Friday, December 23, 2005


We're fortunate to live in bike-friendly-ish Missoula, and we only occasionally have less than pleasant run-ins with motorists. Three strange ones recently, though, left me trying to figure out the mindset of a certain group of drivers. I've come to the conclusion that they're just MOMs (MOtherly Motorists).

Scene 1: A bathroom line at the local dance hall. Two middle aged guys in front of me discuss cyclers.

Guy 1: "You still riding that bike everywhere?"
Guy 2: "Oh, no, it's up for the winter."
Guy 1: "Good! The problem is some of these people don't know when to put them up!"
Guy 2: "Yeah, it's getting pretty bad out there."
Guy 1: "These bikers think they can just ride all year. They don't realize how dangerous they're making it out there."

Huh? The bicycles are making the roads dangerous? This is MOM syndrome. Motorists take it as their motherly duty to "protect" cyclers (from themselves, I guess) by keeping them off the roads.

Scene 2: I'm riding home from the grocery store on a snowy evening. For one stretch, I have to ride the right tire track, since the shoulder is piled with plowed snow. A pickup has been following closely for about 3 blocks before passing about a block from an intersection.

Pickup passenger (rolls down window): "You are NOT a car!"

I wish I'd come up with the witty comeback this line was asking for.

Scene 3: Yesterday, I was riding home from a pleasant day of fishing. I was on a busy but familiar road, keeping an eye on traffic but focusing mainly on the waning light on the mountains. I had noticed a pickup behind me was hesitating to pass, but, since we were just a few blocks from a stoplight, I decided to hold my line a foot out from the snowy shoulder. The driver finally passed, slowed down, and--I thought--started waving at me. I assumed it was someone I knew and waved and shouted "Merry Christmas!" The driver then became more animated, and I realized he was actually motioning violently toward the "bike path" 10 feet off the road. He finally sped off toward the light, and I raised my pace in hopes of catching him there to explain a few things (no, really, I'm the peaceful type).

Mainly, it isn't your decision where I ride, MOM. If there were time, I would explain that the "bike path" here is just an asphalt sidewalk and extremely dangerous. It leads across several hospital driveways and sidestreets in the course of a few blocks. It then dumps a bicycle into the rightmost turn-only lane of a four lane intersection. I needed to go straight.

Fittingly, just as I rolled up beside him at the red light, the driver made an ill-advised screeching pullout, causing cross traffic to brake behind him. Oh well.

Very rarely do we feel comfortable telling complete strangers what to do. Usually only in the case of children doing something dangerous. I think (a very few) motorists imagine every bike being ridden by a child. I did get a chuckle imagining telling motorists where to drive. Can you imagine riding alongside a car and gesturing wildly, while screaming "Interstate!"

MOMs are a little unsettling to me, though. Are they really concerned that they might swerve four feet to the right at any moment? There are many less predictable things along an uncontrolled roadway than a bicycle: actual children, deer, dogs, other motorists. If a driver truly feels uncomfortable keeping a vehicle four feet from a bicycle, I would argue it is the motorist who needs to get a bike and keep it on the bike path.

I hope eventually to have a conversation with one of these drivers. Maybe I'm way off on their motivations. It is interesting that 90% of these interactions occur with men driving trucks. For now, I'll just assume they're harmless MOMs. At least I know they see me.


Blogger Ed W said...

It's curious how so many motorists would get us off the road "for our own safety". It's nice that they take our safety so seriously that they'd legislate us off a lot of roads. In Texas, one legislator tried to make cycling illegal on Farm-to-Market roads, basically all the rural county roads in the state. He believed the roads were too narrow and motor traffic traveled too fast for safe cycling.

I've had people yell, "You're not a car!" just as you have. I'd be very tempted to say, "I'm not? Really?" But mostly I just wave at them, using all 5 fingers - for emphasis.

I like the idea of MOM's though!

1:02 PM  
Blogger aaron said...

Great post. These MOM's are some of the scariest. I think they must see biking as just completely aberrant behavior. The idea that the bicycle could be used for transportation is just utterly foreign to them.

In Brooklyn last year when I was lobbying to get a bike lane installed on a heavily-biked avenue in my neighborhood, there were a few old-school types who said they didn't want a bike lane striped on the avenue (even though it didn't take anything away from parking or the travel lane). They didn't want to encourage more biking because they feel like biking is dangerous. So, even though cyclists were coming to them and saying, "Help us get a bike lane installed," they were refusing to help for the cyclists' own good. Thanks, MOMs!

Anyhow, we got the lane:

4:24 PM  
Blogger Paul Cooley said...

The only snappy comeback I can think of is "You're not a car either."

At my darkest, I think people become protective of bicycles because they really want to run them over. It's that emotion that makes them think, "Hey, it's really dangerous for bicyclists out there." But of course, we live in a society where it's really not appropos to run each other over, no matter what form of transportation. Besides, no one wants to be cleaning my blood off their car.

3:32 PM  
Blogger John said...

I've had relatively few motorists yell at me and most of the time I can't understand what they are screaming.

I was able to catch up to one of them at a traffic signal. Feeling unusually bold, I leaned into the passenger side window and asked the young man in the back what he said (there were two women in the front seats and the voice =that yelled at me was male, so I figured the guy in the back was the person I needed to ask).

He said "Bike Lane." There was not a bike lane on the street where I was riding, so I asked, "What's that supposed to mean?" He then revised his answer to "Stay off the (expletive) road!"

The car sped away before I could come up with a snappy comeback.

7:41 AM  

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