20,000 Miles

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while someone will try to persuade me that they know more about bicycling than I do (and maybe they do) by claiming to ride 20,000 miles per year. The number — 20,000 — is remarkably consistent among these various interlocutors. Not sure what that’s all about ;-)

Anyway, when someone says this I just want to laugh.

Someone said it to me about an hour ago at the intersection of Pickwick and Cherry, but I didn’t laugh. This guy was out of his SUV and threatening me.

What’s funny in hindsight is that he was wearing his roadie costume. Yep. A sport cyclist. He passes me easily on a residential street (25 mph), stops at the stop sign, and then starts yelling at me from his SUV window about how I shouldn’t ride “in the middle of the road.”

Now “middle of the road” is a relative term, apparently, because I was commanding the right side of it. Pickwick is a very wide residential street. I did not hold him up even for a second.

I popped off a quick comment about the street belonging to me, too. And that’s when he got out of the SUV in his roadie costume and tells me about his annual mileage.

The thing is: 20,000 miles is no experience at all if you’re doing the wrong things.

He proceeded to match every stereotype of the gutter-bunny windbag, i.e. how unsafe I’m being, and I’m giving bicyclists a bad name. Mind you, we’re stopped at an intersection and he’s out of his SUV. Apparently, impeding traffic is OK as long as you’re schooling someone belligerently.

I drive my bicycle all around Springfield largely conflict free. But every now and then…

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Comments 41

  1. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Next time call 9-1-1

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 3:27 pm
  2. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    The reason it’s 20,000 miles is probably that it’s about the circumference of the Earth (a bit less).

    Interestingly, it means he would have to cycle 55 miles every day, including weekends and holidays. For an average speed cyclist, that’s 5 1/2 hours of daily cycling. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wouldn’t want to do that day-in and day-out. I do like cycling, but not that much.

    When I was 22, I cycled 6,000 miles through Western Europe in one year. I wasn’t trying to set any records – I was just meandering from town to town and only cycling every other day. If I had been really committed to doing 20,000 miles, I could probably have done it, but I’m not sure why anyone would want to do it every single year – that would be crazy.

    I call BS.

    As for the ignorance and belligerence, heck, I have no idea how best to combat it. There was a time that I would have started a nasty row about it, but these days, I just try to keep my heart rate down and stay as calm as possible. Not that I always succeed – the postman incident a few weeks ago got me going a bit.

    I must admit, sometimes I wish I could call on the old twenty-something me (who was usually blind drunk and therefore could quite easily turn into an irresponsible and potentially destructive nutcase) to deal with these issues. The temptation to carry around a sledge hammer to redecorate dangerous drivers’ cars has also crossed my mind on occasion, which goes to show that the drunken maniac me still lives inside, deep down, but I keep him well controlled and I don’t drink anymore, as I have a wife and daughter and since 1989, going to jail just to sate my selfish and stupid desire for vengeance is no longer an option.

    It is nice though, from time to time when these issues arise, to just fantasize about unleashing the nutcase. It would be fun.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 3:30 pm
  3. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Mind you, having said that, every time I did get into rows in my 20s, my effectiveness fell far short of my devastating intentions – I was kinda like Mr. Furious from the movie ‘Mystery Men’.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 3:32 pm
  4. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Yep, the most belligerent complaints always come from roadies in their cars. I guess “20,000 miles per year” sounds better than “I paid $7,000 for my bike.”

    To follow up on Ian’s numbers, I did a 7,000-mile cross-country tour in 1987, averaging 75 miles per day for four months, but I only managed to do 10,000 for the entire year.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 3:52 pm
  5. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Next time ask him, “Really? What section of statute [number] says that?” You can be pretty sure he doesn’t know what the statute number is, let alone the section or subsection.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 3:55 pm
  6. Anthony Carter wrote:

    “I ride 20,000 miles a year… so what if it’s on bike trails with no motorists around? You should be on the sidewalk!” Eesh. Glad I didn’t get the displeasure of meeting him, too, ’cause I would have been in the “middle of the road,” as well.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 4:32 pm
  7. robert wrote:

    I also doubt his claim of 20,000 miles. However, I will say that for the years that I’ve ridden over 5,000 it certainly felt like 20,000. If I didn’t have an odometer, I probably would have felt like it was 20,000.

