't have. Whether it's heavy traffic, someone preparing for a turn or just people who drive slower than you, another driver is causing you delays. It's part of the ebb and flow of traffic.

So why do some drivers accept other drivers slowing them down as a natural fact of traffic but become incensed if the person causing a delay is a bicyclist, even if that bicyclist is riding safely, legally and considerately?

Although I've heard dozens of different reasons from drivers, the one I've heard most frequently is that delays caused by bicyclists are particularly annoying because cyclists are just riding for fun. In other words, it's a given that motorists are doing something constructive by driving while bicyclists are just out for a good time. Let's explore that belief a little more deeply.

The term "utility bicycling" is used to describe a bicycling trip where the ride has a purpose other than the ride itself. In other words, someone using a bicycle to go grocery shopping or to get to work would be engaging in utility bicycling. Because many Americans relate bicycle use to a childhood activity, they automatically think about recreation when they think about bicycles. However, according to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, 51 percent of all bicycle trips in the United States were for utilitarian reasons. So when you see bicyclists, chances are they are not simply riding for fun.

It also is impossible to judge the reasons for someone's bicycle ride, based upon where someone is riding or how they are dressed. I've ridden the rural highways of Boone County to attend classes and meetings. A co-worker of mine rides every day in a full spandex bicycle-racing kit, yet he is actually on his way to work, not training for a race.

Although there are many people riding to get somewhere, there are certainly many bicyclists riding simply because they want to ride their bicycles. Some of those bicyclists are even causing slight delays for motorists! Isn't that rude? People who believe that are under the belief that most driving trips are for a utilitarian purpose, which isn't true.

The New York Times Magazine recently published a story titled "Rising gas prices don't actually affect Americans' behavior." In this story, the author says the average American spends about $40 per week on gasoline, but only about $8 of that is spent going to and from work. In other words, many driving trips are for social and recreational purposes, the very same reason that many people love riding bicycles in groups on Boone County highways.

Have you ever tried driving across Columbia on a Tiger football Saturday? Did all of those tens of thousands of drivers, who make it incredibly difficult to move around town, have to drive that day? No, they decided to go to a football game because it was fun. What about people who drive to visit a friend or simply drive to have some time alone? Did any of us "cruise" as teenagers? It's no surprise, really, that most driving is not really necessary, and yet here the motorists are causing traffic and slowing down other road users.

Although it's true I sometimes cause motorists delays because I'm a little slower on the road, it's also true that on every bicycling trip, drivers slow me down. For every time that someone has to wait because I'm pedaling up a hill, I have to wait because someone is trying to make a left turn into his or her driveway in heavy traffic.

Slowing each other down is a part of sharing the road, no matter what type of vehicle you use. The important thing is to use patience and common sense so all road users can enjoy their trips — for fun or utility — safely.