Don’t ever do anything that could possibly piss a driver off

No.

Oh, hell no.

It’s true, like it or not, that our behavior on the road can affect how drivers respond to us. And yes, we have as much responsibility for avoiding confrontations on the streets as drivers do, even though they have to potential to do far more harm.

Sharing the road goes both ways, requiring all road users to observe the law and show courtesy and respect for others. And yes, that includes you and me.

But you can take that philosophy too damn far.

A bicyclist and writer for New West does exactly that, arguing that cyclists must “do what they can to stop angering and inconveniencing motorists.”

It’s not like the writer is completely out of line. Of the five pieces of advice he offers, four make perfect sense. For the most part, anyway.

He tells riders to hold your line, noting that riding in a straight line is “perhaps the best habit a cyclist can have,” in terms of safety and allowing drivers to maneuver around you.

He suggests wearing bright clothing — which is something I’ve always advocated, despite the current fashion for muted earthtone bikewear — as well as using lights and reflectors in low-light conditions.

And as many others have, he notes that there is safety in numbers, and that more bikes on the roads means drivers will get more used to sharing them with us. However, he also says cyclists should ride single file; mostly true, even though it can be safer to ride two abreast in some cases in order to control the lane and increase visibility.

He also instructs riders to obey traffic laws. Again, good advice, although there can be cases where what’s safe and what’s legal aren’t always the same thing in a world where traffic laws weren’t written with cyclists in mind.

So far, so good.

The problem comes in the final bit of advice — the first in his list —  where he accuses “too many” riders of angering drivers with a “holier-than-thou attitude” and thinking they have special rights.

So tell me. How can any driver — or any other cyclist, for that matter — know what someone’s attitude is without stopping and asking them? Stepping behind the wheel of car or onto the saddle of a bike does not make me or anyone else a mind reader. And whatever attitudes I may ascribe to those I share the road with is more a projection of my own state of mind than any deep psychological insights into others.

Besides, what some may see as a “holier-than-thou” attitude may reflect nothing more than a thorough knowledge of the law and our right to the road.

He goes on to suggest that you never, ever do anything to tick off drivers.

Basically, be constantly careful not to give motorists any reason to dislike cyclists. Don’t take over a road. Don’t inconvenience motorists. Pull over when you have traffic backed up. When waiting at a stoplight, leave room for motorists to turn right on red. Be considerate.

Reward politeness with politeness. Smile and wave when a motorist gives some courtesy and space. Be careful you wave correctly so it isn’t misinterpreted as an obscene gesture.

Yes, it is often courteous to move a little to the left at a red light, so cars can use the right turn lane; however, in places without a turn lane, it’s not always safe to do so.

And you should allow others to pass when it’s safe and there’s enough room. Although nothing says you have to pull over and stop unless there are five or more cars backed up behind you and unable to pass.

Simply put, if they can go around you, you aren’t impeding traffic. Period.

I also believe in giving a wave of thanks when a driver shows me courtesy or operates with unusual safety. But I have a right to be there, and thanking a driver for merely giving me the space the law requires just reinforces the mistaken idea that streets are for cars and that bikes don’t belong there.

And whatever you do, he says, don’t ever express anger or talk to a driver to let them know that they did something dangerous.

Reward meanness with kindness. Even when a motorist cuts you off, yells obscenities or hazes you, don’t yell back or offer up the universal salute. Don’t ride over the driver’s side window for a little chat; this almost never has a good outcome. Again, smile and wave. Nothing will change that incident; but next time, the motorist might feel and behave differently. Suck it up; take one for the team; do it for all cyclists who will come down that road after you do. Guilt is a powerful motivator.

Yeah, I’m just going to smile and wave and take one for the team when a driver leaves me in a bloody heap in the road.

I don’t think so.

And as the cyclist who may come down the road after you, I’d strongly prefer that you politely let a driver know when he or she does something dangerous. My life may depend on it.

Look, I understand where he’s coming from. A little courtesy goes a long way towards making everyone’s trip safer and more enjoyable. And in any confrontation, the cyclist is the one who is most likely to come out on the losing end; after all, we’re not the ones armed with two-ton weapons of mass destruction.