    Andy – the question must be asked. If it was a wide residential street, why did you feel compelled to take the lane? The law only allows it under certain circumstances. Unless you want to say that riding to the right is never “safe.”

    I know that you feel that it’s well within your right and even your moral obligation, but I’m just curious. Are you “taking the lane” on literally every street that you go?

    Also the term “gutter bunny” is meant to be an insult and for that reason I cringe when I read it. It’s a little like the term “cager.” Sometimes people are just jerks and we feel the need to insult them. However, coming up with a purposely insulting term for someone who doesn’t ride just like us doesn’t seem helpful to me.

    That roadie may always ride to the right, but it’s well within his legal right to do so.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 6:18 pm
  8. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I think my biggest years were about 5000-7000, back in grad school and before I had a real job. Still didn’t give me any right to behave like a total asshole.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 7:06 pm
  9. Kevin Love wrote:

    Just like on the internet, I don’t interact with the crazies on the roads. If people like that utter threats or behave in a threatening manner, I call 911 and let the police interact with the disturbed person.

    Otherwise I just ignore them as if they don’t exist.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 7:34 pm
  10. Kevin Love wrote:

    This got me thinking about the annual distance I ride. It is 9 km to work. My common public destinations are grocery store, bank, post office, library, church, barber shop and bakery. All these are within 2 km.

    My mother and oldest sister live 4 km away and my yongest sister, my brother-in-law and their three children live 12 km away.

    I am a member of The Royal Canadian Legion (I served in The Royal Canadian Regiment), and the Legion hall is 1.3 km away.

    Every so often I’ll go to Toronto or travel further away. The train station is 2.5 km away, with secured parking.

    So going to and from work is about 4,000 km per year. Everywhere else I go to is probably about the same, for a total of roughly 8,000 km per year.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 7:55 pm
  11. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    ” If it was a wide residential street, why did you feel compelled to take the lane? The law only allows it under certain circumstances. Unless you want to say that riding to the right is never “safe.””

    The thing is, the idea that the law only allows riding in the middle of the street under certain circumstances is not quite right. The law doesn’t allow any lateral road position at all times and it also allows riding far right only under certain circumstances, and in many cases, on a residential street, those cases are rare.

    The law almost everywhere starts from the assumption that a cyclist will take the lane. That is the case when no other traffic is in the lane and when the cyclist is traveling at the same speed as other traffic. It’s ONLY when there is a significant amount of other traffic moving faster than the cyclist that he is required to move right – and ONLY if it is safe to do so. The assumption that FTR is the default position under US law is wrong.

    In England, where I learned to cycle, our major resource for cycling safety is John Franklin’s ‘Cyclecraft’. In it, Franklin clearly states that the default position in the road is ‘Primary position’ – i.e. the center of the lane. Secondary position generally speaking FTR) is only to be used when safe, in order to facilitate passing.

    We need to get to a position in this country where cyclists fully understand the laws relating to our chosen mode of transport. We tend to self-police based on a set of rules that do not exist in any statutes – rules that limit our activities and our safety well beyond what the law requires. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of being respected on, or having equal access to, the road.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 9:05 pm
  12. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    As for the term ‘gutter bunny’, this is a term that’s consciously intended to ridicule an activity that is dangerous. Such ridicule is necessary to shame ignorant cyclists into abandoning hazardous practices. We do the same for ‘Ninja cyclists’ – those who ride unlit in the dark, and for ‘Salmon cyclists’ – those who ride against traffic.

    Riding in the gutter gets hundreds of cyclists killed every year worldwide. Riding in the gutter is not an equal or valid choice – it’s not like choosing to buy a Raleigh vs a Trek bike. It’s a dangerous practice that needs to be ridiculed so that lives may be saved.

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 9:14 pm
  13. Kevin Love wrote:

    Andy,

    I see that you wrote: “This guy was out of his SUV and threatening me.”

    If he was threatening you, why didn’t you call the police?

    Posted 17 Nov 2012 at 10:59 pm
  14. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Cars park on both sides of the street. So I take the lane on Pickwick to keep from weaving in and out. That is an entirely reasonable and legal choice. Further, this guy was not inconvenienced in any way.

