Unsolicited “Advice”

Occasionally when bicycling, a random guy gives me unsolicited advice.  For illustration, here are two scenes from the past month.

Warning: Competent Woman on the Loose

Scene 1:  I am bicycling home at night, equipped with a helmet, blinking lights and reflectors.  I stop behind a city bus at a red light.  A motorcyclist pulls up very close to me in the same lane.

Motorcyclist Guy:  [lecturing tone] You gotta be safe out here.

Me:  [unsure, attempting friendliness] Yeah, we all have to.

MG:  But be careful, you don’t want to be knocked over.  You just need to be safe out here.

Me:  I am safe.  I do not need your advice.

MG: [revs engine and jets off]

Me: [???]

Scene 2:  I’m bicycling to work in the morning, stopping at a stop sign to allow a pedestrian to cross.  The temp is 90 degrees, so I take my helmet off and hang it on my handlebars.  To compensate, I bicycle extra slowly and cautiously.  Bicyclist guy squeezes between me and the SUV on my left.

Bicyclist Guy: You need to wear a helmet.  Your helmet is not going to protect your handlebars. [passing me at twice my speed]

Me: I do not need to hear this from you.

BG: [in a singsong tone] Just some friendly advice!

Me: I’m a big girl.

BG: [yelling over his shoulder] We all are!

Me: Ha! [wondering how long until he realizes what he said and goes, "Doh!"]

In both situations, the guys seemed to assume that I would benefit from their “advice.”  In fact, I act deliberately and do not need to hear the opinion of a random man on the street, whether it’s about my “safety,” my helmet, or my looks (that’s a different topic).

If anyone is tempted to offer this kind of advice, please think twice, and unless someone’s actions directly affect you, hold back.

Ladies and gentlemen, do random people give you unsolicited “advice” while bicycling?  If so, does it make you want to inform the advice-giver where to shove it?
:)

{Photo above by Martha Williams of Bike Fancy}

  • Chris

    I never give others advice about safety but if I do notice a mechanical issue with their bike, I’ll say something. Mostly with a lot of new cyclists on London’s roads, it’s that their seat is at the wrong height.

  • http://twitter.com/liz545 Liz Almond

    I really wanted to do this to someone today! The cyclist ahead of me seemed to be really struggling to keep her bike moving forwards, and I wanted to tell her it’d probably be much easier if she kept the ball of her foot on the pedals, rather than the instep. But I couldn’t think of a way to say it that wouldn’t be mis-interpreted or sound like I was being rude, so I keep my thoughts to myself. Though when I’ve seen people whose rear lights have gone out/slipped behind the pannier and aren’t visible, I’ll say something. That’s a safety thing…

    • chris

      I dont think its a bad thing to make suggestions on how to have a more comfortable/less strenuous ride, which is why I do say about seat height (also it will save their knees!) but considering the lack of evidence for the efficacy of helmets, I would not tell anyone to wear one or not.

      As for lights, I’ll let someone know if their lights have gone out or are not visible but I’ll point that out to other road users if their lights are not turned on or faulty.

      The only serious piece of safety advice is if I see someone riding on the inside of a bus or truck, then I’ll usually shout not to do that because the vast majority of cyclist deaths in London are because of left turning large vehicles.

      As for the unsolicited advice on how people should conduct themselves, its just not on because its usually based on anecdotal, or incorrect evidence (I’m talking about helmets, road positioning, clothing, etc)

      • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

        I’m all about giving seat height advice to people I know and on this blog, but I’m not sure about saying something to a stranger on the road. I know a lot of people ride with their seat low when they’re just starting out because they feel more secure that way, being able to put their feet on the ground, and it’s not my place to tell them otherwise. Of course, some people simply don’t know that their knees should not be bent, so the advice could help them.

        • ridonrides

          totally agree with you here. some people have their saddle height set low because they feel more safe that way. the only acceptable scenario is if the person was in a bike shop and the mechanic pointed out the saddle height issue. otherwise, coming from a stranger it sounds rude. also these guys who give unsolicited advice are the same male motorists who say “sweetie, i don’t know why you’re in the middle of the road.” they don’t actually mean sweetie in a “nice way” and i think everyone can agree on that. also you know what’s not safe? passing too close on a motorcycle and bike.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Yeah, occasionally I want to advise someone I don’t know to raise their seat or something like that, but I hold back because it’s really not my business. But if something’s gone wrong, like a light slipping or strap hanging down from their rack, then I assume the person would want to know and I say something, just like I saw a bicyclist recently tell a motorist that they were dragging a huge branch under their car. :)

  • steve_a_dfw

    Most irritating advice? “Get off the blanking road” from a drunken motorist.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Yeah, that one always takes the cake.

  • http://jqr.posterous.com Jonathan R

    Great post. Lots of times people just want to say hi, and giving advice is the only kind of faintly respectable frame to do it in.

    I always ask first if the bike belongs to the rider before suggesting that the seat is too low or that the rear wheel needs truing; there’s no point in making those kinds of suggestions to people who are just renting a bike for the afternoon.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Some people do just say hi while waiting at a red light and I always appreciate that. It’s awkward to sit there and not say anything, but I’m never sure of the correct protocol. :)

    • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

      I think if you want to say ‘hi’ – probably just saying ‘hi’ or ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘what shitty weather this is!’ is probably a better bet than ‘your seat’s too low’. The latter, personally, would just elicit a ‘pfff, whatever’ from me (because I keep my seat just slightly low intentionally, not enough to be a problem, just enough so I can put a toe down without getting off the seat).

      The problem with advice to strangers, is you’re making a lot of assumptions without knowing anything about the person you’re giving advice to.

  • Cameron Adams

    I’ve been guilty of scolding obnoxious, mixed use path cyclists who swoop silently past walkers. Ring a bell! What you describe here sounds regrettably like male condescension toward a woman. Yuk!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Yes, I felt that there was a lot of male condescension going on!

      I’m not against speaking up when a bicyclist does something that endangers myself or others, so your example of telling people to ring a bell would be a legitimate reason to “scold.” :) I’ve done that before. Also, telling people not to pass on my right.

      • Janice in GA

        Not bike related, but relevant essay, perhaps: “Men Explain Things To Me” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-solnit/men-explain-things-to-me-_b_1811096.html

        About the only thing I do is tell a salmon they’re on the wrong side of the road.

        • http://melaniesuzanne.blogspot.com/ Melanie Suzanne

          Ah yes, “mansplaining”. That was the first thing that popped into my mind.

        • David P

          Janice, that’s a great essay – thanks for sharing it!

        • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

          Timely!

    • Jax+Puzzle

      I hate cycling past pedestrians, it’s so awkward. Either you call out to them or ring your bell, and they literally jump or move to the left, or do something else unpredictable, or you don’t do anything and frighten them as you pass. I try to ring way before I’m actually going to pass them, so it’s not loud, and they have time to react. If there is enough room for me to pass them on the opposite side of the path, I don’t tend to use the bell.

      That being said, when someone rings a bell or calls at me, I’m usually appreciative, as having someone buzz by you is pretty unnerving.

