I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was in my early 20s.
It wasn’t because I was afraid of getting behind the wheel, but rather that it wasn’t a skill that I needed. Between my friends and my parents I was usually able to get a ride most places I needed to go. For everything else I had a bike.
I rode that bike everywhere in all sorts of conditions. I peddled through blizzards, rainstorms and in temperatures from -30 and windy to +35 and humid. If I needed to get somewhere I didn’t let anything stop me.
And while I did enjoy it a great deal, it wasn’t always the safest mode of transportation. I have a scar under my lip from where I hit the back of a car that decided to stop illegally (and for no good reason) in an intersection. Similar incidents left me with small chips in my teeth and the occasional scraped knee, palm, elbow or shin.
My most frightening experience involved me riding over an overpass and feeling something brush up against my left shoulder. I looked over and I realized that it was the side of a truck.
Assessing the situation, I realized that if I fell to the left I would be crushed by the truck’s wheels and if I fell to the right I’d go over the edge. So I decided to take a deep breath, hang on and keep peddling.
It’s been years since I put that bike in the garage and became a motorist, but I still feel a kinship with those who I see out and about on two wheels. I do my best to look out for cyclists and to give them space.
But, just like there are dangerous drivers who imperil the lives of those on bikes, there are also reckless cyclists who seem to think that the rules of the road don’t apply to them and that their safety is someone else’s responsibility.
I’ve seen more cyclists than I can count blow through stop signs and even red lights because they didn’t feel like stopping and didn’t see any cars coming. I barely avoided hitting a guy on a bike who came screaming down a hill to a four-way stop and decided to ignore it and go through the intersection. Had I not caught him out of the corner of my eye emerging from the tree-obstructed street, he would have been quite seriously injured.
Most cyclists don’t use hand signals any more. They seem to assume that those of us in the cars around them magically know if they’re going to turn in front of us. There are those who weave in and out of traffic, often without looking, ride at night with no lights and choose to endanger the lives of pedestrians by peddling through narrow, crowded sidewalks.
Cyclists belong on the roads and motorists need to respect that. Drivers need to keep their eyes peeled and remember how much damage a car can do to the human body. But cyclists need to remember they have responsibilities too, because if they don’t, they could end up paying a much steeper price than a scarred lip or a chipped tooth.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News