Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In Passing

It’s a maddening maneuver I remember well from my days as a driver. But to experience it while cycling is somehow both funnier and more annoying. Take this example from earlier today:

I was cycling home at a fairly decent clip, when I heard a steady wooshing sound suggesting another rider was close behind. After some minutes of this, the wooshing grew more frenzied and I knew he was about to overtake me. Split seconds later, that was exactly what happened. The rider, down in the drops and red in the face, was giving it his all. I expected him to continue in this manner down the road, rocketing past me until he was but a dot on the horizon. Instead, nearly as soon as he passed me, the man immediately slowed down - until he was cycling at the exact same speed as I was, only now some meters ahead of me. By god, he had passed me just for the sake of passing!

"You do it because it feels like someone is blocking your view," a friend explained to me sheepishly, admitting he sometimes does this too. "Only normally, you'd have the decency to get far enough ahead not to obstruct theirs." Well yeah - exactly!

It had been a long day, and my tiredness had made me feel mischievous. So I pedaled just a tiny bit harder, caught up with the rider who'd passed me, sat on his wheel, and said, in the most friendly, genuine tone I could muster: "Hey! Thanks for taking a pull. That headwind is brutal." Apparently not finding this funny, he shook his head and picked up speed, attempting to lose me. I pedaled faster and stayed on his wheel. Then when the road was clear, I accelerated past him, and didn't stop until about a mile later. I looked over my shoulder and could not see him behind. "That is how you pass someone, mister!" I thought to myself triumphantly (only "mister" was not the word I used). Then I immediately grew annoyed at myself for having gotten drawn into this childish game. Why bother?

On the other hand, what do you do exactly, when someone overtakes you just for the sake of being "first," then slows down and sits right in front of you? Do you enjoy the view of their semi-transparent cycling shorts? Or do you pass them back and risk playing infinite leap frog?

It is a bit of road use etiquette I never understood as a driver, and am no closer to mastering as a cyclist. Blessedly, it is sufficiently rare among my fellow bicyclists to be the exception rather than the norm.

46 comments:

  1. When I was a bit younger I would occasionally huff and puff to pull ahead of another cyclist, and even though I wouldn't settle in right in from of him or her, I would occasionally get passed by them a short time later because they were in fact much stronger riders than I who were simply taking it easy for a short time when I happened to pass. Now when I approach another rider, particularly on a long climb, I keep my ego in check and use it as an excuse to hang back and simply match their pace for a while. Only once I have established that their pace is consistently and absolutely too slow for me do I then ramp up to speed and pass quickly, and of course maintain my higher speed so as to avoid doing just what this rider did to you. The brief rolling rest at a slower pace helps me to recharge so the pass is usually once and only once.

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  2. You did the right thing - you blew that fred up !

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  3. My single worst experience of this was on the last day of a 28-day bike tour while I was triumphantly returning home, on a familiar paved bike path just a few miles from home. I was on a reasonably loaded road touring bike, rolling at a steady pace that I had been maintaining for about a month. I came upon a mountain bike rider on knobby tires and when we came to one of the many down and up ramp sequences at the numerous cross-streets, he stopped pedaling and coasted through the crosswalk, while I maintained my pace and passed him smoothly. Once on the next stretch of unimpeded path, I heard furious pedaling behind me and the grinding of knobbies on pavement, thinking this guy was gonna blow past me and that would be the last I would see of him. No such luck, as he pulled in front of me and immediately started coasting. I maintained my pace and passed him at the next cross street, only for him to pedal madly past me AGAIN and once again pull in front of me and immediately start coasting. Next cross-street? Exact same sequence of events. I kid you not. I was on the verge of hurling expletives but instead let my travel-weary legs do the swearing as I broke my mellow pace and dialed it up to maximum sustainable speed for me and left the guy far behind, not letting up until I reached a coffee shop miles past my house where I had made plans to meet my (now) wife. I'm still irritated by this guy, five years later!

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  4. You taught him a lesson! I tend to do what Daniel M. does. I got annoyed yesterday, though, when I passed a guy who was definitely going slower than me (I was going around 17 mph, he was probably doing 15). I said some innocuous pleasantry like "Nice day for a ride" and continued on my way. After a few seconds, without saying a word, he sped up and latched onto my wheel. I could see in my rear-view mirror that he was riding pretty hard, while I was well below that. I think he wanted to pass but couldn't, especially since the aerodynamic effect of a tiny paceline made me a bit faster too. I thought about trying to drop him, but I had a couple hills coming up for which I wanted to save my energy. Fortunately our routes diverged after a mile and a half. I'm not sure what he was thinking.

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  5. I once experienced a wheel sucker who had unexpectedly latched on. I slowed, he slowed, I sped up, he sped up. After about a mile of this I pulled over to the side of the trail and took a drink from my water bottle until he was out of site. I dislike wheel suckers.

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  6. Mostly those who have something to prove do that.

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  7. There is a strict etiquette, you know, for this sort of passing. The rules are very, very rigorous, and to fail any is to leave yourself open to ignominy.

    First, as your fellow rider did, you must accelerate hard just before the actual act of passing, so that there is at *least* a 5 mph speed differential.

    Second, you must forcibly control your breathing -- no panting, and your mouth must *absolutely* be closed.

    Third, just before passing you must adapt a relaxed riding position: hoods are OK, but even better if you are on the flats or, even, riding no hands.

    Fourth, you must maintain an attitude of absolutely cool nonchalance. For example, you don't turn your head 90 degrees, flash a Jimmy Carter grin, wave your right arm (left in Ireland), and yell, "Nice day for a ride!" You must turn your head no more than 15 degrees, raise your forefinger no more than 30 degrees, and in your most nonchalant tone say, "Nice bike."

    Fifth, you must maintain your passing speed for at least 1/4 of a mile, after which you are allowed to turn off and, when out of sight, fall gagging off the bike to recover your breath. *In no case must you allow the rider you passed to keep up, let alone pass you in turn.*

    Seriously, as a typical, if aging, male, I know that the acceleration response when one sees a cyclist ahead -- a fortiori if someone passes you -- is a pure matter of biochemistry; it is not a voluntary activity. As one gets older and one's powers fade, this poses an ever greater conundrum.

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  8. Sure, it's annoying which is why I guess we talk about it. My son and I share similar stories every day. Who passed us? What were they wearing? How easy was it to catch them and then blow by them? Or, maybe someone put us in place…our ego in check. I think it's somehow different than driving a car throughout the day. Just me.

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  9. Well, as soon as he shook his head he signalled that he wasn't willing/able to accept the responsibility to have you on his wheel. It is polite to say something like "don't" when somebody latches on silently if it bugs you. You did the only responsible thing to be done, besides dropping back a length or so and whistling a tune while maintaining pace--the pathletes love that even more than getting shown the window by a faster rider.

    Cheers,

    Will

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  10. On the bike it doesn't happen to me that much, maybe I just look like someone to avoid. In my car I just slow way down and let them go, if they don't evaporate I might just try to put a truck in their way or something. I almost never let myself get annoyed on the highway anymore.

    I do get tired of a couple of people on the Wed. Social ride who are habitually sloppy about maintaining speed and position in a group, I get great pleasure from rubbing their rear tire with my front when ever they sit up in front of me on a climb or ease up at the end of their pull before pulling off. It's so unnecessary, it's not like that ride ever goes hard. Both of them have wrecked other riders doing dumb things and they never seem to tighten up, If either of those Cats are going to drift back into me I am going to wake em up. It sends the message that the rider behind them may not be a nice person or particularly willing to assume responsibility for their safety. Once you've bumped them firmly once or twice they start to pay a bit more attention. I think of it as a sort of Outreach, or Ministry.

    I've only done it 3 or 4 times but it does make a lasting impression. When one of them complained about it to the ride leader she suggested that if he was struggling to maintain a steady pace and enough space behind himself, he might simply ride behind a rider who could and let them keep him out of harms way. No one ever said a word about it to me which either means the group thinks I was justified or they don't want to piss off the passive aggressive Jerk on the Mercian.

    Spinjerky

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    1. That's not passive aggressive, that's full on aggressive. Yeesh. Don't play bumper cars with your bikes! Dangerous.

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    2. I may be more of an ASS than I realized. It's easy to think were justified in our response to some stuff and then something happens to make us say, "well, maybe not..."

      Spin

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  11. Maybe he was just trying to prove that he's not that bike creep: http://bikeyface.com/2014/10/07/bike-creep/

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  12. It is very annoying, and very naughty of you to sit on and thank him for pulling LOL I find that now I am such a slug and no longer make any pretense at being speedy no one sits on my wheel nor do they take very long to pass me ;-)

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  14. When commuting around town I have never has this experience - when riding on bush tails there may be others on mtbs who overtake me but they are soon out of sight - occasionally while riding on a section of shared pathway through bushland I have had one or several lycra clad riders on road bikes racing up behind me - I just pull over and let them pass - not the place for that style of riding but I'm not interested in confrontation or competition. The situation described by Velouria I would find very uncomfortable and I think that cyclist was quite rude - either pass and go well ahead or stay far behind - don't linger near - ugh.

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    1. My issue commuting are cyclists arriving late at a traffic light taking the very front position. Not necessarily the few who are strong riders and would have passed me anyway. Most of the time the me-firsters I encounter are slower than me, forcing me to pass as traffic resumes.

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    2. So what? Sometimes there is only room left in the front if you want to get up to the ASL. We all have a place to be and I prefer not to sit behind a car inhaling diesel just so "stronger riders" like yourself can feel entitled to go first when the lights change. I really don't care if you pass me again. In traffic there really isn't much use in being very fast, except to your ego. Not trying to be mean but maybe just think about it from a different perspective.

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  15. Spinjerky said - "I get great pleasure from rubbing their rear tire with my front when ever they sit up in front of me on a climb or ease up at the end of their pull before pulling off. " – Shocking behaviour! Imagine you did this to someone as a driver! I am so very glad you "never let yourself get annoyed on the highway anymore" - Lets hope that’s true! Although taking out all your anger on a couple of admittedly dickhead cyclists is also not cool. On a group ride, these people are supposed to be your friends! (This is why I hate group rides! Too many frienemies!)

    When riding for leisure, I rarely pass people unless I am sure I can do so comfortably. At the local track, which is not a track but a park that serves as the local road circuit, I do take pleasure is passing at speed, as well as sitting comfortably in some massive and fast racer's wheel after he passes me for a bit, just to challenge myself. (Also, using the Strava "flyby" feature, I can see the person I passed going up a hill had just completed about 40 miles more than me before I reached them. I can't help do a bit of Strava stalking! So it’s not always such an amazing victory in hindsight). To folks whose speed I match, this is kind of rare and as it’s a circuit, you have to be careful as if you cannot maintain a faster speed, usually you will encounter the person again. Also, sometimes there are so many riders you have no choice but to sit in their wheels (or a cars wheels) until there is more space. I can remember once someone tailed me for a bit. He crashed behind me as he touched my wheel when I slowed down too quickly (as I wanted to turn off). He actually apologised to me as I helped him up. Oops!

    Commuting in London, however, is another matter. There are all kinds of people who ride unpredictably, passing and then inevitable you catch up with them at the lights. If you have even a tiny competitive streak you just have to have a go and pass people sometimes. As I ride an upright bike, it makes it a bit more fun to pass the racers on their little carbon numbers.

    Or you can just be smart and go slower and pass them anyway. One or more pass and then, as they are all stopped at the lights, I slow down just enough so I don't lose momentum and then have to pass because they cannot get back up to speed fast enough from a full stop. (Maybe it's a bit like what Daniel wrote about above, in this case, me being the annoying cyclist.)

    I try not to get competitive when commuting, and 9 times out of 10 I let people go ahead, but not always. It’s just not possible for me not matter how many times I tell myself I shouldn’t care. Sometimes I will showup at work way more sweaty than is necessary. Thank god my office has showers!

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    1. Hi Leisurist,

      You are absolutely right about it not being very nice of me to scrub the tire in front of me like that, BUT(and I always have a big "but"), I want to assure you that both of the people I've done it to are indeed my friends (one has a key to my house) and it's not really anger I'm taking out on them as much as frustration that they ride in a group as though they were out by themselves. They have both knocked other riders down or put them in the ditch doing things like this and as is typical in those situations they stayed up and were thus able to claim it must have been the other persons fault because they over-reacted.

      There is a real set of rules and expectations we agree to when we ride in groups like this and if you are a habitual Dope you add a little more risk to the activity than there needs to be, if you don't respond to casual remarks and gentle reminders someone will eventually poke you in the eye. Like when I fell into the habit for a while of Half-wheeling my friend Ben, He just started easing me into the middle of the road every time I did it till I realized what I was doing and snapped out of it. I wouldn't do anything like this to a stranger.

      In a car? On the road there is never an excuse for letting yourself get emotional, ever. On the racetrack? Rubbing is Racing.

      Spindizzy

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    2. Your little wheel rubs are just as dangerous and inconsiderate as the unintentional mistakes these other riders make. Worse if anything, as you're going out of your way to cause trouble. A little word in the ear is all that's needed, not this aggressive "passive-aggressive" wheel rubbing.

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  16. Looks like you hit a nerve with this post! My only contribution is to share my own riding/driving style - relaxed. I'm not at all competitive. Not really sure what this says about me but if someone wants to pass, they may go right ahead. When riding I am doing so because I enjoy it, and when driving because I have to.
    Interestingly enough, while the numbers to support this have always been there, it was not until the last 2-3 years that I realized that, while driving, passing and driving over the speed limit by any amount provides virtually no advantage whatsoever unless driving on the highway for long distances. Since this change in my pace (for lack of an immediately better term), I am often reminded by taking note of the most aggressive drivers and usually rolling up next to them at a subsequent light/stop/etc.
    Unfortunately, I have no real interesting experience with being passed or passing on a bike - I have passed and have been passed and nothing has been said or done that I'm aware of. It's probably my lack of competitiveness, but I just see it as we're all going places and sometimes we feel like going faster and sometimes we feel like going slower and that can happen at any point during a ride. I haven't had it happen yet that someone passes me and then slows down - I'm not sure how I'd handle that. I do enjoy an unobstructed view when possible. Maybe I'd try to make light of it and spark up a conversation?

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    1. Likewise - I am also non-competitive - I don't ride a bike to put stress on myself or anyone else and after reading some of the posts here I am very glad I ride alone - it seems bad manners and aggressive/competitive behaviour is part and parcel of group rides.

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  17. Once I was riding my bike on a country road and I happened to look in my mirror to see a cyclist coming up from behind me, gaining fast. He was dressed in dark clothes and riding a drop-bar bike. I was on my single speed and I knew there was no way I could keep up with the speed he had, so I decided to just maintain my leisurely pace and stay cool as he passed. I was looking forward, expecting him to blow by me in a moment; but nothing happened. So I looked over my shoulder, and there was no one there. Which was very unsettling as there were no side-roads to turn off.

    Has anyone else seen the phantom overtaker?

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  18. You accelerate up next to him and shout in fake Hawaian: "Waka te ouke eh"! Pointing to the rear of his bike, indicating something is seriously wrong with a complex set of handsignals. When he looks back you push and leave him behind.

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  19. I quite enjoy latching on to the rear wheel of moped riders that are allowed to use the cycle paths, watching the rider furiously checking me in their mirrors as they are giving it full throttle and are unable to pull away, and then rubbing salt in the wound by swinging out and overtaking them before dropping them on a downhill stretch. All on a 20-year-old Peugeot.
    I should add the caveat that the mopeds that are allowed use the cycle paths over here in Denmark are restricted to 30kph :-)

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  20. Sometimes I slow down a bit, so they get farther ahead. Sometimes I don't worry about it. I wouldn't sit on the wheel of a rider I didn't know, outside of a group ride; it's too easy for things to go wrong.