  • Dell

    I don’t give strangers advice although there are times I’d like to when I see on behaving badly. One example is the idiot riding on the left side of the road. Another recent example is an experienced cyclist zooming down a left turn lane at an intersection before cutting back into the lane at the last second to cross straight through. I observed that one while patiently waiting in the line of cars, but secretly wanted to chase him down and offer some advice.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Ha, I know the feeling! But if I said something to every bicyclist who behaved badly, I’d never get any peace. :) I have to squelch my school-marm instincts.

  • Dell

    I don’t give strangers advice although there are times I’d like to when I see on behaving badly. One example is the idiot riding on the left side of the road. Another recent example is an experienced cyclist zooming down a left turn lane at an intersection before cutting back into the lane at the last second to cross straight through. I observed that one while patiently waiting in the line of cars, but secretly wanted to chase him down and offer some advice.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Ha, I know the feeling! But if I said something to every bicyclist who behaved badly, I’d never get any peace. :) I have to squelch my school-marm instincts.

  • sam

    I really like your blog, but I think you may be a little over-sensative in this situation. Just smile and nod, tell them to have a nice day. We’re on bikes, let’s have fun.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      I see where you’re coming from; sometimes I wish I could just smile and nod! Alas, I don’t have the patience. Maybe my reaction will spare other women from receiving these guys’ advice in the future. One can hope. :)

    • Jax+Puzzle

      I would have agreed with you prior to reading the discourse, I don’t typically mind when random strangers give me unsolicited advice, especially if it’s well-intentioned. But in this case, Dottie is following the road rules, is clearly reasonably intelligent for doing so, isn’t endangering anyone, etc. and the advice is condescending.

      I never give out advice, but sometimes I think I should. Particularly when cyclists are behaving dangerously, like riding on the wrong side of the road, running lights, passing on the right…

  • http://yaybeth.blogspot.com/ Beth

    I don’t think you’re “oversensitive”, and I wonder if you’d have gotten the advice if you were a guy – in my experience, hardcore male cyclists are full of advice for *everyone*, regardless of sex – or if you had a less “feminine” appearance in your choice of clothes/bike that day. One thing I’ve noticed is that a wicker basket on my bike makes this hilarious difference in how I am treated. The bad side of it is that I get tons of condescending/infantilizing remarks – so far only from men. (Golly, thanks mister, I didn’t know that green means we can move forward, I thought we were all just waiting here for the heck of it.) But the very very good side is that I notice pedestrians smile at me as they make room for me to pass, and motorists are generally nicer to me, more careful of me. I’m pretty sure my big wicker basket is a better safety device than a reflective vest, even if it does come with a heaping side of sexism.

  • Gemma Piper

    I was cycling to to my local Asda (UK supermarket that’s part of Walmart) on Saturday when two guys who were walking decided to point out to me that I should stay safe as where they had come from (the direction I was heading) there was loads of traffic. It was extremely patronising especially as I wasn’t even on the road, I was on a shared pedestrian and cycle path (going slowly) wearing a helmet and it was 8am on a Saturday morning when it’s still fairly quiet. I didn’t respond and I’m not really sure what their comment was all about to be honest. I did wonder if it was a sarcastic comment because I was being safer using the shared path and not the road even though there was very little traffic. After being knocked over on my bicycle on a country lane 11 years ago by an over taking impatient driver who then drove off (I just landed sideways in a bush fairly unhurt) and many near swipes since, if there is a legal safer off road alternative I will always take that and adjust my cycling accordingly. If it was sarcastic I would have loved to have it out with them, but personally I just wanted to get along and it probably would have made their attitude towards cyclist even more hostile. With pedestrians not wanting us on shared paths and some drivers not wanting us on the roads I do wonder where some people should thing cyclists should go?!

    • Gemma Piper

      that’s think not thing!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      What’s so annoying about comments like that is the assumption that we are not already doing everything reasonable to keep ourselves safe. Given the time and effort we put into thinking about safety, especially compared to someone in a car, that assumption is super offensive. And I think men are much more likely to say this stuff to women than to men.

      • Gemma Piper

        I’d certainly agree with that statement about the time and effort we put in. When ever I jump in my car the only thing I ever really think about is wearing my glasses and putting my seat belt on, however when I go out on my bicycle I always check the tyres, my seat, that my handle bar bag is on properly, if I’ve got my panniers that they are on safely with no loose straps which can get tangled up in the chain & gears (mainly because that happened once when I hit a big pot hole!) and then check my helmet is on properly. Of course if I know I’m likely to be out when it gets dark I’ll take my lights with me (two at each end, you know to be extra safe).

        I’ve had several car accidents (none my fault I may add) including a write off by an out of control drunk driver a few moments after parking outside my house and also hitting a fallen ladder on a motorway, but other than when I first passed my driving test 10 years ago nobody ever tells me to drive safe unless I’m taking the car to mainland Europe on holiday and have to drive on the right. I often get this ‘advice’ though whenever I go out on my bike even though the routes I’ve planned and use include mostly cycle paths or shared paths. I understand people think you are vulnerable on a bike and yes I sure do feel more vulnerable without a ‘bubble’ around me, however after the accidents I’ve had in cars and the defensive driving I’ve often had to do to avoid further accidents, I’d say I’d feel nearly just as vulnerable in a car.

        I just think our car dependent culture means most people don’t view cars as potentially dangerous methods of transportation with many young adults taking to the roads once they pass their test. Once they are in the ‘bubble’ they are closed off from the world and wrongly feel protected from everything outside (if it were not for my accidents I guess maybe I’d feel that way too). While it is also the ‘norm’ to learn to ride a bicycle as a child it is not considered a ‘normal’ form of transportation at any age (though I appreciate this is starting to change) This is currently highlighted at one of my local supermarkets which is currently being extended. While it is an open building site they have ensured there are plenty of car park spaces, motorcycle spaces, pedestrian paths and routes in for buses, BUT nowhere to lock up any bicycles other than a temporary ramp handlebar leading up to temporary external toilets, far from ideal especially as I had to check with the builders it wasn’t in the way & wouldn’t be ‘removed’. I complained inside & was assured that bicycle parking will be built but wrongly they haven’t included any temporary provisions for those wishing to carry their shopping by bike now, especially odd since a new wide and completely traffic free cycle route was opened up by it only a couple of years ago. I must admit I laughed earlier when I saw a cyclist walking around the store with his bike, if anyone had tried to stop him though he definitely would have been able to make a good argument. My long & windy point is in many places cyclists still form the minority of traffic, and I think that is why some people think they have the right to comment (I wonder if people comment or advise cyclists in the Netherlands?). After all I guess their argument would be if cycling was safer surely more people would do it. While I think better and safer cycling infrastructure would certainly encourage a lot more people to cycle I certainly don’t think it’s the only reason that people don’t cycle.

        I’m not trying to be sexist here but I also have to agree that when ever I’ve had comments about cycling or cheering up 9 times out of 10 its come from a man. Although I must add my mum often tells me that she thinks I’m brave cycling out on the roads.

  • Matthew Lindsay

    The only advice I give is to someone I see biking the wrong way on the street. I call out, “It’s MUCH safer to ride with traffic!” I see it as giving them really needed advice that will make them safer.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      That’s true, but it’s hard to know someone’s motivations. Sometimes I carefully bike the wrong way down a one-way street for a block or two, as the safest route to get through a tricky area.

