Posted by: Jennifer Sage | March 24, 2008

Cars respect cyclists in Europe

Though they may drive fast, most of the time, cars will respect cyclists in Europe. There is rarely a very large shoulder on European roads, so it’s a blessing that most cars will swing wide when passing cyclists. In France, by law they must give you 1.5 meters berth when passing (almost 5 feet). Wouldn’t it be great to have signs like this in the States?

Cars passing cyclists in France require a 1.5 meter berth 

Sometimes they’ll honk as they pass.  A little annoying, but it’s usually meant to let you know they’re there, and is often accompanied by a smile and a wave (whereas in the States, it would be accompanied by the finger). If you’re climbing a big col, they’ll often give you a thumbs up or applause.

cyclists in France with cars passing 

In Italy, I’ve encountered a few more rude drivers, but I suspect they aren’t Italians (or they’re young Italians in a big hurry), most of whom have cyclists in their families (like grandpa). Perhaps they’re Americans unfamiliar with the roads, exporting their distaste of cyclists. Actually that last comment is probably unfair…forgive me, I couldn’t resist! Most American drivers I’ve met in Italy that I’ve actually spoken to, often in village squares or restaurants, are in awe of the number of American cyclists who come to ride in Italy, amazed that we are riding up those big hills on roads with no shoulders.

Regarding the continued cyclist vs car battle in the US, it’s often a lack of respect by both parties for the other. Our local paper is full of letters to the editor from both sides, always yelling at the other. Yes, even up here in the Rocky Mountains where almost everyone is a cyclist (and the ones that aren’t really dislike them). This is a great post on Dave Moulton’s bike blog about American cyclists vs drivers. I love one of the comments, by Randy, who says: An ambassador is one who represents their kind to others. With a little courtesy and a lot of respect, you just might change the way people look at bicyclists, or at least bike commuters.

In general, you should have no worries about cycling in Europe and dealing with cars.  But it’s best to know which are the best roads to ride on (tip: for the most part, avoid the red roads on Michelin maps), the least trafficked (because even polite drivers are a pain when there’s a lot of them), and the most scenic.  

That’s where I come in

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