Avid cyclist to newbies: It’s your fault we can’t have nice things

Clarification: I’m told Volkswagen’s financial sponsorship of People For Bikes (and, correspondingly, their influence) is fairly small. I don’t philosophically have difficulty with an auto manufacturer spending their marketing dollars on bike projects, but I do believe it’s important to be aware of where those dollars are coming from. People for Bikes is a bicycle industry trade group. I think they and their PFB Foundation do good work but, again, it’s important for us to know where the money comes from and where it goes.

Self-identified “cycling evangelist” Richard Fries, who works as Development Adviser for the auto-industry funded People for Bikes advocacy group and clearly writes from a position of privilege, suggests cyclists can win political support by reducing our impact on the roads we share with other vehicles.


Willow Road morning traffic

In a blog post at People for Bikes, Fries writes that people dislike cyclists because we are a minority, an easily identifiable “other” who are easily and physically bullied by those with three-ton death machines annoy other people with large group rides. Our boorish roadway manners distress voters and politicians. “One of the most aggravating experiences for motorists”, Fries claims, “is encountering a group ride.”


Silicon Valley Highway 101 Traffic Hell

We blow red lights. Even though we don’t respect red lights and stop signs, we also somehow “swarm” at intersections. We even take the center of the lane for safety in an inconsiderate and dangerous swirl of “zeal, fitness and narcissism.” He quotes [ Harriett Beecher Stowe: “Why, now comes my master, takes me right away from my work, and my friends, and all I like, and grinds me down into the very dirt! And why? Because, he says, I forgot who I was; he says, to teach me that I am only a nigger!” ]* Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


They say bikes get in the way of traffic

Fries says those pesky newbies are a big part of the problem.

The rising popularity of charity bike rides has complicated matters. Hundreds of thousands of newly baptized bicyclists are pouring on to the roadways with a lot of information on fitness and equipment and clothing… but zero appropriate instruction on how to ride in, or as, a group. And this poor instruction happens not only on the day of the big ride, but on their weekend training sessions. Emboldened with a sense of mission, many of these riders add to the roadside tension.


Beach traffic

The solution? We need to empower and encourage road bulls to control those group rides. We put up with far too much stupid behavior on the road. He looks to Europe as an example.

Go on a group ride in the Netherlands or Denmark or Germany, those places we view as the models of bicycle transit. You will find yourself strictly governed by the patron of each ride on what will and will not be tolerated. I discovered this riding in the Limburg province of the Netherlands with a massive group that included Hennie Kuiper and Jan Janssen, both of whom had been professional world road champions. The group rode with vigor and speed, but stayed tight to the right in double file that did not impede automotive traffic.


See the cyclist?

What do you think? Yes, I personally cringe at some of the bad behavior I see on group rides and I encourage you to obey the law, but scofflaw behavior isn’t the reason a few outspoken, liberty-hating, anti-American motorheads say they dislike people on bikes.

*FOOTNOTE: Thank you to Cecily for reminding me that the minor and occasional animosity directed to us on bike in way compares to the horrors of chattel slavery, nor to the constant reminder of such in persistent institutional racism. When I get off of my bike, I’m back to my life of privilege. I’ll leave the Uncle Tom reference there for now, but there are plenty of other and more appropriate examples of sycophancy and appeasement in both literature and history.

All photos of traffic hell caused by large groups of unruly cyclists shot by Yours Truly. In order, they are (1) Willow Road in Menlo Park, CA; (2) Highway 101 in Palo Alto, CA; (3) Ocean Street, Santa Cruz, CA; (4) Highway 17, Scotts Valley, CA; (5) Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA.


  1. Richard, I follow People For Bikes on FB. I also have many friends that do as well. Can you tell me how exactly the auto-industry funds them?

    I’d like to get word out to my bike-friends. Thanks

  2. I think People for Bikes does good things, but their sponsorship from VW can compromise their message. They’re supposed to be a lobbying group for the bike industry.

  3. I agree that the way cyclists are treated by motorists and the automobile industry is pretty terrible if not downright dangerous, but I draw the line at comparing this situation to the systematic enslavement and abuse of an entire class of people.

  4. It’s not the newbs that I see behaving badly so much as established riders, activist riders (right phrase?) and large groups. They’re people who are deliberately impeding traffic to make a point.

    I feel like it’s inevitable that that kind of behavior results in roadway cycle restrictions, and I applaud anything we can do to change it.

  5. Love the photos. To anyone who says, “But the cyclists are just having fun, the drivers are going to work” I say, “How about beach traffic on Hwy 17 or traffic to for 49ers games on Hwy 1.” Oh yeah, that.

  6. I was always suspicious of this “People for Bikes”. Thanks for revealing their true colors.

  7. Truthfully, this is a “bike industry” group. From their own site:

    “PeopleForBikes is comprised of two legally separate organizations, the PeopleForBikes Coalition and the PeopleForBikes Foundation. The Coalition … acts on behalf of the U.S. bicycle industry and is comprised of member companies throughout the United States. Membership dues to the Coalition are based on the volume of domestic sales. Currently, we have nearly 400 members—bicycle suppliers, manufacturers and retailers combining resources to improve bicycling in America. In June of 2006, we launched the Bikes Belong Foundation … (renamed the PeopleForBikes Foundation in September, 2013) to complement the work of the bicycle industry group, PeopleForBikes Coalition. The Coalition is the sole member of the Foundation.”

    IOW, if you are not a bike company, you can still give money as Volkswagen does. They’d also take money from individuals gullible enough to donate.

  8. Photos seem to depict activist drivers on a critical mass group drive. Where is the outrage.

  9. Team in Training and AIDS Lifecycle riders are usually more law abiding than competitive riders like myself. They come to an absolute stop at every stop sign and put a foot down even though there’s no requirement to do that, whereas I’m more inclined to pull a trackstand stop, or else treat it as yield if there’s nobody around.

    That said, the article from VW seems to be just another rendition of the good old “get out of my way” mantra. The subtext seems to be “I’ll allow you to ride on my road, as long as you don’t get in my all-important way.”

  10. Your link says VW entered into a two-year partnership with PFB in January of 2012. That should be over by now, right?

  11. Agreed, Richard. It’s time to stop blaming the victims and inventing weak excuses to do so–as I also have commented in a recent op-ed regarding recent cycling fatalities in Utah.


    Motorists are at fault in the majority of cycling fatalities
    Gregory A. Clark, Standard-Examiner
    Mar 17 2014 – 11:33 am

    Once again, bicyclists have been killed by a driver on local roads. And once again, the driver has not been cited. (Read)

    Sure, accidents happen.

    But one contributing factor is inappropriate motorist attitude: Roads are for cars, not bikes. Another is that American motorists typically receive little or no penalty for injuring or killing cyclists — even when the accident is clearly their fault. A third is the lack of cycling infrastructure.

    These need to change. . .

    [Continued; see link below.]

    . . .Not everyone can avoid driving all of the time. Nor should we. But for motorists as well as cyclists, bicycles aren’t the problem. They’re a good part of the solution.

    It’s time we all acted that way.

    Read in full at the Ogden Standard-Examiner: http://www.standard.net/stories/2014/03/17/bicyclists-improve-our-quality-life

  12. “Avid cyclist”. I can’t wait for the day I no longer see this phrase. As if cycling were a thing that required enthusiasm, instead of being a legitimate means of getting from one place to another. Imagine, “Avid motorist”, or “Avid pedestrian.”

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