  • Andrea

    I haven’t gotten advice while riding . . . yet . . . but try being a female farmer. Everybody and their brother starts their sentences with, “Do you what you should do.” And then they proceed to tell you. Endlessly. Who knows. Maybe one day while on my bike I’ll snap! Look for me on the news.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      How annoying!

  • cycler

    I’m always frustrated in how negative messages designed to discourage people from biking are couched in terms of “safety” or “concern.”
    I had a co-worker who would constantly tell me how she couldn’t believe that I biked, because it was so “unsafe” and people drove so badly in Boston.

    I suspect that there is a gendered component of it, but it’s complicated- I think that women (like my co-worker) are just as likely to give unsolicited “advice” as men, but my guess would be that they give more unsolicited advice to women than they do to men- I don’t ever remember her saying anything to my male co-worker who commutes, but I could have just not been around when she did.

    • Mark Muller

      I (a male) have had a female dental hygienist voice extreme concern about my safety due to my biking to my appointment and then biking from there to work.

  • Lauren

    I hate unsolicited advice! It’s one thing if the cyclist is in obvious danger – like the guys who ride the wrong way on the street at night with no lights or reflectors (makes me cringe! I wish I had money to give them all bike lights, ugh). But if it’s something like you hanging the helmet off your handlebars… uhh, obviously you normally wear it, so why point it out? I guess he just wanted to feel “helpful,” and ew, that’s so annoying.

    My one incident with unsolicited advice was the woman who drove closely behind me, honking her horn, then passed me close enough to swipe my legs, and when I pulled up beside her open window to protest, she snottily said, “You really should wear a helmet.” Like a helmet is going to protect my lower torso from her driving like she’s going to kill me. Whatever.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Ooooh, that dangerous driver who told you to wear a helmet – GRRRR. Some people are seriously awful.

  • Lauren

    I hate unsolicited advice! It’s one thing if the cyclist is in obvious danger – like the guys who ride the wrong way on the street at night with no lights or reflectors (makes me cringe! I wish I had money to give them all bike lights, ugh). But if it’s something like you hanging the helmet off your handlebars… uhh, obviously you normally wear it, so why point it out? I guess he just wanted to feel “helpful,” and ew, that’s so annoying.

    My one incident with unsolicited advice was the woman who drove closely behind me, honking her horn, then passed me close enough to swipe my legs, and when I pulled up beside her open window to protest, she snottily said, “You really should wear a helmet.” Like a helmet is going to protect my lower torso from her driving like she’s going to kill me. Whatever.

  • G.E.

    Most of the comments I receive while riding are, unfortunately, from drivers (and usually, it is something that the driver is completely wrong about). It’s difficult to catch them to have any kind of discourse though, unless the traffic is extremely backed up. I usually just have the “conversation” out loud with no one, just to work it out of my system.

    Once in awhile another cyclist will make some kind of comment, and I try (mostly) to just let it go. I may mutter to myself, but it’s really not worth it (to me) to get into an argument over something that perhaps made them feel better. Sometimes, my reactions are just to slow (for many reasons – including that it took a minute for me to process what the individual is saying until they were gone, or I think I simply mis-heard them), and I think about what I should have said to them after the fact. {sigh}

  • Malaika

    I get unsolicited “advice” from men quite often. Once a guy started hollering “Get on your tip toes!” while I was doing a slow seated climb on my cruiser. Yelling at me like a coach on the sidelines of football game! I calmly said “Sir, I’ve been riding a bike for almost 30 years. I know what I’m doing.” I wanted to be even more salty with him but he was already screaming at me like a banshee after that.
    On the other hand, I once had a nice young man politely inform me that my rear tire was flat (I thought it was extra hard to pedal for the past 10 minutes because I was tired). We were pulled up at a stop light after coming off a dirt “path” and he just said “Do you know you have flat? There is a bike shop up the street if you need it.”
    I always want to tell people to raise their saddle or that their bike is too big or small for them, but it’s really none of my business. If they keep riding they will sort that our for themselves or a friend who actually knows them will eventually clue them in. The only unsolicited advice I give (or take, for that matter) is regarding safety issues. And I NEVER holler it out to someone as they are riding! It’s so rude and also can be unsafe in and of itself to scream at a cyclist when they are least expecting it. But when I pull up next to a tourist and they have their helmet on backward, I mention it. Or if someone’s got a flat or a broken spoke or backpack strap dangling dangerously close to the brake pads, I say something.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      I agree that yelling at a cyclist riding in traffic is unsafe.

  • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

    If the two people giving you advice were women, would you have been just as annoyed? Seriously, just let it go. Not every man out there is out to get you.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Yes, I would have been just as annoyed. But the fact remains that the people who said this to me were men. I never said or implied that every man is out there to get me.

      • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

        I just think you are taking things too seriously. It’s really not a big deal and not putting you in any danger if someone gives you advice. No one is forcing you to take their advice, or even listen to them. You could have just said “ok, thanks”, or ignored them if it really bothered you.

        • Christy

          Giving unsolicited advice is rude. Shouting unsolicited advice while behaving dangerously is hypocritical and rude. It isn’t as if she flew off the handle, but she noticed and acknowledged the rudeness, just as any of us might respond to and make note of any incident of rudeness in our day or week. In Dottie’s experience only men have offered unsolicited biking advice. If her blog were about dating and friendships she might have written an entry about girl friends who offer way too much unsolicited relationship advice. But that isn’t relevant to her blog about all things bicycle. A recurring rudeness she experiences on her bike? Relevant!
          Anyway, rudeness isn’t the end of the world, of course, but it isn’t overreacting to dislike it or acknowledge it.

          Perhaps this hits close to home in some way? If so, now you know–it is rude to give obvious and unsolicited advice to strangers. While it is kind and helpful to point out a strap dangling near the spokes, or a broken tail light, it is not helpful to tell someone they “need to be safe” or that their helmet goes on their head or that they should raise their seat. Also be aware that offering advice to a lone woman at night can easily come across as creepy or threatening. Not to say her own imagination doesn’t play a role, but most women have had a creepy dude follow them, try to touch them, stalk them, or even attack them, so a polite man takes this into consideration in his daily interactions with women. It isn’t some big difficult thing, it’s just a little common courtesy.

          • ridonrides

            I agree with Christy on this one. Dottie could’ve responded more rudely, but didn’t. As a man, Adam will probably never understand our situation. I’ve tried explaining to my male friends that women don’t enjoy getting cat calls. Yes, it’s a “compliment”, but it’s creepy

          • ridonrides

            I agree with Christy on this one. Dottie could’ve responded more rudely, but didn’t. As a man, Adam will probably never understand our situation. I’ve tried explaining to my male friends that women don’t enjoy getting cat calls. Yes, it’s a “compliment”, but it’s creepy

  • mk

    So funny you posted this today, because on my commute yesterday I had two men give me riding advice. The one guy was right to tell me that my purse handle was hanging out of my rear bag (because it could have caught on a parked car). I appreciated that he told me. The second guy though was clueless, he advised I shift to an easier gear…I ride a single gear Old Dutch bike!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Ha, funny. The warning about the hanging purse is valid, the advice to shift to an easier gear, not so much. :)

  • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

    This hasn’t happened to me lately, but I have gotten random ‘advice’ from all kinds of people, mostly to the tune of ‘put a helmet on!’ – from a guy in a huge Ford truck, a guy walking his dog on the sidewalk, a guy standing on the street overlooking a wreck on the freeway, etc. It’s also very common, when someone knows you’re going to go get on a bike, for them to comment “ride safely!” – as if otherwise I’m going to go be extremely reckless or something.

