Sunday, September 10, 2006

Back Seat Cyclists

We've all heard of the "back seat driver." You know. The annoying passenger who makes no bones about telling you exactly what you're doing wrong when you're driving and insists on tell you how they would do it if they were driving. Well, when I decided to start biking instead of driving, I was convinced I'd never have to deal with that foolishness.

Boy, was I wrong.

I have discovered a phenomenon which I like to call the "Back Seat Cyclist." Unlike his "driver" counterpart, of course, he can't sit behind you the whole time and chastise your riding technique, but he can yell out to you from his car window, stop on the road next to you to offer his pearls of wisdom or, worst of all, if he's a co-worker or someone in the neighborhood, he can stop you on the street or in the hall and lecture you about what you're allowed and not allowed to do on the road.

What bugs me about these "back seat cyclists" is that, invariably, they're virtually always drivers who haven't ridden a bike in at least a decade, and even then have never ridden one in traffic. The last time they were on a bicycle was tooling through their neighborhoods like maniacs as kids.

So who the hell are these guys to tell me how to ride a bicycle in traffic?

When I got into work on Friday, one of my supervisors at work said that she heard I'd committed some kind of traffic violation on my bike. When I asked her what she was talking about, she directed me to one of my co-workers nearby who said he saw me signal a right turn by extending my right arm. He said that that wasn't the "proper signal." That the proper signal for a right hand turn was hand up, elbow bent. He also said that I ride too far out into the lane, that I'm supposed to stay to the far right at all times.

First of all, the right hand signal he describes is, in fact, a legitimate signal for right hand turn. However, cyclists in Nova Scotia have the option, if they wish, to simply extend their right arm out the same as they would extend their left arm for a left hand turn. Even the Nova Scotia Bicycle Safety pamphlet gives the extended right arm as a legitimate "Alternate Right Turn Signal" under the law. Yet, he insisted that my way of signaling was illegal.

His defense was that, according to The Nova Scotia Driver's Handbook, a cyclist must use that signal. Well, after doing a little research, I found out that this is, in fact, what it says. However, that's out of date. The Nova Scotia Bicycle Safety pamphlet was created as an insert for the Driver's Handbook to update that and it's since become a permanent part of current editions of the handbook. Yes, there was a time when the extended right arm wasn't recognized as a legitimate right turn signal for cyclists, but it is now.

Personally, I prefer the extended right turn signal for two reasons:
  1. A lot of drivers don't tend to recognize the old signal. They just think I'm waving at them.
  2. Using my right arm allows me to keep my left hand on my handlebars, and since most of my stopping power comes from my front brake, which is operated by the left lever, I prefer not to take that hand off the bars when I can avoid it.

So yes, buddy, it is legal and I have perfectly legitimate reasons for choosing it over the other signal.

As to his other objection, yes the Nova Scotia Driver's Handbook did have a reference about cyclists staying far to the right. Again, however, the Nova Scotia Bicycle Safety pamphlet updated that as well.

Here's a direct quote, taken from the pamphlet:
Make Room For Cyclists - Bicyclists need to ride at least 1 metre away from parked cars to avoid being hit if a door suddenly opens. Bicyclists also need to avoid potholes and debris, and to pass double-parked cars. Bicyclists may occupy as much of a traffic lane as their safety warrants.

On Kings Road, the road on which this guy saw me, the travel lanes are only about 3.5 meters wide. That's just barely enough to accommodate a motor coach or a tractor trailer rig. Simply, those lanes are too narrow for a cyclist and motorist to share safely. Therefore, for my safety, I must occupy the entire lane. To do otherwise is to encourage drivers behind me to share my lane, and there isn't enough room to do so.

Once again, I have the legal right to ride further out into the lane, and I do it so I don't get squeezed off the road.

Once, when I was making a left turn into Blockbuster on Prince Street, I was in the left turn lane and some guy pulled up beside me and said: "Somebody should tell you you're not driving a car." No, somebody should tell you that, as far as the law is concerned, I am considered a "driver." Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act, Section 85 (1):
Every person riding a bicycle or animal upon a highway and every person driving any animal shall be subject to the provisions of this Act applicable to a driver of a vehicle . . .

Obviously, he was in the wrong, but even if he hadn't been, I don't even get why the guy bothered to bug me. He wasn't even in my lane. I wasn't in his way at all. What was his problem, anyway?!

OK. In fairness, I must admit that I, too, have been a "back seat cyclist." I've been known to get after cyclists, particularly those who commit blatant infractions like riding on the sidewalk (which is strictly illegal under Section 171 (2) of the Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act). However, I am an experienced cyclist. I know what I'm talking about. I've studied the law regarding cycling.

If these guys who tell me how to ride actually rode bicycles themselves, or at least knew the law they were talking about, it wouldn't bother me so much. What irritates me is that these guys just talk out of their asses as if they know everything when they really have no clue whatsoever.

So. If you're going to try to educate someone on what the law says, more power to you. Just make you know what the law actually says first.

That's all I ask.


  1. Leave it to automobile-age bureaucrats to refer to the less-awkward version of the right-turn signal, the "alternate" one. Even the cop who lectured us kiddies in our elementary school auditorium in the 1960s, here in Pennsylvania where the right-arm version wouldn't become legal until 1990 or so, told us to extend our right arm.

  2. I'm impressed ... about the guy in the car in the other lane.

    I can't count the number of times I have received advice yelled from a car on the fingers of both hands, but I have yet to hear anything that I could make sense of.


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