Are We Advocating Wrong?

Our type of advocacy is to ride bikes and blog about it. The blogs and websites that advocate are good at it and we mostly leave that topic to them. I waiver back and forth between covering bike advocacy more and then settle back on our social rides. I think we can do our best work at creative events where we ride bikes with other geeks. Riding the Strip in Vegas during Interbike is a good example. We also work hard at being another voice in the cycling media, an alternative to the papers and news. While we maybe missing the specific bike advocate editorial, it does drive much of what we do.

I’ve seen the recent anti-bike news, laws, and response from our community. This letter to the editor got my attention.

The following is an open letter to Mike Nozzolio and Gary Finch: The morning of Saturday, July 3, I had the displeasure of driving to Auburn on Route 34 amid a convoy of bicycles stretching for miles. Needing to buy gas, I had planned to stop at the Pit Stop Sunoco station on South Street. My right side turning signal was on in advance, and just as I started to turn the wheel, one of these suicidal, imbecilic bicyclists at full speed, passed me on the right, narrowly missing the front of my truck and passed in front of another vehicle waiting to enter the road.

If I had turned faster as I would have had the other vehicle not been there, that bicyclist would undoubtedly have died against the side of my truck.

I am still angry and upset that I was very nearly forced to participate in the senseless and unnecessary death of another person.

My advice and plea to you two representatives is to sponsor legislation to ban all bicycle races from all public highways.

Other than riding to the right, these bicycles racers do not obey traffic laws.

They will not slow down, stop or yield. When their events are held on county roads, they effectively convert the road to one lane for motor vehicles.

These bicyclists should be required to use a private race track.

Otherwise it is only a matter of time until one of them is killed and an innocent motorist is guilt ridden for life.

I think my reaction is based on the weekly deaths I see in my news feed. Not a week goes by without a car/bike accident and deaths. As offensive as Lee Gamlen’s opinion is, that’s what people think, they get that mad, and I’m wondering if the advocacy community is doing it wrong.

Maybe it’s a blip, but the car/bike hate seems on the rise. I’m no scholar, but wonder if there’s a correlation between the popularity of cycling and the backlash. I do know whenever Lance is on TV, I get yelled at more and it seems like more this year. Earlier this year, he said

To me this is all about a relationship. It’s bikes and cars. Both will be here forever. Awareness needs to exist as well as mutual respect.

There is a lack of respect and I think it’s tribal. People are sitting in their cars and we come whizzing by with bright plumage. We’re scofflaws, doing whatever we want on the bike, blowing signs, in between cars. For them, what’s to like about us? For us, their cars can kill us.

This post is based on dialogue I’ve been having with my colleagues on rides. I wanted to get your opinion about it, maybe we’ll reach some conclusion.


I think the best advocacy is to “be the change you wish to see in this world”.

If you, and I, and we keep spreading the word about how fun, safe, and smart riding a bike can be, soon enough it’ll be common and these incidents will be a thing of the past.


I think a lot of ‘advocates’ do things just because they’re legally allowed—they certainly have no respect for automobiles or show any courtesy for anyone.  Crap like Critical Mass is certainly an extreme—but I guarantee you there will be more than a handful of jerks on bikes at this weekend’s STP.  I remember one year yelling at some guy who was swerving clear over by the center line, weaving in and out for several miles—on a two lane country road with cars (not even personal SAG) trying to get past.

Just like mountain bikers need to speak up and help other bikes realize destructive and rude behavior on trails has hurt mountain bikers—cyclists need to work on reigning in those (sometimes even legal) bad behaviors that make matters worse.

a vast majority of the time i agree with and appreciate your methods, the events you promote and the questions you ask to the community at large. i live in LA where cars are King. but there are noticeably more bikes on the road. they tend to be fixie riders and they remind me an awful lot of the middle aged d-bags i see on the snowboard hill trying to live some rebellion they never had, swearing and being asses that make a bad name for the snowboarders who are respectful and follow the code and will still do it when it’s no longer cool. sure this is a generalization but i can’t remember the last time i saw a roadie, or a guy on a recumbent run a light, swear at a driver, block an intersection, take a ULock to a driver’s mirror, or yell at pedestrians.

i don’t have the answer, or even a suggestion at this point, but as for events i’ve attended in LA, and i’m sure plenty will disagree, the “advocates” here are definitey doing it wrong.

Cycling safety is more than wearing a helmet. It’s time we get serious about cycling education and infrastructure.

