Gear Prudence: You ever notice how the worst assholes around bikes always seem to be driving BMWs? Every time I see a BMW while I’m biking, I instinctively get ready for some Ultimate Driving Dickishness, and I’m rarely ever wrong. What’s the deal with that? Why are luxury sedans always the worst around us bikers? —Boorish; Malevolent; Worst
Dear BMW: Seems like almost everyone who bikes in D.C. has a BMW horror story. It’s such a well-known phenomenon that David Plotz in Slate once posed four theories (BMW drivers are wealthy; BMW drivers are car lovers; BMW drivers are better drivers than average; BMW drivers are just assholes) to try and explain it. But before assessing the cause of the the BMW driver’s supposed supreme terribleness, you should interrogate the underlying assumption.
Is a luxury sedan really worse than a giant SUV? One of the ones so large it’s named after an expanse of Canadian wilderness or a geological feature? They’ve got more blind spots than cupholders, which likely number in the dozens, and their sheer bulk is menacing for cyclists trying to retain a sliver of asphalt. But vastness isn’t the only thing that might make a car bad around bikes. Mini Coopers (ugh, The Italian Job) and smart cars outweigh and outmuscle bicyclists by orders of magnitude, people drive them like go-karts, and they often take up spaces bicyclists rely on to skirt through traffic.
Also terrible: the humble Toyota Camry, not so much for its external features, but rather that it seems to be the vehicle of choice for Uber and Lyft drivers. Often the last thing a bicyclist sees when slamming on the brakes to avoid a Camry swerving through the bike lane is the window decal of the company paying that driver to cause your life to flash before your eyes. Thanks for nothing, technology!
Really though, the whole notion of the “worst car” is wrongheaded. Certain brands invariably attract assholes, but the real problem isn’t the brand—it’s the assholes. Profiling for assholes based on the kind of cars they might drive isn’t really going to work because (1) the correlation is weak and (2) it just leads to confirmation bias. You remember every bad move you see from BMW drivers because you’re already primed to think that they’re especially bad drivers. It may be that statistically these drivers are worse around bicyclists, but so what? There’s no Moneyball in bike riding—you have to treat every interaction and situation on the road as sui generis and get through it as best you can. Plus, group disparagement isn’t pragmatic or fair. You wouldn’t want to be tarred with a bad name based on the behavior of other bicyclists. Resist the urge to make sweeping generalizations, even if they seem deserved. —GP