But the sort of condescending obsequiousness he suggests only reinforces the common, but mistaken, attitude that we’re interlopers on the drivers’ turf.

Finally, he concludes by repeating his call for bike riders to be “ambassadors for everybody who rides a bicycle, now and in the future.”

So lets make this very clear.

I am not an ambassador for bicyclists, any more than any driver is an ambassador for every other motorist on the roads.

An ambassador is someone who represents others in a foreign land. But these streets are not foreign territory belonging to motorists.

I belong here. I have a right to be here.

And I’m not going to apologize for it.

………

Meanwhile, a new survey shows 65% of Brits think biking is normal, and only 7% think cyclists are strange. And 43% wish they were on a bike while they sit stuck in traffic.

I’m not sure I want to know what a similar stateside survey would show.

………

Allesandro Petacchi jets to victory in a mass sprint in stage 7 of the Vuelta. Christian Vande Velde looks to make a comeback at the Vuelta, if he can stay in one piece. And the Times says new evidence may have surfaced implicating Lance Armstrong in the government doping investigation.

………

Funding approved for the first phase of the West Valley Greenway. The Southern California Association of Governments prepares to take a collaborative approach by launching a BikePed Wiki website next month. UCLA Today looks at Ayla Stern, new BAC member and co-founder of the Valley Bikery. LACBC looks at Wednesday’s Monthly Mixer. Claremont Cyclist looks back at the weekly Wednesday Griffith Park Ride. Courtesy of dudeonabike, proof that even cars in Oregon can support bikes. Santa Rosa installs a 65-foot obelisk made of recycled bikes in the middle of the city’s automotive district; isn’t every city an automotive district? Cyclists complain about getting bumped from Caltrain. Struggling to focus on the road while riding through Big Sur. A San Francisco conservative — there’s an endangered species for you — ridicules Obama for wearing a helmet, a year after he was criticized for not wearing one; sometimes you just can’t win. The University of Arizona opens an on-campus bike valet. A Spokane city councilman starts a flame war with cyclists, insisting he can be rude if they can and suggests banning bikes “if this ignorance continues to happen here.” A look at the court case that established your right to ride on the road, hard to believe it’s only been 10 years; the lawyer who handled that case says you have to fight for your rights. A cross-country cyclist has his bike and gear stolen in Missouri. Why Chicago is falling behind other biking cities. Some drivers take the blame and some pass it. A cyclist gets hit twice in one month in Downtown DC; bad luck or bad biking? Florida cyclists complain about misplaced rumblestrips on roadway shoulders; at least that’s one problem we don’t have on PCH. Yet. A helmetless Ottawa cyclist dies in a solo accident after flipping over the handlebars. An Irish cyclist is found dead on the side of the road, with no sign of a collision. Bonnie Prince Charlie joins with British Cycling to promote bikes as sustainable transport. A Brit cyclist falls off his bike and punches the paramedic who tries to help him after downing 12 pints. Photos of the latest bikes from Eurobike 2010; the latest bike shorts have a fly. Police in North Wales says no race marshals from the local cycling association, no race. Doubling the number of Danes who bike to work. Yet another warning to beware of middle-aged men in Lycra, aka Mamils.

Finally, in yet another example of heartlessness, a Sacramento cyclist is killed when a driver hits him from behind at 55 mph, then stops, sees a body lying in the roadway, and continues driving for another hour before calling to 911 to report that she thinks she hit a dog.

I swear, there is a special place in hell…

10 comments

  1. Digital Dame says:

    I think he’s full of it, I don’t think this guy’s ever been on a bike since he was 10. Yes, I’ve seen cyclists behaving badly, people who looked like they should know better weaving around, in and out of the traffic lane when there was a clear bike lane (busy talking to the person next to them and not paying attention), running stop signs, on and off sidewalks at random, etc., etc. But most do not. And as you noted, we are not the ones leaving someone in a bloody heap and fleeing the scene. Maybe it should be a law that before anyone gets behind the wheel of a car, they are medicated so they don’t overreact or go into a fit of road rage over having to slow down for two seconds for a cyclist.

  2. Joe Anthony says:

    I’m taking Schneider’s article with a grain of salt, because it’s clear he has good intentions.

