Rules of the Road

It seems like cyclists draw the most ire out of ordinary people, leading to road rage and violence at the worst, and rude, dismissive and violent comments in newspapers at best. There are a few cyclists out there who also don’ t do themselves any favors. An example I’ve seen happened on a trail we regularly ride that goes through golf course property. The sidewalk is listed as a bike path, and the road is for golf course visitors to access the parking lots. There are signs all over the place that give golf carts the right of way. On a recent sunny morning, a huge whizzing group of guys came tearing down that road and pulled up short as a golf cart made its way into their path of travel. Now, first of all, the bikers were in the wrong lane. Second, they were going too fast for that section of the trail. And third, the RoW was marked. Yet these guys slammed on their brakes, leapt off their pedals, and launched a volley of expletives at the itty bitty old man driving the golf cart. Behavior like that gives bicyclists a bad name.

Yet, on the flip side, most cyclists I know are exceedingly polite and law-abiding, and they still get abuse hurled at them when they are on the road, from honking, passing too close, foul language yelled at them, and even things being thrown at them. This stems from quite a bit of confusion about just how the road is to be used. So, I thought I’d gather some materials to help add to the conversation, and educate people about the rules.

1. Be polite. This should go without saying, but you own the car you drive in, or the bike you ride on, not the whole road. Don’t act like everyone else is just messing up your day. They have places to go and people to see as well. Drive your vehicle with mindfulness and courtesy for others at all times.

2. Be aware. Defensive, aware driving will save you every time. Look 2-3 cars ahead. Look behind you. Constantly check the side and rear view. Know who else is on the road. See a car with a wobbling tire? Try to move to a different lane. You never know when that car’s axle will snap and fubar the whole commute for everyone, and you don’t want to be in that. See someone who’s swerving a bit? Give them extra room. See someone who appears drunk? In Colorado, you can dial *CSP from your cell phone and report it. That number also works for aggressive drivers as well.

3. Be educated. There is no excuse for stupidity. Know the laws, and follow them. Some of the laws need to be changed. But for now, they are the laws. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has a guide that details the laws for bikes and pedestrians in their interactions with vehicles. By clicking here, you can see the entire guide. Some rules that apply are as follows:

Bicycles & Traffic (1)
In Colorado, motorists and bicyclists share the road. Both have equal rights and responsibilities to obey all traffic laws. Bicycle drivers who violate traffic laws will be subject to the same penalties as drivers of motor vehicles, except that no penalty points shall be assessed against the bicyclist’s driver’s license. If a bicycle rider is stopped for a traffic violation and the officer has reason to believe that the bicyclist will not appear in court or the officer is unsure of the bicyclist’s identity, the officer may arrest the bicyclist and require the bicyclist to post bond.
• Allow at least three feet between your vehicle and the bicycle to avoid blowing the bicyclist out of control or off the road.
• Be patient and wait until it is safe to pass, as you would any other slow-moving vehicle. Be aware that when a road is too narrow for cars and bikes to ride safely side by side, bicyclists can legally ride in or near the center of the lane for more visibility and safety.
• Please don’t honk your horn. You could startle the cyclist into an accident.
• Look to your right before turning to avoid cutting off a cyclist. Don’t cut off a bicyclist when making a right turn.

Whether you’re on a mission to get from Point A to Point B on foot, or in your car; or your mission is to soak up spectacular Colorado scenery on a Sunday bike ride, be respectful and considerate of everyone’s rights to our roadways. You can help cut down on Colorado’s pesky Road Hog population.
ALL Focus. Avoid using cell phones and other personal devices while driving, biking, or walking.
MOTORISTS Keep your eye on cyclists and pedestrians. They have a right to use all the roads in Colorado unless expressly prohibited. Keep track of them in your rear and side mirrors. Slow down.
PEDESTRIANS Cross in crosswalks. Make eye contact with drivers before crossing to ensure they see you. Walk against traffic.
CYCLISTS Ride with the flow of traffic. Obey traffic laws – you’re a vehicle too. Ride single file whenever possible.

This link specifically will take you to a PDF that details the rules for motorists and cyclists on Colorado roads.

Common Questions and their Answers

Q: “Why not ride on the sidewalk”?

A: It is illegal to ride on a sidewalk in a commercial zone or an area where there is a designated bike lane, bike path, or multi-use path. This means it’s ok in residential areas to ride in the sidewalk, but not where the sidewalk is the main access for shopping and commerce.

Q: “Why do cyclists wear that freaky spandex? They’re just showing off, it’s not the Tour de France.”

A: Many of the cyclists you see in those get ups are possibly athletes in training, or weekend warriors. Some of them are just people learning to ride their road bikes. Regardless, the outfit has a purpose. The spandex shorts with the padded but help protect the delicate bits that we all have from the road vibration and weight/pressure placed on those delicate bits.  The jersey has pockets in the back for the storage of phones, keys, ID and cash. These shirts are often crazy colors, to increase visibility on the road, and the material helps the cyclist breathe as they sweat (and you DO sweat). The shoes are designed to be lightweight and breathable, and have cleats that connect to the pedals. This design is a matter of efficiency, as it allows the cyclist to use the full cycle of the pedal (up and down) to propel the bike forward. And the helmet, well…that’s just smart. Smart people protect their brains.

Q: Why do I have to look out for them?

A: Cyclists qualify as traffic and go a lot faster than you’d expect. I’m not even an advanced cyclist, and I can pull down speeds of 20+ mph on flats. This is a little slower than some traffic, but fast enough that I’d be a threat to a pedestrian. Cyclists are also not operating with a complete cage of steel around them, and consistently work on lightening the load, not getting heavier. In a vehicle, you weigh upward of 2000 pounds. That 2000 pounds can be deadly when it contacts a cyclist. If you hit and kill a cyclist who was operating under the proper traffic laws, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter at the very least. And do you really want to take someone’s life?

The people on the roads in cycling clothes are there for multiple reasons. They might not have a car, and are trying to work and feed their families, and use the bike to commute. They might be recovering from an injury that means cycling is the best thing for them. They might be athletes. But they are all mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends of someone. Don’t take someone else’s someone away. Be safe and share the road.

(1) Source: Bike Ped Manual, Colorado Department of Transportation, Page 14-15


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