Lentis/Drivers’ and Bicyclists’ Perceptions of Each Other



The relationship between motorists and bicyclists is a fascinating look into the development of both technologies; without one, you do not have the other. However, due to a number of high profile incidents in recent years, between motorists and cyclists, this subject is intriguing to those wishing to know more about the interface of technology and society. This chapter explores the nuances of this relationship.

Development of the Bicycle and the Automobile


Take a good, hard look at the average bicycle today. It is a simple pedaled, chained, and geared machine. You likely see bicycles ridden around residential neighborhoods by groups of young children playing. Now repeat the process for an automobile. Your average, modern car is two tons of aluminum, steel, plastic, and rubber, filled with airbags, sensors, media players, mirrors, fans, and upholstered seating. You likely see everyone you know driving to work, appointments, recreational outings, and so on. The automobile and the bicycle are categorically different, yet many would be surprised to note they are born of the same pedigree.

Velocipede: The Early Bicycle


The predecessor to the bicycle was called the velocipede. It was born in Europe, and quickly found a home in America.[1] The earliest velocipedes had massive front wheels used for both steering and pedaling. This required immense coordination, and a lapse in concentration could cause a terrible spill.[2] Later versions were designed with a more balance wheel size and gearing. These "safety" bicycles grew in popularity, and by the turn of the century they were almost ubiquitous. The number of bicycles in use rose from an estimated 200,000 in 1889 to 1,000,000 in 1899.[2] At this time, the bicycle was the preferred choice for individual transportation.[1]

Automakers Were Bicyclemakers


Many pioneer automobile builders were at first bicycle manufacturers. Among these were Charles Duryea, Alexander Winton, and Colonel Albert A. Pope.[3] John Starley released his version of the safety bicycle called the Rover. His company was the seed for what is today one of the most successful automobile manufacturers in the world. See the Rover advertisement below[4]

John Starley's safety bike grew up.

The reason for why bicycle makers, in some cases, became car makers is beyond a shared interest. Many of the machining advances made by the bicycle industry made the creation of the automobile possible. Things such as metal tubing, precisely machined ball bearings, pneumatic tires, spoke wheels, and gear-ratchet systems were all bicycle technologies that were adapted into the first automobiles.[4][1]



No matter where you live in the United States, you must possess a license to drive a motor vehicle. Owners of driver's licenses are deemed road-ready by their state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and can enter a transit system that includes not only motor vehicles but also bicycles and pedestrians. However, requirements to obtain a license vary by state,[5] meaning that not all motor vehicle drivers are tested equally.

Developments in the Field of Infrastructure


Driver education fails to properly address developments in the field of bicycle infrastructure. Bicycle lanes are becoming more prevalent as are new concepts that aid bicyclists. One such new concept is the bicycle stop box.[6] One place these stop boxes can be found is the intersection of University Avenue and Rugby Road in Charlottesville, Virginia.[7] Motorists that were never taught the purpose of these boxes are a potential hazard to the bicyclists that use them.

Currently, drivers do not necessarily get retested when renewing their license.[8] This means that some drivers may never learn how to properly act in the presence of new bicycle infrastructure. Requiring drivers to take a course in order to renew their license might better help address infrastructure advancement.

It is not only drivers that lack knowledge of the developing bicycle infrastructure scene. For example, in the State of the Virginia, the Department of Transportation says that localities can license bicycles, but does not require a bicycle license at the state level. Depending on what locality the person is from, a resident of Virginia can buy a bicycle and hop straight on the streets without having to pass any educational courses or tests.[9]

Strides in Bicycle Education


Many organizations are working to increase driver and cyclist awareness of each other. Different approaches are taken by each group to reach the end goal of a safer road for everyone.

