For Randy Breeden, bicycling isn't always a relaxing spin. Drivers have cursed him, buzzed by him and honked at him.
Breeden, a 17-year bicyclist who racks up about 7,000 miles a year, has had many close calls. Some have been so close that they have raised the hairs on his arms.
"It is just like your life is being threatened," Breeden said. "A motor vehicle has so much power over you, and you are out there on your bike with no protection."
Last week, Douglas County Sheriff's Lt. David Dillon was killed when a motorist struck him while he was bicycling along North 1400 Road, just west of Eudora. While many in the cycling community were shocked by Dillon's tragic death, it also served as a reminder to both motorists and cyclists to share the road and be more cautious.
Last year, vehicle accidents resulted in two bicyclists' deaths in Kansas and 280 injuries. In 2006, the state reported six deaths, which contributed to the 773 such deaths nationwide.
With more traffic on country roads, bigger vehicles and drivers with more aggression, Breeden, who is an officer in the Lawrence Bicycle Club, said the sport of cycling "isn't getting any safer."
The two modes of transportation could be coming into contact with increasing frequency, said Becky Pepper, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
"I think it is important for bicyclists to remember that, when they are riding, to follow the rules of road and for motorists to remember that there could be an increase of cyclists on the road with warmer weather and gas prices increasing," she said.
Sharing the road
The conflict between drivers and cyclists is a long-standing one. The first car accident was reported to have occurred when a driver hit a bicyclist in 1896. Letters to the Lawrence Journal-World from one side of the road or the other are proof enough that animosity sometimes exists.
Drivers complain that cyclists don't follow the rules and take up too much space. Bicyclists say they have as much right to the road as anyone and drivers pass far too closely.
In 2006, Pete Anderson wrote a letter to the editor after he witnessed one bicyclist repeatedly blow through stop signs while riding down Louisiana Street. Two years later, he continues to see cyclists who break the law. He also is frustrated when he follows bicyclists who are bunched up on country roads.
"What worries me, you got a deep ditch on both sides of the road. And, if you try to get around someone, you either stay on their side or meet oncoming traffic," Anderson said.
What's on the books
By state law, bicyclists have the same rights to roads as motorists do. With the exception of interstate highways, they can be on any state or local roadway.
They also have to follow the same laws such as coming to a complete stop at stop signs and signaling if they are going to turn. If they don't, they can be ticketed.
State statute says that cyclists should stay as "near to the right of the road as practicable." That language gives cyclists the leeway to keep a safe distance from the curb so they can still maneuver around debris, potholes and opening car doors, Pepper said. Often that means riding about two feet away from the curb.
Every state in the country allows bicyclists to ride two abreast. And Eric Struckhoff, chairman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Bicycle Advisory Committee, said there is good reason to do so.
Riding two across makes bicyclists more visible to drivers and allows them to communicate without taking their eyes off the road.
"It's a safety issue as well as a social issue," Struckhoff said.
The city of Lawrence has an ordinance regulating bicyclists to single-file riding, and some patches of road are designated as such.
As for vehicle drivers, the Kansas Driving Handbook says that motorists should pass at least four feet to the left of bicyclists.
That means most of the time, drivers should make sure the opposite lane is clear so they have the room they need, Breeden said.
"Let off the gas. Just that split second isn't going to make you any later," he said. "Wait until it is safe to pass. Don't get mad, just take a deep breath. We are not going to impede motorists hardly at all."