On July 2, a car hit two of my friends out for an early- morning bike ride in Iredell County. The sun wasn’t fully up, but they did everything right. They rode single file on the right side of a lightly traveled road. Their rear lights flashed brightly. And yet a car struck them from the rear, launching them off the road and into the ditch.
So violent was the impact that the vehicle’s passenger-side mirror was ripped off. After the collision, the driver hit the brakes, but quickly drove off without even checking on my friends. Miraculously, my friends survived and suffered no long-term physical injuries.
Iredell County is an amazing place to experience on a bicycle. Its rural roads are some of the best in the nation. From bright-yellow spring canola fields to explosive fall colors, from stunning views of the Brushy Mountains to the serene stillness of Lake Norman, we have it all.
Most residents would be surprised how many cyclists travel Iredell’s roads. Statesville has two amazing and very busy bike shops (you should check them out), an indication of just how popular cycling is here. Most who ride here are locals, but many come from elsewhere to escape congestion, enjoy the scenery, and spend money. Whether buying a bike, adding accessories, or stopping at a convenience store or restaurant to refuel or cool down, cyclists bring revenue. That is especially true during the pandemic. Bikes are selling at record numbers, adding to the number of two-wheeled enthusiasts on our roads.
But riding a bike is not without hazards, including dogs and squirrels darting out in the road. But a cyclist’s biggest fear is a car. Cars rule the road. They are big, fast, and can crush a bicycle like a tin can.
The car itself is harmless; the driver creates the danger. The distracted driver checks a phone or fiddles with the radio. The impatient driver can’t wait 30 seconds until it’s safe to pass. The angry driver simply thinks cyclists don’t belong on the road.
Most Iredell drivers are wonderful. They are patient, pass with plenty of room, and show little or no frustration when meeting a cyclist. I am so grateful to all of you. But one collision between a bike and a car is too many. And there have been at least three already this year, one killing a Mooresville man.
Distracted driving can kill anyone: drivers, passengers, other motorists, and, of course cyclists. Even at 35 mph it takes only a second for a car to go somewhere it shouldn’t. How can a text, email, or social media post be that important? The point has been made so many times. Put down the phone. It’s that simple.
Impatient drivers often pass in blind curves or hills. What is so important that you can’t wait literally 15 to 30 seconds for a safe stretch of road? You risk the cyclist’s life, your life, and the lives of any oncoming motorists and passengers.
Angry drivers are pretty rare. But when you encounter them, they don’t need to be texting or in a hurry to create danger. In fact, danger is their goal. They “buzz the tower” and see how close they can pass, throw stuff at you (oh yes, that happens), pass you and then slam on the brakes, and even hang out the passenger door to curse at you (yep, I’ve seen that one too). My personal favorite is the big diesel pickup truck gunning the engine as it rockets by too closely, covering the cyclist in thick, black smoke. That one is always fun.
But don’t be angry. Cyclists are just normal people who happen to wear funny clothes. We are not some elite group of “One Percenters” who think we are better than everyone else. We are teachers, pastors, military veterans, nurses, firefighters, blue collar, white collar, you name it. And we aren’t outsiders. Many of us live right here, were born here, and even drive big diesel pickup trucks.
We don’t think we own the road, and we are definitely not trying to annoy you. Trust me…we don’t like seeing cars any more than you like seeing cyclists. That’s why we ride early in the morning and on lightly travelled roads.
I’ll admit there are some cyclists who must also do better, those who create danger for themselves and/or antagonize motorists. And I’m calling those folks out right now. We must set the right example, show humility, and appreciate what we have. As cyclists, we should do all we can to not inconvenience motorists while keeping ourselves safe. I believe the more we give, the more we will get in return…whether it’s kindness or disdain. We must all share the road, showing goodwill, patience, and respect.
North Carolina State Law says “sharing the road” means motorists must give a cyclist four feet of clearance when passing. What does that look like?
The standard lane width in North Carolina is 12 feet. It’s not safe to ride a bike on or to the right of the white line because of debris or other road hazards (rocks, branches, potholes, etc.). Most cyclists will ride one to two feet from the shoulder. Therefore, with the state-required four feet of clearance, motorists should give cyclists seven feet of the lane. And considering the rider may need to avoid something in the road, motorists should use the entire left lane to pass.
Here are some additional facts and tips to make interactions between cyclists and motorists safer:
» In North Carolina you can pass a cyclist on a DOUBLE YELLOW line when it is safe, not in a blind curve or hill. Often cyclists will wave you around if they have a better view of the road ahead.
» When passing a group of riders, find the person at the front. Ensure you have enough road to pass the entire group before going around. If you underestimate the number of people and another car approaches, you might come back over too soon and hit someone.
» Do not pass a cyclist and immediately turn right or left. Stay behind until you reach your turn. Cyclists can travel in excess of 25 mph and can’t stop that quickly, particularly in a group.
» If you are waiting at a stop sign and see a cyclist approaching, assume they are traveling at least 25 mph and act accordingly. People often underestimate how fast a bike is moving.
» By law, cyclists can ride in the middle of the lane. They are not doing that to annoy you. They are trying to be more visible and prevent cars from squeezing between them and oncoming traffic when passing.
» Please turn on your headlights in the mornings and evenings; not so you can see better, but so others can see you.
What’s the most important fact you should know about cyclists?
We have friends and families who care about us and want us to get home safely. I know it can be annoying sometimes. But is it worth injuring or killing a father or mother, so you can get somewhere 30 seconds sooner? You will also have to live with the consequences, both legal and emotional. Just take a breath and consider the person on that bike and the family they are riding home to. I know my wife and kids will appreciate it.