A car drives by a little too close for comfort and the driver bravely yells some profanities at you before driving off without giving you the chance to respond.
An empty McDonald’s bag is tossed out the passenger side window. Maybe they want to give you their spare fries. Maybe they don’t like you.
A car drives by and someone yells something that was definitely super clever but you can’t make out any words.
A lone finger emerges from the window of a car and stands proudly, pointing upward, the message unmistakable.
Someone honks, someone swerves at you. Maybe you did something wrong, maybe not. Doesn’t really matter. They’re bigger than you. Play it smart. Play it safe.
In your lycra you may feel brave or clever, a quick-witted retort or a few swears, maybe a hood slap or a tossed water bottle will suffice. Generally, though, any reaction will likely escalate the situation. Not only does this put you at greater risk, but this may fuel the driver’s belief that all cyclists are annoying or may further contribute to whatever fuels this anti-cyclist behavior. If you add to their frustration, you may only put other cyclists at risk of this sort of abuse. You may feel better, but likely, this will make things worse in the bigger picture.
I’m not perfect. Unprovoked, drivers have wronged me and in turn, I’ve rebutted. I’ve hit cars, yelled at drivers, stood in front of them when the light turns green after they’ve driven me into the curb and screamed at me. Sometimes, drivers get mad at me if I break a rule and generally, I accept their frustration, knowing I’ve done something wrong too.
Once, when I was a wee fool, I argued with a driver repeatedly until he pulled over with a baseball bat and threatened my entire group. My coach pulled me aside and informed me of what a fool I was.
Anyway, I do have a few suggestions when facing some road rage or the potential for an altercation of sorts between you and another road user. The bottom line is, taking the high road is probably the best idea. While you may not truly be in danger, someone else might be if you choose to escalate things.
I’ve taken to either ignoring drivers, waving or very, very politely having a conversation at a red light.
Having had cars cut me off, turn into me, lay on their horn as I ride the speed limit in front of them and God knows what else, I’ve started either chatting as I ride beside them, or as I stand next to them at a red light.
In my calmest voice, I’ll ask what’s the matter. I’ll listen, without interrupting, before I apologize for their frustration, and maybe explain what they had done to harm me. I’ll take this opportunity to educate the driver as well.
In the most respectful way possible, I try to diffuse the situation, make the driver feel heard and indicate whether they cut me off, drove into the bike lane, or that while it may feel as though you should pass me simply because I’m on a bike, there are times where it may be too dangerous, or that if I’m riding the speed limit (or above), there is absolutely no need to honk at me or overtake me.
When cars have turned in front of me and I have the opportunity to maturely discuss what happened with them, I will remind the driver of the importance of indicating and shoulder checking when crossing a bike lane.
If ever I have blown a stop sign or done something wrong, I will not argue with a driver who gets mad. I’d look like an idiot and I would help absolutely nobody. If you’re going to do something on your bike, you better be prepared to own it.
To be honest, when these instances go well, I feel much more satisfaction than I do after folding a mirror in or spraying a car with Gatorade.
The roads are to be shared. Peacefully. Do your part to keep the peace and make the roads safer for everyone!
Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, he will race with Trek Red Truck Racing.