Hopping Mad

I’m using this picture of my cat Ted in an outfit Trisha bought him to balance the mood of this post. How can one stay mad when Bumble Bee Ted is right there? And I’m using the title “Hopping Mad” because it sounds old fashioned and much nicer than the string of expletives running through my head.

Bumble Bee Ted

Bumble Bee Ted

These people are really starting to get to me.

The people in cars who honk at me. I was honked at twice on my way home, both times on a sweet neighborhood one-way street (the same street where that guy ran me off the road last week). The first was a blonde woman in a BMW. There was a car directly in front of me, I was going the same speed as that car, she was directly behind me – and she honked. As if I was holding her up??  Completely illogical. I turned around and bellowed: “WHAT???!” No reaction and soon she turned off the street.

A few blocks later I was going through an intersection and an SUV sped up behind me and honked as he passed.  That was too much for me:   “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, [BADDING WORDHOLE]?!” The people enjoying an alfresco dinner on the corner stared. I caught up with him at the stop sign, waved my arms and said, “Why did you do that?” He rolled down his window and said, “You ought not to be in the road like that.” So patronizing and, um, wrong! “Bikes are allowed on the road by law.” And he started driving off, which really pissed me off: “I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE IN THE ROAD JUST AS MUCH AS YOU LOOK IT UP BUDDY AND THANKS FOR BEING SUCH A GENTLEMAN!”

sigh. Yes, I turned into a raving lunatic. Usually, I pride myself in my composure. But this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I don’t like being the camel. The feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability is so strong out there on the road.  When a driver does something like that, it’s a serious attack. I’ll try to be better, but bad days like this get me so worked up, I wonder why I don’t move to Amsterdam.  I’m going to get all 1997 and say, “Mean People Suck.”

p.s. I don’t want my ranty posts to deter anyone from cycling! Note that I would become an expat before I stopped riding my bike :)

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55 thoughts on “Hopping Mad

  1. Trisha says:

    Funny how one little sound can make you so angry – I have been there! Maybe one day people will get the message. Until then, I have an endless supply of cat hats and Willie is more than happy to share!

    • dottie says:

      You’re right – it’s just a sound. I’m usually so good at completely ignoring honks. I’m on edge because the last time I ignored a honk and stayed my ground, I ended up getting run off the road.

  2. Melissa Miller says:

    All I can say is karma. I made a suggestion to change a busy road in my neighborhood from 4 lanes to 2 lanes plus a center turn lane and 2 bike lanes. There is a super wide road that runs parallel that the cars could travel on. This road goes through multiple neighborhoods and cars drive super fast and honk at bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s horrible. The comment I’ve gotten back is “but what about all the cars, this is a main road”. Um, they can deal w/ it and slow down or maybe ride a bike or take the bus. HELLLLOOOO!

  3. Elisa M says:

    must be the weather…I am actually getting a similar post ready. People are being such aholes lately! It is really disheartening. Not enough to make me quit;but enough to piss me off.

  4. Paula Schultz says:

    Yeah, I know how that feels. I got an airhorn to help counter that. It’s louder than a car horn and pretty cheap. Highly recommended!

  5. Doohickie says:

    I go through phases like that too. After a while you’ll get it out of your system and/or realize you could be making it worse by interacting like that, and become a super-bike-ambassador again. Just take a deep breath.

  6. Catherine says:

    I’m with you 100%. It is usually something along the lines of “what the (frack) is your PROBLEM”? And because I am totally a holier than thou prick, I respond to any unsolicited advice (such as “get off the road”, “get a car”, “get on the sidewalk”) with a total bitchface accompanied by a “get some exercise”. Particularly useful if like 60% of the population the person is overweight. I know. It’s not nice.

    To clairify: my normal course of action is a smile and wave as if the honking is encouragement (which also pisses them off), but sometimes I just cannot stand it and I totally lose it. Oops.

  7. Sid says:

    My blog is not exclusively about biking, but tales from my daily commute occasionally make it into my posts. Your post today reminded me of a confrontation I had last week riding home down Lincoln Avenue, although with a slightly different outcome. If you have a few minutes, check it out at http://leperpop.blogspot.com/2009/07/you-talking-to-me.html

    I completely understand the frustration, but other than those couple blocks wasn’t it the perfect day to be on a bike? No wonder them poor bastards in the cars were so cranky.

  8. melissa miller says:

    i was telling a friend of mine that i feel so much of the way we are becoming is because we spend so much time in cars, on cell phones etc and don’t have interpersonal communication like we used to. the best thing about being on a bike is smiling and saying hi when i pass people and i am teaching this to my son as we ride.

    i am surprised that people in cars do not even slow down knowing that i have a kid on my bike. a little freaky but i am determined not to let them get the best of us. so far i only see people with their kids on weekends on roads that are closed to vehicles. i hope to see more parents get their kids out on the roads. i know, for me, that the more people i saw on bikes and read blogs like this the more i wanted to get my son and me on one.

    • cratedigger66 says:

      The best part is when I get hassled, run off the road, honked at by vehicles with BIKE RACKS on them! Arghh! The Lake Front path was full of full drivers like that a week or so back.

