Drivers don’t get cyclists. Most people stopped riding bikes as kids, if they ever learned at all, and they never used bikes to do adult stuff like commuting or running errands. Cyclists on the road are the Other – different and incomprehensible. On top of that they’re blatantly exposed, unlike drivers who are isolated in their air-conditioned, radio-blaring cocoon. Drivers’ reactions to the Other are many: hate, admiration, guilt, lack of judgement, and jumping to conclusions. Any cyclist who has spent any time sharing the road with cars could rant for days (and they often do) on the foul behavior and attitudes of drivers.
But this post is not about bad drivers but about bad cyclists. Before continuing, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: drivers, you’re directing multi-ton death monsters around the road. Whatever opinions you may have about cyclists, you don’t want to explain to the judge or a family member why you cleaned the hood of your car with a soon-to-be corpse. Nothing in this article should make you forget this. Be safe and be polite. Period.
On to cyclists, who in this author’s experience, are actually much more annoying than drivers. Other than a guy who successfully proved that cars can push bikes off the road, bored teens yelling “hey!” out their window, or fashion consultants recommending that spandex makes one look like a “fag”, drivers have been, if anything, too polite. (“Please go! You have the right of way. I was a half block back when you got to the 4-way stop! You didn’t have to wait for me.”).
One type of annoying cyclist is the proud-to-be-an-asshole asshole, like the author of a Slate article on the car-bike battle. This person just likes being an asshole on the bike, in a car, or on foot. A second type is the unskilled cyclist. It’s not a trivial matter to get on a road with Death Monsters. It really isn’t. There are a good many skills that can keep one safe on the road and it’s scary to see people putting themselves needlessly in danger. It’s amazing how skill can transform an experience from a petrifying death dance to a pleasant stroll. Now, this type of cyclist should be commended if trying to improve, but becomes annoying when they misinterpret their lack of skill as hateful driving, and even more so when they act out on that impression.
Lastly, there’s the self-righteous asshole. This is the person who thinks “I am morally superior to you because [enter reason here]. I’m on a bike so I can run a red, ride the wrong way, race down sidewalks, ride too fast, hate cars, etc. I know there are rules, but they don’t apply to me.” One personal anecdote serves to illustrate: on one occasion I observed Critical Mass first surround a mini-van and then pound on its roof incessantly. Inside was a frightened, crying boy. They saw him crying, but didn’t stop. Clearly, these people were more extreme than most, but they are no different in quality than someone who runs a red because, for whatever reason, the rules don’t apply to them.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list and it certainly isn’t supposed to be a rant against cyclists (although it got dangerously close). Rather, it’s ultimately a plea to those who want safer, more pleasant streets for bikes. If we want better bike infrastructure, we need widespread support. We need drivers to buy into the plan, at least a bit. Flipping the bird may make you feel good, but it ain’t solvin’ nothin’. As cyclists we are all ambassadors for cycling. Drivers are just other people, probably tired from work and ready to be home. Sure they do stupid things sometimes; but we all do. Don’t retaliate against their transgressions. Do ride safely even if this means slowing traffic. Do take political actions that increase the visibility of bikes and the viability of bike traffic. But also keep your cool and definitely don’t give the finger. Every finger you give makes one more bike-hating driver.
Full disclosure: The author (i) typically commutes by bike three days out of five, drives on one, and works from home one, (ii) used to race extensively, so probably has better than average bike handling skills, (iii) recently got involved in a local bike coalition, (iv) thankfully hasn’t been hit by a car, and (v) ain’t no saint: the author has given the finger and yelled at drivers, frequently rolls stop signs if safe, and has a regular commute route with a block of sidewalk leading to an illegal right turn.
- Signalling an end to cyclists’ camaraderie (metronews.ca)
- 6 things drivers can do to improve relations with cyclists (cyclingsydney.wordpress.com)