Who exactly is a bicyclist?

Riding a bicycle is not the same as being a bicyclist. A new tragedy involving a 52-year-old man on the Big Island of Hawaii is reported here. When I was through reading the article, I wanted to know:

  • Was this a bicyclist or a man on a bicycle?
  • Was this a bicyclist training on a road bike?
  • Was he wearing a helmet?
  • Was this a man on a cruiser, collecting cans or carrying groceries?
  • What were the traffic conditions?
  • Was there sufficient shoulder on the road?
  • Did he get a puncture and swerve uncontrollably?
  • Did the 15-year-old girl driving the truck that hit him not see him?

There are all kinds of people riding bicycles these days. There are slow pokes on cruisers, there are special needs people on big tricycles, there are little kids on bikes riding to schools or parks or to practice, there are trendies on fixies, there are those who ride bone-jarring trails on mountain bikes, there are ladies with pretty baskets attached to their bicycles, and there are those like me and many of my friends who train on road bikes. Are we all bicyclists? I’m a bicyclist whether I’m on my bike or not. Technically, I guess we could say that some people become bicyclists the moment they start pedaling.

If we are all bicyclists, then news reporters and police blotters need to include details such as:

  • Was the bicyclist wearing a helmet?
  • Was the bicyclist carrying a surfboard or groceries?
  • Was the bicyclist riding on the correct side of the road?

And what about the driver? I wonder about a few things there, too:

  • Was she distracted by her companion?
  • Was she texting?
  • Was she having trouble keeping her vehicle in the lane?

Maybe some of these questions will never  be answered. This is tragic for the bicyclist and his family. This is tragic for a 15-year-old girl who must live with this experience for the rest of her life. This is tragic for the 46-year-old woman who was her passenger.

Sometimes when I am out training on my bicycle, I encounter drivers who do not want to share the road when the shoulder narrows or disappears. I’ve had trucks with darkly tinted windows close in on me, I’ve had soccer moms in their SUVs squeeze along side me, each intent on the thrill of teaching me a lesson. What if I hit a rock and spill right in front of them and I die because they didn’t give me a three-foot berth? I get over as soon as possible, I also go as fast as I can because I don’t want to slow traffic down.

Many of us who call ourselves bicyclists are responsible. We stop at intersections and at red lights, we yield to pedestrians, and we count on drivers sharing the road with us. I understand making deadlines and appointments, but even as a driver I witness bozos who speed and weave sitting at the red light when I pull up along side them. Yeah, derp. You’re how far ahead of me now? Two bumper stickers come to mind:

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. From what I could tell on the TV report I heard, the victim in this case was riding with traffic and was struck from behind. It makes one grateful for the Kalanianaole bike lanes. The question of whether it was an athlete in training or someone more casually using a bike as transportation — a bicyclist vs. a bike rider in my own arbitrary distinction — is seldom answered in news reports mostly gleaned from police highlights that don’t make such differentiations. At the most basic level it doesn’t matter because, regardless of fault, somebody is dead and many other lives will be shattered as a result. But where any given victim falls on the doing-everything-right vs. asking-for-trouble scale is something I can’t help but wonder each time a bicycle operator is struck down. Perhaps it’s for the best that we don’t get to know that. It makes every such incident a reminder for the rest of us to never let down our guard, whether we’re in the saddle or behind the wheel.

  2. What always troubles me about these reports is how it’s written as car vs. bicyclist. It’s not the CAR’s fault — it’s the car DRIVER. There are two people invovled in the incident, not a person (bicyclist) and a machine. It’s subtle, but it just reinforces the detacted mentally some folks seem to have when they get behind the wheel of their machine.

    Kudos to the driver and passenger who stayed at the scene. So many of these incidents seems to be hit-and-runs (maybe related to the detachment the driver had in the first place behind the wheel?). As you said, it’s a horrible day for everyone with long-lasting repercussions, but they stayed and took responsibility — that kid did good even though she did bad.

    I strongly believe that every single car driver should be required to spend a weekend riding a bike everywhere they go. Just one weekend. To understand how it feels when a car is “right there” off your left shoulder. When the rear-view mirror is centimeters from your head at 40 mph. When a car comes rapidly up to a stop sign and you can’t tell if they are going to stop for you or not. And how little it really takes to give a bike some room to navigate and keep traffic flowing. Yes, my world is a utopia 🙂

  3. So tragic! Thanks for the update. He was well loved, a bicyclist who pedaled with soul.

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