For this 5-part series, the author crowdsourced drivers' questions about bicyclists' mindsets, beliefs and safety practices, then posted the top 10 in several bicycle enthusiasts’ and advocacy groups. Here are the bicyclists' replies.

Top 10 Questions for Bicyclists: Why Do They Do That?

It’s an American tradition: arguing over who controls the road. Whether it’s a parking space or a laneway, we really like feeling entitled to that concrete real estate. We fight over who should pay to build and maintain it, who should get to use it, how it’s used and which rules should apply to whom. 

We’ve all seen the growing divide between users of different transportation modes. The discussions are often colored with entitlement, disgust, frustration and even hatred. A decade ago, debates were largely over transit. Vehicle owners and transit users vied for space and funds, and the divides tended to be socioeconomic. 

But these days, the debates are more amorphous and often generational — between those who see bikes as a primary form of transportation, and those who see biking purely as recreational, if they think about it at all. When I joined a district council board, I was warned against bike Zealots driving transportation and land use discussions. I noticed letters to local editors about bicyclists’ demanding policy positions; they ran parallel to driver complaints about bicyclists’ seemingly erratic behavior on the roads. Bicycle activists’ Tweets challenged me; some even reposted from folks who called themselves The War on Cars, for goodness’ sake!

My Transportation Journey

As a Gen-Xer, I’ve only recently begun seeing my bike as more than a fitness or entertainment tool. For years, my spouse and I tried to commute and get groceries on bikes, but we almost always defaulted back to our cars. At that time, our home on the East Side didn’t have much safe infrastructure for biking, and we didn’t have the community or equipment to support such a shift.

That’s different now. We’re surrounded by Millennials and Zennials who insist on car-lite and car-free lifestyles to combat climate change and knock down their cost of living. Likewise, I’m learning the history about a small but dedicated group of Boomer activists who’ve been working for years to make Minnesota one of the best states for bicycling in the country. Our public officials are working to build world-class bicycle infrastructure. HOURCAR is flourishing, and rapid transitways are starting to operate. 

All these factors enabled us to sell one of our cars in April 2021 to fund the purchase of two utility e-bikes that could double as leisure vehicles and grocery getters. We began replacing our car trips — to get us to job sites, pick up our kid from school and carry lots of groceries. As a result, my worldview began to shift very quickly. No longer was I judging the “erratic behaviors” of those bicyclists around me. I started noticing the subtle ways my own biking behaviors were changing. I began reposting The War on Cars content. I would have annoyed myself three years ago! 

Series Methodology

A family poses for a selfie with the St. Paul skyline in the background.
E-bikes changed the game for the author’s family of three. Here, they celebrate their first climb of St. Paul’s Smith Avenue Bridge on a leisure ride. From left: Drew, Sherry and Maxie Johnson.

Before I get too much deeper in this bicycle identity — and it is an identity — I’m taking a moment to unpack the frustrations I’d had as a driver trying to understand bicyclists.

First, I wrote down all the questions and frustrations regarding bicyclists that I could think of. Then, I checked them against a list that I crowdsourced with car drivers on a Facebook group for local political discussion called St. Paul Town Hall, which hosts a diverse membership list. Nothing surprised me about the questions.

Finally, I posed those questions to folks like the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, Sustain Saint Paul, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN) and the Facebook groups Twin Cities/MN Bicycle Advice & Discussion and Grease Rag Ride & Wrench. The series will feature select responses.

Another of the author’s fall errands that could now happen via cargo-capable e-bicycle: running pumpkins to the compost center.

The Questions and the Order We’ll Cover Them

Questions about Bicyclists’ Mindsets

  • Why do bicyclists seem to blame vehicle drivers for everything?
  • Why are they so angry?
  • Why don’t bicyclists behave with more caution about vehicles?
  • Why don’t all bicyclists use lights at night?

Questions about Intersections

  • Why do bicyclists wave on a vehicle when they would ordinarily have the right of way?
  • Why do some bicyclists disregard signage at controlled intersections? 

Questions about Sharing the Roadway

  • Why don’t cyclists ride as close to the edge of the road as possible?
  • Why don’t groups of bicyclists always ride in single or dual file to narrow their use of the lane?
  • Why do some bicyclists choose to disregard rights-of-way — riding against traffic, on the sidewalk, etc.?

Questions about Separated Bikeways

  • Why do some bicyclists want separated bikeways so badly?
  • Why do some bicyclists hate separated bikeways?

Stay tuned!

Two bicyclists hauling three large pots of fall mums.
The author and her spouse picking up fall mums via e-bike — an errand they’d previously never have considered without an automobile.

About Sherry Johnson

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Sherry Johnson gets feisty about sustainability and localism. A complexity coach, adaptive strategist, and amplifier of counter-narratives, Sherry supports civic and nonprofit leaders as Principal Guide at Cultivate Strategy.