An open letter to the rude cyclist: A learning opportunity.

(specifically the one who had the following exchange with me yesterday while I was running with a FF group toward the lake front path)

The scene: heading east on a sidewalk in Old Town (NOT on the path, mind you…this is important)

Cyclist: (approaching decidedly too quickly on a crowded side walk): GO IN A STRAIGHT LINE!

Me: (as he passes on my left very closely) OR NOT ON THE SIDEWALK!

Cyclist: gives me the bird, without looking back, as he stops at a red light.

I stood, sadly not at all stunned, directly behind this cowboy and his buddy, using all my alloted impulse control not to continue with the power struggle. I understand the frustration I am feeling is largely his, not mine, and yet, I find myself still thinking about it. Perhaps because it happens so often. Altercations, though typically very brief, between runners and cyclists happen all the time. And it is so stupid, expecially since many of us cross-pollinate anyway.

And so:

Dear Mis-informed and a little frustrated cyclist man,

First and foremost, riding your bike on sidewalks is illegal. Sidewalks are safe zones for those on foot, using walkers, or in wheelchairs (except, of course in cases where the sidewalk is too narrow for a wheelchair and the individual must travel on the street, in such cases the sidewalk is simply a mode of discrimination). This safe zone conept is distinctly why sidewalks are separated and elevated from the street upon which cars and bikes travel.

Next, please advise and encourage your friend that was riding with you to wear a helmet. When he does so, buy him a beer immediately after your ride, and lavish him with comments about what amazing natural athetic ability and gusto he has, thereby increasing the likelihood that he will continue with his helmet use. Because, dear mis-informed and frustrate cycling man, everything in your life, including and especially our silly encounter yesterday, will seem trivial when your friend suffers a traumatic brain injury, or worse, next time you come across a runner who cannot travel in a straight line, or an off-leash dog, small child, large pebble, or erratic lakefront goose, or, as happened to me a few years a go, a car making a really fast and illegal U-turn.

You see, sir, I do not dislike cyclists in general, or cycling. I LOVE cycling. I love watching it, I love doing it. Put me on any type of machine with wheels and no roof, that moves through space, and I am happy. I have ridden all kinds of bikes, the kind with motors, the kind with a motor that also shift, the kind with nubbly tires and shocks that don’t have motors and that you hurl yourself down mountainsides and into canyons on, the kind with skinny little tires and computers and gears and carbon frames. The kind with three wheels, the kind with one wheel (this was not a good choice as it turns out), the kind with  a single cog, a fixed gear, no brakes, cantilevel brakes, disc brakes … I sure hope you get the idea by now.

Some history:

I love bikes so much, and they are such creations of methaphor, that I branded myself with one in 2007. A symptom of my generation? Perhaps. But the tattoo also signals within me a sense of hope, happiness, and freewheelin’ faith in humankind and curiousity that I don’t regret getting it, even though I am no professional cyclist and after getting doored twice, hit head on once, concussed once, losing a molar, and having two bikes stolen, totalling about $2, 300 worth of investment and at least 100 hours of labor on my part, I stopped riding for nearly four years (well, I continued with the motorcycles, but mostly during vacations).

And so,

I can’t help but boil over a little in frustration that during my first week owning a road bike again, someone (this is you, misinformed cyclist) so perfectly illustrates why cyclists, recreational, commuter, and competitive alike get a bad rap from motorists and pedestrians!

Every time you get on your bike you are a representative of the sport, and the culture of riding, you are also an advocate for accessability for bikes in the city, and for more people to ride for health, fitness, transportaion, or pleasure. There are consequences to poor representation. Such as motorist voters not supporting the installation of bike lanes.

Furthermore, pick your battles. I think this is why our exchange, as brief and entertaining as it may have been has stuck in my mind, why in the world would you be so rude to a runner? Someone as interested in the lakefront path (which I assume was your terminal destination) as you are.

A lesson for you:

Perhaps I should have made this point upfront, but I think whomever is moving faster and is bigger and is passing from behind, is the one responsible for the safety of both parties.

The proper way to pass someone (again, preferably not on the sidewalk, because that is stupid), is to call out which side you’re on so that they may move out of your projected path without injuring themselves. Take yesterday’s encounter for example: you areapproaching me from behind, I appear to not be running in a predictable patter, which makes you a little uneasy, so you call out “on your left” and viola, magically, I move to the right and you can cruise on past me to my left. No need to insult me shouting “go in a straight line!”, no need for the sharp tone which evoked my equally rude response.

In closing, Look for me out there on the paths and in the races, I’ll be the one with the fixie tatoo, taking you to school.


2 responses to “An open letter to the rude cyclist: A learning opportunity.

  1. Lorenzo Favela

    love it, and i completely agree. i hate hate hate when i see a cyclist (be that a commuter, someone training or someone just going for a nice ride on whatever path) acting like a fool and making stupid decisions. for example, no helmet, completely disregarding traffic signals and laws, riding on the wrong side of the street, riding on the sidewalk etc. the list goes on and on. 2 other other points i would like to make…for now.

    1) when you are commuting to some destination: work, school, your pal’s place, or wherever, remember that…IT IS NOT A RACE! there is no need for you to ride as if you are racing. take it a few notches back and well, just enjoy the ride. if you find pleasure in being speedy, then allow me to point you to the direction of the chicago velo campus, or a number of cycle races, where the bike route/path is only for those doing the same. i find it funny when people come flying by and acting as if have to prove that they are fast(er). listen buddy, my commute to work is 3-4 miles each way, and it’s my free time. if you want to prove something, meet me on any given saturday morning – NOT on the lake path, because that is not the place to speed up either. meet me in burr ridge, barrington, waterfall glen, palos, etc, i’ll be gearing up for anything from 40-60 miles on the saddle. i let you pick the place, and i promise it will be fun.

    2) respect the drivers as much as you want them to respect you! i often get bitched at by cyclist when i’m in my car, because, well, i just don’t understand or know what it is to ride a bike. you are wrong, i probably understand more than you. oh, and oddly enough, it’s often by a cyclist who is NOT wearing a helmet and is riding outside of the bike lane. AB is right on the money. you represent us, so do it right. personally, i like the bike lanes and would love to see more of them. we need as much support as we can get, so let’s not give people a reason to hate us and lobby against us.

    oh…and GO BUY A HELMET! and while you are at it, get some lights and PLEASE read the rules and follow them with your best judgement.


    • Thanks for the awesome comments Lorenzo! I was nervous about posting u thoughts, and you’ve totally reinforced my experience!


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