Cyclists are not inherently bad bike riders

Cyclists are not inherently bad bike riders

To the editor:

I write to you in response to the letter by Jim Larocco elaborating upon the differences between cyclists and bike riders (“Understanding the difference between cyclists and bike riders,” June 20).

While I am heartened that Mr. Larocco is a longtime bike rider, I beg to differ strenuously on his derogatory characterization of cyclists. I am not a racer, but I am one of those he would label a cyclist. I own three bikes: one relatively new — but not overly expensive — lighter road bike, an old steel-frame road bike that I use for riding to D.C. and a wonderful, heavy, Surly Long-Haul Trucker, which I use for overnight trips and to haul groceries.

I am fully capable of riding 100-plus miles, and I ride frequently on weekends with my bike club, often exceeding — oh, horror of horrors — 20 mph. None of this makes me the monster that is Mr. Larocco’s indictment of more serious riders.

I do use area trails, and I slow to appropriate speeds when other users are on them. I slowly go around older people and small children. I get off my bike and carry box turtles to the other side of the trail. I go out of my way to avoid confrontations with motorists … er, car drivers.

In more than 22 years of commuting into D.C. in rush-hour traffic, I have never had an accident with a motor vehicle. I consider myself courteous and safe.

But oh, I’m a cyclist.

On the other hand, I have experienced many issues with so-called bike riders, who are less skilled. And many don’t know what they’re doing. I have seen goofy bike riders on E Street in D.C. riding the over-big rental bikes — sometimes with kids hanging from the handle bars — obviously not knowing cars might emerge at any moment from adjacent garages, or that even in bike lanes, they ought to avoid riding in motor vehicle blind spots.

I have seen bike riders congregate in groups on narrow portions of the Mount Vernon Trail or the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, sometimes on blind corners, blocking the path for other cyclists and uses. I’ve seen bike riders emerge suddenly from alleys and proceed up the wrong way of one-way streets, avoiding a head-on catastrophe only because a higher power must protect them.

These people wouldn’t know to announce their intentions by saying “on your left” or “in back” or “stopping” if their lives depended on it — and it often does.

I agree with Mr. Larocco that civility has declined in recent years. About 10 years ago, in front of the Reagan Building along Pennsylvania Avenue, a driver with Florida tags came over two lanes to deliberately push me into the curb. The passenger yelled at me to get off the road and onto the sidewalk.

I’ve been harassed by motorists, cut off by other cyclists and had stuff thrown at me for no other reason than many people don’t like cyclists. Some people flat out don’t like what cyclists wear — Lycra, or bright yellow bike shirts — but the idea is to be comfortable and seen. I don’t think I’m trying to make any kind of statement or demean drivers.

So, I truly don’t know what has angered Mr. Larocco. I don’t understand his need to encourage others to confront cyclists they view as not riding in accordance with the law. Confrontations breed violence, not discussion.

Every month I hear of cyclists who are killed by cars or SUVs. In almost every case where cars and bikes collide, the cyclist has the potential of being crippled or killed. I have had a couple of friends killed in bike accidents.

Among most of us, there is no recognition of the term cyclist as meaning one is unsafe or obnoxious. Many of the riders whom Mr. Larocco puts down are very skilled at handling their bike.

I am no spring chicken, but I have no desire to add to the public’s misunderstanding of people who love to bike and are dedicated to the sport. Biking is good for my soul and health, but I frequently don’t get to ride in peace because of the attitudes that many critics foster.

I want to say, “Peace be with you, and tailwinds” to Mr. Larocco. I could add: “Mr. Larocco, ride your own ride and let others ride theirs.” I only wish he understood a little more about what he is saying and ceased his attacks, which serve only to stir up those who don’t like us for whatever reason.

– Ernie Hazera