Last year, I rode in the annual Ride of Silence. While it is a wonderful idea to honor those cyclists hit or killed by motorists, I was turned off by the event. I believe the execution defeated the purpose, which is to raise awareness of cyclists by drivers and to promote bike safety. It is also to make motorists more sympathetic to cyclists and more willing to share the road.
The Ride of Silence is a very slow group ride conducted in complete silence. This causes several problems, which, I feel, defeat the intent of the ride.
First, the ride is so slow that drivers trying to enter the road while the cyclists pass have a long wait; as long as five minutes while the parade plods by. That isn’t going to make drivers any more bicycle friendly.
Second, we passed people who wondered what the ride was about. One time I stopped to talk to a group and was told to just keep silent. I did, but with no handouts to explain the ride, it simply makes us look arrogant. I don’t think that’s going to make people more bicycle friendly.
Third, the ride gets dangerous in the pack. The advertised slow pace brings out very inexperienced, unpredictable riders. There’s such a difference in bike handling skills and riding ability that it’s a dicey place to be; more like Country Park on a Sunday than a group ride.
Finally, there’s very little attention to real safety issues. There’s no technical inspection. The ride takes place in late afternoon, yet there’s no requirement to wear high visibility clothing. Many riders wear black or very dark colors. And, there’s no requirement to use mirrors.
To me, there’s no learning experience here for anyone. I believe the key to bike safety is individual helpfulness, courtesy and a positive attitude. Here’s what works for me. I ride on country roads and deal with drivers who are sometimes distracted or not happy to share the road. I’ve had close calls, but when I changed my attitude toward drivers, their attitude changed toward me.
Cyclists frustrate motorists. We’re an annoyance, we’re in their way, we’re arrogant and a damned nuisance. They really hate group rides, hundreds of cyclists three abreast, forcing them to follow at 15 mph until a very long straightaway. These are all valid complaints which I consider when riding.
First, always use a bicycle mirror; the driver behind you may be distracted. If he gets too close, ditch, it beats getting hit.
Second, always wear fluorescent clothing; studies show a major advantage in visibility. If you ride regularly as part of a cycling group, club or team, you may want to check out our customized bike jerseys, where you can add your logo to the jersey.
Third, always obey traffic rules, as if you were a car. No exceptions.
My strategy is to make drivers respect me by helping them. My buddy and I always ride single file when cars are behind us. When cars can’t pass due to a blind corner or hill crest, when we see the road ahead is clear we signal them to pass with a big wave of the arm, then call out “Thank You” when they pass. Quite often you get a return wave. You’re no longer an anonymous pain-in-the-butt road hazard; instead you’re a courteous, helpful, friendly human being.
Help the driver get safely by and thank them for their consideration. Be courteous to every driver and acknowledge their courtesy. Become a friendly, considerate rider who is trying to help them get where they are going faster and easier – instead of an impediment. It’s simple, but it works.
And let’s rethink the Ride of Silence, and come up with a better idea to honor victims while promoting bicycle safety.