It's spring. The sun shines. Women can be seen wearing skirts. The patios are full. Sure, it may snow again, but it will be nothing more than a last desperate gasp on winter's part. Time to get ready for the two or three months that you don't need to wear a jacket in this arctic realm we call Canada.
As spring arrives, it's also time to welcome back that most noble of breeds: the fair-weather cyclist. There was a time when the only people who used a bike to get to work were the ones who couldn't afford a car and didn't believe in deodorant. Those days are gone. As gas prices rise and waistlines expand, bicycle commuting has increased. More than 14 million Canadians ride bicycles and more and more of them are choosing two wheels as the preferred mode of transportation to and from the workplace.
It's good news for the environment and good news for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Cycling can get you to work fast while it gets you fit. Bike lanes are great. I think we could go further. I'm in favour of bike-only roads. It would be terrific to see certain urban arteries reserved for bicycles during rush hour. I bet that this would allow cyclists in Toronto, for instance, to get out of the city core in about 15 minutes (it takes at least 40 by car).
Yet, as the number of bicycles on the roads increases, the freedom and fresh air that attracted so many to this form of travel is starting to decrease. Each year, it seems, the number of bike commuters in big cities doubles and, with increased numbers, comes its own form of gridlock.
I'm referring to bike congestion. What was once unthinkable is now starting, ever so gradually, to become a reality. It's now possible see mini-jams in the bike lane during most rush-hour peaks.
These are in no way as toxic or frustrating as the automotive kind, but they bring with them their own form of vexation.
The scenario plays out like this: one poor fellow chugs slowly along while half-a-dozen frustrated speedsters pedal impatiently behind him. If you thought that automobile drivers were prone to outrage and road rage think again; hell hath no fury like a cyclist postponed.
These cyclists solve bike congestion by executing surprise passes. They happen without warning or signal and take everyone, motorist and cyclist alike, by jarring surprise.
I call it the "Bike Lane Bump." Here's how it works:
- A speedy cyclist is riding in a bike lane.
- There is a slow cyclist in front of him.
- The speedy cyclist does not want to be delayed.
- So, he simply pulls abruptly out of the bike lane and into traffic. He does not signal. He does not blow a whistle or yell “passing” before executing his move. He just pulls blissfully into traffic.
- The motorist beside him tries to give space while not crashing into the car to his left.
- The slow poke he is passing tenses up and almost falls off his bike.
- The speedy cyclist pedals by the slow poke.
- In eight seconds, he sees another slow cyclist.
- He repeats the process.
This kind of move happens all the time in cities with bike lanes. You can blame the car, as some cycling advocates do, saying that not enough bike-friendly routes are being created, but the reality is that this kind of cycling infraction will become more common as more people choose the bicycle as a means of commuting. The more bikes on the road, the more examples of bike-on-bike transgression there will be.
If cycling is going to become a mainstream option and not the choice of a few urban dwellers, cyclists are going to have to adopt and adhere to uniform cycling practices. How many casual riders, for instance, know the proper etiquette when passing (yes, there is one)? It's only the hardcore bikers whom I see wearing whistles, which they can use to warn other motorists or cyclists and to signal when they are about to pass. Most others just casually bump into traffic and just as casually slam back into the bike lane.
The "Bike Lane Bump" is also the product of the expectation most of us have when we bike. We're doing it because we're sick of gridlock. We want to glide through traffic. We want to feel the freedom that is part and parcel of a good bike ride.
The problem is that there are no speed limits for cycling. Bike lanes are used by people out for a leisurely pedal and speedy stressed commuters trying to get to the office on time. So the definition of a slow cyclist ends up being "anyone who is going slower than me" and the definition of an aggressive cyclist is "anyone who peddles faster than me."
So dear cyclists, do us a favour. When you pass – signal. Let us know. Don't hide it away. It's your lane. Use it right.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy