Drivers are Not a Different Breed

Vienna Cycling Path, Turning Car
I have been reading some bicycle blog posts lately where the authors describe feeling betrayed when their non-cycling friends say something nasty about cyclists - you know, the kind of thing a clueless and self-entitled driver might say, but certainly not a friend who happens to be a driver. I mean, they're different, right? Those drivers who cut us off and shout at us are bad people, whereas our friends are good?

Problem is that this difference is fictional. After all, each of those nasty drivers is also someone's dear friend. As hard as it may be to believe, they are not usually "bad" outside the context of being behind the wheel. Likewise, just because someone is our friend does not mean they are incapable of thinking or doing things that would outrage us. We can disagree on issues and never know it until that issue comes up, and my experience has been that cycling is one of those issues - right up there with abortion. Once I began cycling for transportation, I learned fairly quickly not to discuss it with friends, co-workers or relatives who are non-cyclists unless I wanted these conversations to turn into heated debates, or all out fights.

Recently a friend and her husband were visiting Boston, and I met them for dinner at an outdoor cafe. I knew that they were both avid recreational cyclists, so I let my guard down and was speaking to them about bicycles - the pros and cons of different roadbikes, that sort of thing. I was feeling good that finally here was someone from my "real life" I could discuss bikes with. Then some cyclists rode down the street past us and the husband shook his head. "Those idiots are going to get themselves killed." I was confused. "What... Why?" He then explained how stupid it is when cyclists "think they are cars" and cycle "right on the road, without bike lanes or anything." "I hope you don't do that!" he added as my friend nodded. Turns out there is this huge national park where they live, and that is where they ride their bikes - unless it is an organised charity ride, which is the only time they'll go on the road. Not only are they drivers the rest of the time, but having exposure to cycling has done nothing to make them empathise with transportational cyclists. We could have spent the rest of our meal fighting, but instead I changed the subject - it wasn't worth it to me. After dinner they took a taxi to their hotel, and I walked around the corner to where my bike was locked up, then rode home "as if I were a car." Those drivers who hate cyclists could be anyone - our friends, our relatives, and even, apparently, other cyclists. People are people, ever ready to feel frustration and annoyance.


  1. I've lost count of the number of times a car has come past me too close ... with a nice set of bikes mounted on the rack on the back. And I know it's not malice or nastiness, so much as cluelessness. I've noticed when I'm in a car with someone driving who doesn't cycle how panicked they seem when a cyclist hoves into view - something unpredictable and vulnerable at the same time. I think it's often the burst of adrenaline they've just had ('I could have killed that person!') that leads to the occasional outbursts of anger cyclists get from drivers ('look what you made me almost do!') - just as the burst of adrenaline from the cyclist often translates into shouting, flipping off and banging on cars. Entirely understandable on both sides just, sadly, not very productive

  2. Ha! Ironic. Guessing they haven't read your blog.

  3. Mmmm yep it's a social science all on it's own Veloria!

    6 months ago my Sister in Law had a bit of trouble with a cyclist whilst driving to work - or rather the cyclist had a bit of trouble with her driving. It seems that she overtook him immediately before turning left (we are in the UK) into a carpark. The cyclist followed her into the carpark and banged on the roof of the car, then rode off...

    She rang my Wife to get things off her chest, who being a cyclist herself could appreciate that the cyclist had almost been wiped out & did what he did out of temper - of course 'two wrongs don't make a right' but the point Wifey made was that the guy didn't go out of his way to bang the roof of her car for no reason - her poor driving had put his life in danger!

    They ended the call disagreeing & Sis in Law threatening to take no two wheeled prisoners in future. I mentioned to a few family members discretely that they should advise her to do otherwise, as she could end up seriously injuring somebody or worse.

    A month afterwards we had our Niece stay over for a weekend & one day took her out for a bike ride. She was a bag of nerves to begin with but after a short while was loving every minute of it, and after going home & nagging her Mum to go out cycling, Sis in Law ended up buying a new bike...result!

    The 'in' joke in our house now is that we are waiting for a phone call where she has a good moan about a motorist hehe

  4. Just look at your comments section.

    And your friend was drunk...on suburbia.

  5. "Guessing they haven't read your blog."

    definitely not : )

    "drunk on suburbia" - that is a nice one

  6. my experience has been that cycling is one of those issues - right up there with abortion. Once I began cycling for transportation, I learned fairly quickly not to discuss it with friends, co-workers or relatives who are non-cyclists unless I wanted these conversations to turn into heated debates, or all out fights.

    whoa ... really? abortion? isn't that sort of sentiment working exactly against a sense of mutual respect and shared understanding?

