Cyclists: how do you avoid going crazy?
May 8, 2012 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Cyclists: how do you avoid going crazy?

I road my bike up to the university this morning, and had three bad experiences, which is unusual in my small, bike-friendly, bike-conscious city. I'm wondering how other cycle commuters cope with being the target of road rage?

Today I had to go up to the university. I went via a bike route (it's a quiet residential city street marked as a bike route), and I had 3 nasty incidents.

For the record, I've been a cycle commuter for 25 years.

The first time, a cyclist swore at me for what he thought was me riding through a stopsign. We stopped at the next stopsign and I invited him to go ahead of me, at which point he told me to fuck off.

Coming back from the university, on this same street (a bike route) a large Suburban almost dinged me with a mirror, I think on purpose.

Just up the street, I made a left-turn indication to get into the centre of the lane, and a car with an open hatch back stormed past me, the guy cursing me and fingering me.

I'm not quite sure what was happening, as most other days I get by without people swearing and yelling and trying to take me out.

I always try to cycle responsibly (I realize that drivers are human too, I stop at lights, don't ride on the sidewalk, etc etc).

Do the cyclists out there have any coping strategies for crazy days like this? I'd like to go out for a ride and not start cursing out people.
posted by KokuRyu to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I usually remind myself there is an enormous psychological gulf between navigating on a road meant for cars in a car, and navigating that road by bike. Until you do it both ways, you don't really appreciate how dangerous it is, you don't see all the trouble spots ahead of time, etc. The car drivers think the road is theirs, and while I would like to disabuse them of this idea, I know I can't. I get really angry and anxious once in a while, but for the most part I am resigned to the fact that our infrastructure and driving culture here in the US (Austin, to be specific) makes people lazy and entitled drivers, the way being anonymous on the internet makes totally sane and nice people into jackasses in Youtube comments. I was the same sometimes until I rode a bike regularly.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:52 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

This might just work for me, but instead of "reminding myself that drivers are human" I kind of do the opposite and imagine all motor vehicles as video game enemies bent on killing me at any cost.
posted by theodolite at 3:05 PM on May 8, 2012 [19 favorites]

If it helps you feel any better, I was out yesterday and all the drivers were quite accommodating. And I don't live in a bicycling friendly city. I've had drivers curse at me, throw things at me, and all kinds of other shit over the years. I just ignore them and keep going on about my day same as I would if someone were rude to me at the grocery store or whatever.
posted by wierdo at 3:24 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've struggled with this. Some days you can feel like the road is full of thoughtless idiots who would gladly run you down to save 25 seconds on their commute. The urge to respond with similar aggression can be overwhelming (and I'm not an aggressive person at all). I'll admit I have occasionally sworn and yelled at drivers, usually when they have thoughtlessly threatened my life. But every time I've done so, it's ruined my day, leaving me angry and tense, replaying the confrontation in my head and feeling reluctant to get back on my bike. And I've never heard of a driver deciding to be more considerate to cyclists because one "appeared out of nowhere" and swore at them. (I know, of course they should look out for us, but that's a driver training issue that can't really be addressed by yelling).

What I've found really helps, and this might sound crazy, is to channel my urge to respond into actions that are positive and kind. Radical niceness, if you will. I blow kisses to drivers who honk at me. I smile, I wave, I yell, "I love you too," or "Isn't it a beautiful day!". Often, my sudden niceness disarms drivers and makes them aware of how petty they were being. At the very least, it gets any onlookers firmly on my side. But most importantly I feel better. The confrontation doesn't linger in my head. I'm able to let it go and ride on, content in the knowledge that while some people will always behave badly, at least I wasn't one of them today.
posted by embrangled at 3:28 PM on May 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think about how fun it would be to break car windows with a u-lock. Or to attach razor blades to my shoes so that I could real quick-like destroy the paintjobs on cars parked in bike lanes.

Thinking about this makes my life easier in two ways
  1. For about 10 seconds or so, it's a really fun fantasy. Smash break destroy!! whee!!
  2. Then, after that, I inevitably start thinking about how people don't actually deserve to have their windows broken for driving badly (or their paintjobs wrecked for parking in a bike lane), and that it would be terrible for everyone if I did anything like that.
And then I'm over it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:28 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a daily commuter and hold myself to a very high standard for being safe, predictable, respectful, etc. and cars and people still find time and opportunity to swear at me on occasion. Prevention only takes you so far.

how do you avoid going crazy?