    I know (in terms of the ‘ride safely’ comments), generally people mean well, but it always just kind of rubs me wrong. Especially since I can guarantee they never tell someone to ‘drive safely’ when they’re going to get in their car. Just another symptom of that backwards mindset that you have to protect yourself, or it’s your fault if you get hurt.

    I generally never offer advice to other road users in passing, it just never comes off well, never turns out well…

    And I also generally never offer behavioral advice, especially. The people I pass are their own independent adults, responsible for their own behavior. I’m not the universal babysitter (this is another thing that really bothers me about that idea that bicyclists shouldn’t be accommodated until they all police themselves and stop any bad behavior – I’m not everyone’s nanny, and I shouldn’t have to be – I’m responsible for *my* behavior).

    • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

      Good way to respond to those people:
      “I was actually planning on riding totally unsafely and maybe crashing into a few cars or pedestrians, until you told me otherwise. Now I am going to be as safe as can be! Thanks for the advice; you have forever changed my ways!”

      Or you could just respond with a “you too!”

      • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

        Ha! Good one. :)

      • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

        Yeah, “you too!” is about what usually comes out. Occasionally the person getting into a car looks puzzled when I say “you too!” as if they’re not sure what I mean. *sigh*

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Funny you should say that about “ride safe.” I have seen other people express irritation about that too, but in the places I have lived, saying “drive safe” is incredibly common. So I don’t take the variant as an insult.

      But I totally agree that I’m not responsible for others’ behavior or decisions. Added to that, I don’t think it’s polite to offer unsolicited advice, period. Unless someone is in danger (or, as one person commented, has a flat tire or something) the way they ride their bike is not my business.

      ~T

  • Sarah

    This happens all the time to me. It’s definitely men who give the biking advice from their cars or bikes or the sidewalk (my favorite was the guy who stopped his car to tell me he *really* couldn’t see me because I was wearing dark clothing and riding at night – but could see me enough to stop to talk to me about it ). But reading through these comments, the other thing that bothers me is the “lighten up”/smile sentiment, which I also get in public – from men. I wish I knew better ways to come back to all of it that would make the advice-giver really think about it and decide to change their own mind about doing it. This post is a good start. Thanks!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Those “smile!” commands from strangers are a huge peeve of mine. I am not going to walk around like a loon with a smiley face all the time. Maybe my dog died or I was just diagnosed with cancer or I am having a deep thought – they have no idea.

      • http://iwanttoridemy.blogspot.com.au/ Fat-bottomed Girl

        I have only ONCE in my life had my facial expression policed by another woman. I was waiting, sitting alone with what I thought was a completely neutral emotional state, when a particularly disliked teacher told me to, “Cheer up – it might never happen!” my teenaged sass got the better of me and I replied, “It just did.”

        For me, that kind of intrusion ranks as #1 annoyance in my car-free life. Imagine if all the pedestrians and cyclists went around invading the psychological travel bubble of car commuters! Tapping on their window and telling them to smile! Leave me and my rich inner-life alone, thanks!

    • http://www.bicitoro.com/ Jessie K

      Oh, the “Smile, sweetheart!” comments make me just about lose it. I’m not smiling because I just climbed a long hill and I’m very tired. Also, I’m not interested in playing the “pretty smiling young woman” role in your life story today, sorry. Back off, seriously.

      I think there are certain “states of being” in which it for some reason seems acceptable to offer unsolicited advice to you. Given the amount of examples here, being a cyclist is obviously one of those. Being a woman in a man’s field is another. And I’ve heard from many many pregnant friends that this phenomenon just explodes once you’re big enough to show: every stranger you see has advice for you, and you’re always doing it wrong.

      A protective instinct, maybe? I’m sure most of the time it’s meant as harmless, but I think it does do actual harm. By taking the patronizing “advice giver” role, one assumes dominance (be it car driver over cyclist, man over woman, older mother over younger pregnant woman). It’s not something most people are doing with the intent to injure or belittle the other person, but the effect is the same, and it’s a good thing to be mindful about.

      (Side note—Dottie, this is exactly the reason I love the community you folks have built on this blog! You broached a sticky subject, but instead of devolving into a flame war, it’s turned into a reasonable, interesting discussion among adults. Thanks again!)

      • tOrso

        I’ve got snippets of advice from cyclists, motorists and pedestrians over the years, and I guess I have got immune to it. I got advised to oil my chain one day after it rained and I left the house without realizing how bad it was. Duh. I don’t offer such advice.
        As a man, I got advice in a veritable flood when out in public (or among relations) with my two children when they were babies. It makes me sympathetic to the “I am x and you are obviously a z therefore I must know better than you” attitude that the article describes. Incredible: she is hungry she is cold she is hot she needs socks she is tired you should brush the hair out of her face. How can it be that I the parent am so completely negligent about this darling bundle of joy? Actually she needed to be burped!

        • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

          Interesting that you have experienced that kind of “advice” giving when out with your children. That must have been so annoying, like you do no know what to do with your own kids just because you’re a guy.

      • tOrso

        I’ve got snippets of advice from cyclists, motorists and pedestrians over the years, and I guess I have got immune to it. I got advised to oil my chain one day after it rained and I left the house without realizing how bad it was. Duh. I don’t offer such advice.
        As a man, I got advice in a veritable flood when out in public (or among relations) with my two children when they were babies. It makes me sympathetic to the “I am x and you are obviously a z therefore I must know better than you” attitude that the article describes. Incredible: she is hungry she is cold she is hot she needs socks she is tired you should brush the hair out of her face. How can it be that I the parent am so completely negligent about this darling bundle of joy? Actually she needed to be burped!

        • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

          Interesting that you have experienced that kind of “advice” giving when out with your children. That must have been so annoying, like you do no know what to do with your own kids just because you’re a guy.

  • ladyfleur

    For the men who think Dottie’s being overly sensitive, imagine that you are in her situation, but getting the “advice” from a 6’5″ 250 lb tough guy in a Hell’s Angel leather vest. No fun, is it?

    • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

      My point is that she is singling out men giving her advice, and treats it like some sort of women’s rights issue. I think it’s annoying for anyone to give someone advice like Dottie described, regardless if they are male or female. In the end, it’s really not a big deal and you should just let it go. I had a woman this morning tell me not to run a stop sign, so I simple apologized and went on with my day. It didn’t bother me one bit, and I certainly did not find it sexist, emasculating or anything like Dottie is implying in her post.

      • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

        I am sorry to hear that you feel I am somehow attacking men. I am not intentionally singling out men giving me advice – the fact is that the only people who gave me this advice were men. Other than pointing that out, I said nothing in my post about women’s rights issues.
        As I’ve been discussing with others in the comments, though, this kind of condescending advice may be more likely to occur with women. I hope that you can read the discussion here with an open mind and perhaps take away some knowledge about the experiences of women.

        • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

          In your article, you say that you “do not need to hear the opinion of a random man on the street”, implying that you would readily take advice from a woman instead, and would find it less condescending. I’m sorry if I am inferring too much, but that’s just the way I perceived your tone to be.

