Assertive Cycling

Cyclists have a right to be on the road, period. OK, maybe not all roads, like the 400 series highways and some other major highways, but most roads in towns and cities are open for cyclists to use. Furthermore, cyclists have the right to take the lane, i.e., ride in the middle of the lane, when it is the safest option, for example, when there is very rough pavement at the side, an obstacle at the side or any of many other situations. Car drivers (and by car, I refer to any motorized vehicle) however, often don’t always want to share the lane with cyclists, even though most of them know that cyclists are allowed to do so. Therefore, cyclists must be willing to assert their rights to be in the lanes with cars when it is necessary and appropriate to do so.

However, there is a big difference between assertive and aggressive and, furthermore, obstinate. This is how I define assertive, aggressive and obstinate and, for the sake of comparison, I have added submissive too.

  • An assertive cyclist will respect the rights of the cars to be in the lanes as well as them but, after shoulder checking and proper signalling, an assertive cyclist will inform the surrounding cars of their plan to move into the lane to avoid the obstacle at the side, will move around the obstacle and then will move back when the obstacle has been passed.
  • An aggressive cyclist also will ride on the side of the road but when there is an obstacle, the cyclist will move into the lane without consideration of the traffic around them, forcing the traffic to make sudden changes in speed or direction to avoid hitting the cyclist.
  • An obstinate cyclist will hog the lane of a busy road at a busy time of day, even though it is unnecessary to do so, i.e., there are no obstructions at the side of the road that prevent the cyclist from riding there.
  • submissive cyclist will ride in the curb (not in the road), will get off their bike and walk their bike on the sidewalk around the obstacle in the road, will walk their bike across intersections rather than riding with traffic. This is typical behaviour of a new cyclist or one with little confidence in riding with traffic. A cyclist with little experience and confidence should practice riding on very quiet roads to gain confidence in their abilities and to become more comfortable riding with traffic around them. The problem with submissive behaviour is that drivers will take advantage of this and not “offer” to share the road with the cyclist. Another way to look at this is that submissive cyclists try to make themselves invisible and the result is, they become invisible to drivers and, sometimes, pedestrians too. Drivers respect confident cyclists but less so cyclists who are lacking in confidence. By coincidence, I have just read an interesting article in NYMag.com about a nervous bike commuter and why he feels that being submissive is a dangerous thing to do.

There are two principles to consider when riding with traffic:

  • cyclists have the right to be on the road and
  • motorized vehicles have the right to be on the road

So the overriding principle is for both to respectfully share the road, using only the part of road that is necessary for safe travel and allowing the others to travel unimpeded as much as possible. Admittedly, cyclists have far less weight and protection than drivers—a collision between the two is more dangerous for the cyclist than the car driver—so it is especially important that cyclists be vigilant of the cars around them.

I have created a new category of posts called “Assertive Cycling” and I will be writing about how and why to employ assertiveness when cycling in traffic. Assertive cycling benefits the cyclist by making the ride easier and safer. These posts will written be from my perspective and experience and how I employ assertiveness when cycling.

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