    I don't guilt my friends or co-workers out of their cars (but I am never ashamed of saying how much fun it is ride) and they sometimes tease me and some other cyclist friends about how we're crazy to ride in the snow or rain; but it's you know, teasing. I razz them in return for being prodigious scotch drinkers or having a voracious literary diet. They sometimes complain about nearly hitting a cyclist who runs a red, and I sometimes complain about a driver who nearly left hooked me, but it's ok because we know well enough to separate criticism of a rude stranger's behavior with the fact that some aspect of that stranger is associated with a friend's pursuit or past-time. Doesn't that sort of empathy come from friendship?

  7. "whoa ... really? abortion?"

    Yup. I've heard perfectly decent-seeming people wishing cyclists dead, so to me that's fairly controversial. Abortion is the only other topic I can think of where difference of opinion could be so violent.

  8. There is a theory that the increasing support (especially in younger demographics) of equal marriage and other equal rights for gays and lesbians is a result of the last generation's pioneers who lived their lives openly. The theory posits that when people know George from accounting is a nice guy, who brings his leftovers in from work, and worries about what school his kids are going to, and basically is just like you, except he lives with another man, it builds empathy- that homosexuals are no longer scary others, but guys and gals just like you.

    So, while I try not to argue about it with friends, I think that it's important to remind them that their friends, and people like them are riding bicycles on the street, and that the cyclist that they encounter on the road is a human being just like them and their friends. I don't necessarily want to convert them, but I just want to increase their empathy.

  9. I just try to remember that mostly people just want to get along and even the apparently hateful and ignorant sentiments that pop out mostly occur because people haven't thought things through clearly.

  10. mmm, I guess. to my mind, abortion is something that is a nearly irreconcilable rift in society and is tightly wound up in questions of upbringing, spirituality and gender roles (amongst others), whereas cycling\road-sharing isn't nearly so complicated or divisive.

    the closer metaphor, imho, is gun ownership. but that might be splitting hairs.

  11. Speaking of empathy...I have a friend who is a very accomplished cyclist who fbs and tweets near-death experiences often. You know, a live feed of near catastrophes.
    So I say stuff, like WTF. He doesn't like, unfriends me. As far as I'm concerned he's still a friend, just one who has no sense and an agenda.
    Just because he rides a bike doesn't entitle him to my empathy if he's putting himself consistently in danger.
    Basically he used up his personal empathy vessel.

  12. cris - You may be right. But I guess I don't mean just the issue in itself, but also how often it comes up and how much disagreement it is likely to cause among people I know or work with. Abortion trumps gun control and homosexuality, as far as what people are likely to disagree about.

  13. Peppy (the amazing scheming cat)November 12, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    All this comments thread needs is religion and you're good to go. Oh and Nazis. Bring it :)

  14. cris - I couldn't possibly be more indifferent to whether my neighbors owned guns or not, or whether my government did or didn't protect or infringe personal gun ownership. I can't say I feel the same way about abortion or transportation cycling/respect/right/whatever, both of which are subjects that will bunch my knickers fairly quickly.

  15. "He then explained how stupid it is when cyclists "think they are cars""

    UGH... my husband says this all the time, and it really does drive me nuts. It's like the sentiment for a dog putting it's paws up on the dinner table "What do you think you are, a PERSON?"

  16. yeah, I think we may be talking some differently normative social groups, but I don't deny that transportation cycling isn't a divisive issue but I think that there are a lot of people who view it as essentially neutral proposition, much the way you do about gun ownership. People who ride bicycles (or drive cars) may have elements that are reckless or dangerous to some, but it may be accepted by many that they're all free to do what they want so long as it's done responsibly.

    I share your views on gun ownership -- I don't own a gun, but I don't get worked about others who do. Still, I acknowledge that it's a big issue for others, but in general, gun ownership is rather accepted as an aspect of the overall culture, and the terms of the debate are on regulation of access and responsibility.

    Abortion, though, is a topic where the common ground always seems thin and contentious; and that to be pro-life kind of means that you view those who are pro-choice as, logically speaking, murderers. And that sort of viewpoint is a significant obstacle towards any idea of empathy or common dialogue. Even if the US moved to a largely secular common identity and you managed to disentangle religion from the culture, I don't think you'll ever get rid of people who think that abortion, at its core, is murder.

    My main point in my objection to V's post is that I don't file cycling advocacy in that sort of level of irreconcilability. I'd like to believe that, over time, transporation cycling will gain that level of acceptability, even if it doesn't seem like it today.

