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The Dehumanization of Cyclists

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

A recent study from Australia shows a shocking number of people, maybe more than half, view cyclists as less than human. Because we are called “cyclists” and wear a “uniform” we become a minority group, making us the target of negative attitudes and behavior. It is forgotten most cyclists are drivers, too.

When someone is seen as not “fully human” it is easier to justify hatred and aggression toward them. I certainly am not equating the sometimes horrific behavior between ethnic, religious and racial groups with what happens between drivers and cyclists, but there seems to be at least some of the same elements.

Need a true-life example? Let’s go way back to . . . . last week. My group of seven cyclists was traveling north on Barton, as far to the right as safe and closely bunched. I will note it is not legal for drivers to pass cyclists here, due to the narrowness of the lane and the double yellow line.

I was leading the group when I heard the sound of a horn blaring as two cars, a Corvette and a Jeep with oversized wheels, passed us too fast and too close.

What I didn’t know at the time was the passenger in the Corvette had thrown a partially full, plastic soft drink bottle at us. Steve was hit in the back. Steve: father, husband, uncle, friend. Human. Steve, who is 81 years old. If he had gone down, at least two of the cyclists following him would have gone down, too. At this location, Barton is narrow and slightly uphill, with a ditch on one side and traffic on the other.

We have it on video.

Earlier on the same ride we had been “smoked” by a driver in a diesel pick up. He gunned his engine, intentionally sending out a billowing cloud of black smoke for us to ride through and breathe.

I recognize cyclists can do wrong. When we break traffic laws or get in the way of cars (even unintentionally) it hurts our cause. If a driver gets mad at me today, he may take it out on a different cyclist another day. It becomes easy to say “all cyclists always break the law”.

Of course, history and infrastructure don’t make it easy for cyclists. In the 1880s, roads were first paved for bikes, but the U.S. soon became obsessed with cars, so much so drivers are not happy about sharing them with anyone.

Need another true-life example? Let’s go way back to . . . . earlier this week. Three friends of mine were riding in the bike lane on Whitney Ranch Rd. A driver honked and yelled at them. The riders caught up with him at a stop light.

One asked, “What’s with the honk?” (This action is not always recommended.)

The driver, with purple face and a big black car, yelled, “Get off the f---ing road, B----”!

One of the suggestions of the researchers to help get rid of the dehumanization of cyclists is for everyone to refer to them as “people who ride bikes”.

Uh, no.

Not only is it clumsy, but it took time and the attainment of some milestones for me to consider myself a cyclist and not just a person who rides a bike. I’m not willing to give that up. If you are endangering me because of a name and Lycra shorts, then it’s you who are the problem.

And I’m guessing cyclists aren’t the only folks you see as less than human.

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