It’s time to think and act like Copenhagen. Their bike safety and infrastructure is proven—it works. Dutch philosophy: drivers should take responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists

Here in ‘Merica we cry about oil spills but we still refuse break the oil and car habit.

I think the main issue is that the infrastructure we’re given to work with is completely lacking.

When I’m on my bike, I hate cars, because they don’t see me and they terrify me. When I’m in my car, I hate bikes, because they’re often difficult to see, and I’m terrified of hitting one.

I think it would be a good idea for the cycling community to try and make an effort to communicate with drivers.  If drivers and cyclists were to direct their frustration with each other towards the unified goal of convincing our cities to give us proper bikes lanes, we might accomplish something.

good post…been feeling the bike/car hate and (lack of) respect lately. while i try and be as predictable as possible, i.e. behave like i’m a car, it takes just one cyclist who goes flying by on the shoulder/between cars, blows a light/sign, and i feel like my efforts are in vain. how do you earn respect when the actions of a few tend to become the stereotypes the masses associated with us?

should we be looking to our own ranks more to understand why some think the rules are different for cyclists? Feels like we spend a lot of energy trying to get cars to see us, get them to share the road, etc. but it doesn’t feel like educating efforts among cyclists gets the same air time. Might we spend some energy advocating more to our own user base on how to ride safely/defensively (while still feeling like you can “dig into your own bag of courage” and ride your own personal TdF every weekend or simply get from point A to B safely)?

cars and bikes will continue to co-exist. there’s no doubt about that. how can we co-mingle better given it will be some time before broad infrastructure changes (e.g. cycle tracks like what is proposed on Dexter Ave) make it safer and more feasible to support high volumes of cyclists as a mode of transportation/form exercise/lifestyle choice.

if teh collision ‘story’ is true and the auto driver did what they were supposed to do in a potential car bike collision then while i would not want to see human suffering from and injured bicyclist they should have let the car turn.  close the streets for bicycle races of get personel to direct the cars and have stop signs.

cars will often avoid other cars when a another driver screws up.  thre shouldnt be any additional vitriol to a bicyclist.

but if a car hits a car at 20 mph there is a difference if a car hits a bicycle at 20 mph. 

atoms collide all the time.  if someone puts themselves in a position to increase a collision with another object…if they are human they will likely feel pain and sometimes death from the collision.

acknowledging often-sensible directional indicators on streets and roads is one way to avoid object collisions.  people can do this…atoms cant.

are there ways to reduce collisions??  sure.  if i am at a stoplight on a bicycle and its dark and nothing is coming perpendicular from me but a car is coming up from behind, it is likely that running the light is safer for me on the bicycle.  the car from behind may not see me and knock me through the intersection anyway.  otherwise waiting for a light to change is probably safer.

if staying to the right means running over a storm grate the width my front tire and tossing me into a car lane when i can hop onto a sidewalk with few or no people..that sounds safer.

if a bicyclist wants to increase there chance of collision by riding in a direction opposed to some other traffic and not acknowledging the
often-sensible info from traffic (painted lines, arrows, etc) direction indicators….then dont feel any guilt when you lay them and their bike into the street.

if a bicyclist is acknowledging painted traffic indicators as a way to reduce collision and another cyclist operate in a way contrary to the often-sensible traffic direction indicators, and they force the other cyclist into a defensive or precarious position leading to accident….the more haphazard cyclist would be at fault and likely subject to ass kicking or bike removal.  not to difficult really.

in watching videos of bike lanes in the netherlands it looks as if their bicycle infrastructure is far more developed and safer and intended for cyclists.

their laws have made cars yield to cyclists as opposed to the other way around.

if they hadnt i guess more bicycle over or under passes would have sprang up.  avoidance and basically queue-ing mechanisms to avoid solid-object-where-pain can be felt collisions developed.  in netherlands it seems a movement towards mass transit and bicycles.

most of america seems to have less developed bicycle infrastructure.

a better mix of roads and useful - not just recrational bicycle paths,  would be a good thing.

tunnels under major roads for bicycles, cut throughs through empty lots to reach business zones, etc.