  • Sara

    I feel more vulnerable on my bike for the simple fact that I am not protected by a box of steel. I haven’t received any “helpful” comments – yet. I have, however, received honks because I was stopped at a stop sign for what one driver thought was too long (I was with my two kids, crossing a busy street – not gonna take any chances there). I do have to say, I offer plenty of “advice” to other drivers in my car – though it’s never very friendly. Driving cars closes us off to interactions – good and bad. I am more sensitive when I’m on my bike and I think I have every right to be (and so do you).

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      I agree, I definitely feel more vulnerable on my bike. Sometimes I wish I could just roll my windows up and be left alone. :)

    • http://myaudienceisowls.blogspot.com/ Dottie

      I agree, I definitely feel more vulnerable on my bike. Sometimes I wish I could just roll my windows up and be left alone. :)

  • http://hellorabbit.tumblr.com Heather

    This is so timely for me – last week I got some unsolicited “advice” that’s stuck in my craw ever since. There is a street/drive that runs through my work campus that I take to get to my building and when I go from one end of campus to the other to get lunch. There is also a bike path that runs parallel to most of this street, but the parking lots are between it and the street and crossing through them – where cars are really NOT expecting cyclists – feels far riskier to me than riding on the street where I’m in full view. One day I was about to turn to get to my building and a guy driving the opposite direction stopped to sternly tell me “You need to ride on that trail!!” I was too stunned to say anything but “Oh”, but really I was thinking “No jacka$$, I need to turn into the next driveway and get back to work”, and even if I didn’t, last time I checked it was totally legal to bike on the street in this state. I wasn’t being unsafe in any way, and I wasn’t IN anyone’s way – he was the only car on the street at the time. I know he was probably just a jerk who didn’t know any better or was perhaps trying to be helpful in a very rude way (safety is a HUGE deal at my workplace), but being scolded like a child really cheesed me off! I also found myself wondering if he’d have stopped me if I was a man on a road bike in lycra bikewear, and not a woman in a flowy top and sandals riding an orange dutch-style bike with a basket. Anyway, thanks for the ideas on how to handle comments like these in the future!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      “being scolded like a child really cheesed me off!”

      First, I love that you said, “cheesed me off.” I’m going to have to use that expression in the future!

      Second, I think you hit the nail on the head about being scolded like a child, which is something that I think women do encounter more than men.

  • St. Belle

    Finally! I’m glad somebody else feels this way too!! I can’t stand it when people share some positive or otherwise unarguable principle with me like “Stay safe!”, “Take care!”, “Good luck!”, or “Happy Holidays!”

    The WORST is when some control freak tells you “Have a nice day!” I mean, leave me a lone and go live your own life. I AM having a good day. Why don’t you go have a good day and stop bugging me about my well-being. In fact, maybe I don’t want to have a good day. Maybe I want to have a bad day. Maybe I want to be a miserable, sad little fool who turns every situation in an excuse to throw a self-righteous tantrum.

    WHENEVER somebody shares something positive with you it is ALWAYS an accusation that your life is deficient in the content area of their “unsolicited” advice. Next time somebody wishes you a “Happy birthday!”, I suggest you slap them in the face and spit on them for insinuating that you weren’t enjoying it to begin with. To do otherwise would imply that you were a fragile, emotionally unstable person with insufficient self-esteem to handle a simple and construction situation without degenerating it into something that it’s not and then having some terrible, personal, counter-productive response to your misinterpretation.

    Thank you for addressing this critical issue.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      I appreciate sarcasm. :) But it seems that you have misunderstood my point. I am clearly not talking about people being friendly – I am openly friendly myself – I am talking about people being condescending. Tellingly, my stories above did not turn on someone saying take care or happy birthday, which are sentiments to which I have been known to respond positively.

      As always, I strive to address all manner of critical issues here on LGRAB, including but not limited to fashion, cats, and cupcakes.

  • Kevin MacLachlan

    As a former Racer (Cat III) and a mechanic the only time I ever actively given unsolicited advice is when I saw that the back wheel was in real danger of grinding itself to death due to a seriously loose cone nut. The wheel was moving side to side as much as it was going around. I could care less if you wear a helment or have improper cadance. Your on your bike and enjoying yourself! Leave well enough alone :)

  • Kate

    Wow, the responses here sound like teenagers complaining about their parents always giving advice. The thing we all have to remember is that, even though they are strangers, for the most part these people are speaking from a place of trying to be helpful. Even if the advice is not helpful, why not a simple “thanks!” (maybe not necessarily for the quality of advice, but for noticing a cyclist, feeling compassionate, and being aware of their surroundings) and let them go on their way feeling good about themselves and maybe helping out a stranger, rather than picking a fight or making the point about how stupid they are and how skilled and experienced we are? Most likely we will never see them again, so why is it so important to tell them what a jerk they are and how great we are?

    Now, when we want to give advice, how about asking for permission? I’m noticing something about your bike, your cycling, and think I have a suggestion. Are you interested? If they say, “yeah great”, you are on. Or they can say, “no I’m fine” and you go on your way. Or, if like the responders here, most likely they will say, “No, I have 30 years experience and am an expert cyclist, and don’t need your f***ing advice!”

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      I think what many people here are reacting to is a condescending attitude disguised as helpful advice, often (but not always) directed at women from men. Seems to me that some people are giving advice primarily to put others down and pump up their own egos, not genuinely to be helpful, and therefore a thank you would not be appropriate. I do not want to send the message that this behavior is appreciated when it is not and I’m uncomfortable with society’s message that women should try to get along with everyone.

      • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

        I think you are creating a gender issue where there is none. It may be true that some people are trying to make themselves feel more important, but some people might just be annoyed at your behavior or even genuinely concerned for your well-being. I don’t think it is because they are trying to be sexist or they think that you are too incompetent to be riding a bike because you are a woman, and therefore need their advice.

        • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

          I hate to belabor the issue, as I really don’t think it was a main point of the story (I honestly think Dottie was simply listing encounters she had, and they happened to be with men), but I think it’s worth noting that a person doesn’t have to necessarily *try* to be sexist in order to be so, just as one doesn’t necessarily have to *try* to be rude or condescending in order to be. All you have to do is 1) have a certain general worldview and 2) *not* try to think/behave otherwise.

          • http://teavelo.tumblr.com/ Pojdi kolesa!

            You are the coolest.

          • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

            hah! thanks :)

      • Paul

        I bet those same guys giving you there unsolicited advice would never do that to another guy, your gut feeling is right on.

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        Realizing that I, myself, would prefer not to receive advice about how to use the roads or my bicycle, I treat others how I want to be treated and keep it to myself.

    • http://myaudienceisowls.blogspot.com/ Dottie

      I think what many people here are reacting to is a condescending attitude disguised as helpful advice, often (but not always) directed at women from men. Seems to me that some people are giving advice primarily to undermine others and pump up their own egos, not genuinely to be helpful, and therefore a thank you would not be appropriate. I do not want to send the message that this behavior is appreciated when it is not and I’m uncomfortable with society’s message that women should try to get along with everyone.

    • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

      I’m pretty sure the guy in the Ford F350 shouting at me to put a helmet on is not trying to be helpful, feeling compassion, or really being aware of his surroundings. In fact, he’s trying to change my behavior in order to (in his mind) alleviate the necessity for him to be aware of his surroundings. I’m certainly not going to smile and shout “thanks!” back at him. (In fact, I just ignored him)

    • **

      Agree with all that are in your first paragraph. I accept unsolicited advice with a smile and a ‘thank you … have a nice day’ ….. for most of the time/cases these people harbour good intentions.

      • **

        O dear …. this should be @kate

  • http://melaniesuzanne.blogspot.com/ Melanie Suzanne

    I haven’t had any drivers or passers-by offer unsolicited advice.
    Co-workers will tell me “be careful” or “stay safe” when they see me
    headed out with my helmet. I reply with a smile and wave, “You too!”

    Of
    course, that’s a completely different scenario from what you recounted,
    Dottie. Motorcycle guy’s suggestion would have been perfectly harmless if he’d simply taken your response and not pressed the issue. I would be somewhere between eye-rolly and miffed were I
    treated to such condescension.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Yeah, when the motorcyclist guy went on after my first response, I felt a little threatened. His second comment seemed a bit sinister – like, he was going to knock me down???

  • LadyEnoki

    I haven’t been scolded Or advised but I’ve gotten into too many helmet arguments. Leave me be. I am not your child to try to force your opinions on. I did have a guy hOnk at me because I made the left turn sign into his lane though he was far back and he didn’t like it. I was only delaying him a block but nooo he had to change lanes cut me off and then try to brake suddenly to make me stop. All I could do was give him the finger and the satisfaction of turning down the street I needed to turn on anyway! Idiot. And I was In a dress on my Dutch gazelle.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      “I am not your child to try to force your opinions on.” Yup!

  • Mindy

    When a cyclist rides the wrong way in the bike lane (coming right at me) between myself and parked cars, whilst opening a slim jim wrapper with his mouth, I feel the need to point out the safety issue as it directly affects me + is just plain stupid. I’ve also been nearly taken down by another cyclist who chose to run the stop sign and ignore my left turn hand signal. More often than not it’s other cyclists’ disregard of proper safety and riding rules that puts me in danger vs. motorists.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      The image of this cyclist with a slim jim wrapper in his mouth is amusing. :) I sometimes speak up when a cyclist does something that endangers me, although I doubt it makes a difference, so sometimes I save my breath.

  • DigitalCyclist

    Does, “Get on the f@#$%^&ing sidewalk where you belong!” qualify as unsolicited advice?

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Yup, I’d say that counts!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Goddard/1059861564 Kim Goddard

    I sort of look at them, sometimes say “thanks, I’ve got it covered…”, then drop them. Especially effective when I am out on my 25 year old Raleigh upright bike… which I can pedal at 35 kph…

    I had one guy comment when I was fixing a flat. “Wow, you really know what you’re doing!” he said, no doubt meaning to be nice but managing to come off as incredibly condescending. I smiled sweetly and replied that I *should* be reasonably good at changing a tire given that I am *employed as a bike mechanic.* The look on his face was hilarious.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Priceless!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.brammeier Sara Brammeier

    Interesting discussion and I’m glad you blogged about this. I get the unsolicited advice as well and it’s always from men – usually about my open rear basket (as we’ve discussed), once about my bike seat, and also about my choice of street (Clark in Chicago). Do you think your experiences correlate with the Mary Poppins Effect?

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Yeah, I guess that is the negative side of the Mary Poppins Effect. People are more likely to give you space, but also more likely to give unsolicited “advice,” maybe.

  • http://www.bikewalklincolnpark.com Michelle Stenzel

    I’ve definitely received advice over the years, most often when people point out my kickstand is down (a few times) or my tires need inflating (just once). Another guy once advised me I should ride further outside the door zone. In every case, I assumed they were just trying to help me, so I thanked them. Way more people, however, just make friendly comments about my bike (although more when I had my red cruiser), my basket, my dress, how bright my blinky lights are, etc. and that’s all good.

  • Vicki

    I have had the exact same thing said to me regarding the helmet wearing when I was riding on an off road path and was the only one there due to the heat of the day, the reason I had taken off my helmet, same as you. It annoyed me for the reasons it annoyed you, plus there was no one except that guy to run into me and I was not going to spontaneously fall off my bike!

  • atxbikette@blogspot.com

    Kate I think the word you are looking for is “officious”. These people aren’t coming from a place of wanting to help you, but of wanting to sound superior so they can feel better about themselves. I have my own reasons for doing things (having earbuds in my for example. I’ve gotten hit on, catcalled, and honked at to many times to count, and as it is, having those damn headphones cuts down on that ALOT.) Thankfully I bike around UT in Austin where many women also bike, and so that helps cut down on the weekend warriors trying to tell you, a person who rides five days a week, how to live.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      That’s a good word for it. Like you say, people have their own reasons for doing things that strangers know nothing about.

  • http://www.bikestylespokane.com/ BarbChamberlain

    What a fascinating discussion in the comments–thanks for inspiring this community.

    I get more comments about my clothing (skirts and heels, most often) than about my riding skills. Right now, I’ve just moved to a much larger city so I’d welcome it if a rider said at a stoplight, “The next street over is actually a lot better for bikes.” That’s the kind of local lore I need. For me the type of advice and the context in which it’s offered (no yelling, please) make a lot of difference.

    When I do get unsolicited advice I generally just say, “Thanks” or “I’m fine, thanks.” The person gets to feel like an expert for a second and riding my bike makes me happy, so why would I let him/her (and I have definitely gotten advice from road-warrior women as well as from men) take up any space in my brain and fill it with negativity? The person hasn’t earned that much of my attention and clearly doesn’t know me.

    If I were to push back about the advice-giving I’d just be responding in the same mode, and that isn’t going to change anyone’s behavior. “You gave me advice about riding–now I’m going to give you advice about giving advice to strangers.” See how well that would work?

    I do find myself occasionally muttering (and, every so often, yelling) at the passing bike person, “Don’t do that!” or “Hey!” when he/she does something truly illegal and dangerous, like riding straight at me the wrong way in the bike lane. That’s not really unsolicited advice–it’s more like unsolicited parental scolding because I’m startled–and I should probably stop.

    On the other hand, sure, it’s verbal interaction the other person can hear because biking leaves us open to the world, but to me this is kind of like someone flipping you off through the windshield for doing something stupid as a driver (minus the obscenity). It’s a signal to you as someone participating in the transportation network that you screwed up royally, and I don’t know that I need to hold back 100% of that feedback.

    The one thing I’ve done a couple of times when someone has whizzed silently past and alarmed me is to call out cheerily, “On my left!” Yes, I provide the warning I wish he (so far it’s been he’s) had given, in the distant hope that this might suggest the need for such a warning the next time he pulls a stealth attack on someone. I consider this silent passing dangerous behavior since for all he knows I’m about to swerve around a broken bottle straight into his path.

    I read the first interaction with the guy on the motorcycle a little differently–was he possibly trying to hit on you? Pulling up beside you in the lane is aggressive positioning that would have bothered me even if he didn’t say anything at all; he was actually making you more unsafe by crowding your lane position.

