March 24, 2014

by Kristin Butcher

MYTH: Bicyclists don’t help pay for the roads they use.

Many people mistakenly believe that taxes levied on gas pay for road construction and maintenance. However, the funding from gas taxes makes up a relatively small amount of transportation funding. According to a 2011 report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, gas taxes and other ?user fees,? like automobile registration, fund only about half of the nation’s road expenses. The remaining costs are covered through general government funding.

This means we all pay for our roads, whether we drive on them or not.

MYTH: Roads were created for cars.

After a few false starts with the penny-farthing and aptly nicknamed ?boneshaker,? the bicycling boom took off in the late 1800s, after the introduction of the safety bicycle and pneumatic tire. Bicycles in the U.S. and Europe quickly became mainstays of travel for modern and elite classes and were even referred to as a woman’s ?freedom machine? by Susan B. Anthony. But the burgeoning groups of bicyclists lacked good roads to ride.

In 1880, bicyclists, riding clubs and bicycle manufacturers formed the League of American Wheelman and founded the Good Roads Movement. The movement gained momentum through conventions, demonstrations and political involvement, which eventually led to the creation of what would become the Federal Highway Administration.

MYTH: Riders are safest on the sidewalk.

At first glance, it seems like bicyclists are safest on sidewalks, separated from automobile traffic. Riding on the sidewalk does reduce the incidence of crashes involving cars passing bicyclists, but sidewalk riders significantly increase the risk of being hit by turning drivers.

A 2009 review of 23 studies on bicycling injuries found the best places for bicyclists to travel were protected bike lanes, closely followed by on-road bike lanes and separated bike paths. It turns out that the most dangerous way to ride is the way many of us were taught as kids: on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic.

MYTH: You can’t get a decent bike for less than a gazillion dollars.

Flipping through nearly any ?bike buying guide? can make anyone freak out a little. While there are new (and pricey) innovations every year, the truth is that bicycles have been around since the mid-eighteen hundreds and the design hasn’t changed all that much. For every high-zoot scoot, there is a used bike waiting to be loved by someone new. If you don’t want to go on a Craigslist adventure or hit up the 7 a.m. garage sale beat, look for a bicycle co-op in your town or other non-profits who refurbish pre-loved bikes. If want a good deal on a new bike, the onset of the new year’s bike bling usually means bike shops have priced last year’s models to move.

MYTH: Bicyclists think they own the road.

Bicycling isn’t magically devoid of the self-absorbed nitwits found in every corner of society. However, most people on bikes out there are simply that: people. 

Whether we’re choosing to go by bike or car, we’re all just trying to get somewhere. It behooves us all to be a little more considerate and, perhaps most importantly, to give each other the benefit of the doubt. No one wants to have his or her day ruined by an accident.

MYTH: Bikes are just kids? toys.

Bikes inspired cars and roads and aviation. They laid the foundation for much of the modern transportation and road infrastructure we use today. Bicycling is also a $6 billion industry.

And, yes, bicycles are kids? toys, but have you seen the way a kid smiles when he’s figuring out how to pedal or racing his best friend on a hot summer day? If the definition of a toy is an object of amusement and a creator of smiles, then, yes, bikes are toys. But bikes are also tools. They?re exercise equipment and art and a way to get from here to there. Bikes are many things to many people. If bikes bridge the gap between the fun of childhood and goal-oriented confines of adulthood, well, isn’t that a feature more so than a downside?

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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