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The spandex menace

By Samantha Reichle
Posted Monday, June 26, 2006

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Chatham County, NC - Driving along Pittsboro’s winding roads, I await the day’s first sighting. Gritted teeth and clenched fists suppressing my agitation, I spot the first, teetering just ahead and sporting a nauseating array of neon hues to announce his presence.

Yet as I approach, I feel a lead weight sink in my stomach, for I have unwittingly come upon a herd of them, sweat dripping and marathon numbers positioned precisely on their backs.

With their rigidly focused postures and spandexed derrieres sticking up in the air, bicyclists are a common sight in the Triangle. In recent years, Lance Armstrong has helped to popularize the sport, especially in college and university areas such as Chapel Hill, where bicycling serves both as recreation and transportation.

By law, bicyclists and drivers share equal privilege to the road and, consequently, are required to abide by North Carolina vehicle laws. Yet, a typical drive through town reveals a handful of the helmeted horde that are oblivious or indifferent to the rules concerning road safety.

Bicyclists’ slow speed can prove hazardous for surrounding drivers, who must quickly decrease their speed as they approach the bike. Local topography makes sharing the road even more dangerous, with winding roads and steep hills decreasing the driver’s visibility until the car is almost upon the cyclist.

Considering the Tour-de-France fantasy world that cyclists appear to be operating from within, the inherent dangers of maneuvering around them are merely amplified.

As a safety measure and a courtesy, one would expect bicycles to ride on the right side of the road, thus allowing for cars to pass so their slower speeds do not interfere with the flow of traffic. Yet somehow, I continually find myself stuck behind pairs of cyclists who insist on riding side by side rather than single file, presumably because they own the road.

Essentially, cyclists get first dibs on prime road space, meandering along while cars pile up behind them like beads on a pearl necklace.

Despite the numerous traffic transgressions cyclists commit, they are apparently immune to police confrontation. While drivers undoubtedly commit their fair share of offenses to merit tickets, the rarity of cyclists getting pulled over suggests that while both they and drivers must abide by the same rules, the former wields a free pass to neglect them.

As a legal and prevalent form of transportation, cyclists should be entitled to all of the privileges that drivers enjoy; however, their equal use of the road also demands an equal respect for the laws that govern it. While their easily maneuverable size may explain their false sense of road ownership, it also leaves them susceptible to injuries regardless of who is at fault for causing an accident.

Some cities, such as Rocky Mount, NC, are building bicycle paths throughout the town to give cyclists their own safe system of travel while simultaneously encouraging bicycling to reduce poor traffic conditions. This alternative effectively makes it even easier for cyclists to ignore the rules of the road since it removes them from the direct threat of a vehicular crash. However, until stripped of their spandex superiority complexes, perhaps the best solution is to give bicyclists exactly what they want: complete control of their own road.

Samantha Reichle is a journalism student at Woods Charter School in North Chatham County, NC.

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The spandex menace