I prefer to focus on the positive aspects of bicycling, as in how it’s fun, boosts ego, saves money, improves health. I also like to talk about how to overcome some of the challenges, like weather, or cargo capacity. Once in a while I suppose I have to address the only real negative, which is harassment from motorists. Even a minor nuisance like an angry honk or profanity can ruin a lovely ride.

Today I reluctantly turn my attention to a well-meaning motorist behavior that many cyclists find not so helpful: misguided favors.

I bring this topic up because more than one cyclist has remarked on it recently. It is one that bothers me as well. Of course I prefer it to harassment, but misguided favors actually put us at risk.

  -As I approach a stop sign the motorist with the right-of-way waves me through out of turn.
  -The motorist behind me won’t pass, even though it is safe to do so.
  -A motorist gives a friendly honk or “Hello!”

Why would a bicyclist object to these “courtesies”?

  -Mixed signals: A motorist waving inside her car is not as visible as she thinks she is. Is she really waving me on, or just brushing a fly off her nose? Was that really a greeting or a warning, or was it impatience?
  -Other traffic: If a second motorist is present at the stop sign, he may have different ideas about what is going on. Traffic behind the motorist who refuses to pass will be angry at me for holding everyone up.
  -Unpredictable: Traffic flows smoothly when everyone is operating by the same rules. When a motorist tries to give me a special favor, I have to break the rules to accept it. This puts me at risk.
  -Unexpected: The unexpected honk or yell, though kindly meant, is startling. It distracts me and, in extreme situations, can make me lose my balance.

I hate to complain when the intentions are so obviously good. But it’s important to let people know that they are not actually doing us a kindness with these favors.

If you want to be a bicyclist’s favorite driver, here are some suggestions.

  -Pass when it is safe to do so, and leave a safe distance between your vehicle and the bicyclist.
  -Watch for bicyclists.
  -Don’t honk or yell at a cyclist, even if you want to express approval.
  -Leave your car at home, by riding a bicycle, walking, or carpooling. Less traffic makes everyone safer.