We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

See the road through the eyes of a cyclist

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist August 19, 2011

One of the greatest dangers to a cyclist occurs where bike trails intersect with roadways.

This month, I rented a bike and went for a ride, just to see the road from a different perspective.

The bike was rented from Selkirk Station at the Gorge trestle bridge. I was fitted with a bicycle that matched my height and weight, and the owners were quite helpful. They asked me how long it had been since my last serious bike ride. The fact that I could not remember gave them a good idea of the extensive pre-trip instructions I would need.
I had always been a fairly good bike rider well into my teens, so how hard could it be? The helmet was adjustable and I already had sunglasses as well as a good supply of sunscreen.

My intention was to ride for about an hour and return the bike to the shop. It was so much fun that I went about 25 kilometres and was out for about three hours. I swim with the Victoria Masters club about three or four times a week and do two to three kilometres each workout, so the bike ride was a comparable workout for a novice rider.

As I started out, there seemed to be something missing. It took a little while before it dawned on me that I did not have a rear-view mirror. Whenever I am driving my car, the rear-view mirror is indispensable. The most common vehicle crash is the rear-end collision. I also wanted a louder horn. The serious cyclists were passing me like I was standing still. While I was on the Galloping Goose trail, everyone was extremely polite. As they approached from behind, I would hear the words “passing on the left” or a bike bell would ring, warning me of the same action. The first pass happened on smooth asphalt pavement and surprised me.

Approaching cyclists all seemed so happy. They would smile, wave, nod or otherwise acknowledge my presence. Everyone seemed to be in the same unofficial club. They were actual people, not objects, which is all too often the manner in which vehicle drivers perceive one another. There was only one close call, when a racing style cyclist passed without enough room allowed for oncoming cycle traffic. This only proves that cyclists can go temporarily out of their minds in the same way drivers of automobiles do.

The most interesting part of the ride was noted when I came in contact with motor vehicles. If the bike travel intersected with cars and trucks on the trail, there was always a polite and prompt right of way given. Drivers seemed more than willing to accommodate me.

This changed dramatically when I had to leave the confines of the trail in order to mingle with vehicles on a regular road. It was as though I had entered a different world. The courtesy was given grudgingly and I felt as though vehicle drivers resented my presence altogether. Other cyclists seemed less friendly, and I noticed a significant reduction in the number of riders donning helmets for their daily commute, particularly in the downtown core.

Dedicated bicycle lanes made me feel a lot safer. It was as though I belonged, and allowances were being made for me and my kind. I just did not feel comfortable when car drivers went by me far too close for comfort.

When I do the next ride, I will wear much brighter clothing, and get a rear-view mirror and a horn. I will buy a bicycle this summer and start to ride regularly. Any hints or advice in this bike-riding odyssey will be welcomed.

Would that every driver saw the world through the eyes of a cyclist – the world would be a safer place.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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