  17. Wow, I read stuff like this (and the linked blog item) and just can't believe it. Or rather, I'm thankful that this is not my reality. Granted, my on-the-street commute is short (3m each way) and I only do the high-speed lycra thing in Griffith Park (away from traffic lights), but I've never had a motorist abuse me. And my friends and coworkers all treat me like a superstar. Like, "wow, isn't she great that she's doing that!" (They, of course, "wish" they could do it too...) I may be wrong, but I think there's a great tolerance in my area because of the large immigrant population that MUST commute by bike because that's all they can afford -- a Magna from Target. You really can't drive anywhere without dealing with a guy/gal on a bike so there's no "panic" in seeing them and we all get along pretty well. There are also more and more bike lanes being installed in my area. So I'm guess I'm just in a lucky place at the moment.

    But I'll tell you what -- I'm not a strong cyclist to begin with and if I had been reading these blogs in my early days, it might have scared me right off the bike. (It scares me even NOW.) Not saying we can't talk about this stuff and not suggesting we gloss over it, but man, it makes cycling sound like a war!

  18. Cycler, your point about building empathy drives home why I am very reluctant ever to wear conspicuously bicycle-specific clothing: I don't want to become "the other" so easily. I'll bet Velouria's friends wouldn't be caught dead on their bikes without full kit, the better to make clear that they DON'T "think they are a car."

    Velouria, I wish you had let on that you ride everywhere, including to that dinner. You wouldn't have to fight about it, but some opportunities can't be neglected. "O no, I don't think I am a car. You don't ever think you're a car, do you? We're all people."

  19. I experienced this just the other day when my best friends boyfriend saw a cyclist on the road and commented on how stupid she was, and that "they need to get on the sidewalk or they're gonna get killed." I was surprised, and informed him that sidewalk riding is illegal in our city. He then shrugged it off and said, "Well, its still stupid. They don't need to be on the road like that." (Like that meaning in the actual driving lane, because there was no bike lane.)

    Anti-cycling sentiment for no good reason other than that, maybe, a cyclist slows you down on your commute for about 2 minutes, is just mind-boggling to me. You know, I feel like when cities put on "Bike Month!" or "Bike Day!" types of events, they really need to be putting just as much emphasis on motorist education for how to drive *safely and courteously* around bikes, and reminding them that sharing the road is the *law*, as they do on biker education about how to ride around cars. Don't get me wrong, biker road education definitely has its place, but there are times when no matter how lawful or careful you are being on your bike, other drivers act rudely, unlawfully, and dangerously around you, simply because you ride on a bike.

  20. It's pretty common to assume that because people ride bikes, they'll also like things you like and do things that you do. Take, f'rinstance, my city councillor, Michelle Berardinetti. She's an avid recreational cyclist. You'd expect she'd be all about the bikes on the streets, no? Nope; she took out bike lanes here in eastern Toronto because she doesn't think it's safe for cyclists to be there. Well, it certainly isn't now.

    Years ago, Bicycle magazine (UK) used to interview celebrity cyclists. The only thing that linked them was their use of bicycles. You had old lefties like Larry Adler, thespian types like Eleanor Bron ... and then you had Peter Bottomley, Margaret Thatcher's Minister of Roads and Traffic.

    We're bike geeks. We're not immune to the immutable geek social fallacies.

  21. Todd's second paragraph makes a good point. If someone had complained to me about cyclists who "think they are cars," I would have gently responded that no, WE cyclists who use our bikes know that we're not cars, and we know that our bikes aren't cars, but we also know that we cyclists have the same right to use the roads as any other vehicle operator.

  22. Every time someone stares at me, aghast, and says "you bike on the ROAD??" I explain that it's better than flying down the sidewalk and wiping out a pedestrian :D. My downtown area is usually so crowded that I barely had room to *walk* my bike on the sidewalk one day when I was taking it to the bike shop for repairs, anyways.

    I think cyclists have the advantage when it comes to car-bike relations (not in terms of who would win in a fight, but perspective); most cyclists were at some point drivers, or still are, so while we know how scary/annoying it is to be around a rude or downright malicious driver, we also know how frightening it is to have to deal with an unwise cyclist when we're manning a multi-ton machine that can easily kill them. People who only drive cars, on the other hand, only know the one side of things, and it's easy to cling to your point of view when you don't have evidence (of experience) to encourage you to think otherwise.

    It's like customer service interactions; all it takes is one bad experience to turn you against an establishment. All it takes is one frustrating encounter with a bike -- whether because the cyclist is a genuine idiot or because the driver is unfamiliar with bike laws -- to look at all cyclists in a bad light.

  23. This is, in all seriousness, part of why 1. Most of my friends are cyclists and 2. I refused to date anyone who wasn't "into" bicycles the way I am. (I really lucked out on that one....I think Shawn loves bicycles even more than I do!)