    But I’ve actually had the same snarky thought as guy #2: “Boy, those handlebars are sure safe.” I’ve lived in two towns now with a helmet ordinance and figure the helmet on the handlebars is there in case the rider gets stopped, not that the person normally wears it and took it off for a minute. I don’t say anything, though–no badge was issued to commission me in the Bike Police Squad and I just want to celebrate that someone is riding a bike at all.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com/blog Dottie

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation! Lots to think about here.

      I like that you say, “On my left,” when another cyclist passes you too closely without warning. Gets the message across. I am not against saying something when someone’s actions endanger me, although in those cases speaking up usually makes me more stressed because you never know how (aggressively) someone will react.

      I think that saying something other than “thanks” to condescending advice could make a difference in someone’s future behavior, if it helps them realize that unsolicited advice is not always welcome, and I would feel more negative about the situation if I played the grateful female role.

      If the motorcyclist was flirting, he’s terrible at it!

  • donna

    I sometimes tell people if I see they are riding on really flat tires.

  • Tiffany

    I bike in NYC and had a bike messenger tell me one time, “You sure are a cautious rider” as I bike slowly between some parked occupied cars and the traffic. And I said “Yep sure am- just out here staying safe” He may have meant it as a put down. But I took it as a compliment

  • Savanni D’Gerinel

    I get a lot of unsolicited advice. I’m kind of low to the ground on my recumbent, so the advice is always that I’m hard to see. Strangely, the flag six or so feet up in the air, and the fact that I’m taller than the lane markings, don’t seem to make much difference.

  • Barbara

    After having watched 2 women literally fight this morning (using hands and clubs) for a parking space, having a man throw his luggage at me, and getting yelled at more often than not, I think even the most condescending “advice” would have cheered me up today!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Holy crap. That sounds nuts! Where did this happen?

      • Barbara

        In a small town in the southwest of France. Some days I wonder if it’s this place or if people are just more and more angry/insane?

  • Julie

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post over the past few days because I’ve been guilty of occasionally getting frustrated by a fellow cyclist who blows past me at a stop light where cars and pedestrians are present and blurting out, “You just ran a red light!”

    Dottie, after reading your comments about people being grown-ups who are responsible for themselves, I had decided that I would never do this again because you’re right.

    In light of this, I’m interested in thoughts about Brent Cohrs’ new series on Chicago now (http://www.chicagonow.com/easy-as-riding-a-bike/2012/08/who-is-against-protected-bike-lanes/). I think he makes some great points throughout the series, but in the final piece, “What Can Cyclists Do About Our ‘Rogue’ Element?,” he does encourage the kind of chiding I’ve just decided to stop:

    “Not that I like to quote from the handbook from the War on Terror,
    but one simple phrase makes sense for us; ‘if you see something, say
    something.’

    We know what bad cycling looks like. We have a duty to call it out. While no one likes to be confronted with, corrected, or lectured about
    their bad behavior, they need to hear it. Doing so may not be easy,
    pleasant, or without conflict, but it’s necessary.”

    Also, it was nice to meet you at this month’s brunch, Dottie! I was the lady with the Schwinn Collegiate.

    • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

      Just something to think about – do you chide or correct people when you’re not on a bicycle? Do you chide people walking across the street against a signal, or sitting at a cafe with their feet up on a chair, or riding public transit with blatantly smelly armpits?

      Do we feel like nobody should be able to sit at cafe seats until everyone stops putting their feet up on the chairs? Do we feel like nobody should be allowed to cross the street until everyone obeys the signals? Do we feel like there should be a B.O. check before getting on the bus?

      Then why are we so concerned with chiding and coercing every single person on a bicycle into following all the rules, and why are people so willing to make that argument that “we’ll accommodate bicycles when they all follow the rules!”

      It’s not that I don’t want them to follow the rules (at least generally; I think some of the rules can’t and shouldn’t apply to riding a bicycle), and I honestly think more people *would* follow the rules if the rules were in their favor in the first place.

      But, why do we feel so differently about self-policing other people riding bicycles, when we don’t feel any inclination to self-police other groups of people?

      • Pippa

        Because their bad behavior makes it harder for all of us, I’d say even more dangerous. Drivers are already inclined to view us with suspicion, disdain or even aggression. As a bicyclist, I want drivers to see me, understand exactly what I’m doing and what I’m going to do next. Bicyclists who flout the law, who switch between being a vehicle and a pedestrian based purely their own convenience? Yeah, I’d really like them to stop that and I tell them so. I think it’s important. Far more important than B.O.

        • http://pin-hole.tumblr.com Dave

          Obviously the B.O. comment was in jest – still, I think the point holds. I’m not sure many peoples’ behavior has actually been changed by chiding passers-by (unless it is to inform them of something like a flat tire), no matter who was wrong/right in an objective sense. I still feel like a more effective way of making a difference in the opinions of others is to simply behave well yourself. That and push for changes that make it convenient for those people switching from ‘cyclist’ to ‘pedestrian’ behaviors to remain a bicyclist all the time (until they park their bike). I feel like that’s actually the larger issue here (people tend to follow the law if it’s convenient, and break it in small ways if it’s not).

      • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

        Excellent point!!!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      I think what the guy in the Chicago Now column is talking about is a bit different from what I’m talking about. I’m not necessarily against calling people out for endangering others, which is the case when someone runs a red light with pedestrians in the crosswalk.

      But I disagree with his advice that other cyclists have a duty to call out bad cycling. I generally avoid that for many reasons, one of the biggest being my personal safety. I do not know how aggressively (potentially violently) a person would react to being confronted and lectured by me, especially in a big city like Chicago. Also, every ride would be *hugely*stressful if I went around confronting every cyclist who did something
      wrong. Can you imagine? No, thank you.

      • Julie

        I wasn’t trying to conflate Brent Cohrs’ call for cyclists to correct fellow cyclists with your experiences as much as I was reflecting on thoughts that have come up in the comments here about “bike-on-bike chiding.” Apologies if I pushed us farther off the rails!

        In any case, because the system-level changes Cohrs
        suggests in his previous two pieces — particularly better education
        about cycling in schools and as part of the state driver’s license exam curriculum — would be
        so much more effective (not to mention less personally dangerous as you pointed out), I was surprised he ended the series that way.

        During the occasional times that I’ve called out to other cyclists in frustration when they’ve broken the law, I’ve never really felt any better or like anything was accomplished by doing so, which is why your comments about recognizing people as adults and just letting them go on their way resonated with me.

      • Julie

        I wasn’t trying to conflate Brent Cohrs’ call for cyclists to correct fellow cyclists with your experiences as much as I was reflecting on thoughts that have come up in the comments here about “bike-on-bike chiding.” Apologies if I pushed us farther off the rails!

        In any case, because the system-level changes Cohrs
        suggests in his previous two pieces — particularly better education
        about cycling in schools and as part of the state driver’s license exam curriculum — would be
        so much more effective (not to mention less personally dangerous as you pointed out), I was surprised he ended the series that way.

        During the occasional times that I’ve called out to other cyclists in frustration when they’ve broken the law, I’ve never really felt any better or like anything was accomplished by doing so, which is why your comments about recognizing people as adults and just letting them go on their way resonated with me.

  • kagi

    I agree with you, Dottie — this stuff is totally frustrating. I will say that, as a man in my late 30s who looks a lot younger, I get it a lot from women-of-a-certain-age who seem to have appointed themselves my mother, and almost never from other men.