    Yes gutter-bunny is an insult. I meant it EXACTLY that way. Perhaps douchebag might also be appropriate :-)

    Kevin… It just happened too quickly, and I was more concerned about making sure he didn’t take a swing at me than getting his license number or calling the police. I do wish I had.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 12:08 am
  15. Khal Spencer wrote:

    “Gutter Bunny” has been used all over the LAB LCI list from time to time and I’ve used it too, but I do agree with Kevin that if you are trying to change someone’s behavior, its probably a better idea to use honey than vinegar.

    Andy, I wonder if Mr. Kit Ted Alllup was on something besides his bike six hours a day. Some of that stuff that high level amateurs inject, swallow, or inhale increases aggression. Or, he is just an a-hole. Knew a few of them from my racing days and they tended to look down their noses at “Freds”, another derogatory term in cycling lingo. I’m happy to be a Fred these days. Still ride for fun and fitness, but no pressure to shave legs or keep my body fat below 5%.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 9:47 am
  16. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Sorry, that was Robert, not Kevin who brought up the gutterbunny expression.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 9:49 am
  17. Michael wrote:

    This is exactly the reason that I keep a copy of Washington State cycling laws folded up in my handle bar bag.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 12:41 pm
  18. robert wrote:

    Ian,

    The law in Missouri:

    Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, EXCEPT when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

    You spent more time typing and explaining how I was wrong than if you had just “googled” it for yourself.

    Andy is well within his right if there were parked cars. That was my question. I get the impression that Andy “takes the lane” 100% of the time.

    Andy – do you?

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 1:48 pm
  19. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Robert,

    Not sure what your point is. The text of the law that you posted agrees with what I wrote. It certainly doesn’t agree with your interpretation.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 2:44 pm
  20. robert wrote:

    So you’re usually riding the speed limit or as fast as other traffic? Even on a residential street that’s not the case for me. I cannot maintain 25 mph on level ground.

    Assuming that you cannot either, than the law pretty clearly states that you should be as far to the right as safe except….then it lists exceptions.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 2:52 pm
  21. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    “So you’re usually riding the speed limit or as fast as other traffic?”

    The question assumes I’m limited by conditions that simply don’t exist on my usual commute. The problem is, you seem to be assuming that every road that I cycle on has a posted speed of greater than 20mph and/or is populated by many cars going 30mph or more. That is not the case. The vast majority of the roads I cycle on on my daily commute are 20mph limit roads that are free of cars. They are back streets – neighborhood roads that see very little traffic outside of rush hour, and I don’t travel along them during rush hour. I may see one car occasionally, maybe two, and that still doesn’t mean I must move right, because of the various caveats included in the law.

    In practice, even on busy roads, the law NEVER requires me to ride far right. When I’m riding in faster traffic, it requires me to ride as far right as ‘practicable and safe’ (Maryland text, but I’m willing to concede the ‘practicable’ aspect for this discussion). In practice, that is always the center of the rightmost travel lane. Why? Because riding farther right is never safe (because it places me outside of the primary focus point of motorists, which is usually the center of a lane of traffic).

    Also, even if it were safe to ride to the right, the requirement to ride to the right is almost always negated by one of the law’s caveats, usually either the ‘when avoiding hazardous conditions’ caveat or the ‘when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle’ caveat. The ‘too narrow to share’ criterion applies to EVERY standard width lane, as was demonstrated in a recent court case.

    And yes, I can maintain 25mph on level ground, given a long enough road without a head wind or stop signs or traffic lights. But anyway, the Missouri requirement to ride at the speed limit has nothing at all to do with why the law allows me to ride in the middle of the lane in any situation. It’s all about being safe and operating in a lane too narrow to share.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 3:48 pm
  22. robert wrote:

    Ian –

    I think you’re assuming that I am a “gutter bunny” who finds it rude to “take the lane.” That’s certainly not me.

    However, I still disagree with your statement that the law in Missouri, “starts from the assumption that a cyclist will take the lane.”

    I think it means the exact opposite. That the defacto position is to the right, but a bicyclist may take the lane if it becomes safer for some reason.

    Now you can argue that riding in the middle of every lane is always the safest position, but that doesn’t change the spirit of the law.

    You can always find reasons to take the lane and the law would make almost any reason that you come up with valid. After all, the word “safe” was used because it’s purposely vague. Again – that still doesn’t change the meaning or spirit of the law.

