I’ve had my fair share of close calls from motorists skimming the hairs on my arm or unexpectedly jamming their breaks to avoid rolling me over the hood of their cars. Between beer bottles, apple cores, McDonalds Chicken McNugget containers and the unoriginal slurs, I have had plenty of things hurled at me from the passenger side window.
The most terrifying experience occurred on a backcountry dirt road where I was chased by what appeared to be an intoxicated driver and forced off my bike. Two brutish men jumped from the car and immediately began berating me. I escaped unscathed. I was one of the lucky ones.
And that’s when I decided to change my own attitude towards motorists.
Until this incident, I was the guy who needed to be on a leash following a close call with a vehicle. Like a shark smelling blood in shallow waters, I was immediately angry, screaming, throwing water bottles, and making damn sure that whale of a Suburban knew I would break off his mirror if I saw him at the next light. But I am not a shark. I am a blue gill …at best.
This strategy does not work. It’s simple. I’m a buck 40 soaking wet. A ’95 Honda Civic, one of the smaller cars on the road, comes in at 2500 pounds. You don’t have to be a physics major to understand that the momentum equation doesn’t work in a cyclist’s favor. So what can we do?
I wave. Yes… I wave. I wave at everyone.
The adversarial bike-verses-car mentality doesn’t work. In order to coexist on the road, motorists and cyclist must understand one another first. In developing a mutual respect, one party must make the first move. That’s my goal with this simple gesture—a preemptive wave to cut tension before it boils over.
Sometimes you can “feel” a car coming, and you know they aren’t expecting you. Perhaps you hear the roar of a tractor trailer or a Penske moving truck rolling at light speed like a star destroyer. I know I need first to be seen, then stay to the right and give my hand a quick wave. The wave says, “I hope I’m not in your way. Thanks in advance for acknowledging my presence and giving me a few feet.”
I’m not always right either. Sometimes, I don’t hear that Prius behind me, or I have gone to the yellow line to avoid some man-eating potholes. Get that hand up there again. This time I’m saying, “My bad! I’m sorry about that, please don’t hold it against me (or my similarly dressed friends.)”
I wave at kids on the sidewalk – one day they too will be drivers. I wave at farmers on tractors and soccer moms coming the other way, just to say hello. The postman gets another wave, and fellow cyclists, they get one too. And now, instead of chasing down and screaming at the car that nearly puts me in a ditch, I still wave. (Ok, maybe I swear to myself once they are out of sight.) It’s a lot of waving, but hey I’m a cyclist and the upper body could use some more exercise.
It is my hope, and my goal, that something as simple as a wave will help more cyclists to recognize and respect the drivers around them, and that motorists see cyclists not as a burden, but as another life, another father, another mother, a son, a daughter… another person worth waving back to.