    It's easy, though, to forget that I live in my own little happy bicycle bubble. Just the other night I was in a car with a friend and I was talking about Critical Mass, and was trying to explain the theory behind corking, and my friend said, "They should obey all the laws." Even when it slows everyone down? Including you? "yes." Um, okay.

    It's happened in the past--usually at workplaces--that I am asked to defend the actions of all cyclists. Or worse, I'm told that cyclists don't belong on the roads and I'm not given time to rebut the statement. And since I'm at work, I'm not allowed to get angry. It's really difficult.

    As a general rule, it just isn't as bad in Portland. So many people ride bicycles at least some of the time, that people have chilled out about it a little. Matter of fact, when someone honks/yells/passes too close, I always wonder if they're from the suburbs!

  24. It is an under appreciated fact that in many cases as soon a person gets behind the wheel of a car they transform magically from regular humans into bona-fide a**%$#!s.

    In fact cyclists should be granted privileges above and beyond motorists... because we don't pollute the planet with toxic fumes, etc. But instead we are scorned.

    It's interesting that in fact SUVs should be illegal to drive in neighborhoods because their weight is closer to trucks than cars. Legally they should be categorized as trucks and pay an extra tax for damage their weight wreaks on city streets. But legislators have made an exception to classify SUVs as cars for the sake of suburban 'safety moms'.

    Ever noticed that despite all the damaging consequence of automobiles and carbon-based global warming, you cannot find a single politician of any ilk who supports the 55 mph speed limit? Ironic, isn't it?

    Makes Richard Nixon look like he could be a spokesman for Greenpeace... since he at least had the sense to establish the 55 mph speed limit.


  25. A lady I work with was going on at length about some of the "good for nuthins" in her family, and mentioned that one had just recently gotten out of jail and rides a bike now. Which sounds great in type, but was said in a "he's a criminal and has no job and has no choice but to ride a bike" sort of way, implying that people riding for transportation are all like that. So I reminded her that I too ride, and she said "oh no hon, that's different". But if she didn't know me, would she make the same assumption? So sometimes our friends can make exceptions; it's ok for this person to be that way/ do this thing b/c I know them, but not ok for strangers.

  26. Maybe it's a regional thing? I've never been to Boston, or to most of the East Coast, but over here in the Pacific Northwest, things are pretty chill on this topic. Maybe it's because lots of folks commute by bike, but I don't hear that sentiment as often. Here we bicker more over who should be riding on the bike paths (shouldn't commuters, who are focused on speed and efficiency, the argument goes, be on the streets, leaving the bike paths to pleasure riders?). Seriously, people here complain that folks who are "merely" commuting on their bikes ride on the bike paths with an overly-aggressive stance, and therefore belong on the roads!

    When I do have to ride on the roads, which isn't often, intersections are the most dangerous places. Being on the side of the road, as long as I don't have to worry about being doored, has been fine. Folks are used to cyclists here, and pretty much just go around us without fuss. I'm just extra careful to be sure everyone sees me when I start up in an intersection, but I would do this as a pedestrian, too.

    I'm with the others: you should have politely noted that you ride on the streets all the time, and don't think you're a car. Nothing stops ignorance faster than a gentle peer rebuke!

  27. That's generous of you to let it slide! It's hard for us faithful readers to imagine someone knowing you in real life and not realizing you're a transportation cyclist! Let alone putting one's foot in one's mouth like that.

    Of course, I've definitely been in this position on other issues, where I've said publicly things like "How could people DO that?" and then later developed a passion for it myself. Trying to remain open minded about everything is hard work :)

  28. Whenever I hear someone complain about "bicyclists who think they're cars" I always find myself coming back with something like "what, like they sleep in the garage and go 'vroom,vroom' when you try to talk to them?"

    I've got a few non-cycling friends who complain about cyclists, but it's almost always about the guys who blow through red lights or who ride three abreast on busy roads. In those cases I usually find myself agreeing with them.

  29. I get what you are saying about controversy. My brother flipped when I said I was going vegetarian and did the same thing about our choice to own only one car. My thought was, "what's it to you?" How does my decision to do something that doesn't affect you get your panties all in a wad? And people have the same reactions about abortions.
    This wouldn't relate to abortion but I'm thinking it might be driven by jealousy and ignorance. People are always critical when you have something they want or if they don't understand something you are doing. Maybe they wish they lived somewhere that allowed them the freedom to ride for everyday transportation but they don't and you do. Or maybe they only see cycling as a "sport" and don't understand why you wouldn't just get in your car to go to the grocery store. Make sense?

  30. , but I've never had a motorist abuse me

    I wonder if that's like living in paradise. I can't imagine it. I thought I was doing pretty because I haven't had a motorist abuse me since Thursday, and no one has thrown a bottle at me in several months.

