There is a daily unofficial grouping of bike riders in almost every urban environment.
Here is what most people see on a regular revolving, unorganized schedule of a “bike cycle” timeline.
The day starts with a whole group of unrelated bike riders doing most everything right. They are generally those employees and employers travelling by bike to work-related activities. They wear helmets. They travel in a safe and skilful manner. They have mirrors, lights, horns, reflective vests and all sorts of other safety paraphernalia associated with their regular commute. They obey the rules of the road and are very aware of the potential dangers that surround them. They use hand signals and do the necessary shoulder checks when altering direction. It appears that most are motor-vehicle drivers, who understand the results and appreciate the ramifications of a traffic crash. Indeed, cyclists always get the worst of it in a bike-car crash.
After this commuting cluster has reached a destination, the whole inner-city bike system seems to fall apart. The traffic system of bike travel becomes dominated by those cyclists who seem oblivious to any type of rules of safe riding. They seem to be riding with no particular place to go. The unemployed, less fortunate, crowd is often seen riding without a helmet. The fine for such an offence is a paltry $30.
The police are in a difficult, no-win situation. If they enforce for such a low dollar amount, it is deemed by many to be a waste of time and resources. If they do not enforce, they are looked upon, by some, as slackers. The helmetless, irresponsible bike crowd is on the sidewalk, running red lights, going the wrong way on a one-way street and doing all sorts of life-threatening behaviours, seemingly unchallenged. The only law they are subjected to is the law of gravity.
By late afternoon, the law-abiding riders reappear in significant numbers, once again dominating the bicycle crowd, as they reverse their daily commute. It is almost as though these bike riders have a stabilizing effect on the whole traffic system. They mix with the recreational riders, who might have driven in motor vehicles to and from their destinations earlier in the day.
The evening hours are dominated by recreational riders. Most are relatively safe riders, but much less skilful than the daily commuters and certainly more law-abiding than those flouting the law all through the midday period. As it gets dark, there is a very noticeable group of riders who light up and wear reflective clothing. There are other riders who seem to be caught off-guard by the setting of the sun and the twilight period. It is almost like they did not get the memo about being home before dark, given their bike is not equipped with a front and back light. This is an odd situation, since it does get dark about the same time each evening.
The composition of the night bike crowd is very interesting. Many people bike to and from jobs when working the night shift. They want to be seen and act accordingly. There are those riding at night who are up to no good and prefer to go unseen. There are very few night bike riders, when compared with the daily commuter crowd.
This entire cycle (no pun intended) repeats at sunrise.
When will the authorities get as tough on the bike crowd as they are with the motor vehicle drivers? Do we have to wait for death in a sensational bike crash?
We seem to be reactive, not proactive.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.