"There's a lot of misconceptions on just how close you can get to the bike," said Sam Kavanagh of Bozeman, Mont., one of hundreds of cyclists in downtown Augusta on Friday for the USA Cycling National Championships.
The stories shared by competitors mirror complaints from local cycling enthusiasts, who say they've been "buzzed" by passing cars and physically confronted in the Beech Island area.
In October, Army Maj. Matthew Burke was struck by a SUV on Beech Island Avenue and died months later from his injuries. Daniel Johnson, the SUV's driver, was arrested in February on a charge of reckless homicide.
Cyclists from across America said they've experienced similar issues during training.
Kavanagh said there have been several close calls during his training when he had to pull over and catch his breath.
"I think I've definitely dodged a few bullets," he said.
He knows of communities that have done a good job of protecting cyclists, but there are pros and cons to that, Kavanagh said. Bicycle-friendly communities tend to engender a feeling of entitlement among cyclists and animosity in motorists, Kavanagh said.
Steve Sterling, of Dallas, was downtown Friday with his 17-year-old daughter, who has been racing competitively for two years.
They make an effort to find routes with less traffic while training, but Sterling has had his share of close calls on other rides, including a large firecracker thrown under his pedals.
"It was a good shot," Sterling said. "It gave me a good scare."
He said Texas is "kind of backwards" with its bicycle safety laws, which don't include South Carolina's "safe passing distance" rule or Georgia's "3-foot passing rule."
"It's a political fight just to get bike lanes," Sterling said.
Steve Reaney, of San Jose, Calif., was T-boned by a car and suffered serious injury while riding in the bike lane.
"The lady got out and said 'What were you doing? I didn't see you,' " Reaney said.
He said the location and time of day determine how dangerous his interactions with motorists will be. Training in San Jose, for instance, isn't as hazardous as going across the mountain to nearby Santa Cruz.
"There are pockets of aggression," he said.
Of course, if there is little traffic, then the risk is significantly diminished.
Benny Swedberg said he's experienced more close calls training in California than in his home state of Washington, where rainy weather keeps people off the roads.
One universal truth is that collisions between motorists and cyclists rarely end well. Whether it's the motorist's fault or a cycling error, "We're always going to lose," Kavanagh said.