  31. Rideblog says it could be a regional thing, but I was recently blown away in Seattle when a friend (and AVID cyclist) said she doesn't think motorists and cyclists should share the same space on the road. She often commutes to her work by bike, but keeps it on the trails that King County is lucky enough to have.
    Lovelybike is right, the people who share the opinion of her dinner guests can be anyone.

  32. Rideblog - I think that it is a regional thing. There are so few cyclists here (Southeast/Appalachia) that motorists don't seem to really have an opinion one way or the other. Most are courteous and will go out of their way to give a cyclist plenty of room on the road (even if it means running oncoming traffic off the road, but hey, at least they try!) I've very rarely had any troubles with motorists. Once in a blue moon there will be a jerk. People are most likely to just stare amazed at you riding, as if they've never seen someone ride bike before! And when people find out that I ride for transportation, they ALWAYS say that it's a great idea and that they should do the same. (They never actually DO it, but it's the thought that counts.) The safety of it is never mentioned, yet they all wish me a safe ride b/c "drivers are stupid" (every motorist here assumes that all other motorists are bad drivers). Sometimes I may feel lonely out here as only one of a handful of cyclists, but when I read about what other cyclists have to put up with, I feel lucky to be so far removed!

  33. I have yet to have a motorist yell at me, throw anything at me, lecture me or even really seriously cut me off. The only times I've been injured riding were on trails, and were my own fault. I don't commute daily, though, so maybe that's the difference.

    On a weeklong ride in Ireland on the narrowest roads imaginable, no one ever said a single word to us and were patient in waiting to get around our line of 10 people.

    Maybe it's all the rain: no one here wants to roll their window down long enough to yell!

    You should see the debates in the Seattle Times whenever someone gets plowed on the Burke Gilman trail: get those commuting cyclists back on the road where they belong! :)

  34. I'm noticing that as the number of bikes I see on the road increases, the divisiveness - and the heat of it - decreases. As people become more use to seeing us, and know how to drive around us and share the road, that divisiveness just goes away. It's just not an issue of interest. "Bike or Drive?" gets a big, "Whatever!"
    Your friends were from out of town where nobody cycles on the road. It's just foreign to them that it can work. Were they to visit Amsterdam or Taipei or Beijing for long enough to overcome their shock, they might come around to a different point of view.
    It sounds like they aren't social-progress early adopters. They probably aren't even aware of the social/political/economic/environmental problems that cycling address and resolve; only the recreational value.

  35. I have a hunch,
    that getting struck blindside by a Mack truck,
    is how I will leave this world.

  36. In my post, I was also trying to touch on the context of the relationship that exists and its value to me and the importance of that relationship giving rise to to empathy.

    For example, I have a lot of very religious friends, I'm careful to never say anything they might find offensive and just run every possible sentence that I want to say out loud
    about religion through a variety of mental filters to ensure that my statement will not cause hurt or bad feelings unnecessarily. There are ways to talk about controversial subjects within our immediate circle without being antagonistic or hurtful - such as asking the other party how they feel about X thing. My friends and yours could have done the same, expressed their sentiment in a manner that would have caused both of us to think about a subject we've probably internalized so well, we haven't thought about how to articulate to an audience not intimate with that level of detail. This is not the sort of empathy I expect from random
    strangers on the street. But from my friends and family - most certainly!

  37. I am reminded of an old saying on someone's epitaph:

    He was right, dead right, as he rode along; but he's just as dead as if he were wrong.

    I used to ride in the streets, but after I saw a car hit the the rider ahead of me I quit riding in the road.

    Most of the guys I ride with now have seen or know someone who has been hit or run off the road. Regardless of how "right" we think we are, we will always lose the tangle with cars.

    I say, Ride in the streets only if your town has built roads and educated their drivers about bike riders. --Wayne

  38. Wayne - Interesting point of view. Of course, the exact same narrative can be applies to driving or riding in a car (which is statistically quite dangerous).

  39. I've yet to be yelled at,or have anything thrown at me as well (I've been honked a mail truck\van no less,LOL!) My 9 year old son was almost backed into riding down an alley-way that is a state designated bike route (read about it here but before you judge my actions,read the next entry as well) by a motorist who actually didn't even look-see if it was clear...OK,not sure where I'm going with this,LOL,sorry.

    As to the debate over whether or not cyclists belong on the road with motorists,yes they do,legally and responsibly. Drivers need reminded or educated that had it not been for bicycles in the first place,there very well may have been no cars or roads,seeing as how the development of bicycles made possible (or at least,with much greater ease) the developmen of cars and prepared roads...