It was a great cyclist who once said:
Always remember: others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.

And sometimes it just feels good to tell idiots to fuck off.
posted by mazola at 3:38 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you've been doing it 25 years, then you are already doing everything right. In fact, you are awesome. Chalk it up to a bad day.

I hate the concept of "road rage." There is just plain old regular rage. There are angry drivers. And pedestrians. And plenty of angry cyclists. There are angry people sitting on benches. There is just a certain percentage of mean, entitled, angry assholes EVERYWHERE. You can't escape them, but you do have to share the road, the workplace, the dog park, the bar, and the planet with them.
posted by quarterframer at 3:46 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to replay what happened in each case:

1) Cyclists yells and swears at me for going through a stopsign

What likely happened is that he thought I was going to run into him. Maybe he was startled.

2) Suburban almost dings me with a mirror

The Suburban passed me (really close) once, and then stopped at a light. At the next light I passed him on the right, to stop at the light. It was a two-lane section of road, and I took up the entire lane on the right. However, the right-hand lane was for parking (no right turns at the intersection) and there was a link of parked cars in the right lane after the light. I managed to get ahead of the line of cars for several blocks, but I guess he didn't like me for whatever reason, and almost clipped me. What I should have done was, after his narrow miss the first time, I should have stopped behind him at the first light, and just let him go ahead.

It is a bike route, though, marked with bike route signs.

3) Angry guy in a hatch back

I was approaching a 4-way stop. At 4-way stops, I always take up an entire land. This is because it can get confusing for cars waiting in the intersection if I stay to the right. If I stay to the right and proceed through the intersection, often the car behind me will try to get through the intersection just after me, which can get dangerous. It causes confusion, so I just take up an entire lane.

So, I signaled left. The car behind me was traveling pretty fast, and I must have startled him. But it's a bike route, for heaven's sake. Anyway, what I ought to have done was signaled my intent about a half a block earlier.

Not sure why everyone was hollering and screaming though. I don't want to holler and scream anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:06 PM on May 8, 2012

I drive and bike and walk a lot, a lot of places, so I often will find myself cussing out a driver who almost kills me one week and then cussing out a bicyclist who rides in an endangery way the next week on the same road. Perspective is therefore maintained. You've been bike commuting almost as long as I've been alive though so I'm pretty sure whatever you're doing is the right thing for you.
posted by beefetish at 4:14 PM on May 8, 2012

The coping strategies you wind up using likely won't have anything to do with commuting by bicycle. Cope with road rage the way you cope with anything else that makes you upset or otherwise offends your sense of the normal. The perfect alignment of your commute with three people who were having a bad day on the road is coincidental.

I like giving myself time to stretch after a bike ride. It helps me shift out of the hyper-aware mode necessary for commuting by bike, and allows me to cool off mentally and physically. Maybe if you establish a routine to transition between riding and not-riding, that will help reconcile the assholes you encounter on your route with the rest of your day.
posted by carsonb at 4:15 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to thread-sit, and will stop for a bit after this, but the challenge I have is that when biking I'm fairly pumped full of adrenaline, so it can be challenging to manage emotions.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:17 PM on May 8, 2012

I find that I go through three stages:

1. Adrenaline: respect the rush, realize that it's there for a reason, and that it impairs my judgement. Until my autonomic nervous system comes down, I'm a threatened/excited ape looking for trouble. :P Get to safety (may or may not require stopping, depending on the road) and work on calming so the rush can pass. This is the stage where I have the least control over your anger / fear. It's like any other training: you just have to practice it.

2. Replay: "Did I miss a road sign?" "Was he over the yellow line?" "Was that a legal turn he made?" Etc. I replay the scene in my head and look at it. The temptation here is to think "ALL HIS FAULT" or "WHOOPS", but I'm probably still a little warped from the adrenaline. I just think out the scene so I can recall it later when I'm safely at home. If I make judgements at this stage, they tend to really stick, and that makes it hard to get over them.