    Try to not think about this as me criticizing your riding technique but as an honest discussion of this law.

    I know the people who pushed for that laws passage, and I think I’m pretty knowledgeable about it.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 3:58 pm
  23. robert wrote:

    I even know the lobbyist. We could drag him in here for his thoughts? Of course, we’d probably have to pay him a few hundred dollars per hour.

    : )

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 4:01 pm
  24. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Robert,

    Firstly, I don’t assume you’re anything. Heck, for all I know, you’ve never ridden a bike. Alternatively, you may be Lance Armstrong.

    As for what assumption Missouri law starts from ‘as near to the right side of the roadway as safe’ is not necessarily even ON the right side of the roadway. You assume it means ‘within the right side of the lane’, but that is nowhere specified in the law. The defining word in the law is the bit that says ‘as safe’. The safest point in the roadway is where motorists are looking, and they tend not to look to the right of the center of the lane unless they are watching for vehicles crossing the road or turning onto the road from the right (which is a minority of the time). Thus, every inch farther right we ride is an inch less safe. Therefore, ‘as near to the right side of the roadway as safe’ is precisely the exact center of the lane.

    There is no ‘spirit of the law’ that communicates a position in the right of the lane. There just isn’t. You can make up whatever position you like to suit your prejudices, but the law does not define a position beyond that it needs to be a ‘safe’ position ‘close to the right of the roadway’. These terms are only clear if you define what position is safe, and any position right of center is not as safe as the center, so the position can only possibly be the center of the lane.

    But as I said before, even if the safest position were farther right, cyclists can ride in the center of the lane on any standard width lane, because such lanes are too narrow to share.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 5:22 pm
  25. Robert wrote:

    Ian,

    You’re right that it doesn’t say how far to the right, but it does say “right.”

    Right tire track or not, the point remains that your statement regarding the middle of the lane as the starting point is wrong.

    It would only make sense if the law said, “a bicyclist shall ride in the middle of the lane, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceesing in the same direction, except when the lane is wide enough to share with another vehicle.

    I don’t think this is really a debatable point and I suspect that you know what I’m saying is true. It’s basic sentence structure.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 9:54 pm
  26. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Generally speaking: If a lane is <14 feet I control it -- usually riding in the right tire track. If the lane is <12 feet I take the center. If >14 feet, I generally position myself about 5 feet off the curb. That fits the letter of MO law.

    Posted 18 Nov 2012 at 11:36 pm
  27. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    It says ‘close to the right’. That doesn’t even mean ‘on the right’. In fact, it’s closer to meaning ‘away from the right’ than it is to meaning ‘on the right’.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 3:58 am
  28. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Sorry, ‘near to the right’. Same difference.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 3:59 am
  29. Robert wrote:

    So if someone said you to, “Ian, can you look for my purse it’s near the right side of the room,” you would start your search by looking right in the middle of the room. Because, after all, “near to the right” practically means “away from the right” to you.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 8:44 am
  30. Robert wrote:

    Andy,

    I agree that it fits within the law.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 8:45 am
  31. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    When you consider the exceptions to the far right law — lanes too narrow to share, avoiding hazards and conflicting movements, preparing to turn left, going as fast as other traffic, passing other vehicles — those exceptions are collectively the norm.

    The situations in which it is as safe to keep as close as practicable to the right edge as it is to control the lane are the least common of conditions. This means meeting most — if not all — of the following conditions: a lane at least 14 feet wide, going significantly slower than other vehicular traffic, no parked cars, no very large vehicles, no turning or crossing conflicts, no crosswinds, and good, clean pavement.

    This is why Franklin calls lane control the “primary position.”

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 8:59 am
  32. Robert wrote:

    This is what I think:

    I think that Ian, Andy and you are correct that the law allows a bicyclist to control the lane virtually anytime that they wish.

    I also think that I’m correct about the way the law is written. That the defacto position is that bicyclists ride to the right except under certain cirumstances.

    You argue that those circumstances almost always exist, but that doesn’t change the way the law is written.

    I’m arguing basic sentence structure and everyone else is arguing bicyclists rights. That’s the confusion, I think.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 10:12 am
  33. John Brooking wrote:

    A fellow cyclist once called me an asshole for riding in the middle of the narrow right lane on a shoulder-less 4-lane road. This after a conversation in which he complained to me that he had almost been sideswiped recently by a city bus. Textbook case of complete disconnect.