    Very thought provoking read,V,thank you :)

    Disabled Cyclist

  40. In many (most?) jurisdictions bicycles are considered vehicles and are given all the same privileges and responsibilities as all other vehicles sharing the road. That goes for bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, backhoes etc. In fact, the latter makes a good parallel for cyclists. Backhoes don't go over about 25 mph on the roads, so they are constantly holding up faster traffic. Furthermore, they "think they are cars" by driving in the middle of the traffic lane, not off the edge of the road as cyclists are often lectured to do. So I invoke the "backhoe defence" when defending my right as a slower vehicle to occupy the centre of the lane when it is not safe for me to stay right beside a line of parked cars. Funny thing, I've never seen anybody shout at a backhoe driver for holding them up. Guess they don't want to risk a knuckle sandwich, or the guy might really lose it and decide to back up at 25 mph. :-)

  41. V- Statistics are relevant to you only if you allow it. Take auto death: if you look at each individual cases–you will probably find that a large percentage of them involves intoxication, inattention, lack of judgment, failing equipment, and just general incompetency. If you drive without those conditions, you are safer in inverse proportion to the stat. We do things to lower risks.
    So this applies to cycling: We mitigate cycling-risk by increasing our riding intelligence, honing our riding skills, employing safe equipments, using good judgement. Then we cross our gloved fingers and listen hard at what is behind us.

  42. I can sympathise with those disdainful of cyclists. Over here, in the UK, from observation, most lack common sense and courtesy. Using their bell (if they have one) on paths, is virtually unheard of (people have expressed pleasant mild surprise when I use mine). At night, most wear no high vis clothing, sometimes the bike doesn't even have lights. I've seen more jump red lights than stop...

    Great, inspirational blog BTW


  43. Anonymous @9:41,
    I won't disagree there are things one can do as a cyclist to reduce risk. Everything from riding in a predictable manner to being aware of what is going on around you, predicting the likely actions of pedestrians/bikes/cars/trucks/buses, and having an "out" if someone does something stupid or unexpected.

    All that said, getting run over from behind is a very rare form of car/bike accident. Far more common is the left or right hook along with motorists entering or crossing a road from a side street or driveway.

  44. S Stefan_
    Ah yes, but it's the form of which I have no defense and it's less survivable than a simple right hook.

  45. Although I have been abused by car passengers passing by me as I ride, it is a few years since this has happened to me. I think that now, car drivers are more tolerant of bike riders in this part of the world (Australia, but not a capital city). I think that most people who know I ride for transport found it amusing at first, then wonder at the foolhardiness of it. I do not get defensive or angry, I just say "it is the way of the future", which is what I truly believe, if they make any sort of negative comments. I also like the "One Less Car" bike stickers which some bike riders use here and which sums up this issue in many ways - who can make a negative come back to that, one less car is beneficial to everyone on the roads.

    One night recently when I was riding home from an event, a few people said to ride carefully. I found it amusing as I did not have to ride as far as they had to drive and my ride home was on quiet traffic roads. I told them to drive carefully (as I think they were at more risk of an accident than I was.)

  46. As a driver and "revived" cyclist in London, I have a greater sense of awareness of car road stupidity, and poor cycling traffic awareness. I also have an infinitely better sense of appreciation form all that transport cyclists have to put up with. Though I cycled for transport when I was younger (teens, early twenties), car- crazed behaviour slid off me like water on a duck's back. London was what it was. It's much more of a bugbear now in my thirties. I have greater expectations of how cycling friendly London should be, not withstanding older infrastructure, given how advanced other European metropolises are.

  47. Being in a car can change people. It isn't fun to drive. You want to get from A to point B as quickly as possible. Plus, a sizable portion of drivers are not aware that bicycles are vehicles with a legal right to the road, with the same rules and responsibilities. Adding to the confusion is a portion of cyclists who do not know how to safely ride in traffic. Together, this creates friction between cyclists and motorists. A close friend of mine is opposed to cycling on the road and thinks its nuts, though she rides recreationally. Its something we don't discuss anymore.

  48. It seems to me cars are like guns. Cars dont kill people, people kill people. I ride/drive defensively,I know frustration and rage but live and let live people. Like Rodney King said, "cant we all just get along".=)

  49. I think the abortion analogy is apt, and I say this as someone who is basically pro-life. You start talking about these things and a switch gets flipped and it's very, very hard for either party to find common ground.

    The only thing I'd add to the discussion, having read 80% of it, is how comically self-righteous every group is capable of being. I've been following a predictable flamewar on cars v. bikes on another blog, which then veered into bikes v. pedestrians, and the bikers' summation of how uniquely stupid pedestrians are could have been copied almost verbatim from attacks by drivers on bikers. I don't know what group pedestrians malign for slowing them down while putting their lives in danger--toddlers perhaps. Then don't get me started on how toddlers view... cats?