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  21. My 7th grade homeroom had a study hall in the library. When the teacher caught my buddy and me arm wrestling instead of reading he asked: “What difference does it make which one of those two skinny arms is stronger?”

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  22. One of the problems I have with riding a fixed geared bike is that it puts me out of sync with geared bicycle riders. I'm working to maintain my momentum, while their shifting to maintain their cadence, this is most apparent when climbing hills. I'll get ahead, it's not my intension to show off, it's just the nature of the beast. Conversely, going down hill, I may spin out my gear and have to brake. For this reason, I don't go on club rides.

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  23. Should have pulled along side with a smile. Then Half wheeled him till he couldn't take any more .Would have prevented him turning off. People like that deserve all they get. Too many unfriendly people on the road hiding behind dark wraparounds.

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  24. there is always just that little bit of competitiveness in all of us that comes out in these situations. I would've done exactly the same thing. besides, it is a game and most games are fun and cycling should be fun. no doubt this inspired the other rider to push a little harder on their rides so as not to get dropped so easily. win-win.

    also, not all views of semi-transparent cycling shorts are enjoyable. some are, but many aren't in my experience.

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  25. Funny ... the specific person this story made me think of has already responded. I always think it's silly when folks race with other folks who don't realize they are racing. :-) I thought your comment was witty and perfect, particularly since it was impliedly self-effacing. The comment that came to mind for me is, "Hi, are we racing?"

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  26. Perfectly justified to slipstream I think especially if overtaker slows down a bit. Also can be an opportunity to take a rest. :-) If pace too slow just speed up and overtake. Agree one should be able to put in a good +5-10% more speed before overtaking. Nothing wrong with a friendly word of communication in warning or in case of pausing together at junction. My regular commute home has a steady rise from Dublin city centre and I find there is quite a variety in pace with a good few slower cyclists, some of similar pace and the odd few extremely fast people.

    When catching up with someone of similar speed I find you cannot do anything but latch on. It is that or go for overtake. If latching on then do so loosely watching well ahead of other rider, riding defensively. I would ride in line a little outside other rider protecting from overtaking traffic but move back in if front rider has to negotiate hazard ahead or someone faster comes up behind. I would be reluctant to overtake and cause inconvenience unless I could be confident of getting well away and relieving the overtakee of the sight of my rear end!

    I'm quite Zen I think (and modest about it too ;)) if being overtaken or with cycling and driving generally. Car, bike or motorbike. But got to admit there's something nice and warm smugly satisfying about leaving someone (safely!) for dust if they have impinged on ettiquette. I ride a MTB no pedal clips so I don't look the fastest if not moving. Half the time in mad shorts instead of cycling gear. So beware ;-). MTB tyres so I can bash over potholes cracks cobbles manholes up down bike lanes of course. I'm much faster on my wife's slick tyres - on the straight! But I have found you have to reduce speed more to take corners! These discoveries keep us somewhat humble. But not too humble. I hope.

    One thing I find with communication is maybe we could do a bit more. A lot of cycling catching up, cycling behind, passing is done without a word. With defensive driving we read others intentions by body language of other vehicle and car. But with encountering other cyclists - especially if they look like they are less confident - I think it helps if you can vocalise intentions sometimes. e.g. "*ahum* I'm - er - just going to come up on your right there." when you have space to move out but want to not scare someone. Also at junctions I would give way to pedestrians. ESPECIALLY if they have the right of way! :-) I find signalling this with showing palm forward arm out bent at elbow (like garda stop traffic signal - not the closer to body I intend going straight signal) leaves pedestrians know you are stopping also leaves bikes and traffic behind know you are giving way. Pedestrians less hesitant and happier and clear junction faster and safer leaving way clear. Yay. Win win. Making eye contact is great for defensive driving and riding and played like the kids sweet/sour game is good fun. Most people pedestrians cyclists drivers all turning out to be sweet :O)

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  27. This happens to me occasionally on my daily ride. I usually slide up behind them and maintain about 20 feet of distance, even if they speed up. They generally either turn off of that route, or stop and "look over their bike" within a few miles. Heehee!! :)

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  28. My perspective on this is entirely from commuting in a hurry. Drafting's not too good an idea, because who knows when you might need to stop in a hurry? Passing, my game is to figure out if I will indeed be fast enough to stay ahead of the person in front of me, and if not, don't.