3. Reasoning: I've calmed down, can look semi-objectively at what happened, and decide what to do. Sometimes I share some blame for the event ("oh, I forgot to recharge my taillight; I bet it was really dim", "it might be safer if I took 2nd St instead of 1st if I can't leave before rush hour", etc.). Sometimes I don't. The first kind are problems I can do something about, and that usually makes me feel a lot better. The second kind I can't do anything about... but I find that it is really helpful if I think of the other driver as one of:
A. non-willfully ignorant: really genuinely didn't see me, the sign, know the law, whatever. Man, I've been there, missed a red light once or twice... I know how it is.
B. having an awful day: maybe his mom just died or he lost his job. Maybe he's in stage 1 and his ape-brain is telling him to yell at whatever provokes him!
C. really mentally impaired: it's really, really hard for me to stay mad at someone who just doesn't understand. I can picture the meeting in my head, and it's like "oh ... you're ... okay, no... this is alright. I can't blame you, man." It sounds silly, but it really works for me.
posted by introp at 4:20 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

it can be challenging to manage emotions

I hear you, but as a bike commuter for > 30 years, I think that's what it comes down to. You have to find your own way to do that. What works for me when friction occurs is to remind myself why I'm on my bike - it keeps me healthy, it's a lot more interesting than sitting in a tin can, it's often quicker than driving, but most of all it's plain fun. When those thoughts enter my head, screaming abuse at someone else's silliness seems asinine.

Besides, maintaining your cool and smiling really annoys the average motor-dependent, they hate that.
posted by normy at 4:44 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I find if I can get myself to smile afterward, even briefly or ruefully, it actually does calm me down. It turns out that smiling actually makes you think you're happier (look into research by Ekman's and Soussignan's groups). The original research was done by asking people to hold pens in their mouths, in order to control for placebo effect, but there's no need for that charade here.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:32 PM on May 8, 2012

I'm a little unclear about the first incident you relate, with the other cyclist, but in my neck of the woods there's a lot of debate in the cycling community about blowing through stop signs, with the argument that such behavior "makes all of us look bad" having a lot of traction. I really don't mean to get into that debate here, and it's not clear if you did that or not. But consider that the other cyclists ire with you may have been ideological, not a case of competition or one-upsmanship.
posted by werkzeuger at 6:35 PM on May 8, 2012

I've been cycling a similar period. In cases like ours, you're not being a dick, stuff is happening from random alignments of situations and people, and the result is that near misses and road rage are similar to a random number generator. Like a geiger counter clicking, or how crowded the grocery checkout lanes are at any one moment, truly random doesn't mean regular, but quite irregular, and human perception does not handle this well.

Long empty periods are going to happen, and sudden (seemingly massively improbable) clusters of events are going to happen, and our human instinct is that these spikes are too large to be random, there must be a reason for it. But if you've worked with randomness, you'll know that our instincts here are just flat wrong. It will happen that way, for no reason. It doesn't mean anything, or suggest anything other than "I bike a lot".

Like you, I've had three incidents in close succession. They were random and unrelated, but the cumulative effects of adrenaline and shock and stress is more than the sum of the parts, and I was a wreck by the time I got home, whereas I shake off the physical effects a single near-miss much more easily.

It sounds like you're doing most things right - for each incident you've thought about what things might be able to reduce re-occurrences.

But it also sounds like you're doing something that is working against you:
I don't want to holler and scream anymore.

So just stop. What purpose does it serve to hollar and scream? I'll make noise (a horn in my case) for the purpose of ensuring an oblivious driver becomes aware they almost hit someone, but there is little other legitimate reason - the world is full of idiots and screaming at them is not only a waste of energy, it's also likely to create more antagonism and anger and road rage.
Fuck that stress, your job is just to get home. That's all. You want to interact with idiots as little as possible.
Yeah, it's natural to be angry at idiots who nearly kill you through negligence, but don't act in anger, because that's pretty idiotic itself.
You know there are morons out there. You know you'll never be able to change that, you know that yelling at them entrenches rather than enlightens them, so act out of self-interest and stay focused on what matters.