    I’ve heard similar reactions from others, and I don’t discount them, but what’s the argument. Cyclists should piss off drivers?

    Riding around L.A. the past few years I’ve had many incidents with drivers, and am guilty of losing my cool once in a while. After much practice of self-control, I’ve found it’s probably better to remain positive, and not antagonize.

    For example, getting cut off by a driver talking on his/her cell: Instead of an FU, how about a “You almost got me buddy. Can you try to stay off the phone?”

    Guilt-trips work a little better than instinctual anger ;0)

  3. Michael says:

    Appeasement, from a historical perspective, has never been a successful strategy. Don’t do anything to piss them off, and maybe they will leave me alone and go away is not going to work in this situation either. I have no reason to feel guilty for riding in a manner that keeps me safe on the road. If that means someone is briefly inconvenienced, so be it. No apologies from me.

  4. As most everyone knows, I disagree with the “nice” argument about not pissing drivers off, BUT we have all seen overaggressive cyclists (who are probably overaggressive drivers too) who slide dangerously between traffic and then get pissed off and confrontational when they almost get hit because they put themselves knowingly in a place where a driver can’t see them and doesn’t have enough reaction time. So maybe this argument should really be, don’t pull reckless cycling moves then get pissed off when the cars you just slid between don’t see you and have know clue to look for you winding up between lanes in traffic. But this goes back to rule #1: Ride predictably.

    I am not at all saying that drivers aren’t responsible for looking and being aware and safe. But I have seen, occassionally, a reckless cyclist make an aggressive move that, had I been behind the wheel, I probably wouldn’t have seen either.

    It’s the same rage that a driver gets when they have to go around a cyclist and nearly hit oncoming traffic because they can’t wait until it’s safe. They make a reckless move trying to pass, but blame it on the cyclist. Sometimes (forgive me for this) there are cyclists who make stupid reckless moves and then blame them on motorists. It does happen. And I think that’s what we hear about more often than not.

    They ride like they drive. With complete disregard for anyone else’s safety and complete entitlement to the road. We’ve all seen it happen. Not often, but we’ve seen it. But I think those are the incidents that seem to stick with drivers, rather than the cyclist that was safe and they had no problems with.

    So, yes, I still hate the nice argument because I think it’s irrelevant. I think it still goes back to the safe argument.

  5. graciela. says:

    I practice what Shneider is suggesting because that’s just my personality. I am very passive. That’s not to say I wouldn’t step in if I saw a serious wrong done, like hitting a ped or a cyclist with a car. But I have to gauge my aggressor and weigh the dangers of a confrontation. I’m a short girl with no fighting skills or pepper spray (guess I should get some). I’d much rather play it safe and get honked at than try to educate someone and have them pull a gun, knife, crow bar, etc on me. I have come to expect the worst of people and if a motorist is going bananas cos I’m going too slow for them, then it does worries me how they would react if I said something to them about it. I guess that makes me lame, a wuss, and a bad “ambassador” for cyclists.

    If you feel comfortable talking to a stranger and are ready to handle yourself if the situation escalates, then more power to you. You are a real hero for the lamos like me.

    • bikinginla says:

      No one says you have to say something; if you’re more comfortable being quiet, then by all means be quiet. I don’t think I could call anyone who rides city streets lame or a wuss.

      One thing that works for me is using the old-fashioned librarian-style side-to-side finger wag. It gets the point across that they shouldn’t have done that, yet often gets a smile in response. And I’ve never had anyone get angry because of it.

  6. bob says:

    This is SUCH a fascinating discussion … I wish more cyclists would sit down and talk and even strategize about how to get the changes we ALL want.

    As for myself, I find the almost irresistable urge to be sure drivers know it when they misbehaved. But I’m really not sure that’s the best thing for the community. I believe you (bikinginla) are right, but not necessarily employing the right strategy.

    Michael’s assesment that “appeasement” has never worked, or others acting as if Schneider’s advocating passivity are missing the point, in my opinion. I’d be interested in hearing what you think of these leaders:
    1) Gandhi 2) MLK & 3) Jackie Robinson (my favorite).

    All three of these men absorbed a great deal of injustice. Their reactions were NOT passive, but they also were very careful to ABSORB the punishment and respond kindly. The change they made for their communities were nothing but positive, and they won the respect of outsiders – and even their enemies.