The letter writer seems like a caricature of the bike-hating driver.  It would be funny if it weren’t so real and the stakes for the cyclist in his path weren’t so high.
Passive advocacy—setting a good example—in this context is probably not the most effective method of advocacy if the goal is to break down some of the assumptions and venom that exist in car-centric people.  I concede that there are some aggressive jerks out there on bikes, but I don’t think that’s the problem.  The problem is rooted in the drivers’ lack of awareness of cyclists and education about two things: (1) their equal right to be on the same road, and (2) how cyclists and drivers are expected to behave.  I think that the public (i.e., government) bears the heaviest responsibility for addressing both of those root causes.  Dedicated infrastructure, including sharrows and signage, does more for educating drivers about cyclists rights than any rider setting a good example could.  The infrastructure also addresses the latter point to some degree:  it gives car drivers some clue about where a cyclist might be and what he might be doing on the road so that he can plan what to do as he approaches.  Cyclists know full well how to anticipate a driver’s actions because we all drive, too, and make the same stupid mistakes from time to time.  Drivers don’t have that same well of experience to draw from and, somewhat understandably, make some pretty extreme reactions when they come across a cyclist (e.g., buzz me while honking or putting along behind me for a mile making me nervous as hell).
  While a blog like this may influence some through this style of “advocacy,”  one of the blog’s highest values is in creating a community of somewhat like-minded, cool-headed cyclists, and bridging the gap between an online “community” and real world community.  It helps us remember that we’re not all alone out there.

In my experience bike lanes make a big difference. Sharrows, not sure, but I’m not a traffic engineer either. Agreed on community and thank you—I was wondering if there were like-minded cyclists out there. Andrew Martin does his best to behave well in traffic, as the right thing to do.

I bike commute regularly, and agree that looking at cyclists’ behavior should be the first step. I see bicycles on sidewalks, riding against traffic, and blowing by on the right at stops. I follow the law and ride responsible. I also see a local bike club out on rides, 4-5 wide, blocking traffic, knowing it, and not caring. Interestingly, when I approached a bike club over the winter to help them with advocacy, the founder of the club said that he didn’t care about advocacy. To me, every time I ride is an opportunity for advocacy.

I’ve ridden in many cities in Europe, including Amsterdam, and while understanding your opinion I do get concerned that we look to Europe to much for a vicarious view of what could be, instead of focusing on what we need to do. We don’t have 400 yr old cities with roads made for carriages, instead our modern cities were built for the car, based on the interstate system and suburbs. Sure, there’s lots of thinking about New Urbanism now and addressing it, but being bike-centric is also out of practicality in Europe. They’ve got trains connecting cities too… also ridden in car-plagued cities as well like London.

Unless the claim is that the writer of that letter is lying about what happened, I’m not seeing what’s so offensive about it. (Except maybe “imbecilic”.) The behavior he describes wouldn’t be appropriate for, say, a car driver training for a road rally. Why should it be appropriate for a cyclist on a training ride?

I’ll grant that the _headline_ of the letter is offensive, but you might notice that nowhere in the actual letter does the writer call for all bicycles to get off the roads. He’s calling out a specific bad behavior, and making what (in response to that particular behavior) is a sensible, limited suggestion.

Either we (cyclists) have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users, or we don’t. Being on a training ride doesn’t grant new rights or remove any responsibilities. So, fill me in: what was offensive about that letter?

Makes you wonder why a cycle track hasn’t been proposed to complete the Burke Gilman. Seems that’d solve that problem at least.

This line, “My advice and plea to you two representatives is to sponsor legislation to ban all bicycle races from all public highways.” We’ve fought that here in Washington State and I’m sure other States have as well and we’ve got specific rules for bike racing—the attempted ban came after a death in a Time Trial.

The letter itself represents the issues at hand on both sides. I don’t know much what happened besides a letter to the editor and the author of it is addressing it to State representatives, but you can see the anger in this line, “suicidal, imbecilic bicyclists.” Doubtful a bike racer is suicidal or imbecilic. Idiotic move around a car, likely yes.

Was that a sanctioned race or alley cat? Don’t know, but I’ll make my opinion clear on this: racing in non sanctioned events without closed roads or a caravan is stupid, very risky, and should be illegal. Earlier this week, Twitter lit [up with Strava, a death, and cyclists]( that go after extreme records.

Backing all of this up, before the discussion on whether we’re advocating right, whether bicycle races should happen on public roads, whether the cyclist was right or wrong about going fast and whether the cyclist was racing or training…


I can’t change lanes in my car on the interstate and cause an accident because there’s no room for me to move over, then use the affirmative defense of “my turn signal was on, and as a reasonable driver, he should have slowed down and made room for me because he knew I was coming over!”