(And if anything, by being the better man you're more likely to persuade people by example.)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:09 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

When something like that happens to me on my bike, my first impulse is to want to flip that person off and that is not really a productive response. So now I try to channel that into waving hello at the person. It's my way of recognizing whatever just happened and not being written off as some jerk on a bike because I flipped them off. It doesn't change people being dicks to me sometimes, but it does help keep my rage from escalating.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:35 PM on May 8, 2012

I just had the same odd succession of crazy driver incidents, but while I was driving today and not cycling (though I do cycle!). A delivery driver didn't look before he pulled into the road and nearly sideswiped me as I was driving someone else's car (I had my lights on during the day, for chrissakes!), then a gigantic truck with some guy on a cellphone driving almost sideswiped me when he made a two-lane rotary into one lane (still had my headlights on during the day!) and then I saw an accident happen right on the highway in heavy rain when someone dumbly drove too fast and hydroplaned.

I mean, people do dumb driving stuff every day but today seemed egregious, like people were trying to screw up my father in law's nice new car on purpose.

I know cycling is different and the incidents on bikes are magnified because hey, CAR DRIVERS CAN RANDOMLY KILL US AND BARELY GET JUDGED, but I think it's just statistics.
posted by kpht at 8:05 PM on May 8, 2012

Whenever possible, I try to avoid high traffic, well-beaten areas and to leave as much space between my bike and the bikes around me. OP, I feel like you shouldn't let one or two mean people ruin your day; tell them you appreciate their opinion but that you don't feel the same way about yourself and carry on with your day. Life is too short as it is to waste time being anything but happy!
posted by lotusmish at 8:38 PM on May 8, 2012

Although I have been known to throw the finger at particularly bad drivers (especially in my SUV-filled suburb), I've recently discovered that it's way more fun to grin at them and make the "call me!" hand signal. Sometimes I throw in cheesy, exaggerated winks too.
posted by naturalog at 9:22 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the other commenters have great advice on how to deal with things emotionally, and I hope to take advantage of some of their ideas myself. (I quit giving dangerous drivers the finger after a cyclist in my town got threatened with a gun for it.)

I try to avoid passing on the right, and wait behind cars who've passed me already at lights even if there's a bike lane alongside. Yeah, this does mean that I'm never going to get anywhere faster than the cars around me, and I breathe a lot more exhaust, but it saves on confrontation.

Visibility's also good for making the drivers play nice -- as dorky as I look when I wear my cheap high-viz vest, the drivers really seem to like it. (I've even gotten thank-yous for it.) I'm not concerned enough to wear it during broad daylight, but if it's at all dim out, on it goes.
posted by asperity at 9:29 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I'm in the wrong, I try to take a second and acknowledge that.... it happens more often than anyone would care to admit, and a considerable portion of the time this process stops at this point and I gesture conciliatorily and make it a point to take away some lesson from this event.

But the rest of the time -- if I am able -- I catch up to offending motorists at stoplights, screen them so as to exclude the infirm, the elderly, little old ladies, and females, and then I spit invective, draw lines in the sand, hurl insults, and generally fucking silverback gorilla them into a cowed and awkward silence (or occasional reciprocal bluff, which I then discredit as harmless).

YMMV, and I do not condone this for everyone. But this is how I avoid going crazy as a bicyclist, while maintaining a proactive bravado, as dictated by the society in which I live. Ugly but true.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 9:33 PM on May 8, 2012

"The Suburban passed me (really close) once, and then stopped at a light. At the next light I passed him on the right, to stop at the light. It was a two-lane section of road, and I took up the entire lane on the right. However, the right-hand lane was for parking (no right turns at the intersection) and there was a link of parked cars in the right lane after the light. I managed to get ahead of the line of cars for several blocks, but I guess he didn't like me for whatever reason, and almost clipped me. What I should have done was, after his narrow miss the first time, I should have stopped behind him at the first light, and just let him go ahead."

