Self-Righteous Cyclists Cause Share of Road Rage

Self-Righteous Cyclists Cause Share of Road Rage
If only real life was as easy to follow as street signs. / photo credit parkingconsultants.com

Riding home last night from work and riding into work this morning I was stunned, yet again, at how rude some cyclists are and how their actions directly lead to injuries to other cyclists they will never meet.

While researching my new book The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide, I had conversations with several experts about road rage. One of those experts was Dr. Leon James, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii who specializes in road rage and maintains a site about road rage at DrDriving.org.

We will touch on the topic of road rage several times in the blog. The revisiting of the topic isn't to drag out one subject and make it last for several blogs. No, the reason is that road rage is one of the most important topics for any motorist, pedestrian, trucker or cyclist trying to share the roadways with other motorists, pedestrians, truckers and cyclists.

What struck me about both the cyclists I experienced was their complete lack of self-awareness, especially considering that both men were dressed like Lance Armstrong-wannabes with expensive clothing to match their expensive bikes. Yet, for all the money they spent on their gear and equipment, they proved to be more of a harm to other cyclists than any angry motorist.

Why? Because the excessive and rude actions of both the cyclists provoked and antagonized the motorists around them. In short, the self-righteous actions of these two cyclists caused the road rage that other cyclists - me - had to deal with later.

I was cycling north on Clark Street going home from work when I steered left in the bike lane to avoid a car door opening. To my surprise, I was nearly knocked sideways by an Armstrong-wannabe replete in special cycling-specific shorts, shirt and shoes. He never announced his presence, never tried to yell "on your left" or even ring a bell. He simply rode up from behind me and was so close to me when I avoided the car door that I saw he needed to trim his nose hair.

I was furious and ready to say something at the next red light, pointing out that he nearly caused a wreck for both of us by not letting me know he was there. But I never got the opportunity because when a cab pulled over to pick up a passenger, Armstrong-wannabe stopped and yelled at the driver to get out of the bike lane.

I simply rode past the verbal sparring and all I could think was - Great, now I'm riding in front of a driver who is so furious with a rude cyclist that the driver is going to run me off the road.

Sure enough, when we got to a tight stretch of the road about a half mile further, the cab driver purposefully drove to the right side of his lane to pinch off the bike lane and force me to wait behind him. Maybe the cabbie would have done the same rude driving if a cyclist hadn't just yelled at him inches from his face. But I'm willing to bet a week's salary that Armstrong-wannabe's tirade is what caused the cab driver to squeeze me out of the bike path in his moment of road rage at the other cyclist.

I chalked that up to bad luck. But on today's commute into work I realized it wasn't bad luck, it's simply the fact that cyclists are getting more and more rude to other cyclists and to motorists every ride.

Riding into the Loop along Clark Street, I had another Armstrong-wannabe (we'll call this guy Armstrong-aint to avoid confusion) force his way between myself and traffic at one of the worst intersections along Clark St.,  at the LaSalle intersection. Clark St. is a pockmarked with potholes along that stretch so keeping an eye on the road is pretty important. I have no idea what exactly happened, but after forcing himself between my bike and traffic, Armstrong-aint decided to give the middle to finger to either myself or the motorist next to me. I don't know which of us he was flicking off but neither myself nor the car had done anything wrong. The only person doing anything wrong was Armstrong-aint who thinks Clark St is the 16th stage of the Tour De France.

Cyclists have plenty of fault to find with motorists, bus drivers and truck drivers.

But lately I've decided that the worst enemy of most cyclists are other cyclists who act in such ridiculous and anger-provoking ways that they only do harm to other cyclists. After all, when Armstrong-wannabe and Armstrong-aint have turned onto another street during their ride, they may have forgotten about yelling at the cab driver or giving the finger to other motorists, but those car drivers haven't forgotten. Road rage festers and burns, it doesn't just fade away. And when those drivers interact with another cyclist they are not going to have any thoughts of civility toward dealing with them, uh I mean, us.

That means the real reason behind so much road rage is actually bicyclists themselves who ride like they're protected on high from Keyser Soze. They are not. None of us are. And the last thing I need is dealing with a road rage incident caused by a thoughtless cyclist who is the one who deserves all the blame for causing the road rage by simply acting like a jerk.

We were all told to learn to play well with others when we were children. The adage doesn't change now that we're adults. And it's even more vital for cyclists to drop their self-important demeanor and attitude when dealing with traffic because cyclists cause more road rage incidents then they suffer. They're just too self-absorbed to acknowledge it.

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Learn what to do if hit by car and much more in my book The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide and order a copy for a friend any time from Amazon.com.

