Why (And How) to be Nice to Cyclists

For many drivers—particularly in the US—bicyclists are seen as a nuisance. They take up valuable space on the road, slow down traffic, and seem out of place in our automobile-focused landscape. Some even want to remove bicyclists from roadways altogether, and relegate them to the realm of athletics and children’s playgrounds.

But this is short-sighted. Disdain for bicyclists comes from a few select places—none of which have a deep connection to the reality of the situation. The incredibly minor inconvenience of making space for a bicyclist, and the odd mentality that they’re somehow being “uppity” are both petty and stupid reasons to dislike bicyclists. And while jokes about bicyclists do make for good comedy, the fact is that we, as drivers, need to start making room for them.

There are several good reasons to do so, too. Some are based mostly in ethics, while others appeal to a degree of self-interested practicality. A few drift into both

We hope to convince you to rethink your disdain for bicyclists. Below, we’ve compiled a few good reasons to be nice to bicyclists… and some actionable ways to do exactly that. To start with, let’s help you with a common misconception.

More Bicyclists Means Less Traffic for You

One of the first complaints you’ll hear from drivers about bicyclists is how they “take up the road.” But, this is a misconception. The fact is that bicyclists actually reduce the traffic you face.

Of course, it’s incredibly frustrating to be stuck behind a slow bicyclist who won’t move over to allow faster vehicles to pass by. But that has very little to do with the bike itself. It primarily comes from one of two places: first, your city failing to provide wide enough roads for the bicyclist to feel safe at its edge; and second, the same kind of rudeness that causes a driver to cut you off and coast at 20 miles per hour in the fast lane. 

With the exception of that rude or unfortunate bicyclist, bicycles usually help your commute. First and foremost, they do so by being one less car on the road. Look at the size of a bike compared to a car. And the fact that bikes can often take routes not open to cars, meaning the ones you see on the road are only a small fraction of what’s out there. You can fit, at a minimum, four individual bicycle commuters safely and comfortably into the same space a sedan would take up on the road. So, instead of picturing a bicyclist in front of you, picture what it would be like if there were a gaggle of cars, instead. 

The bike seems to be an easy pick, then.

Bicyclists Reduce Waiting Time Elsewhere

With more people riding bikes than cars, that also means you won’t find those people taking up space at the gas station or the mechanic. And given that dozens of bikes can park in the same space as a single car, it also lowers crowding in parking lots. In other words: when people ride bikes, your commute not only gets shorter, but it feels like you’ve got the world of cars to yourself.

Some of them are Locals

Yeah, sure, all commuters are “locals.” But here, we mean it in a more restricted sense. People don’t generally bike for long distances. Meaning the bicyclists you see on the road (unless you’re on mountain roads favored by sporty types) likely live within a couple miles. You may well be intruding on their neighborhood, not the other way around. And somehow, I doubt you’d complain about kids riding their bikes in a neighborhood you were visiting.

Besides… as a rule? Try not to upset the locals in any place you go. 

It’s good for the Environment

Internal combustion powered cars, just from driving them, produce a sizable percentage of air polluting emissions. Not just carbon dioxide, but toxic carbon monoxide as well. That’s to say nothing of the materials and resources that go into developing, producing, and transporting cars for sale. When it comes down to it… they’re bad for the planet.

This doesn’t mean we should ditch them. They also do some good. But when you look at how much we could cut down carbon emissions (and other forms of air pollution) by trading cars for bikes (or EVs), you might start to see bicycles in a much brighter light.

How to be Nice to Bicyclists

First: Pay Attention (and drop the phone)!

If you only learn one thing from this article, let it be this: the single most important thing you can do to help bicyclists (as well as motorcyclists) is to be alert at all times. This doesn’t mean you need to drive around tense… but it does mean you need to put the phone down, and look around you with an eye out not just for cars, but for bikes, pedestrians, and motorcycles. Rather than picturing yourself as a car among cars, picture yourself as a car intruding on a world of much smaller, more fragile things. Be aware of your space. Take the extra second to look for something smaller than you initially expected. It could save a life.

Second: Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Maybe they’re biking because they know it’s environmentally friendly. Or because they can’t afford a car. Or because they’re not going far enough to make it worth a drive. Or, just because it’s fun. Either way, bikes have a right to be on the road, too. And if you imagine yourself in their shoes, it can help calm down any frustration and picture what you’d be comfortable with in that situation… meaning you’ll know what you can do to make them comfortable.

Third: Give them Space

Picture that feeling you have when a semi blasts by you on the highway. You probably have to force yourself not to turn the wheel away from it. It’s a big, monstrous thing, and your lizard-brain puts you on edge. 

The same is true when cars pass by bicyclists. So, what’s the best way to help them be comfortable? The same thing you wish was possible for the semi: give them plenty of room. As a rule, think about it as though they had a full car around them, and try not to get within that bubble, especially when passing. 

Final Words

Bikes aren’t the nuisance people make them out to be. They’re a fun hobby, and a possible part of a solution to both bad traffic and environmental problems. As such, drivers have a responsibility to accommodate them. Not just for those practical reasons, but because it’s the right thing to do. 

Hopefully, you’ve learned some ways to do that, here.