Is a Bicycle a Vehicle or a Toy?

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Bicycles are Vehicles

The world of cycling advocacy will react with instincts honed by years of evolution and safety sub-committee hearings and say “The LAW!, the LAW! the LAW! says bicycles are vehicles!”
and they would be right.


Wal-Mart sells them just off the toy department. Joe six-pack or Jane fuzzy-navel (if they have thought about it at all) would probably come down on the “toy” side.  I propose that for the purposes of effective training, they need to be treated as both.

Before I dig the hole any deeper, let me state without equivocation that bicycles on the public roads are entitled to all the rights accorded any other vehicle (or should be), and that they share the same responsibilities for responsible traffic safety with all the vehicular citizenry of the nations roadways. Let me also state that bikes are fun.

So what’s this got to do with triathlon?
Simple. Triathletes have, in bike-snob circles, the reputation for being the worst bike handlers out there - one step removed from the “just-got-training-wheels-off-my-Barbie-Bike” crowd. Justified or not, that’s the perception. This is enhanced by the fact that triathletes are generally fit enough to hang with (or pull) in any pace line out there. So what you have is the bicycle equivalent of a super-charged-hot-rod Camaro with bald tires and bad brakes. It’s an unfair assessment I know, but that’s how it is. Look too, at your own experiences in triathlon (if you have any yet), No doubt on the bike leg of a local sprint race, you have seen riders weaving a bit, wobbling at low speed, and not being aware of themselves and their bikes.

Bikes need to be treated as vehicles by those who ride them.

Remember Drivers’ Ed?

  • Head checks before changing lanes…

  • Signaling intentions to turn or change lanes…

  • Awareness of road hazards…

  • Knowing the controls…

  • Control when passing others or being passed…

  • Rules of the road in traffic??

All this stuff applies to bicycles too, and the importance of treating a bicycle as a proper vehicle is only enhanced in a group or race situation. Yep it’s a race, but if it’s not being held on another planet, the rules still apply.

The notion that bicycles are vehicles is even more important in the context of everyday training. This is when the lanes are not cordoned off, when motorized traffic is king of the road (justly or not) - this is where most accidents happen. This is also the time when the general population sees cyclists’ behavior the most. It is our responsibility to behave correctly. Ray-Ray in his pickup does not give a hoot in a hail storm if you are 90 miles into a 100 mile ride on your way to a 10 mile run; all he knows is that you’re weaving into his lane when you take a drink from that “funny-looking-bottle-thing”.

On the other side of the coin...
The cyclists widely regarded as having the best handling skills are BMX’ers. These guys (and girls) can throw themselves and their bike around like there’s no tomorrow. Unless you can manual and side hop and get hospital air, you don’t even rate. It pays off too. I remember watching a Tour De France Stage last year...or maybe two years ago. It had been raining off and on all day and the roads were soaked. There was a sprint finish to the stage and a hard 90-degree left-hand corner into the final 500 meters or so. Robbie McEwen (famous Australian sprinter and former BMX champ) was contending for position with a Spanish rider on team Kelme whose name escapes me at the moment. The Kelme rider had a slight edge going into the corner and made his move. There was no contact, but the Kelme rider slid out and across the road into the barriers. McEwen took the INSIDE line and railed the corner like nothing at all. This is happening at the very top level of the sport, and BMX-learned handling skills are paying off.

So, what’s the point?  Most triathletes are not going to be involved in a bunch sprint, much less a BMX track?
The point is that these kids have an inside line on handling skills. It’s called PLAY. BMX’ers put in hours and hours on their bikes just like triathletes. The kids who form the development leagues of the sport are still playing like kids do, riding wheelies, jumping on cinderblock and plank ramps, hopping curbs, and generally learning how to control their bikes - by playing. This said, I contend that there’s much to be gained by occasionally treating your bike like a toy too.

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date: August 31, 2004

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