I liked this article so much I've copied it here for posterity.
By Brad Kilburn, Richmond News June 22, 2011
“You’re not a cyclist, you’re a — motorist.”
My friend at work was right. The bottom bracket on my bike had given out, so while it was being repaired, I drove my car to work.
I couldn’t help but laugh at not only the intended irony of the assertion, but also at the way people instinctively categorize each other, and favor those who fall into their own category.
In the late 1960’s, British psychologists, working out of the University of Bristol, divided a group of schoolboys, who all knew each other, into two groups. They asked the boys to give money to each other anonymously, save for their group affiliation.
It turned out that the boys consistently gave more money to their own groups even though these groups that had just been formed, held no meaning. This was an example of “social categorization” and how penalties can be inflicted on a perceived “outside” group.
I believe people who ride bikes hear all kinds of complaints directed towards them simply because of their minority position. Conversely, drivers benefit from a blind eye being applied to them for similar infractions by the simple association of being part of the larger group.
One way in which cyclists are very much different from motorists however, and this may explain some of the empathy gap that exists between them, is that most cyclists are drivers, but relatively few drivers are cyclists. The vast majority of drivers essentially don’t understand what cyclists face on a daily basis; they only understand their own point of view.
Perhaps the best way to improve motorist/cyclist relations is to simply get more people to ride bikes. This is what happens in places like the Netherlands where just about everybody rides a bike. They all understand what it’s like to be in a car and on a bike, so they cooperate with each other. As a result, they have the safest road record in the world.
Riding a bike next to cars once in a while would help a motorist gain some perspective and understanding of a cyclists experience is like just as a cyclists experience driving cars does.
We’re all in the same boat using the same roads; we should be working together instead of driving wedges between ourselves. Being both a cyclist and a motorist is a good thing, if what we want are safer roads.
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