The Loss of a ‘Consensus’ In the Cycling Community


consensus |kənˈsensəs|noun [ usu. in sing. ]

general agreement: a consensus of opinion among judges | [ asmodifier ] : a consensus view.

I wrote a fellow cyclist and inquired about the changes I had observed in club riding behavior. I lamented the fact that a scant decade ago a club ride would have meant rejoining after a busy intersection if the group was not able to cross at the light en masse. Today some groups in that club ignore stop signs on a regular basis and some run red lights at speeds approaching 20 MPH. I wrote:

But what from I understand you to be saying there is no longer a consensus on whether to honor traffic controls? How long has this been going on?

The reply was:

Not true and your question is rather like asking ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’  One cannot extrapolate and generalize member or rider’s actions from one observance. Further, cyclist’s actions are not much different from automobile drivers who coast through stop signs, left turn on red lights, and fail to stop before turning right. We are all at the mercy of the other for our safety.

I gave my response to this some thought and wrote:

If there is a divergence in behavior then that would signal to me that a ‘consensus’ is no longer present. The question is not so much whether you ‘stopped beating your wife’ but rather ‘do you feel that beating a women or treating her like property is justified’. When a ‘consensus’ is lost it merely means that you can in fact ‘no longer generalize about rider actions’. Had someone asked me about rides held by the (club name deleted) a decade ago I would never have thought a single moment about how a group ride would be handled if people got stopped by a red light. It was common practice to wait and regroup on the other side of the intersection.

And yes unfortunately rider and driver behavior appears to have reached ‘parity’. That is a bit like saying that mixed race couples are divorcing at as rapid a rate as same race couples. I suppose in the not too distant future we will have enough data on same sex couples to make the same assessment. But ‘parity’ is not what I call progress. Especially if it means that there are now questions about the Rules of the Road. When did the League of American Bicyclists class teachings become irrelevant?

Yes, we are all at the mercy of one another’s actions on the roadway. There has never in my mind been any doubt about that. What is different is that we are asking the driving population to grant us the privilege of creating new infrastructure that will make us ALL safer. And as Ron Burke likes to say will make riders less likely to have or want to break traffic laws. But frankly I have not seen evidence of this on club rides. Besides the racer wannabes it would seem that even the slower riders I have witnessed have adopted the same practice.

Not itching to pick a fight here but I do not see how anyone could argue that a ‘consensus’ has been lost.

In the past week or two discussions on the ChainLink have reinforced the notion that among Urban Cyclists (and for that matter Suburban as well) our views are ‘all over the map‘. Just as an example:

  • Some cyclists feel that ‘driving‘ a bicycle drunk is OK.
  • Some cyclists feel that ‘riding the length of Milwaukee from Wicker Park to the Loop without pausing for red lights‘ is OK.
  • Some cyclists feel that ‘helmets are optional at best and should never be required‘.
  • Some cyclists feel that ‘stop signs should always be treated as yield signs‘.

A scant decade ago most of these would have been startling ideas to share with other cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists reigned at that time and it and groups like the now defunct Chicago Bicycle Federation were constant proponents of ‘bike safety classes‘ like the Traffic series. I doubt seriously whether you could get many Urban Cyclists to take such a class unless they were adults returning to cycling after a very long hiatus.

Consensus Is No Longer A Part of Cycling

What is amazing is that we as cyclists seem comfortable with ‘parity‘. We are eager to have the world not judge us any harsher than it does our motorized counterparts despite our recent calls for ‘increased safety‘. In fact I was startled to read that someone on the ChainLink actually resorted to having the ‘law‘ be the final arbiter in instances where consensus could not be reached. It has been the case that for the past half decade people seemed skittish about citing the Rules of the Road. But when a rider clearly flaunts the law as did one rider who openly admitted on the ChainLink that running red lights was seeming no less safe than obeying them since he had no suffered any accidents as a result.

Now you may disagree with me or someone else about how prevalent the problem is. Your group of buddies might observe all the rules. But in this particular conversation it was not a surprise to my cycling correspondent that scofflaw behavior was going on. They had written earlier:

What a shame and shame on those riders. I suspect this is the fast(er) group which starts from (a local bake shop). Could have been (name deleted) or one of the other fast leaders. I don’t know most of those riders. They don’t ride with me nor I with them.

Stop Signs, Red Lights, and helmets: the debate likely to continue for ever.

It is that last sentence which concerns me. Some of the things we are debating should not be debated. I say that because when it comes to the behavior of motorists I cannot think of a single cyclist who is conflicted over whether a motorist should be allowed to drive drunk or routinely treat stop signs and red lights as yield signs. We all see to come together on the point that motorists must behave according to the Rules of the Road.

In essence we demand consensus of the motorist population but not ourselves. For that reason I drafted a tongue-in-cheek Bicyclists Golden Rule:

The Golden Rule of Cycling

The Golden Rule of Cycling

But frankly I take this seriously. If we want others to take our safety seriously then we need to ‘be the change we wish to see in the world‘. We need to get beyond having our feathers ruffled when we sit on our collective handlebars and do not call one another out for bad behavior. Silence is as good as a ‘yes‘ when your neighbors are being dragged off to concentration camps or lynched at the corner tree.