    Bikers have a PR problem. Drivers find us annoying, and they’re not trained to look out for us as they should. Maybe they’ll look out for us better if we start lecturing them, or gesturing, or passing laws. But I’m also a driver, and I’d rather see bikers as ‘brothers’ who are doing good things, and then it’s easier for me to slow down and wait – or pay attention, or whatever … because I LIKE and respect them … not because they beat me up.

    I like reading about your stuff on PCH, where I’ve driven a LOT, but frankly I’m too scared to ride there. It should be different. I hope bikers will find a way to agree on this issue: how will we work together to make the NECESSARY changes?

    Is it best to DEMAND justice, complain, lecture, browbeat … or is there another (kinder, more creative) way?

    • danceralamode says:

      My thought on letting a driver know they’ve made a mistake is that next time they do it, they might kill someone. For example, a woman once cut across the bike lane on Santa Monica right as I was passing (and i had the right of way). I managed to avoid hitting her by slamming on my brakes and swerving, but caught up with her at the light a few yards away. I did the little roll down your window gesture, and tried to be polite and said, hey, you gotta watch when you cross the bike lane. I was right there and you could’ve killed me. Please be more careful! She was honestly sorry, and I repeated “it’s okay, but just be careful when you’re crossing a bike lane.” I smiled, she nodded, and that was that. I honestly feel that she did take something away from that, and that it wasn’t negative.

      In regards to Malibu, the cyclists that showed up for the recent Public Safety Commission meeting made a lot of suggestions about how to make PCH safer. It’s not all complaining. Furthermore, if we don’t POINT OUT where the trouble spots are, then what will ever be done about it? I don’t think anyone came to the table with a complaint that they didn’t have a few possible solutions for.

  7. Richard says:

    There are many people who ride there bicycles and have different levels of what they will do or tolerate. Some do not believe they have a right to be on the road and ride to far to the right or against traffic and make many other mistakes. There are some things we can do to diffuse a bad situation when possible. Cowering in the ditch is not one of them.
    The biggest mistake I see people on bicycles do is not communicating there intentions so motorists know what they intend to do. The link where it talks about the person being hit twice in a month is a classic example of this. He most likely approached the crosswalk from the sidewalk and on the wrong side of the road. Instead of saying they should look for me he should be looking for them and making contact by vocalizing or making eye contact. Even if you insist on being in the wrong place at the intersection. You can keep from being hit by confirming it is safe this way. Being careful how you communicate sounds a little weak until you have had some of my experiences. I like to vocalize loudly at intersections to avoid being hit by people who start from a stop or start out in an illegal left turn. Sometimes they believe I have used profanity when all I did was say wake up or hello. I used to sing the first verse of my favorite song. One afternoon my wife and I were approaching an intersection on our tandem with the pumpkin cart as my friends called it. I saw a young lady starting to make a left in my path and I sang loudly wake up little Susy. She gave me the finger and vocalized the word. She followed me to the store parking lot where my wife went in to get some groceries. While I was waiting and watching one of the sleeping tots in the cart. The police show up and quiz me about what all I said. I explained to them what I had sung and what I had said back to the girl with the Mormon stickers on her car. Yes I told her that plural marriage was illegal. I had also said even if it was not she would need permission from her church leader and the boss who is my wife. We had a good laugh and that was that. I have also told a repeat offender who told me he would kill me to get on with it because I had things to do and did not have all day to do them. He laughed quite loudly and never approached me again after this and we still saw each other on the same road several times a week. You should also consider there physical and mental health from sitting in that car and eating those rat burgers from the local hamburger stand. Reaching for that burger and handing the cash over is probably the extent of there hard exercise for the day. Because of that there aerobic rate is so low that hot summer weather swells there brain. Add this to that large quantity of MSG they have ingested along with the high blood pressure from the over salted food and they become highly irritated over anything.

  8. The Trickster says:

    And in others NZ news (apart from Earthquakes and Plane Crashes):

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/4096563/Kiwi-cyclist-secures-pro-contract

    Least there is some good news out of here today, especially seeing NZ’s best cycling city just got hit for six.

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