Get Outta The Road!

mad driverI was on the roads again last night, minding my own business and staying well to the right, when a car passed me within inches and the passenger yelled something that has become all too familiar as of late:

“Get out of the road!”

I must admit that by now this refrain has grown tiresome and I am no longer surprised by it.  Instead, I have a retort ready which involves me shouting a suggestion involving human biology and an accompanying gesture which reinforces the message.  It didn’t really solve anything, but it did make me feel better while no doubt further increasing the divide between drivers and cyclists.

This is my fourth summer of cycling in suburban Washington, DC (selected as 4th Best Cycling City in America by Bicycling Times Magazine) and there can be no doubt that the amount of rancor sent in my direction while cycling is at an all-time high.  In previous summers, the occasional epitaph was hurled my way.  Now it is a rare ride when I do not confront some sort of ingrate.

The attitude extends to otherwise rational people.  When I mentioned the problem at work, one of my coworkers casually said, “Well, roads are meant for cars, not bicycles.”  He categorically rejected my assertion that they were meant for all manner of conveyances, including cars AND bicycles.  He was unimpressed by my history lesson, where I explained the first paved roads were actually made for bicycles since cars had not yet been invented.  He cared little for foreign examples of bicycle-laden streets such as Amsterdam.  He understood the delay caused by an average cyclist was measured in seconds, usually less than ten.  He even agreed that cyclists were lawfully permitted to be on the road.  He wasn’t terribly surprised to learn that shouting and horn beeping can be a jarring experience for a cyclist and might cause them to crash and injure themselves.

But, my coworker calmly reasoned, a driver could hardly be blamed for shouting at a cyclist.  Roads are meant for cars.  This was a college-educated, otherwise rational person, living and working in America’s 4th Best Cycling City.

I am doomed.

Mixed Use Path Update!

In related news, I need to alert you to a previously unidentified threat on mixed-use pathways.  Loyal readers will recall my handy Field Guide to MUPs and I believe this needs to be added to my list of things that can kill you on a pathway:

Riding Lawn Mowers.

Not the actual machine that almost did me in, but a close approximation

Not the actual machine that almost did me in, but a close approximation

There I was late last week, riding on a MUP (to the delight of suburban drivers everywhere), when I came upon a worker cutting the small strip of grass that separated the MUP from the street.  The grass was about knee-high and riding through the clippings was a bit of a nuisance.  I noted the workman was wearing hearing protection.  Between the headphones and the roar of the engine, it would be impossible to warn him of my approach.  Naturally, the workman chose the precise moment that I was passing him to conduct a radically sharp U-Turn.  Equally appropriate, he didn’t bother to look over his shoulder to see what was approaching.  Why should he?  After all, he was on a riding mower, the fastest thing moving on the MUP, faster than walkers, joggers, skate boarders and even roller bladers.  He was faster than anything.

Except, of course, for bicycles.  Sigh.

So I turned sharply into a lawn, narrowly avoided being hit by the machine, and even managed to stay upright and clipped in.  It wasn’t Lance Armstrong cutting through a mountainside field in the 2003 TdF, but it was close.

So watch out for riding lawn mowers, kids.  There still doesn’t seem to be a good solution for cyclists in suburbia: it’s either being screamed at by car drivers or risking a collision every few minutes on the MUP.  Good luck and stay safe.

mad driver2

22 thoughts on “Get Outta The Road!

  1. What we need is to get these people out on bikes, then they’d understand our side of the equation and be more thoughtful when driving around us.

    Then, when we have them on bikes, we should run them off the road with our cars, and cull them out of the pool of drivers. I see it as the only solution.

    • I like your plan. We should set up some sort of stand at a shopping mall, offering people free bike rides. Once they’re on the bike, we have them where we want them!

  2. Ugh. That sucks. But I think I would prefer “Get outta the road!” to what I get around these parts… for 90+% of my riding, I have no issues with drivers. But when I do, it is not the get outta MY road squawk. What I get is generally from 20somethings in pickup trucks or jeeps, with Bass Pro Shops* caps, yelling something about my sexual preference… and occasionally hurling a banana peel or apple core.