    But what about salmon? Usually when somebody (I was gonna say “some idiot,” but usually they’re just misinformed) is coming straight at me, riding the wrong way down the street, I just point over at the other side of the road where they ought to be and say “you’re on the wrong side, buddy.” Other things I wouldn’t bother with, but that’s just so unsafe for everyone involved. Do you all try to correct wrong-way cyclists?

    • Laurel

      I get the “mom” advice, too, sometimes with a bonus finger wag! :)

  • donna

    Yesterday some man walking on the sidewalk parallel to me decided he needed to lecture me because I came to a rolling stop at a stop sign in my residential street (there were no cars or pedestrians). Yes, I checked that the way is clear, slow down and proceed cautiously without coming to a complete stop. Yes, I’m technically breaking the law, but if he’s not a cop enforcing the law, why does he feel it is his business to shout “that stop sign is just a suggestion huh?”

    • http://letsgorideabike.com Trisha

      Did you tell him you had a “suggestion” for him? ;-)

  • smiley

    @kate: “……for the most part these people are speaking from a place of trying to be helpful. Even if the advice is not helpful, why not a simple “thanks!” (maybe not necessarily for the quality of advice, ……”
    Agree!! One of the main reasons I always ‘smile and thank ‘unsolicited/unsought’ advisors for their advice.
    I’m only caustic to nasty motorists who rudely ‘advise’ and claim that the road is not the place for cyclists to be … even then I’m caustically polite and sneeringly smiling/smiley . … :-))

  • dukiebiddle

    I get the helmet advice all the time. Not so long ago a roadie in full Lycra came up behind me, pulled alongside, and condescendingly told me “You gotta wear a helmet, man.” I told him I was an experienced rider, that it wasn’t legally compulsory, and I didn’t consider it necessary, to which he responded “Oh, it isn’t necessary, huh?” as snidely as he could muster. Immediately afterwards, not two seconds later, we came upon a 4 way stop, with a car already stopped in the cross traffic lane to our right. Mr. Safety blew the stop sign, stole the motorist’s right of way failed to signal while turning left. I could have taken the high road, but I did yell “YOU GOTTA FOLLOW THE LAW, MAN. YOU JUST BROKE 3 LAWS, A**HOLE. Another time, I was riding along downtown and a youngish woman dangerously pulled up alongside in her car, honked, rolled down her window, and told me that I needed to wear a helmet, all while we were both traveling at a pretty good speed on a pretty heavily trafficked street. I told her I was fine, “thank you,” which infuriated her and she screamed that a bike helmet saved her husband’s life and he was in the hospital for weeks or something or other (it’s certainly possible mitigated his head trauma somewhat, but statistically a minority likelihood, regardless of what the doctors told them). I got that she was being very emotional over a very personal issue, which is why she was creating a very dangerous situation for me, engaging me in a conversation at full speed, never mind the danger she was creating for all the other road users as well operating her motor vehicle while conversing with a cyclist, so I just told her to leave other people alone. No swears that time.

  • spare_wheel

    Paraphrase of a recent unsolicited advice episode.

    Me: [rolling a stop]
    Person on linus: [shouts] You are making all of us look bad.
    Me: [stops and turns] Cagers gunna hate no matter what I do.
    Person on linus: [starts off in a huff]
    Me: [mutters] It must be summer again.

    There are many cyclists who call out in the summer, there are very few cyclists who call out in the winter.

  • http://twitter.com/dytakeda Dwayne Takeda

    They’re just wanting to talk to you. Seriously.

  • http://twitter.com/dytakeda Dwayne Takeda

    They’re just wanting to talk to you. Seriously.

  • LittleJayKay
  • Jen
  • Stephen Hodges

    Yes, I’m late to the party, and at the risk of sounding judgemental (really, I’m not trying to be that way), I think there’s a bit of gender-based prickliness going on here. No, I don’t get such comments–I’m a dude with salt and pepper hair, and as such, is invisible anymore–and yes, they think they’re trying to be helpful, particularly towards an attractive woman on a bicycle who is not wearing the full Lycra battle dress.

    Is it annoying? Yes. Is it patronizing, even sexist? Probably. Is it harmless? Yes, for the most part. Perhaps when the sight of a fashionably dressed adult woman on a bicycle is as commonplace as that seen in Copenhagen (and we won’t discuss a certain male bicyclist/photographer there), such comments will be quite rare. But until then, just smile a tiny bit and say nothing. They’ll get the message.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      “Is it annoying? Yes. Is it patronizing, even sexist? Probably. Is it harmless? Yes, for the most part.”

      For me, those attributes simply cannot go together. If something is patronizing and sexist, it is never harmless.

      • Angelo Dolce

        Advice commenters received on how to ride sounds sexist (and clueless).
        I can assure you that the contents of your unwelcome advice on safety
        and helmets was not sexist. As a middle aged man, motorists give me this patronizing and pointless advice too. They don’t believe you are allowed to bicycle outside a park or sidewalk, man or woman.

        Most of the advice I receive is to “Just Get the F#$% out of the G@#%^
        Road” from motorists and even pedestrians, but there are plenty of “be
        safe” and helmet comments too. (I also find helmets hot over 85-90, and
        have yet to fall on ice in the summer.)

        Some unsolicited advice is unarguably true (“Watch out” from bicyclists
        running a red light going the wrong way on a one way street), or
        occasionally helpful. Some is meant to be friendly conversation (some
        of mine were not as persistent or condescending as the comments you
        received)

        Generally, I don’t offer advice unless someone looks open to it. One
        time I saw cyclists confused by an island blocking the shoulder at a
        side street – I pointed out they could use one traffic lane and let any
        cars use the passing lane. They seemed to appreciate the idea.
        Otherwise, I generally give advice to strangers.

        Compared to motorists that deliberately run bicyclists off the road or
        throw objects, I dismiss the “be safe” and “Get out of the F$%^” road as
        harmless and too common to fight. I think your are implying these
        comments imply a dangerous mindset, but there are enough drivers that
        will run bicyclists off the road that I’m not going to call the police
        for someone throwing plastic bottles or eggs. (Local police are hit or
        miss about bicyclists right to use public roads – depends on the
        individual officer in my experience. Again a much bigger problem that
        motorists whining about helmets)

  • jb

    Really interesting comments here. I have the same question as someone else: What about a salmon who likely just doesn’t know better? I tend to say “Wrong way, buddy. You’re making us look bad.” The best response I’ve gotten from that was “I always look good.”
    And what if a person has their helmet on backwards?? I’ve seen four of these in the past two weeks.

  • Legal wheeler

    I was in the left lane of a busy one way arterial that also has a marked bike lane on the right hand side. I was a block away from my office driveway on the left side of the street. I heard a car slowing down behind me and pulling over to get next to me. I thought, oh no, here it comes, unsolicited advice… The driver’s voice was polite but forceful in tone, “Miss, there is a bike lane over there, please use it!” I turned to see who this was, and lo & behold it was one of Seattle’s finest in his patrol car. I responded, “But Officer, I can’t turn left from over there!” He should have known that legally, I am allowed to bike in ANY lane, I have to follow the same vehicular laws as any one else on any number of wheels. He did not say a word, and drove off. Me, I shrugged but felt fury at his arrogance and ignorance for weeks afterwards.