I have been an active rider since 2009. I commute by bicycle, and I ride for fun. The time I spend riding is my me-time; it doubles as meditation and as exercise. Bicycling feeds my wanderlust too. I enjoy exploring neighborhoods, towns, and cities by bike. My bicycle has allowed me to defy the limitations on time and budget I had for years. If I am on a bike, I am having fun… for the most part.
Road rage can dampen my joy while riding. Road rage refers to several behaviors, but in this case, it relates to the anger-driven actions drivers take towards cyclists. I have experienced some episodes of road rage throughout the years. It often involves a driver violently honking their horn and telling me “get off the road” and “ride on the sidewalk.” It happens to me about once or twice per year. But those were the “Before COVID-19” years.
This Spring, as we were emerging from lockdown, drivers directed their frustrations at me like never before. There were several incidents where angry drivers honked their horn, violently yelled, and drove away. At least those people passed more than 3-feet away (as Ohio law requires). But there were some bizarre ones too. This SUV full of teenagers in Pepper Pike, apparently bored, drove less than 2 feet away so they could yell at me for fun. A driver in Shaker Heights drove behind me on an EMPTY Van Aken Blvd for close to 2 minutes to end up passing me a mere foot away to tell me that “I don’t belong on the -expletive- street, to go and ride on the -expletive- sidewalk. And there was that day when I had four incidents on a single ride through Cleveland. All events happened while the roads were EMPTY. Twice on MLK Boulevard cars almost hit me while yelling at me, and two vehicles harassed me on St. Clair Ave. One of those drivers slowed down to drive next to me and encouraged their kid to throw food at me. What’s wrong with these people?
I often perceive that those drivers are not angry at me. They seemed to be releasing their anger and frustration at someone who looks more vulnerable than them. As cyclists, we certainly are more vulnerable than drivers are. Cars are sturdier, heavier, and faster than bicycles. An altercation between a motorist and a cyclist is unlikely to go in the cyclist’s favor. So I rely on the following strategies to deal with road rage incidents.
- Stay calm. While drivers may be fuming, I stay as cool as a cucumber. In my experience, most angry drivers drive along and continue on their un-merry way.
- Don’t engage. Is the angry driver still there? I know they are. But I ignore angry drivers aiming to de-escalate the situation. A confrontation between a driver and me can result in their car hitting me. Even if the law is on my side (which usually is), I do not want to risk breaking a bone or worst. It’s not worth it to me.
- Plan a detour. On one occasion, my previous techniques did not work, and the angry driver kept at it. Luckily, I was able to take a detour, and the driver did not follow. I also considered stopping, getting on the sidewalk, and riding in the opposite direction. Thankfully, it didn’t get to that.
These strategies have kept me safe. I’ve seen articles over the years that talk about road rage against bicyclists. Some of these offer additional advice and perspectives. They include Bicycling Magazine, Adventure Journal, National Public Radio, Cycling Weekly, NerdWallet, Sport in Cycling. They also refer to national and international stories illustrating the problem.
I still believe there is hope for motorists and cyclists peacefully sharing the roads. All the experiences mentioned above happened in Spring. I’ve not had incidents with angry drivers since then. I’m pleased that more and more drivers are following the law, passing me at least 3-feet away. And of course, I’ve had plenty of positive experiences with drivers too. I look forward to more of these encounters and less public displays of rage.