If you're new to cycling (or even experienced), and happen to live in Georgia, there is an excellent book recently published by the Georgia Department of Transportation entitled Georgia BIKE SENSE -- A guide for Cyclists & Motorists that thoroughly covers all facets of bicycle safety. If you can't locate one of these 64-page books at your local bike shop, go by Roswell Bicycles (www.roswellbicycles.com) for a complimentary copy. Check your local bike shop for similar resources in your state. If you can't find such a book, the Georgia book has very good common sense tips that are applicable everywhere.
While riding two abreast is legal in Georgia and most states, I don't personally endorse it except for the most rural and least traveled roads. Again, impeding the flow of traffic creates bad blood.
I also find that chatting with your training partner leaves you distracted to what's occurring around you. By the time you realize there's a "car back," it may be right behind you before you're able to line up single file. Perhaps it's my experience riding a motorcycle that has left me with an awareness of how diligent you must be in traffic, and I feel I'm a lot more vulnerable on my bicycle.
Dealing With Confrontation
I've had objects and obscenities hurled at me, been run off the road and harassed by motorists. Although my mere presence on the road could be cause for this, I've also observed behaviors by cyclists that could be the root cause of such actions.The bottom line is that in a confrontation with an automobile a cyclist will always lose, and you don't have eyes in the back of your head. While a motorist may only want to harass you, accidents do happen. Discretion is always the better part of valor, so keep that middle finger in its proper place.
I developed a practice to help diffuse potentially volatile situations with motorists. In response to obscenities or obscene gestures, I wave back, smile and yell, "Hi Pat!" as if I knew the offender. You'd be surprised how well this works!
A few notes on courtesy and etiquette
You'd be aghast if you observed a motorist pulling their vehicle over to the side of the road and urinating out the door of their car. When did this become acceptable behavior for cyclists? If you can't make it to the nearest convenience store, at least find a place out of the public eye.
Rules of the Road
Blowing through red lights and stop signs is not only unsafe, it's arrogant. Yes you have the right to co-exist on the road, but you have to follow the rules like everyone else. The road rage you vent on a motorist will most likely be projected onto the next cyclist they come upon. Don't be afraid to point this out to a person in your group who exhibits these behaviors; you'll be doing your fellow cyclists a huge favor by doing so.
If you're riding on a multi-use path realize that you have to be respectful of everyone using it. Blowing by a family at 25 mph with children on training wheels is dangerous to everyone and inconsiderate. I have found most recreational paths are better for recreational cycling unless you're prepared, and willing, to stop and start a lot.
Civil Disobedience Rides
You may have read or observed "civil disobedience" rides that purposely impede traffic. While this definitely does bring cycling out into the public eye, I don't really know how this helps the situation. I think the best way to reform the system is from within. We have several advocacy groups such as Bike Roswell, www.bikeroswell.com, that are dedicated to making local government aware and sensitive to the needs of cyclists. I've seen these groups make real progress.
Please take it upon yourself to learn the rules of the road and practice better cycling safety and etiquette, then get out on your bike and enjoy your ride -- but be safe and courteous while doing so.
Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), and has been certified by Joe Friel's Ultrafit Association. Visit www.thesportfactory.com for more information or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.