Wright On: Drivers beware, cyclists deserve their share of road

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    Bicycle enthusiasts, from left, Todd Marohnic, Neil Erickson, Christian Engelhardt and Julie Englehardt would like to see drivers share the road a little more when there is not a shoulder to bike on. How about enforcing a 3-foot law from cars and bicycles to make roads safer?

Editor’s note: The cutline in this story has been modified.

They are a largely unrecognized group of Big Islanders exploring the natural treasures on the eastside, taking in views of deep, water-carved gulches, dodging in and out of rain forests on the backroads, marveling at the panoramic views to be had up the Hamakua coast.


For recreation and exercise for almost any age, it is a different feel, there’s a whiff of wanderlust and human-powered conveyance that carries you on a bicycle, and if the road turns up, you switch gears to compensate.

They are a discriminating lot, these cyclists, they want to go anywhere there’s a road, or in some cases, a decent trail, but they are forced to weigh their desires against the accompanying reality that not everyone supports their endeavors.

Cyclists on the eastside of the island need to be a bit more creative than in many places, such as on the Kona side where the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway has wide shoulders that accommodate bicycles.

On the Hilo side, taking out the bike for a couple hours requires more thoughtful planning than on the other side of the island, given the narrow shoulders on most roads this side of the island. But in conversations with a handful of dedicated eastside cyclists, they say they are fairly strong in numbers, even if you don’t always see them.

“My secret,” said Todd Marohnic, who lives in Volcano, “is to hit the (Hawaii Volcanoes National) park first thing in the morning. It’s about as good as it gets, open roads, scenery, but it doesn’t last for long.

“You don’t see a lot of bikes on the streets here,” he said, “but there is a growing mountain bikes group, and some of us have our places to go that work for us. “

The issue facing cyclists in many places, but especially here, is that our streets simply were not built for bicycles.

“The shoulders are just not wide enough,” said Jenn Real, “they are narrow, nonexistent or covered with rocks and things that makes it dangerous.”

The shoulders are wide if you travel between Hilo and Volcano, but there’s that thing about 32 miles uphill from Hilo that can dampen the enthusiasm for that ride.

Even so, there should be a sensible way that local cyclists could more comfortably share the road with motorists. The catch is, that would require change on the part of the motorists.

It’s not all of them, but there’s a percentage of motorists that seem to have it out for cyclists. They can make it uncomfortable and sometimes actually dangerous to ride around cars.

“I don’t get it,” said Christian Engelhardt, “they can be openly hostile at you, and why? I’ve heard, ‘Get off the road,’ and worse, but I’ve also seen them come to a complete stop or drive on the other side of the road because there’s a dog on the street.

“For us,” he said, “they sometimes give us an inch or two and that’s really not safe.”

A lot of drivers seem to think they are the sole owners of the roads and have privileges that are inaccessible to people riding their bikes.

Cyclists often hear, “I pay taxes for these roads,” which suggests the motorist has decided only people who drive cars pay taxes that go to roads. They all understand there are more cars than bicycles and that defensive cycling can be a life-saver, but it’s only natural that they would hope more drivers would be respectful to them.

“Riding here has made me a better motorist,” said Neil Erickson, who lives in Umauma and often cycles the 17-mile ride into Hilo where he works. “Seeing how some people drive has made me a better driver. The ones who are malicious, I don’t know what can be done with them, but we often see motorists who just don’t seem aware of our presence.”

They drive too close, sometimes bare inches from the cyclist, they often don’t observe right-of-way rules, and some yell insults as they drive by.

Why do we do this? Most of us remember that first time we got up on a bicycle and suddenly unlocked the mystery of keeping our balance, and now the bike was an extension of ourselves. You could get places fast, you could simply coast and enjoy. Who among us learned how to ride a bike and didn’t like it, didn’t appreciate the feeling of freedom and simple fun you get from the experience?

There was a time even those angry motorists loved their bike. Maybe they can recall those moments and be a little more understanding.

It’s a curious rupture in the driving habits here, where it’s common to see motorists wave someone through an intersection without the right-of-way. We are seldom in a hurry, often willing to let the other guy make the turn in front of us because we realize there’s a long line behind us and he might not otherwise get through.

But when it comes to sharing the road with cyclists, we could do better. Our leaders could and should do more.

Let’s enforce a 3-foot law from cars and bicycles, it’s not too much to ask of the motorist and it’s enough to allow cyclists a measure of safety.

“The malicious ones,” I don’t know, “said Erickson, maybe you can’t change those people; I’ve had firecrackers thrown at me, and you just wonder, ‘Why?’”

The good news is that, even with the unnecessary distractions, it’s all worth it for these people. They meet other like-minded individuals through Hilo bike shops, Mid-Pacific or the Bike Hub. They find when those groups have weekly rides, they show up and get started. Before they know it, they are in a community of people who share the interest.

“You know what?” Erickson said. “we’re all still here, we keep meeting new people, the number of cyclists here is growing and even after that ride to work where I might hear something or whatever? After I take a shower and get ready for work, it all washes away, the pleasure of the ride stays with me.”


And that, as they say in cycling, is what it’s all about.

Questions? Whistleblower tips? Contact Bart at barttribuneherald@gmail.com