    In fact, the only memory I have of someone yelling about me being in their road was from a very large woman in the passenger seat of an 80’s Pontiac Grand Am as her equally large driver pulled to a stop sign I was waiting at. “Roads are for cars!” was her choice of attack. I just felt sorry for her.

    I never respond to anything anyone yells at me. I’ve had too many police friends share horror stories of crazies with guns or rocks or even ramming cyclists. So I just keep riding, reminding myself that my life is infinitely better than theirs – or else they wouldn’t be so full of self-loathing that they try to feel better by lashing out at someone they envy.

    Also, I would mention to your co-worker that it is not that bikes are permitted on roads, it is THE LAW. It is actually illegal for cyclists to ride on sidewalks. We are required by law to ride the roads.

    Stay safe, soldier.

    * = personally, I love BPS, and have my own hat from there.

    • I find pickup trucks, especially those that are oversized and tricked out with lift kits, to be the biggest offenders. Jeeps leave me alone – some even wave at me.

    • I guess the cyclists haven’t hit critical mass. Say, that’s a great phrase! Maybe somebody should use that for some sort of protest movement.

  3. I have to say I’ve been fortunate to not have any of these encounters, but I do ride only on roads where there is a designated bike lane or within my neighborhood where there aren’t any sidewalks to speak of. I just don’t understand why people have to feel that sense of entitlement and the need to feel superior by abusing others.

    Stay safe!


    • I think they’re frustrated that their progress has been impeded by someone “who is clearly not supposed to be there.” He’s not a person, he’s an idiot deserving of a tongue-lashing.

  4. I’ve said it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again. If I had to deal with the type of drivers that appear to infest much of North America, I seriously doubt I would continue cycling. I can count on one hand the number of times someone has said anything other than ‘allez’ to me in the last year or two here. But when they do, I’m just as quick with that finger and biologically impossible request!

  5. Oh, and one more thing, if I may. The people of southern France could sometimes, by some people, be referred to as ‘not very rational’ (it’s the Mediterranean heat, maybe). But ironically these are the very same people who give me the whole lane when I’m riding on the road. We might need to look deeper than ‘rationality’ to find the answer to your problem.

  6. I was all prepared to rant about dangerous drivers when I saw the title of your blog. But then you mentioned ride-on lawnmowers. I can rant for just as long on that subject. Ride-on mower accidents are the leading cause of amputations in children. People do not treat them as the incredibly dangerous pieces of equipment that they are. In most cases they aren’t even necessary unless you have a football field sized lawn. How hard is it to actually push a mower, for crying out loud. Landscaping workers such as the one you mentioned have a valid use for one, but should certainly know how to operate them safely.

    I use a reel mower myself.

  7. Hi Steve,

    This is a good post, and oddly, one that I am finding a hard time writing a reply to. I found myself getting far too wordy, so happily I will edit me.

    Hassling cyclists, threatening us, sometimes much worse is so endemic here, it is stupidly scary. Cycling isn’t really a part of our culture, but in other places it is, and there is much less antagonism directed at cyclists there.

    But that isn’t what is bothering me. There is lots, loads of, unmeasurable quantities, of human behavior that isn’t part of some other group’s culture, but that does not in any fashion hurt, threaten, or really even influence them. Yet that minority group, the “outsiders” is not ignored or left alone, much less accepted. It is hassled, hounded and threatened, like we are as cyclists. That is not limited to our country, and it is, to me, profoundly discouraging human behavior.

    Good post, makes you think. Thanks. Sorry to be such a downer.

  8. I feel as if things have been improving over the last 15 years at least where I live, I used to get yelled at by drivers much more often. It still happens but its very rare. I kind of think that Lance getting lots of positive cycling stories in the media from 1999-2009 really helped. The few people who like to scream would stop screaming QUEER, and start screaming LANCE! when they drove by.

    I have some very strong advice for people who respond by giving the finger, I know its a natural reaction, I’ve done it, I’ve yelled back, I’ve cussed. But I really honestly think the very best reaction is no reaction. You’ve got two possible outcomes.

    One: they know they’ve got under your skin making their harassment of you even more enjoyable, they drive away laughing.

    Two: They are geeked out meth heads and pull off the the road and attempt to escalate the situation physically. This has happened to me.

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