Bicyclist are A-Holes. It’s Science, Yo!

Executive Summary

People who read the series on Healthy Transportation know that my preferred method of travel is on a bicycle. So I am very sensitive to comments from drivers who say bicyclists are all A-Holes who never follow the law. I am sensitive to the comments, but I also agree with them. This post provides scientific proof that bicyclists are A-Holes and explains why this phenomenon is the case.

The Hypothesis

We see it all the time. A cyclist blows through a stop sign. Another one blocks the entire left turn lane at a traffic light. Sure, drivers can be annoying too but not at the same rate as cyclists.

The Scientific Evidence

For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll define quality as how often a driver does something rude, spacey, selfish or illegal. If you were to rank all the drivers in the United States by the quality of their driving and plot them on a histogram, it is safe to assume that the resulting graph would approach the shape of a normal distribution or bell curve. That histogram would look something like what you see in the figure below where there would be only a few near perfect drivers, a large majority who are in the middle, and another small group (inevitably from Maryland) who would be bad drivers.

Normal Distribution of Driver Quality

Normal Distribution of Driver Quality

We should also expect the quality of cyclists to follow a similar distribution resulting in yet another bell curve.

Normal Distribution of Cyclist Quality
Normal Distribution of Cyclist Quality

Now since there are fewer cyclists on the road than drivers, the cyclist curve shifts to the left of the drivers curve (it’s just science, yo!). And when you overlay them on top of each other, you get a histogram that looks like this:

The A-Hole Phenomenon - Overlay of Normal Distribution of Driver Cyclist Quality
The A-Hole Phenomenon – Overlay of Normal Distribution of Driver Cyclist Quality

And clearly, when  the two curves are plotted together, the resulting shape is that of a butt and the intersection is the a-hole. But when you remove the cycling curve:

Normal Distribution of Driver Quality
Normal Distribution of Driver Quality

the A-hole isn’t there anymore. The obvious conclusion is that the cyclists must be the A-holes.

Never mind that my rationale for shifting the cyclist curve to the left makes no sense. Never mind that a study by researchers at the University of Colorado (who were no doubt smoking some of their legal dope at the time) analyzed the habits of over 18,000 people and concluded that drivers and cyclists act like A-holes at about the same rate. In this study cyclists actually screwed up less often but the rate was within the margin of error.

However, this doesn’t explain why non-cyclists attribute A-hole behavior to cyclists at a higher rate. My theory is that:

  1. Drivers who are not cyclists are more forgiving (I did not say totally forgiving) of A-hole drivers because they know on occasion they screw up too.
  2. There are fewer cyclists on the road and because decent cyclists are pretty inconspicuous, A-hole cyclists have a higher profile.

The researchers for the Colorado study are trying to dig into the details of why people drive or cycle like A-holes. Their working theory is that both groups do it as a time-saving measure. In addition, cyclists often do it for safety reasons. They are either doing something legal but annoying (like when they’re in “your” left turn lane) or doing something illegal but improving safety. An example of the latter is the Idaho Stop, the name given for when cyclists treat a stop sign as a yield and a stop light as a stop sign. The Idaho stop is shown to reduce bicycle injuries by almost 15%.

But (heh heh, he said “but”) is being a cycling A-hole really safer? Apparently yes. According to the National Safety Council, as compared to cycling you’re 6 times more likely to die as a pedestrian and 40 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle. Perhaps the most interesting statistic is that you are 900 times more likely to die of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer or respiratory failure which all can be prevented through activites such as cycling.

So next times you see cyclists being A-holes, be sure to thank them.

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