Guest Post: Why do motorists hate bicyclists (a rant)

I want to share something that was sent to me recently. The author asked to remain anonymous, but trust me, he knows what he’s talking about.

………

Why do so many drivers hate bicyclists? Bicyclists force drivers out of their normal stupor, making them pay attention to the road around them. Drivers recognize, if only subconsciously that they have to change their behavior or risk killing someone. How does one react when being told to change their behavior. I find my 5 year old nephew’s reaction is likely the same for many adults. Denial, Anger, Projection, depression and acceptance.

Denial. The first reaction is naturally defensive; I did nothing wrong! The cyclist appeared out of nowhere, as if they were transported off the Starship Enterprise. Or the mixture of lights, reflectors and bright colored clothing just happened to blend into the color of the asphalt while the sun completely blinded me going 40 mph when I couldn’t see a thing because I was texting on the cell phone, yet decided to speed anyway. See. Not my fault. A freak act of god (small g).

Anger/projection. Because they remain in denial, the anger is often projected outward towards the cyclist. This “fault” ends up being they are all lawbreakers. If they see another motorist run a stop sign, the first thought is that the motorist must also be a cyclist.

Lycra is the new symbol for a bike riding street gang on the same level as some nationwide criminal gangs, threatening you with taunts such as “Hey buddy, nice car. It would be a shame if it got my blood all over it.” The driver then races off in fear, peeling rubber as the bicyclist chases after them at a dangerous 12-15 mile per hour pace. Yes, they remember reading “The Tortoise and the Hare” and it didn’t end well at all for the hare.

Worse are the confrontations that happen at this stage. Adrenaline abounds on all sides after a near collision.

Bargaining. This is actually when recovery really starts, as the motorist is now thinking of solutions, albeit clouded by denial and anger so solutions must benefit the driver and punish cyclists. When they think about how they can resolve the issue, they offer such non solutions as registration fees, gas tax equivalents. Somehow, if bicyclists would only pay the $3/year for registration, drivers would welcome them onto the streets, pass safely, offer free donuts at stop lights and offering the occasional come hither look (hey, a cyclist can dream right?).

Depression. As much as I would enjoy the schadenfreude, being called out on his poor behavior that a driver would, like my five year old nephew, fling and then bury himself into the back seat of the car, crying and kicking.

Wait, let’s just pause for one moment to visualize that, (sigh) ok, moving on.

Depression is a good thing. Drivers are now noticing bicyclists on the road, and while peppered with anger and frustration at the occasional lawbreaker, they are noticing bicyclists and watching out for them, seeing how the rhythm of bicycle/motor vehicle occurs.  Perhaps they are noticing where the road could be designed a little better to get cyclists out of their way. (I admit, I often perform mental bike audits when I am driving)

Acceptance. This is where the motorists truly recognizes the right of the bicyclist to be on the road, anticipate bicyclist behavior and act accordingly. Allow me to digress slightly to make my point. Years ago, when I first started taking transit, I would sit in the front row of the bus (to watch my bike on the rack), and I would gasp, hiss and cringe every time a car cut the bus off, or the driver had to hit the brakes quickly. Recognizing my frustration (and being annoyed by it), when we stopped at a light, he turned back towards me and said, “relax. I’ve got this.”

I call this the Tau of the Bus Rider. You can’t control everything so you must put your faith in other people to do the right thing. Bicyclists need to be predictable. Motorists need to pay enough attention to be able to predict what bikes are going to do and react accordingly.

In summary, motorists should pay more attention while driving, quit whining and just accept bicyclists as normal roadway users. but until that time, expect a lot of juvenile behavior.

14 comments

  1. PatrickGSR94 says:

    Very rarely do I experience any such “juvenile behavior” from all the motorists I encounter on my commutes or other rides. Every now and then, and I’m talking on a few times in an entire year, I might get a honk, or someone yelling something out a window as they pass safely in the adjacent lane. But those instances are extremely rare. Regular passing traffic is far more the norm. Sure there are people who act or talk all tough on the internet. And of course we’ve all seen the YouTube videos of people raging at a cyclist. But how often does that REALLY happen? Like so many things, we usually only hear about the bad stuff, and never hear about what happens normally. And in my experience, normal traffic, with drivers acting courteously and safely, represents the overwhelming majority of motorists.

    • Zack says:

      Perhaps you only ride a couple times a year? I not, I’d love to live wherever you do, because here in LA I get honked at/yelled at/cursed at/things thrown at me/chased at least twice a week. And even then, the offending population of drivers is likely less than .1% of all drivers I encounter on the road.

    • I been posting about living in Venice without a car here: http://www.digitalslurry.com/

      I get harassed or have close calls about every other day (check out videos of some of the worse). Which is surprising since I’m generally on low traffic / low speed streets. I do see a difference between drivers, most of which I agree are very considerate. However, it’s the few who aren’t that can cause me some real damage and that’s why I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter if most are cool — it only takes one dickhead. My thoughts:

      1. Commuting to and from work in cars — people are dicks. They’re stressed and impatient. And are the worst and most dangerous from my perspective.

      2. Higher speed streets bring out the worst in drivers.

      3. Four out of five drivers are on their phone and distracted

      4. When I stop at a four way stop, a VAST majority of drivers wave me through first, even though if I was in a car, they’d have the right of way.

      5. In the middle of day – drivers are way more chill and relaxed and likely to give me space and respect.

      Just a few thoughts….

  2. Sean says:

    Does “rationalization” fit in that logic above. As in… “if only every single cyclist obeyed all traffic laws all the time without fail, I would respect them on the road”

    To the gent above… naturally, 99.9% of all traffic encounters are harmless, but to the cyclist, the consequences of that .1% can be fatal. And yet it’s the driver blowing his stack. Go figure. And yes, there are many excessively courteous drivers out there, I encounter some regularly. All is not lost.