Not to lecture you since you've been commuting for years, and I'm not 100% sure that I'm accurately picturing what you describe here, but be sure to check your local laws. In my city, it's never legal for a cyclist to pass on the right of a car in normal traffic. For one thing, it's dangerous because you put yourself in door zones or in potential conflict with right-turn traffic. But mostly because if you behave the same way a car would in every situation, then you are predictable to motorists. In my experience, many angry motorists are that way because I did something they didn't expect.
posted by OHSnap at 10:50 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

To answer your question from short to long term remedies

- Call them a *&^% or your word of choice. Why not? Mostly I do this in my head. Occasionally I give these assholes short biographies: "stunted penis led to rage issues only resolvable by driving 2 ton truck at strangers. Died tragically of tetanus infection acquired using tweezers to masturbate."
- Take a break. I do. I enjoy cycling more for the odd day here and there not cycling.
- Cycle more quickly - if you're going to ride defensively, do it at speed. I guess you know this, but it's worth repeating.
- Don't break laws - I'm a big one for this. Either cyclists are some form of road user or they're not. It gives cyclists respect. It gives me self-respect as a cyclist to take the high ground and helps me deal with the crazies.
- Recruit more cyclists - the quickest way to getting drivers to take cyclists more seriously is for there to be more of them. It is a lite version of various civil rights movements - roads have been and always were for cyclists. It's about forcing that equality into the public consciousness.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:38 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

but the challenge I have is that when biking I'm fairly pumped full of adrenaline, so it can be challenging to manage emotions

There's this, plus by your description these bad interactions are rare. Thus you have no practice in keeping your cool. This is a huge factor. When I rode a few years on a busy route, lots of lights, intersections, etc. it was pretty common for me to have at least a few people yelling and such a week, if not once a day. At first it was unnerving, then I just got used to it and the adrenaline no longer kicked in and I could shrug it off and not be thinking about it all day.

Now I bike in the same cities but have a much nicer route and many less drivers yelling. Good, except, that I lose practice in controlling that adrenalin flow and when something bad does happen (and sometimes I'll have the same sort of day with a bunch of incidents in a row) I feel myself getting more angry and sometimes do shout back.

Things that make me less crazy:
  • Memorizing license plates/info instead of yelling. Then, if it was a bad enough incident (someone intentionally swerving at me, for example), I'll call the police later and report it. They can't go out and arrest the driver but they will make a note in their record and can call the registered owner of the vehicle and talk to them. Once this turned out to be the parents of the driver, and they were none too pleased. I'll also call the company if it is a commercial vehicle. This is much more satisfying, because I can calmly explain what laws they were breaking & the cycling laws of my state instead of being all GRAR GRAR IDIOT at the driver. Many companies take these calls seriously and I like to think if the driver doesn't get the message that they will eventually lose their job if enough people complain.
  • Posting to a message board. Not here, usually, but a casual group specific to our area. It's great to commiserate and get ideas relevant to your location, hear other stories, trade strategies, etc. Once, this even lead to a police visit to a driver who was terribly reckless on a small residential street. The biker who had the incident didn't remember the full plate but that driver was rude to me on the same day and I still remembered their plate/car details so I was able to fill in the blanks.
  • Not taking it personally. This takes practice but just realize that some people think bikes should not be on any road, ever. My favorite is being honked/yelled at by a car going the opposite way from me on a four lane road. Yes, I am sure I somehow affected you from three lanes away! Ironically, driving a car also helps me with this because I'll have some jerk tailgating me/cutting me off/weaving through traffic and I'll think "See? People are idiots on the road even where there aren't bikes around!" Other times people (drivers, bike riders or pedestrians) are just having a bad day. If you're generally following the rules of the road it's usually nothing to do with you.

posted by mikepop at 6:51 AM on May 9, 2012

I'm having trouble understanding the part about the stop sign. In my commute, I've never seen a cyclist stop if it's clear, and I rarely do it myself. In fact I see cyclists run red lights as well almost every day.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:11 AM on May 9, 2012

I know the sort of day you're talking about. I agree it's more difficult to feel as if you are suddenly a target after numerous bad encounters, but angry-making idiots happen to pedestrians and people in cars as well.

My personal coping strategy while on my bike is 1) to (fairly) nicely tell people they almost ran me over if I think they were not really intending to be dumb, 2) to wonder if I had done something that contributed and try not to do it any more, 3) to think they are crazy muffinheads and forget about it, 4) to think they are crazy muffinheads and to yell at them right there (like the guy who was stopped at a two-way stopsign, saw me coming into the intersection, and pulled his truck in front of me and stopped in the middle of it order to impede my progress). I also remind myself that for everyone being idiotic on the street, there are many more people being careful or considerate- yesterday three drivers at stop signs waved me through on my bike before I could come to a complete stop.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2012

« Older bad friend + mefi = better friend?   |   How do I move on from this? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.