Gear Prudence: Occasionally when I’m driving along some of the streets that feature the city’s finest bike lanes (L, M, and 15th), I see cyclists not using them and on the open road with cars. When biking, I always go out of my way to get to the safety of a bike lane. I’ve racked my brain trying to understand their motivation for avoiding the lanes and riding with traffic, but I just don’t get it! What gives? —No Obvious Logical Answer, Needs Explanation

Dear NOLANE: You haven’t really biked in D.C. until you’ve been told by a ragey driver to “GET IN THE BIKE LANE!” Even after the shouter has been met with “THERE’S NOT EVEN A BIKE LANE HERE!”, there’s typically exasperation and honking and the exchanging of middle fingers and hopefully nothing worse. When there is a bike lane present and a cyclist isn’t in it, it can be baffling. But there are reasons.

The big obvious reasons for temporarily riding outside a bike lane are big and obvious: bike lanes attract obstructive detritus (construction equipment, dumpsters, delivery vans, wrong-way cyclists, wayward pedestrians). Some people on bikes, rather than contend with these nuisances, simply choose to bypass them by moving into a general lane. The same occurs when avoiding the potholes, metal grates, ice, steel plates, flotsam, jetsam, and other hazards that can lead to suboptimal or dangerous cycling. Another common reason: the cyclist is preparing to make a turn at an upcoming intersection that’s on the other side of the street. 

There are others, however, who eschew bike lanes not from temporary necessity, but a conscious choice. Justifications include: “I ride fast and can keep up with cars”; “Bike lanes, as designed, are unsafe, and it’s safer and predictable to avoid them”; “Bike lanes relegate bicyclists to a second-class status and I deserve as full rights to the road”; and “An evil witch cursed me and if I ride in the bike lane, I’ll turn back into a toad.” Under District law, the presence of a bike lane doesn’t mandate any cyclist to ride in it, and while this might irk or confuse observers, where to ride is a matter of personal preference.That said, I would contend that the overwhelming majority of city cyclists prefer bike lanes, always try to ride in them, and desperately want more and better ones. —GP

Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who blogs at talesfromthesharrows.blogspot.com and tweets at @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email gearprudence@washingtoncitypaper.com.

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