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  • I'm a cyclist much like yourself; jeans, no spandex and let's face it, cyclists are not cuddly folks. Puck from the real world - cyclist and a-hole. Ask some folks in hyde park about the "Bike Nazi" sometime. I've been wondering about this for awhile. Every cyclist has had the experience of going to the bike shop and noticing that at least once of the avid cyclists running the shop was a complete bastard. I have a hypothesis on this. Ask your road rage expert how carbon monoxide affects adrenal glands.

  • I couldn't agree with you more. I'm in the middle of discussions with some sports psychologists to learn more about the kind of person who is attracted to cycling (vs, say, soccer or softball, etc). I'm reminded of snarky story I wrote in college called "An Invitation To Misanthropes" that basically was about a party held for people who hate parties. Some how, some way I feel that applies to hard-core cyclists -- they seem to have such disdain for others that they lose sight of the fact that they are causing more tension/friction than any else with their self-important/hipster approach. Thanks for reading! - Scott

  • All I want to figure out this summer is how to get my left foot in and out of the cage quickly when I have to stop and start again at stoplights. That would solve a lot of my problems. :)

  • I think, as a weekend city cyclist, that my life would be easier on the crowded roads if I knew how to get in and out of my left foot cage faster. I don't know how clipless pedal folks do it (thinking the Armstrong folks) and I'm ambivalent towards the single-speed / fixed gear hipsters. Side streets and the art of removing the foot from the cage is where it's at, I think. :)

  • Swim Tri Sail Chicago, you make a good point. I know that I had some problems early on with my clips. This would be a good topic to discuss. I'll make sure this comes up in next few days. To be honest - I've thought of replacing my clips in past year but haven't because I don't want to through the "learning curve" of feeling my new pedals with my toes. My toes/feet know exactly what to feel for now and I don't want to change it because you are correct - getting into the clips without looking down is very important (to be safe). Thanks for reading!

  • I realize I'm a little late to this party, but I felt compelled to create an account on this site because I had to respond to this. I'll be the first person to admit that particularly in larger cities, (which is not where I live or ride) there are a number of cyclists that are jerks. However, I'm an avid cyclist up here in Duluth and do a fair amount of commuting, as well as recreational riding. I also always ride as far to the right as it is safe to do so. I wait at red lights. I slow down as slow as I can without unclipping at stop signs. I also happen to wear spandex shorts. I also happen to have spent more than $400 on my ride. (The horror!) I would suggest that stereotyping cyclists by their outward appearance as "Lance Armstrong wanna-be" jerks makes you just as self-righteous as you claim these people to be. We don't wear spandex shorts for the style points; the padded chamoix inside them makes for a MUCH more comfortable ride, especially on longer trips. The tighter-fitting jerseys also improve the rider's aerodynamics and provide a number of very convenient rear pockets, which also makes a big difference on longer rides.

    I just thought you should know that there are many of us spandex-clad riders on $1500+ bikes who obey traffic laws and are generally considerate, non-aggressive people.

  • @ considerate: Why on earth is there at least one apologist on these articles that complain about cyclists? It's like you and your kind actually seek out these articles to defend yourself ... that's rather obnoxious and does no service to self-righteous cyclists because you try to justify your spending and your attitude - I mean, your whole forking over the money for your equipment seeped into your brain and you sound like a douche.

  • Just the other day I was a on the receiving end of a non-violent but brutally mean road rage encounter. I've seen "self-righteous" used in your article and in some of the comments. Why on earth does it matter how someone is dressed or how much they spend on their bike and other gear? It is irrelevant. Somehow you feel superior because you have a $400 bike and non-cycling specific clothing? You sir are part of the problem. Somehow you are more worthy to ride your bike on the road? It's no one's business how much money someone spends on their bike, or car for that matter. To let that influence your opinion is your problem. Focus on the behavior and not the socio-economic status. It makes you sound jealous and petty. I agree with most of your article but the "I'm a purist because I ride my bike to work in gym shorts" attitude killed it for me.

  • One more thing I just noticed. Here on this very page, your profile reads: "Scott doesn't "do centuries" or weekend races..." I guess you don't consider a triathlon a "race". You are wearing a race number in your photo sir, so you are either doing a triathlon or a charity ride. Duplicity my friend. You have no credibility. No way I would ever waste money on your book.

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    Scott Rowan (aka The Urban Cyclist) began commuting daily via bicycle from his Lakeview condo to his office in the South Loop in 2004. Scott doesn't "do centuries" or weekend races and you won't find one expensive piece of cycling-specific clothing in his closet. Nearly 100% of his cycling is done on city streets as his daily mode of transportation. His bike: a $450 Trek FX. His clothes: $10 shorts/shirt. His daily commute: 12 miles round trip. His odometer: 15,000+ miles since 2004. His favorite places to bike: wherever the crowds aren't (like Central America). --- Learn what to do if hit by car and much more in my book The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide.

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