And beyond that, the line about “Other than riding to the right, these bicycles racers do not obey traffic laws.” and “innocent drivers” makes me vomit in my mouth.

The scariest ride I’ve done was in LA. That’s after riding in India, in races, suddenly finding myself on a highway by mistake, hugging the white line with logging trucks whizzing by, and total props to any cyclist living in that city. I appreciate your comment because I think where advocacy lacks in the middle ground. The place between baby boomers who’ve been riding since the 70s in the first oil-crisis bike surge and Critical Mass punks who just want to drink in the street. Yes that’s a generalization, but what voice represents someone who just wants to ride to work and is afraid to do so? I’ve written about this before, the industry has no “safety culture” whatsoever. They could learn that from the automative industry by doing this like reinventing the safety bike, shipping bikes with built-in lights or collision avoidance. They’ll lay up carbon like you wouldn’t believe, but not an R&D dollar is spent on making the bike or riding it safer.

Trek will tell you all about the advocacy they do (and they do), but that’s not directed at public opinion or marketing the bike. You can build all the trails you’re budget will allow, but if people aren’t riding cause they don’t want to get hit by a car, what good does it do?

We’ve been having all sorts of problems with city policy negatively impacting our ability to bike safely of late - ie limiting high speed riding on the F1 track (which is one of the safest places in the world to ride at high speed IMO), ticketting for riding on scenic routes that have very slow recreational paths nearby, etc.

The real problem is that there is no shortage of idiocy anywhere on any side of the argument.  However, the burden of safe responsibility should always be with the driver since they wield the most dangerous implement.

The single biggest danger to cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers is the very common sentiment that whoever has the biggest piece or whoever uses their piece the most aggressively has the right/priority.  Many drivers seem to demand they have the right of way turning, changing lanes, etc over bikes merely by virtue of having a car.  The potentially fatal mistake of that open letter is that merely having a turn signal on and being a car around bikes means means his vehicle had the right of way to turn.  As someone else already pointed out, that is neither supported by law nor etiquette.

That’s right, didn’t your racing on a closed track nearly get shut down?

Drivers absolutely hate cyclists riding on the road near bike trails.  You hate riding on the bike trail?  Probably because the others on that trail are slow and in the way.  Guess what—drivers feel the same way about you.  Instead of 20mph cyclists competing with 10mph trail users where a collision might land someone in a hospital—-50mph drivers are competing with 20mph cyclists where the collision could land someone in a casket.  I don’t blame drivers for being frustrated and annoyed with cyclists too good for bike trails.

My take on roads near bike trails—avoid them.  If you hate bike trails, use roads that aren’t right next to them—pick different routes.

It’s the rollerbladers on the trail with their wide strokes . ..

Marvin, according to our laws (your road laws might differ) you are only under legal obligation to take a bike path if the path is part of the road system itself (ie a segregated bike path, painted bike lane, etc).

Recreational paths that are completely separate from the roads do not apply to the law. There is no legal or etiquette reason for me to avoid some of the nicest roads in my area.

Furthermore, here the speed limit for residential roads is 40 km/h (25mph).  I can easily maintain a steady 30ish km/h (18-22 mph) and with even a small paceline 40km/h is well within the realm of possible.  I’m nowhere near the pinnacle of cycling fitness, I’m also nowwhere near impeding the flow of traffic.

On paths there are kids, couples, rollerbladers (second the wide strokes) all of which can be travelling anywhere from <10 km/h to 20 km/h.  There is a speed limit of 20 km/h on rec paths.

Fast moving bikes in traffic are IMO far safer and more regulated.  The law is also on my side, in fact the roads in question have bike priority lane markers all along their length.  The cops just don’t understand the laws they are operating in.


They imposed a strict 30 km/h speed limit and have installed double 90 degree chicanes and speed bumbs at intervals along the course.

It’s ruined to the point of closed down for anyone remotely serious and most rec riders hate and have serious trouble navigating the double chicanes, they are stupidly tight.

Why did that do that? Racers race on automotive courses all over, that’s the Tuesday Night Worlds.

I know it’s legal most places—that goes back to my original point.  Being legal and being considerate are different—even if all cyclists followed the law (they don’t), some make no effort beyond their legal requirement.  It’s the same as other inconsiderate and uncommon vehicles. 