    Oh, sorry Peppy. Just sayin'.

  50. I don't have much do add to all the comments, except that I also drive in the city... but far less than I cycle these days. But when I do switch into driver mode, even with a heightened awareness of cyclists on the road, I am shocked at how easy it is for me to being viewing some cyclists as 'adversaries', i.e., as if there's an antagonistic relationship between us. And the 'renegade' cyclists who seem to avoid all common rules and courtesies of the road make me genuinely uneasy as a driver. I'm almost paranoid thinking that I'm going to hit one because of their erratic behavior, and I'll get pegged with the liability. And for as much as I try to see my self as "one of them" when I see a cyclist on the road when I'm driving, it's easy for me to understand why most drivers complain about them. In all honesty, 2/3 of the cyclists I pass don't seem to practice common courtesy or follow the rules. Granted, 2/3 of motorists don't either. Until both 'camps' do, I don't see that harmony can be achieved on the road.

  51. Cycling=abortion. I really do learn something new every day! But I must say that you're right, Velouria. When I was younger, I thought the debates, arguments and fights (Yes, in my youth I got into a couple of physical altercations over the issue)resulted from the self-entitlement of drivers in a car-centered culture. However, I have since come to realize that other people's seemingly-irrational fears and anger toward us has other causes.

    Although sometimes people drive for pleasure, most of the time they're behind the wheel because they have to be. They're not happy about going to jobs (or relatives) they hate or ferrying around whiny kids (or spouses) and they see us as engaging in a self-indulgent pleasure. In a way, they're right: Even if we're riding to jobs we hate, we at least had the choice of riding our bikes there and can therefore spend the fifteen minutes, half-hour, hour or however-long-it-takes with our own thoughts and feelings. The drivers I've described feel that they don't have that option, so any actual or perceived infraction of traffic law or etiquette they experience from us is magnified in their minds.

    These days, I try to be more understanding. It isn't easy, but at least I can't remember the last time I used the one-fingered peace sign. And I don't curse at drivers--well, not audibly, anyway!

  52. "Cars don't kill people, people kill people." I stronly disagree. To believe this is to believe that some drivers are inherently anti-social and violent, which has no rational basis. Are we to believe that red-light runners are willfully trying to inflict harm? If they jaywalked through the same red light, what would happen to the pedestrian in their path? Rather, cars can enable people to act in a dangerous manner.

    After observing Dutch traffic infrastructure, I kind of think a lot of US motorists are right. Bikes don't belong on the road with cars, they belong on a proper nearby facility. In the Netherlands, a cyclist can get a ticket for using a road instead of a cyclepath. Unfortunately, enforcement like this would create serious problems in our nation of hugely underdesigned bike lanes.

    I notice that in my area, some people first object to the installation of bike lanes. Once they've accepted their existence, however, they also begin to understand that there is a designated place where bikes belong. They're fine with you being in the bike lane as long as you don't go into "their" lane.

    In my opinion, I see this topic as partly underlining the ideology of the Dutch system. People will behave in accordance with their environment. If a road is a multi-lane highway with poor intersections, drivers will speed with reckless abandon. If you "design out" the opportunities for this recklesness, you substantially improve behavior. There will always be people who do the wrong thing, but they become a very small minority.

    These drivers are not bad seeds. They're only reflecting the problems of an inadequate environment. In time, if our advocacy succeeds, they will become just like us.

  53. I'll confirm what others have said about things being a bit mellower in Seattle compared to some of the experiences elsewhere others have related.

    Getting yelled at by passing motorists is very rare. I've only had something thrown at me a couple of times in many years of nearly daily cycling. In both cases it was pickup trucks with young men in the cab.

    I've never had anyone tell me face to face cyclists shouldn't be on the roads. I have had people express wonder that I give hardly a second thought to cycling in traffic, at night, or bad weather. They tell me they would never do such a thing as they don't feel it is safe.

    One annoying thing I find is I get to hear every driver's story of bad cyclist behavior they've witnessed when the subject of cycling comes up. Everything from salmon, ninjas, ninja salmon, riding without helmets, erratic riding, changing lanes without signaling, running down pedestrians on the sidewalk or MUP, to blowing through stop signs and lights. By far the failure to stop for lights or stop signs seems to get the most comments.

    Depending on my mood and who I'm talking to I either politely change the subject or come back with stories of stupid things I've seen drivers do on the road.

    While I've never had anyone tell me this in person, a common opinion you see on local internet forums is that cyclists should be licensed and registered like motorists before they are allowed on roads. This seems driven both by a genuine desire to reduce the number of cycling scofflaws and a resentment that cyclists supposedly aren't paying for the infrastructure they use.

