Grandpa Said…

“My Grandpa taught me to ride on the left side of the road, to go against traffic, like a pedestrian.”

biker wrong way

Yes, many people were taught this same thing. And back in the middle of the last century and before, that was how all kids – and adults – were taught to think about bicycling in the road. it seemed right then but is way wrong – and illegal – now. This needs an historical reference.

Bicycling has a long history, beginning in the late 1800s. They appeared before motorcars and were actually responsible for developing our better roads back then. Horses and carriages could ride through rutted and muddy roads but bicycles, with their lower power and narrower tires had a hard time with that. so they helped our country develop an improved system of roads and road surfaces. At the end of the 1800s bicycles were king and pretty much ruled the roads.

Then along came the motorcar and that changed things. In fact, the very first collision on the new and improved roads was between a bike and a car. As cars grew in popularity, the bicycle took a back seat and slowly fell from popularity. Adults grew fond of the new cars and bikes became more of a toy and popular with children and those too young to yet drive.

Since the new status of a bicycle was as a child’s toy, it lost its reference as a roadway conveyance. Users of bicycles at that time (from the early- to mid-1900s) were considered to be pedestrians when on the road. As such, they were instructed to use the bike the same as if they were walking on the road, to walk (or pedal) on the left side of the road, to go against traffic. This became the popular instruction of the day in the early to mid 1900s. You might still find such references in old documents, such as the Boy Scout Manual or Handbook, where they instructed youth to do that – to ride their bike on the road against traffic, the same as if you were walking.

Consequently, persons who grew up during those times (probably anyone born in the 1930s to 1950s), were taught that is how and where it is “safe” to ride your bike. And anyone taught by that person who grew up then has been taught the same thing. If your Grandpa tried to teach that to you, he was only trying to pass on what he was taught when he was young. But things have changed.

Sometime around the middle of the last century, as motorcars were rapidly gaining popularity and causing problems because the roadway laws had not yet caught up with technology, the world figured out it had to do something. What the lawmakers came up with was a universal set of rules governing many things about driving on roads. This “code of conduct” was called the Universal Vehicular Code, or UVC. The UVC was adopted by nealry all countries during that broad time period. About the only variance to that was which side of the road was the “correct” side for all traffic, such as we have some countries driving on the right and some on the left. But most all other parts of the UVC were adopted.

One of the big changes in the UVC was that bicycles (which by now had regained some popularity as a roadway conveyance) were now re-instated as vehicles (!). And, as vehicles, they now had to behave like all other vehicles, following the same rules and laws, the same etiquettes, the same principals. They were now allowed – and required – to operate on the same side of the road and to follow all the same laws. This occurred during the 1970s in most parts of the world. Including the USA.

So, your grandpa was right back 50 or more years ago, but he’s very wrong now. Now, all bicycles operators, when riding on the road, are required to ride in same direction as other traffic. Never is a bike to be ridden against traffic.

A bicyclist is part of traffic. The bicyclist must follow all the same rules and laws required of motorists.


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