If you’re driving an RV on a winding 2-lane road that has rules that you can’t hold up more than 5 cars—but you drive slowly and luckily have only stacked up 4 cars behind you.  You might legally be allowed to drive past each turn out—but you’re not going to make any allies out of those 4 drivers who probably like slow RV drivers a little less after each time that happens.  It’s the same with the rider who is legally a jerk when he rides.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not usually a big fan of riding on most bike paths—but if I’m not going to ride on the path, I pick a route the doesn’t include the road next to the path.


They did it ostensibly out of safety.  It doesn’t make any sense though.


How does you picking a road far from bike paths make you at all more considerate?  You’re just slowing traffic or blocking someone else’s road.  Your argument just doesn’t make sense, not even on grounds of perception of consideration.

The only person who loses out in that rationality is the performance cyclist.  The recs get their way, and the drivers get their way.

There is little evidence that driving 30 km/h in a 40 km/h zone really slows down traffic.  The roads I’m talking about are entirely scenic, have protected cycling provisions by the local municipalities (and large enough lanes passing is no problem)  and are rife with community events that slow specifically car traffic down.

The number, tone, and content of the comments here show that there is no shortage of frustration and differeing opinions on the car-cyclist and road-bikepath issues.  That the opinions within even this community are so divided demonstrates why it is so difficult to resolve these issues.  Whether we should be vehicular cyclists or on segregated facilities—and how to fit your answer into the realities of budget/politics/existing infrastructure has stymied good transportation planners and politicians for a long while.  it’s tough stuff.
  What I keep coming back to in this discussion, and others like it, is that independent of whatever facility decision you make, a great deal needs to be done to change the mindset of automobile drivers out there.  I concede that there are some cyclists making risky and obnoxious riding decisions.  But the same can be fairly said of drivers.  To suggest that cyclists need to clean our house before the other tribe needs to clean theirs is the path to stalemate and inaction.  Even the most obnoxious cyclist, while he may be maddening to drivers and cyclists alike, is really a greater danger to himself than to anyone else.  That can’t be said of the car driver, and that’s why I pin the greater responsibility in these situations on the car driver. It’s also why—getting back to original post and my first comment—I think passive “set-a-good-example” advocacy isn’t the solution here.  It has merits, but I welcome old-fashioned lobbying activity that results in my seeing infrastructure of any sort going into the ground.  Those stripes and chevrons raise consciousness.  Cyclists have a place on the road, and we should be held to the same “moral” standards as any other road user.  As long as car drivers are routinely exceeding speed limits, rolling stop signs, running red lights, and squashing pedestrians and cyclists; the moral indigination expressed at cyclists (from inside or outside the cycling community) for similar violations rings hollow to my ear.  Cyclists can’t cause as much harm, so the moral failure is not equivalent.  Give me a traffic ticket if you must, but spare me the sermon.

Triple Pundit today posts on the same topic, with a different angle of rebranding bicycling:

> Bicycling does not need an imaging makeover—it needs more local activism to make bicyclists safe.

[Read more](

great comments from everyone (whether you agree or not). we’re all talking and that’s a great first step. now, how to carry the momentum forward so it doesn’t stop at a bunch of keyboard strokes?

byron—any ideas? anyone?

It seems like getting a big name behind driving safety around bicycles would help bring it to the fore and shift the behavior of drivers.

Look how well Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” campaign has done… it has virtually eliminated all distracted cell phone driving collisions.

Bike advocacy aside. The motor vehicle driver tried to forcibly enter a stream of vehicles. That is simply illegal. The fact that they were bikes made him feel as though he had the right of way. In any case match speed of the traffic flow use your directional signal and try to merge into the traffic flow. The driver probably tried to pass as many bike as possible before reaching his desination instead of finding a gap and entering the flow. I ride but I also drive. Maybe we should go for a little education. I personally yield to 3000# vehicles with the directional signal on. Every car that passes on the left is a potential right turn from the left lane. You only have to T-Bone one to get educated. If you are aware you can miss most of them.

I don’t think everyone is reading the incident description correctly, but the description isn’t fantastic, but it makes a difference in what you are perceiving. 

The driver is talking about being on the main road with cyclists around him.  He started to turn right, with his signal on, and a cyclist tried to pass him on the right, rather than stop or slow down, and allowing him to turn.  As a following vehicle, the cyclist would clearly be at fault here. 

His quote is funny/tragic.  “Otherwise it is only a matter of time until one of them is killed and an innocent motorist is guilt ridden for life.”  As if this didn’t happen every day.

Correct. What I read was ban bicycles and the line you quoted.

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