Don’t Ride Like Children

Carbon Trace reader and MSU student Nate Bassett interviewed me yesterday for an article he’s writing for The Underground, an unofficial student newspaper. The topic: College students and bicycling.

While I have much to say on the topic, the most important point is boiled down in my headline: Don’t ride like children.

College students are not children. I make a point of never referring to them collectively as “kids.” They are adults. And college is a great place and time to start acting like it. That doesn’t mean I’m against having a good ol’ time at college. Far from it. It means it’s the right time in life to begin asserting one’s rightful place in the adult world.

One way to do that: Ride your bicycle like an adult. Click here for a description of what that means.

Students arrive on campus this weekend. Classes begin Monday. That means the number of bicyclists on the roads around campus and downtown is going to explode. For the first few weeks of class — if you squint a bit and use your imagination — we’re going to look a little like Amsterdam — kinda, sorta.

Now’s the time to decide: Ride like a child or ride like an adult?

(For our European readers who may be scratching their heads in wonder: American children are not required to learn how to ride on the roads. Typical American bicycle instruction involves a parent pushing a child along until s/he learns balance, then sending the child off to ride with little more than a wave and a smile. Consequently, American children ride as if the entire earth is a surface for their use. College students all too often continue to ride this way.)

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Comments 9

  1. Abhishek wrote:


    A few days back, I was walking my dog outside my apartment complex at lunch. The road is two wide lanes with a very wide median. Two cyclists were leisurely riding on the left hand side of the lane, next to the median as opposed to the right hand side. There were no turns coming up. I waved as they passed by and very politely said that they should be on ‘this’ side pointing to the right side. They rode along replying, “We know how to ride bikes! Thanks anyway”.

    Thank you for taking a step towards educating students on how to ride a bicycle. People fail to understand the difference between the physical activity of riding a bike and the social activity of knowing to ride one. Physically, we can ride our bikes as soon as the training wheels are off. Socially, we should respect laws and rules.

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 11:21 am
  2. Keri wrote:

    Well said.

    It’s sad, but true. Most adult cyclists (not just college students) ride like children. You can’t even stereo-type them as fixed gear riders, roadies, homeless people. Just recent observations in upscale Winter Park: A middle-age guy on a commuter bike makes a left from a red light, treating it as a yield sign. Another rides down the sidewalk (which is clearly marked NO BIKES) through the tables. A middle-aged woman on a comfort bike rides through a stop sign as if it isn’t there.

    These people have professional jobs and probably drive fancy cars. They get on their bikes and do things that are illogical and childlike.

    Some of the traffic violations don’t appear to be conscious disregard for the law (or TCD). It’s like this giant blind spot in people’s minds that the law applies to them, or why it even should apply to them.

    The roads must seem very conflict-ridden to them, and they have no idea 90% of it is self-created.

    This comes straight from our cultural disregard for bicycles as legitimate vehicles.

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 11:37 am
  3. A.J. wrote:

    I think part of the problem is no citations are issued for non-compliance with vehicular rules. With no overseeing body, it’s basically free range or voluntary adherence. But time and again I agree with Andy that the best way to be respected is to assert yourself like the other vehicles on the road.

    Holland street is a good example. While the stop signs are a tad annoying, that doesn’t mean you can ignore them. Safety equpiment is no substitute for safe riding (Nor does the end justifies the means, Fixies) 😀

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 12:29 pm
  4. Keri wrote:

    Several weeks ago I was in a car on a 4-lane artery. We were in the left lane. Traffic was thick. Ahead we could see the cars in the left lane swerving to the right. There was a dude on a bike riding against traffic, up against the median with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding a large shopping bag. I suspect he was in the process of making a garbage-rider left turn.

    I see this kind of nonsense a lot, but what’s significant about this story is that the vehicle in front of us was a police cruiser. The cop just drove on by. Swerved around him like the rest of us.

    “It’s just bicycles.” Insignificant, unimportant toys.

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 1:15 pm
  5. robert wrote:

    Keri and Andy,

    So much of this starts with a knowledgeable police force. I’m not bragging but things in Columbia have changed 180 degrees in the past 12 months. I rarely see a bicyclist breaking traffic laws now and the police officers routinely pull over law breaking bicyclists.

    Police officers really need to #1. be knowledgeable of bicycling laws and #2. think of bicycles as vehicles.

    If both of those are occurring then pulling over a bicyclist would be a perfectly normal thing to do.

    Our University Police force is still refusing both training and enforcement but I think they will eventually come around.

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 1:43 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… The attitude here is that the over-worked, under-staffed Springfield PD has better things to do than ticket bicyclists. An officer told me that bicyclists are, for the most part, only a danger to themselves, sooooo…

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 3:46 pm
  7. Steve A wrote:

    I expect that the over-worked, under-staffed police ARE inclined to enforce FTR laws…

    Posted 18 Aug 2009 at 6:22 pm
  8. ChipSeal wrote:

    “An officer told me that bicyclists are, for the most part, only a danger to themselves, sooooo…”

    So which has more paperwork involved, a cyclist injury with a transport to a hospital, a cyclist fatality, or a ticket that will modify a cyclist’s behavior and avoid the first two examples?

    I guess “To Serve and Protect” means something different to me than your local police.

    Posted 19 Aug 2009 at 9:41 am
  9. Keri wrote:

    ChipSeal just made the point FBA is using to encourage participation Law Enforcement ed program.

    LEOs, (like most people) don’t think big-picture or connect the dots for themselves, but if you do it for them with the right framing, they can get their heads around it.

    Posted 19 Aug 2009 at 11:51 am