    Finally let me say negative opinions of cyclists and cycling on the road can come from the most surprising quarters. My Father recently commented about two cyclists changing to the left lane for a turn that he didn't think "riding on the road like that is safe". This is a man who cycled everywhere for transportation in his 20's and early-mid 30's, who taught me vehicular cycling, and who's chromoly vintage 10-speed I inherited as soon as I was big enough to ride it.

  54. Peppy (the amazing deep fried toddler for me please)November 13, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    Fotos-toddlers are tasty.

  55. I think I have some perspective on this one. Ten years ago someone made a u-turn on an empty 6 lane suburban arterial around a cut through in the median to try to kill me because I was riding on the street. There's no way to sugarcoat what happened, he crossed the road, and accelerated to 65 MPH to run me over from behind, and it was a minor (major?) miracle that I survived.

    Fast-forward to today and most drivers are polite as I ride around the same town, even through the same street that I was assaulted on. The worst I get now is a very occasional shout that is becoming less and less frequent as time goes on and people get used to seeing cyclists on the roads. Since I lost my job because of the wreck (brain damage) I ride mostly within about 5 miles of my home doing whatever chores need to be done around town...

  56. @Christopher Fotos - I'm not entirely buying the implied "they sound just alike in their complaints, therefore they are alike". The problem with drivers complaining is that they are ONLY complaining about inconvenience and delay; they're almost invulnerable to injury from a cyclist or pedestrian. In practice, in this country, if a driver collides with a cyclist that actually swerves in front of them or a pedestrian that actually steps in front of them, they will not be physically harmed, nor will they even receive a traffic ticket (we can infer this from all the cases where a non-swerving cyclist is hit, and the driver suffers no penalty). The complaint is incredibly self-centered -- MY delay, MY poor hurt feelings from having run into someone -- as if the pedestrian was not delayed by the need to wait for a gap in traffic, as if the cyclist were not delayed by (for instance) taking a longer route to ensure safety, etc. And the gall of that lucky-ducky with the broken collarbone, to be mad at ME for how I drive. Can't he see how I'm suffering?

    A cyclist, complaining about random pedestrian behavior, at least has skin in the game, and has the somewhat more substantial worry of spending time in a hospital. But cycling doesn't turn people into saints, and there's no guarantee of instant insight, so yes, some cyclists will also complain about "stupid pedestrians" merely because of delay.

  57. Hmmm. . . . everything that I like to discuss seems to be a deal breaker: sex, religion, politics and, now, transportation cycling! I can't win. When it comes to religion and bike commuting, I've learned to just smile patiently and say as little as possible other than "nor am I the least bit spiritual" and "yes, sometimes I do wear a helmet".

  58. I echo somervillian. except that I am lucky enough that most of the cyclists I pass seem to be doing a fine job. Most of the issues I have seen were ninja bikers and once a guy riding the wrong way. but I agree it can be too easy for me to be in a zone and not notice someone. I'm HUGE on cross walks and cars stopping for people in cross walks and when I am in a car I am just as likely to not see a person- so now I kinda just hate cross walks b/c I think they are extra unsafe. Although b/c I am a cyclist when I notice bad driving behavior in myself I slow down and become more aware- rather than angry and homicidial and blaming... I wish others could do that too....

  59. @opusthepoet: That is so sad! I am glad that you have the courage to go back on the rode. That is inspiring to me, since I have been scared to ride lately.

    One thing I have to say from the drivers point of view, there are times that I catch myself swearing underneath my breath. I have almost hit cyclists while making a right turn and a cyclist going down the wrong side of the road pulls out in front of me. He narrowly missed getting creamed. Now that it has happened to me a few times I am extra careful.

    Aside from the riding on the wrong side of the rode (which is obviously wrong) cyclists deserve to have the same rights of everyone else.

  60. I realize this is almost 2 years after your post, but I just "lost" a pretty good friend over exactly this same subject. He came into work one morning ranting about a cyclist who was holding up traffic with a long line of cars behind him. And that "he shouldn't even be on the road". I explained to him that legally he has a right to be on the road, but if he was holding up traffic, should possibly pull over and let traffic by before continuing on. That conversation was short, but at lunch a truck pulled out from a side street and wanted to go to the far left lane. Ended up blocking two lanes of thru traffic as he wanted to turn left but that light was red, the lanes going straight couldn't move because he was blocking them. I commented that even car/truck drivers could be inconsiderate and do stupid things. His response? "No! It's okay for him because he's in a vehicle!! Bikes shouldn't be on the road!!" That quickly descended into a shouting match, to the point where we haven't talked at all in over a month. Kinda sad, but I don't need "friends" who think that way and will literally scream at me over it.


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