    The two main mismatches I see between me and other riders is that I hit it pretty hard off the line, so there are riders who will eventually be faster than me who don't stay ahead of me if we both leave the intersection at the same time. On the other hand, shoalers aren't that much of a problem -- they're usually slow off the line. The other mismatch is that I know that if I am in a hurry, I should work hard climbing hills and rest on the descent, and most people don't do that, so I end up wanting to pass on the climbs.

    The main thing that ticks me off is people who *COAST* towards a light where the pedestrian countdown timer indicates an impending red. Bonus irritation if they're kitted out with lycra and cleats.

    I don't mind people drafting me, as long as they're prepared for me to stop fast (longtail, there's a lot of bike to hit). If I want to go fast, I have to breathe hard, but I'm completely comfortable doing that for 30 minutes at a stretch.

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  29. This is totally a guy thing to do. You can be going at a clip, or pedaling up a main street, and some not-so-fast guy will pass just for the sake of passing. Especially when you're in a skirt or dress and he reads that as "not-fast."

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  30. I tend to drag wheel suckers over storm grates, potholes and any brush on the road if they don't get the hint to take a turn at the front (I'll pull over and start coasting so they can assume the pace making). They get the hint and back off after it becomes apparent I intend to drag them over every single obstacle.The guys who pass me for the "thrill" of blowing past a relaxed rider on a steel bike and then promptly slow down are the ones I chase down, pass and drop like a sack of bricks.

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  31. Wow. Lots of critical comments. Tons of cyclists have been motivated to pass other cyclists up the road since the beginning of cycling. It's just a benign form of interval training.

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  32. Road rage on a bike, come on children, we have enough trouble with cars let us play together and enjoy our own style of riding. When you have to conform to others rules freedom goes out the door.

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  33. I NEVER do this sort of thing! Though that probably has less to do with my sunny, easy going nature than the fact that I can't pass anyone unless they're stopped on the side of the road fixing a flat...

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  34. "I don't like to drive fast. I just need to be ahead of YOU."
    I saw that mentality so often when my job involved lots of cross country driving years ago, I thought about having a bumper sticker made up with that slogan. After awhile I learned to ignore the drivers who'd pass me, then loaf in front of me at around 0.5 mph slower than I'd been driving before they passed me. It's just a weird quirk of human behavior, and infects all demographics.

    Regarding the response, I was tickled by Velouria's and might have tried that when I was younger. Mostly, I don't care how other folks ride as long as they're not outrageously dangerous or parking in the middle of the road (saw the latter on a bike trail this weekend - a couple inexplicably stopped and blocking the entire bike/pedestrian path. I just slowed down and passed 'em on the grass without comment or looking toward them).

    Regarding the etiquette of riding together, I can't even imagine worrying about club rides that involve riding close enough together to give a hang about how the next guy or gal rides. But I never cared for the whole club mentality. The only bicycling club I ever enjoyed was a group of like-minded loafers and socializers whose only goal was to get together at predetermined cantinas in Mexico for food and beer. If anyone was riding within 10 yards of me I assumed it was because they wanted to chat. Which suits me fine.

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  35. When it comes I usually slow down a little and give myself some clear space in the front. But sometimes inner child wins.

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  36. I always enjoyed being passed coming home on a very proper Dawes ladies bike, overloaded with bags, definitely not in lycra, by desperate, panting men going purple in the face and risking their health just because they could not bear the humiliation of being left behind by a middle aged woman :-) very funny :-)

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  37. He may have intended to shelter you from the wind for a while, to repay the shelter he enjoyed while riding behind you.

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