Crash statistics indicate that bicyclists are prone to accidents.[10] Through an infographic, an insurance website seeks to enlighten bicyclists and automobile drivers on crash avoidance strategies.[10]

The League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB) is attempting to improve safety for bicyclists through education of bicyclists and automobile drivers. Their strategy involved supporting House Bill (HB) 5348 that addresses education on sharing the road. Through this law, the state's driver's education manuall and the driver's test would have increased content regarding bicyclists. Outside of supporting the bill, which did go on to pass, LMB works with the Secretary of State to create pamphlets, educational videos, and public service announcements on sharing the road.[11]

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's approach involves educating professional drivers on how to share the road with bicyclists. Their programs target cab drivers, bus drivers, delivery and truck drivers, and others so that professional drivers are setting a good example.[12]

The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) seeks partnerships with communities, businesses, and universities in their attempt to teach both bicyclists and automobile drivers.[13]

The North Carolina Coalition for Bicycle Driving contends that the best way for bicyclists to insure their own safety is by taking matters into their own hands. The group promotes learning how to safely bike on the road from other experienced cyclists. Their website uses the phrase "vehicular cyclists" to differentiate utilitarian cyclists from recreational bicyclists.[14]

Bicycles and Cars as a Political and Cultural Proxy


Particularly in the U.S., bicyclists are viewed negatively by many who identify themselves as conservative, while many style themselves as being liberal see many motorists negatively. However, what each views as a negative is rooted more in what each of these cultures represents, not so much the individuals or transportation methods favored by these groups. Many bicyclists are motorists, and vice versa.

Conservative scorn is directed at what they view as increasing encroachment on American liberties by overreaching governments. Conservative demagogues view bicyclists as a minority that cause congestion and sap;[15] infrastructure for which they do not pay[16] scoff-laws who pose a danger to others;[17] and political opponents worthy of derision.[18] What is missed, however, is that bicycles and bicycle-centric infrastructure

Liberals, on the other hand, deride continued reliance on automobiles, arguing that they pollute the Earth, cause congestion, cost the average American more in taxes and hidden costs, and flout traffic laws.[19][20][21] And liberal government leaders have stressed positives in their commitment to safer roads for all users, touted buy-in from communities, and point out that the amount of roadway altered in a more bicycle-friendly way is very small.[22]

This is not to say that all conservatives or liberals share the same views. There is also an age disparity between the core of each group. Urban bicyclists tend to be younger, and identify less with the traditional notion of being middle class,[23] while dedicated motorists tend to be older individuals, and see increased non-car infrastructure as an assault on their achievement.[24][25]

Other Countries


How countries other than the U.S. have developed infrastructure that affects drivers' and bicyclists' perceptions of each other can broaden our understanding of the situation in the U.S. It is



The modern bicycle and automobile were European inventions, and developed somewhat concurrently. Just as in the U.S., it was bicycling clubs that pushed for road improvements,[26] and many influential bicyclists were also automobile manufacturers. These improvements were beneficial for increased automobile usage, as well. However, unlike the U.S., widespread adoption in urban areas of the automobile did not occur until after World War II, when much of the infrastructure of Europe had to be rebuilt.[27] This allowed for more space for automobile usage, and higher incomes led to increased demand of expensive goods, like cars, by consumers.[28]

This was unabated until the various energy crises of the 1970's hit Europe particularly hard, and forced many countries to search for alternatives. Countries like Denmark and the Netherlands recognized that increased bicycle usage reduced their oil dependency, and also had environmental benefits. From there, steady campaigns were made to advocate increased usage of bicycles, while infrastructure was built to aid this.[29]



17 of the top 20 most bicycle friendly cities are in Europe.[30] Many cities look to places like Copenhagen, in Denmark, as examples of how to plan urban centers around increased bicycle usage. The Danish government promotes cycling, and places restrictions on cars that makes driving a less attractive alternative.[31] As a result, the number of Danes who cycle regularly, and for more than just recreation forms a large percentage of the population.[32] This has led to more balanced perceptions bicyclists and drivers have of one another, as they are often one and the same.



