Asshole motorists, nice cyclists, and gender roles

So I have some theories about the car-bike relationship and they’re connected to some views I have about gender and niceness. I’m still thinking about this but hear me out.

On our worse bike ride ever–hate you, cottage country drivers–Sarah and I were yelled at and honked at. It was unpleasant. But as unpleasant as it was I don’t think it was particularly dangerous. Those drivers could see us. They hated us. They were angry about something. But we were on their radar.

I think drivers are a real danger to cyclists when they don’t see us.  In tests of recognition on the road, self-driving smart cars are much better at noticing people on bikes than human drivers are at noticing cyclists.  Drivers don’t hate us. But, with some very rare road rage exceptions, they hit us when they aren’t aware we’re there. The assholes don’t want to kill us. They wish we weren’t there. But they see us. That’s an important difference.

I know lots of women who are scared of the honking and yelling drivers. Usually they’re men and women have extra good reasons for being fearful of men who are yelling at them. I talked to a woman who wouldn’t use the bike box on Wortley Road in London, Ontario because she said it annoyed drivers and was scared they’d run her over. I agreed that people in cars might be annoyed by bike boxes. But I disagreed they’d ever deliberately run her over because of that. Instead, this fearful cyclist huddles against the right curb at the intersection. That’s far more dangerous than using the bike box. You’re far better off annoying people. It’s okay to piss people off if your safety depends on it.

I got in an accident that sent me to hospital because I was trying to be nice to drivers. I moved right to let them pass and hit a pothole.

I don’t do that any more. I take the lane.

I know I annoy drivers when I do this and sometimes they yell at me. But it’s not anger that kills cyclists. It’s inattention. I worry a lot more about someone who is on their phone than I do about someone who is yelling at me.

I worry that women hate being yelled at and are fearful of anger. But I don’t think that serves us so well as cyclists.

Stop being so nice. Annoy people. Be visible. That’s my two cents.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Asshole motorists, nice cyclists, and gender roles

  1. Thanks for this. I agree. I mostly take the path but when crossing the bridge ito campus and back out again I opt to annoy because otherwise the drivers are tempted to blast past anyway, which is far more dangerous.

    I’ve also noticed that people driving the same direction (and also riding) as a cyclist will not slow down enough to pass safely but seem often to prioritize going around the cyclist over going into the path of oncoming vehicles (or on the park path, bicycles or pedestrians). This is a strange thing to do but I think it’s that people whether on bikes or in cars just don’t like slowing down. Which is of course unsafe and kind of rude.

    1. More than once now I have had to pull off the road onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision with some idiot who is driving in my lane, into oncoming traffic, rather than slow down and wait behind a cyclist until they have room to pass safely. It’s great that people are learning how much space they need to give cyclists to pass them safely, but clearly we need an education campaign to remind drivers that they’re actually required to wait behind the cyclist until it’s safe for them to take up the space required to safely pass. (This should be obvious, but sadly is not to some people.)

      I have also encountered situations in which I was not able to give a cyclist adequate space because the cyclist was being the idiot and driving on the wrong side of the road (driving towards me in my lane) and I could not move out of the lane because there was oncoming traffic.

  2. In Sacramento, CA, the police don’t seem to care about bicyclists and I have seen some of their own police officers riding their police bicycles in crowded malls and don’t seem to care about whether they run into people.

  3. Agree on taking up space! And, my two cents on the why of the anger is that it is less related to the actual being in the way problem, because really that’s going to slow a car down 15 seconds in the end, it’s because of a resentment of people on bicycles who are seen as a reproach to the driver’s own inactivity. Angry drivers are angry about their lives, not the people in their way.

  4. Thanks in part to your blog posts on the topic, I take the lane in the rare occasions when I ride on the road. (I don’t cycle often, and there is a walking/biking path near my apartment that I like to use when feasible.) I don’t want to make drivers angry, but I would rather make them angry than get hurt. I’ve noticed that people are more likely to pass closely and unsafely when cyclists are near the edge of the road as opposed to in the middle of the lane.

  5. I don’t let angry drivers keep me off my bike, but in the US at least, it’s flat wrong to say “But it’s not anger that kills cyclists. It’s inattention.” Sure, inattention kills cyclists, and so do impaired drivers. However, cyclists are definitely also killed in road-rage incidents here, and many a US cyclist has a story about a driver that didn’t just yell or honk but swerved or otherwise deliberately drove too close.

    Tracy, I don’t know about Canadian traffic laws, but in the US, many cities have a “give ’em 3 feet” rule and/or occasional PSA campaigns along those lines, so drivers here are explicitly encouraged to treat a cyclist like a vehicle they are passing (ie, move left to pass).

  6. When cycling, I always take the lane if:

    1. there are potholes, puddles, debris, parked cars, and/or other unsafe cycling conditions at the right-hand edge of the lane.
    2. I’m approaching an intersection to turn left.
    3. I’m approaching an intersection to drive straight through, and the right-hand lane is right turn only. (When approaching an intersection to drive straight through from a lane which is shared with straight-through and right-turning drivers I may also take the lane if I think it’s possible a right-turning driver might not notice me at the edge of the road.)
    4. I’m approaching an underpass.

    Being yelled at is unpleasant. But it is a cyclist’s legal right and responsibility to take the lane whenever keeping to the right-hand edge of the road would be unsafe. (Getting off the bike and walking it across pedestrian crosswalks is another legal method of navigating intersections. Hugging the curb when doing so puts you in the wrong lane for where you’re going is not safe and not legal.)

    1. Forgot to add that I also will take the lane anytime I’m driving through a 4-way stop with other vehicles present. (This is not something I encounter where I live now. But when cycling in Wortley Village it was an important safety measure often necessary to force motorists to acknowledge my place in the queue.)

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