I want drivers to know how to safely share the road with cyclists. Many of you don't, and my daughter enjoys having a dad. Although my demise will cure most of my many personality defects, I'm in no hurry.
I enjoy riding my bicycle, no matter the terrain. It's fun; sometimes it's even relaxing. But in Asheville, bike riding frequently proves a dangerous exercise. Consider this:
• Dry curb weight of a 1991 Ford F-150 pickup truck: 2,722 lbs.
• Dry curb weight of a 1985 Pontiac Firebird: 3,850 lbs.
• Dry curb weight of a 1991 Yugo: 1,822 lbs.
• Dry curb weight of a 2006 Honda Civic: 2,654 lbs.
• Weight of my bike and me: roughly 200 lbs.
In no scenario does a cyclist win a fight with a car: The laws of physics determine the outcome.
According to the N.C. Department of Transportation's Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation: "Each year in N.C., more than 900 bicyclists are involved in police-reported crashes with motor vehicles. On average, around 20 are killed and an additional 60 are seriously injured."
In 2007, Asheville reported roughly 4 percent of the state's bicycle crashes; more than half involved injuries requiring an ambulance. Most victims were sober white males riding through urban areas, obeying the traffic laws in 35 mph speed zones. No injuries were reported among the automobile drivers.
Because I talk with other cyclists frequently, I know that many of Asheville's car/bike accidents go unreported. In the space of two days recently, I heard three unfortunate stories from acquaintances: bent bikes, broken bodies, no police report.
On the bike, I'm not looking to win any popularity contests. I know a slower vehicle is an inconvenience, but I also know I'm at a severe disadvantage in a collision. I assert myself to increase my visibility to drivers.
You'll notice that I pass you at red lights: The front of the line is the most visible place for me. You'll notice that I ride three feet away from parked cars, avoiding quickly opened doors. And sometimes I'll move to the sidewalk; I'd rather scoff the law than die following it. So if you see me roll through an occasional stop sign or red light, then I applaud you for seeing me at all. My biggest worry is that you'll feel me first — under your bumper, sight unseen.
If a cyclist moves ahead of you, there's no need to honk and yell or try to drive us off the road. Most of us are well aware that bicycles are vehicles, subject to the same rules as cars. But we're not cars: We're soft and fleshy, lacking your steel exoskeleton, and our goal is simply self-preservation in the face of inherent, constant, overweening peril. Drivers can be inattentive, and most cyclists are simply trying to arrive at their destination intact.
I don't care how you choose to get to work in the morning. Drive. Walk. Take the bus. Hitchhike. Long-board. Unicycle. Have fun. Lord knows, I'm trying to enjoy my commute.
But let me speak to one of you in particular: You know who you are. West Asheville, several weeks ago, just after 6 p.m. You were absent-mindedly turning east onto Haywood Road from Clinton Avenue in your dark-blue, midsize car. I yelled "Watch out!" because I didn't know whether your windows were open and I wanted you to be aware of me. I was on my bike, heading east at about 23 mph on the right side of the road. You remember me now: the guy with the blindingly bright headlight and the big orange flags. A safety geek by any measure, I yielded when I saw you turning.
The ensuing minutes are a bit blurry, but I do recall that after you completed your turn, you started screaming at me (I think you said something about kicking my ass). You also swerved violently across the lane, NASCAR-style, as if to prevent me from passing you.
The line of cars waiting for the red light at Patton Avenue stretched back past Belmont Avenue. As you slowed, I passed you on the left, crossing the center line and giving you a wide berth. I said nothing to you as I passed. I didn't call you an unhinged chupacabra (a hairless, goat-sucking, cyptozoological beast that's prone to hiss and screech when alarmed). I didn't blithely suggest that our interaction had been about as much fun as a raging rectal rash. I just rode past you and continued on my way. True, I wasn't happy — and I looked over my shoulder to make sure you hadn't followed me.
But this isn't a rant about your "communicating threats" violation (a misdemeanor); the truth is, I try to stay the hell off the road whenever possible. Having more bike paths and bike lanes would certainly help.
When we must share the road, though, please understand that I'm there only because I have no better option. So please: Be patient; be kind. A cyclist isn't riding his bike to inconvenience or irritate you.
To paraphrase Aristotle: Anybody can be pissed off, but an honorable person gets pissed off at the right people, for the right reason, and responds at the right time and in the right manner.
So how do we find equilibrium on the road? If I pass you at a stoplight, please don't overreact. If I holler "Watch out!" to remind you that we're on the road together, please don't run me over or kick my ass. I'm merely trying to get across town — just like you.
Christopher M. Craig is the managing attorney of the Asheville law firm Craig Associates, PC.