    Still, not quite as creative as the “jihadist bastard” appellation a motorist once applied to me once. Maybe it was the beard… ;-)

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 10:13 am
  34. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    If someone said to me, “Ian, can you look for my purse it’s near the right side of the room,” I’d probably ask them to be a bit more specific.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 10:30 am
  35. Andy Cline wrote:

    It always amazes me which of my posts generate the most chatter. I appreciate all the participation :-)

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 12:50 pm
  36. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Robert:

    You’ve hit the crux of the matter — that the statute is written in such a way as to technically allow cyclists full use of the lane, but it also tends to bias casual readers to thinking that keeping right and sharing a lane should be the norm.

    The origins of this statutory language comes from the California Highway Patrol, with a mindset at the time that most bicyclists are children who need simple rules they can understand. (Hmmm, do kids read statutes?) At the time (late 1960s/early 70s) children *were* the majority of cyclists.

    Adult traffic cycling proponents managed to get the exceptions added. Not as good as having language that treats us as first-class roadway users, but better than nothing.

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 1:02 pm
  37. Eric W wrote:

    Interesting semantic discussion! Legal language aside…I tend to ride about 1/3 of the way from the right side of the right lane. I’m in that position, and not in the absolute center of the lane to communite by my lane position that a following vehicle can and should pass me when safe.

    I view lane position as an essential element in communicating my intentions when riding. Also, that is the position that a perfect sharrow is placed. Far enough away from a parked car as not to get doored, but still leaving room for a hesitant car driver to pass with care.

    Just so you envison the environment I’m riding in: In urban Los Angeles. Most roads have traffic, parked cars, four lanes, stoplights and other slower cyclists, which I’m passing in turn at about 25mph. And yes, I frequently attempt to explain that it’s bad driving at the next light when drivers don’t get it and pass too close. Doesn’t alway work…

    Eric W

    Posted 19 Nov 2012 at 5:25 pm
  38. Kevin Love wrote:

    Mighk,

    Where are you getting 14 feet from? I see that this is actually only 4.3 metres, which is about a metre short of what is required to safely share a lane with a motor vehicle.

    Why? A cyclist elbow-to-elbow will occupy about one metre of space. For safety, there needs to be another ½ metre of “swerve room” on either side to allow for debris, poor road surface, etc.

    Motor vehicles are allowed a width of 2.3 metres, which I suspect is some sort of North American standard. Motor vehicle drivers also require ½ metre “swerve room” on either side to allow them to swerve around debris, poor road surfaces, etc.

    Add it all up and you get 5.3 metres as the absolute minimum lane width to share a lane with a motor vehicle. There are very few roads with lanes that wide, so the normal practice for safe cycling in mixed motor vehicle/HPV traffic should be to exercise lane control.

    This is, of course, rather unpleasant with only the “strong and fearless” types being willing to do it. I am one of these people, but I recognize that I am one of this top 1% of the population as far as cycling goes.

    As far as finances go, alas, I remain quite far from the top 1%. :)

    Posted 21 Nov 2012 at 12:39 pm
  39. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Kevin:

    14 feet comes from the Florida Department of Transportation Green Book. It’s the minimum safe width they claim for sharing between a regular bicyclist (not a trike) and a passenger vehicle. So large trucks and trailers would necessitate more width.

    Yes, this says nothing about comfort; only about whether there is adequate width for safe passing.

    Posted 21 Nov 2012 at 12:43 pm
  40. Kevin Love wrote:

    Mighk,

    I see. So the 14 foot guideline is only appropriate for roads from which large trucks and trailers have been excluded, but are not car-free.

    I spend very little of my time travelling on roads that match that description. I suspect that the same is true for most other people in North America.

    Interestingly enough, a fair bit of cycling in The Netherlands is on roads that match that description. I’ll see if I can find the David Hembrow video on that subject.

    Posted 21 Nov 2012 at 5:43 pm
  41. Kevin Love wrote:

    Here’s the video I wrote about before. It is interesting the large number of roads that are not car-free, but the car traffic is very low because they are not through routes for cars.

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2012/04/100-segregation-of-bikes-and-cars.html

    Posted 22 Nov 2012 at 8:33 pm

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