  3. Sam Hobbs says:

    First, I wish people would not be so quick to use the word “hate”. It is the strongest word that can be used to say that a problem exists and therefore should not be used so often.

    Rants like this is also juvenile behavior. There are no practical solutions offered. I admit that that is a bit extreme, but I am frustrated because I often try to solve problems in reasonable and practical ways and people react as if I am just ranting.

    Your example of denial (“appeared out of nowhere”) is not denial, it is statement of fact and can apply to pedestrians and even other vehicles.

    Saying “motorist must also be a cyclist” is ridiculous.

    In many cases, the problem is that the streets and sidewalks are not designed for dual use and city planners are not in the habit of designing for bicycles. I see improvements being made that could improve use of bicycles but bicycles are ignored.

    • PatrickGSR94 says:

      This is why I’m such a big proponent of cycling safety education such as CyclingSavvy and its parent organization ABEA. I ride almost exclusively on roads with zero special infrastructure, and yet I have almost zero negative interactions. How could this be? I chalk it up to riding in the most visible and assertive manner possible, AND communicating with those other road users whenever needed. Communication is key. You can’t just ride along in your own world without paying attention to anyone or anything else, and just expect everyone else to see you and avoid you at all times. Be visible, be predictable, be assertive, AND communicate with others, both to make your own intentions known, and to help motorists make safe, rational decisions. It has worked EXTREMELY well for me in the past 4 years since I started commuting to work, as well as other transportational and recreational bike rides.

      • David says:

        “Be visible, be predictable, be assertive, AND communicate with others, both to make your own intentions known, and to help motorists make safe, rational decisions.”

        I agree.

  4. Harv says:

    If all you do is ride, then, yes, it would be as the above commenters stated. Most car drivers are courteous and some overly so. BUT… it is a different story if you are a street safety advocate and attend the various meetings such as local city council district, neighborhood councils and their committees, Then the venom spews forth. The animosity is released. The standard rhetoric is spouted. On my first meeting after being
    elected to my local neighborhood council, I was confronted before the meeting even started and told that they knew what my agenda was and they didn’t want bike lanes or any other bike facilities or traffic calming in their neighborhood. It got worse after that. At a safety committee meeting, I was told that the fatality of a bicyclist walking his bike in a crosswalk, with the green light caused by a serial DUI going 80 mph, running the light, and fleeing the scene with a shattered windshield and glass in his hair was “just an accident” and did not require taking any safety measures such as traffic calming (I had not even mentioned bike lanes). It was at this point that I resigned from the NC. I guess I am just lucky that no one from this group has seen me riding on the street and felt the need to “teach me a lesson”.

  5. Assuming the homicidal maniacs are 0.1% of drivers, and you are riding on your average 4-lane stroad with a 40 MPH limit you will be passed by a stream of traffic exceeding your speed by 25 MPH assuming law-abiding homicidal maniacs or more likely 35 MPH or higher. How many miles would it take for Mr. 0.1% to pass you? Would you believe less than 5 miles? And that assumes that the first 999 drivers were completely sane, that Mr. 0.1% was the last in line. How likely do you think that is?

    • PatrickGSR94 says:

      I would estimate the percentage of truly psychotic motorists to be far less than 0.1%. Would it surprise you to know that in my nearly 5 years of riding, 4 years commuting, well over 12,000 miles, that I have NEVER encountered a truly psychotic motorist, with real intent to harm me or others? That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. We’ve all seen the videos. But based on my experiences, it is extremely rare.

  6. Harv says:

    Okay, okay, enough anecdotal testimony as to what has or has not been done to bicycle riders by car drivers. The original question was, Why do they hate us?
    I will bet none of you has been riding, walking, and driving the streets of L.A. as long as I have. So I can trace the timeline of my experience starting in 1948. What has changed? A lot.
    The commercial interests, metaphorically Standard Oil and General Motors, have done a really superior job of selling the American consumer on the idea that car ownership and use is the highest form of personal achievement possible for a human being to attain. See the USA in your Chevrolet. Keep up with the Joneses. Bigger is better (to intimidate). Nobody drives in L.A. You are what you drive. My four-holer Buick beats your three-holer Buick.
    You may not understand all this if you are less than 60 years old.
    .
    When the rest of the world was going to econo-box cars, Americans were screaming for bigger and faster vehicles. Higher fuel economy
    was Federally mandated, but there was a loophole; trucks need not comply. So Joe Six-pack bought an F300 with extended cab, plunked on a camper shell and took out the rear window so his kids could crawl back into the camper. The SUV was born and nobody looked back.
    .
    Simultaneously, cars became air conditioned, window tints got darker, sound systems got louder so Joe SP could be completely anonymous in his steel transportation module. Those other cars are annoying but no use honking or shouting at them, they are anonymous too. But what’s this? A pissant BICYCLE is on the same road? Keeping up with urban traffic and even PASSING? WTF? I am spending over 10k a year and this little turd on wheels dares to exist? Well, he’s in my way! He doesn’t pay as much as I do! He’s dangerous! He gets to park his bike close to the store instead of far out in the parking lot! Is this fair? He has no right to the road, I do! And pedestrians, they are in my way too, I will be damned if I am going to stop for anyone just walking across the
    street! I am entitled. I am special because I am in my big SUV. Streets are for cars. Anyone not in a car is fair game. Kill ’em! Kill ’em all!! And I can honk and shout at them, they being all exposed and lacking a steel shell, tinted windows and a stereo system. I can even hit them with my car and just say I didn’t see ’em. No judge or jury will convict ME, they are all drivers too. “Could happen to any of us, Your Honor”.
    .

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