The cult of the car as an icon of personal expression and freedom did not take hold in many places the way it did in the U.S. This along with the energy crises permitted the more socialist governments in Europe to institute car fee Sundays, which led to further bans on traffic in city centers. This allowed for bicycles to take over the space vacated by cars. Bicycles were viewed not as just a plaything for the rich, or the only means of transportation of the poor, but as a recreational and utilitarian vehicle to be enjoyed by all.[29][33]

To promote bicycling, infrastructure like the hovenring, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, has been designed to celebrate and beautify the activity, even elevating over that of driving,[34] and, bicycle chic is a very popular, means of self expression through a minimalist style involving bicycles,[35][36] much the same as the car is an expression of individualism is in the U.S. Whereas many cyclists in the U.S. are derided as spandex-clad, the fact of the matter is that as bike sharing programs increase in members and usage, a minimalist bicycle chic will spread in much the same way it has in Europe.

Technology is Defined by Those Who Use It, Not Those Who Create It


In analyzing the relationship between cyclists and motorists you will find common tale which speaks to human nature. Technology, as a tool for mankind, is made with the values of the generation that produces it, but its subsequent use will be infiltrated by the values of new generations. No early bicycle or automobile maker could predict the form and use of their machines today, nor could any urban planner predict how bicycles and cars would one day vie for safe passage on roads. For technology, perception is the reality, and it is people who perceive.


  1. a b c "America on the Move". National Museum of American History. November 2, 2016.
  2. a b Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named auto3
  3. Retrieved verbatim from http://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/themes/story_69_3.html
  4. a b "Why motorists should thank cyclists for the car". https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/recreational-cycling/11592348/Why-motorists-should-thank-cyclists-for-the-car.html. 
  5. http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/international-student-counsel/2015/01/06/follow-these-steps-to-obtain-a-us-drivers-license
  6. http://archive.fsunews.com/article/20121107/FSVIEW1/121107017/Bike-safety-stop-now-Stadium-Call
  7. http://www.nbc29.com/story/26260527/green-markings-at-cville-intersection-to-help-with-bike-safety
  8. http://www.in.gov/bmv/2758.htm
  9. http://www.virginiadot.org/programs/bk-laws.asp
  10. a b "Bicycle Safety Complete Guide - How to Stay Safe". www.fullcoverageautoinsurances.com. February 19, 2014.
  11. "League of Michigan Bicyclists". lmb.org.
  12. "Driver Education".
  13. Murphy, Liz (May 17, 2013). "Mission and History". League of American Bicyclists.
  14. http://www.humantransport.org/bicycledriving/page2.html
  15. Buckley, F. H. (November 8, 2013). "F.H. Buckley: We Have Not Yet Begun to Fight the Bike Lanes" – via www.wsj.com.
  16. "License Plates for Bicycles?".
  17. "Opinion: Death by Bicycle". www.wsj.com.
  18. http://www.wsbradio.com/videos/news/donald-trump-hates-bicycles/vDdFwF/
  19. http://d2dtl5nnlpfr0r.cloudfront.net/tti.tamu.edu/documents/mobility-scorecard-2015.pdf
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  21. "BikeHacks - Your Home For Everything Biking". www.bikehacks.com.
  22. http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/bike_lanes_memo.pdf
  23. http://www.capitalbikeshare.com/assets/pdf/cabi-2014surveyreport.pdf
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  25. http://www.restorebalance14.org/proposition-l.html
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  28. "How the Dutch got their cycle paths" – via www.youtube.com.
  29. a b http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/how-denmark-become-a-cycling-nation/
  30. "2019 Copenhagenize Index - Copenhagenize". copenhagenizeindex.eu.
  31. "Tour de France 2021 ᐈᐈ program ☑️ etapy, trasa, výsledky | BetArena.cz". www.betarena.cz.
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  33. http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/the-cities-of-the-future-are-people-friendly-cities/
  34. http://hovenring.com/
  35. http://cyclechicbe.blogspot.com/
  36. Greenfield, Author John (November 16, 2012). "Danish Modern: Copenhagen Cycle Chic's Mikael Colville-Andersen". {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)