There is no war on the roads between cyclists and drivers. After all, many bike riders are also motorists and vice versa. However there is an abundance of atrocious drivers and a surfeit of seriously bad cyclists.
The interface between these two urban tribes (if they can be called that) and any interaction involving just one or other of them, is all too often characterised by large quantities of two things; “sound and fury” – almost always signifying nothing. No all-out war then, but plenty of skirmishes.
As a cyclist it’s hard to know how to deal with being the object of a driver’s irrational tantrums. Road rage has no etiquette but maybe it should.
Easier said than done of course. If you’ve just come close to being hit by several tons of rapidly-moving metal, you’re likely to be in an extreme state of panic from the outset. This clouds judgement and makes it much more difficult to control the way you react. With your entire being in full ‘fight or flight’ mode, it takes extreme willpower to adopt a tranquil demeanour.
You want graciously to gesture with an upturned palm and a good-natured yet questioning shrug – maybe even adding an enigmatic and knowing smile – but your inner caveman takes over and responds with a spittle-flecked exhortation and a rigid finger.
However, the more you do maintain your dignity – and open, unthreatening body language is crucial here – the more absurd any ranting motorist will appear.
Don’t swear or shout
Part and parcel of the above rule is this next maxim. Keeping a civil tongue in your head when engaging in ‘debate’ with an irate motorist obviously deposits the cyclist squarely on top of the moral high ground. Difficult again – try staying civil when you’ve just had a near death experience perpetrated by your newly-acquired interlocutor and the adrenalin is racing round your system.
However, by maintaining a degree of politeness, even if you end up being pummelled into submission, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that you did nothing to exacerbate the situation.
And on that note – Never up the ante
Avoid waving the red rag of provocation in the face of your raging motorist.
We’ve all seen the YouTube video where the fuming, foul-mouthed driver gets out of his vehicle and runs toward the retreating cyclist, Keystone Cops style. The chase is filmed from a backward-facing camera on the cyclist’s bike frame. It catches in full HD glory the moment that the galloping would-be assailant trips after attempting to kick the bike’s back wheel and face surfs painfully along the hard surface of the pavement.
It’s best to avoid reaching the point where the aggressor starts taking action such as running after you, in the first place. If the driver sounds angry and unstable, don’t tip him or her over the edge of reason with a barbed comment, rude gesture or crude insult. Once the red mist has descended it takes time for it to dissipate and a lot of ugly things can and do happen before it does!
Avoid physical contact
The ultimate prize – escape from any confrontation intact. I’ve had a driver chase me onto the pavement, jump out of his car and grab me by the neck waving his fist in front of my nose. My offence? The second time he’d sped past me coming too close (in my opinion) I glanced at him pointedly as I then overtook him. A fleeting moment of eye contact catapulted him into an incoherent rage. He very nearly decked me. On no account initiate physical contact.
Some riders say they rap their hand off any vehicle which comes into range, arguing that if they can touch it, it is indeed too close. How many YouTube examples are there of van/truck/taxi/car drivers yelling into the rider’s camera, “Don’t you f***ing touch my car again!” It’s a sure fire way of upping the ante and best avoided.
Try to use reason not sarcasm
It’s common for drivers to impute wrongly from a cyclist’s actions that he or she is willfully breaking the rules of the road and causing inconvenience to passing motor vehicles purely for the hell of it. Take riding out in the flow of traffic as opposed to trundling along in the gutter where many drivers seem to think we belong. I give you the driver who took a pratfall as an example – in amongst the expletives he spouted were the words, “How f***ing big is that bike? …do you need to drive in the road? …if you’d have had the f***ing decency to move over to one side instead of taking up the whole road… are you a f***ing tank…”. Quoted at length because he sums up one of the biggest problems. Many drivers don’t get it – they just don’t appreciate the hazards cyclists face and the actions they have to take to stay safe.
To this driver’s tirade the cyclist asks, so you want me to go into the “door zone”? Carlton Reid in a much tweeted and quoted piece explains why taking the primary position as it’s known, is not only permitted by the Highway Code, but is almost certainly a potentially life-saving move. I make the latter point as a cyclist who’s been painfully ‘doored’ twice. When confronted with a driver’s angry misreading of a situation it’s better calmly to argue your point than to respond with ridicule at what you think is the driver’s ignorance of the situation. If the motorist realises you’re poking malicious fun at his or her lack of understanding of the cycling point of view, this course of action may amount to a dangerous upping of the ante.
Engage in rational discussion rather than getting hot under the helmet. You may not win the exchange but at least you conducted yourself in a civilised manner and didn’t let the ‘cycling side’ down.
These guidelines remain a pipe dream most of the time. After one near miss too many by a London cabby in central London, I was bound to lose it. Any thought of discussing safe distances and explaining that exposed on a bike, in traffic, it was good for me to have an escape zone should I need it, I fired a withering glance at the offending Cockney geezer – my best Paddington stare no less – and informed him sarcastically that if, as an aspiring ‘roadie’, I’d wanted to shave my legs, my implement of choice would have been a razor and not the front wing of his black cab. I’m not sure if he got the sarcasm, but he fired off a few hefty epithets as I pedalled off, and, blood boiling by this stage, I couldn’t stop myself from snarling back at him with some choice unprintable rejoinders of my own.
C’est la guerre!
About the Author: Iain has been pedalling through London and Richmond Park, believe it or not, since 1989. He definitely predates the genus, ‘mamil’. And if you enjoyed this post please consider donating money to Iain and his Gurning Grimpeurs team who are raising vital funds for Bloodwise – the UK’s biggest blood cancer charity. They’ve cycled from London to Paris twice as part of their fundraising which began two years ago in memory of Iain’s brother-in-law Mike who’d lived with acute myeloid leukaemia for about 11 months before he died. The Gurning Grimpeurs comprise Mike’s two children and his wife, along with Iain and his wife.
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