One day I was out on a road ride with several others, and we pulled up to a stoplight to make a left hand turn.  I happened to hear the motorist in the car in the lane beside us mutter under his breath something about “Cyclists don’t even pay road tax.”  I chose to ignore him, acting like I hadn’t heard him, and nothing else was said.  However, several things popped into my head that I could have responded with, but I figured it might be better to write a blog post about it rather than get in an argument with someone in the middle of traffic.

You might ask, “Why did he even say that?”  Well, a lot of motorists don’t like cyclists on the road simply because cyclists hold them up momentarily.  In this case, we hadn’t held the motorist up at all, but he is likely thinking about times cyclists have caused him to have to slow down to get around.  And so many motorists try to come up with “reasons” why cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads.  One so-called reason is that cyclists don’t pay “road tax.”  Well, news flash, neither do car drivers!  There is no such tax as “road tax.”  Some motorists will then say, “Not directly named ‘road tax,’ but gasoline is taxed extra to pay for the roads.”  That is still nonsense, as the tax on gas is not enough to pay for the roads across the state; road construction and repair gets paid out of other taxes, too.  Furthermore, almost every cyclist I know also drives a vehicle, so they DO pay the “road tax.”  So if paying taxes  on gasoline is the criteria for determining who gets to use the roads, then just about every cyclist has the right to the road.

This all leads us to the question: what are cyclists rights to the road?  A look at the VA Dept of Transportation website makes it pretty clear: “Every person riding a bicycle on a highway shall be subject to the provisions of the Code of Virginia section on motor vehicles and shall have the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle unless a provision clearly indicates otherwise.”  So it doesn’t matter what any motorists think or want, cyclists have the right ride on the roads.   There are some exceptions: “Bicyclists are not permitted to ride on interstate and certain controlled access highways, unless the operation is limited to bicycle or pedestrian facilities that are barrier-separated from the roadway and automobile traffic. The restricted sections of the highways are marked with conspicuous signs.”  So there are a few roads in the Winchester area that bicycles are not allowed on: I-81 and Route 37; these are clearly marked with signs.

Of course, when we do ride on the road, it’s always best to follow the law and ride as predictably as possible so that motorists see us and navigate around us appropriately .  Stopping at lights, using hand signals, etc. all help to make sure we stay safe and garner trust of other road users.  And, of course, picking your routes wisely.  There are some roads that I choose not to ride on, even though it is perfectly legal to do so, because I just wouldn’t feel safe riding on them.  High speed roads with no shoulder like sections of 522, 7 or 50 are areas I avoid riding unless I need to for a short distance.

BTW, do you want to know an interesting bit of trivia?  Roads were first paved for cyclists!  Horse and carriages didn’t need particularly smooth roads as there was some suspension built in with cushions, etc.  But cyclists, on their “bone shakers” complained of the rough roads and lobbied for roads to made smoother.  Motorists can thank road cyclists for their nice smooth asphalt! For the motorists who think because cyclists aren’t using gas to help pay for the roads (already demonstrated false), they neglect that roads even need so much money for repair due to their use, not cyclists’.  If only bicycles used the roads, the roads would practically never wear out.  Cars, and big trucks in particular are what wear down the roads and cause them to need to be resurfaced with the frequency they do.

If you ride on the road with any regularity, you will encounter people who don’t think you belong on it.  But, thankfully, the law is on your side, allowing you to ride and enjoy the smooth tarmac.



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