  9. Christa says:

    I was recently forced into getting a car (a gift from my boyfriend’s family). I feel strange with it sitting around. I resent it.

    When I drive it (rarely), I’m really cautious of peds/cyclists. I imagine cars behind me get frustrated, but I always put peds/cyclists first.

  10. anna says:

    Well, I have the same problem. It’s such a powerless and sad feeling that overcomes me in these situations, and I get angry about it. Wrote about a very similar experience recently: http://cyclingisgoodforyou.blogspot.com/2009/06/1-out-of-100.html
    Unfortunately, this seems to be an international – or let’s say “human” – problem. I would be glad if someone knows a good (positive?) way to deal with that. It certainly doesn’t keep me from cycling (and luckily such things don’t happen every day), but I can see why other people don’t want to, especially the ones that behave like that. Sad but true.

    • dottie says:

      So fleeing the country wouldn’t help? Or just fleeing to Vienna? ;) Good point to remember that it’s only a small majority of people who are jerks, though.

  11. Oh, Bumble Bee Ted! With such an adorable kitty around, things can’t be so bad. Maybe keep a photo in your wallet to refer to in times of frustration.

    I think the main thing behind the drivers’ behaviour in the US, is that they seriously are not aware of the cyclists’ rights. I do not know in what portion of Driver’s Ed this stuff was taught, but I do not remember learning it myself. Many, many drivers honestly think that cyclists are breaking the law by taking the lane and holding up traffic, or even riding on the side of the lane — since the latter causes unpredictability. So when drivers make these comments to you, chances are they are operating under that assumption. (Until I began cycling myself, I was under the same assumption!) And if bicycle law remains so obscure that only motivated cyclists read it, then how do we really expect drivers to know? There are all sorts of laws on the books about which we have no idea.

    I am remembering my attitude towards cyclists when we used to live in a less urban area and I drove my car. I was afraid to death of cyclists because I found that they rode unpredictably and I did not want to accidentally hit one. One scenario, is that the cyclists would be on the side of the lane, seemingly with enough room for me to pass, only to suddenly take the whole lane without looking over their shoulder just at the moment I was about to pass them. This has happened to me many times, and after such precedent gets established, I can see why drivers have a hard time trusting cyclists.

    Another scenario I remember with horror as a driver, was cyclists taking the lane on a 40mph winding rural road that went along a cliff, with the ocean on one side and mountain on the other. This road was the only way for cars to get from the rural area into town for work, and the bicycles were going 30mph below the speed limit. Moreover, because the road was winding, drivers (going 40mph!) often could not see the cyclists in time. So technically, they could kill a cyclist by following the law and going the speed limit, simply by not being able to brake on time.

    Because we live in Boston now and I am often on and off in Europe anyway, I have not really driven a car for over 2 years. But we do own one, and we use it when we travel long-distance (my husband drives 90% of the time, because I don’t enjoy it). We have no plans to get rid of the car and do not see ourselves as anti-drivers; firmly believing that both cars and bicycles have their uses. I still remember all the fears and annoyances I had towards cyclists when I did drive, and these memories raise many concerns. Why do drivers not know the law? Not because they are “bad people”. I wasn’t a “bad person” and I didn’t know the law. Why are situations permitted to exist where winding 40mph roads create such dangerous possibilities?

    It seems to me that two types of things need to happen, before cyclists can be safe. One of these is some sort of “legal memo” being sent to citizens that informs them of the existence of road sharing laws. Surely such an initiative can be easily done using the local news channels, etc. I think that being aware of a clear set of rules will reduce many of these driver-shouting incidents. The second thing that needs to be done, is a restructuring of road design. We cannot expect people not to be frustrated when they have to drive 30+mph below speed limit because a cyclist is taking the lane and there is no way to go around. People have plans to get to work on time, to pick up children, to visit a loved one in a hospital, etc., which are undermined by such poor design. This is a complicated and expensive issue to tackle, but until it is done, things cannot magically improve

    I do not mean to excuse drivers who are mean and rude. But I strongly believe that the lack of infrastructure and law-awareness are to blame for the atmosphere of hostility on the roads, rather than single individuals. Something must be done to improve the infrastructure and law-awareness.

    • Christa says:

      In Germany, children take “safe cycling lessons during their early school years.” (Pucher, policy.rutgers.edu/…/pucher/Cycling%20for%20Everyone%20TRB.pdf).

      Yes, while it’s easy to blame motorists, it’s not entirely their fault. The majority of transportation in the US is designed only for automobiles. Engineers and policy makers ought to promote various modes of transportation, but most of them drive cars. They really have no idea what it’s like to cycle for transportation.

      I’m sure that this will soon change due to demographic shifts (baby boomer and gen Y). People will be electing politicians who promote walking, cycling and public transportation.

    • dottie says:

      Definitely true that we need more infrastructure and education! I can’t believe that people in Chicago lack the knowledge that bikes are allowed on the road, though, as there are thousands of cyclists and lots of signs. This was not on a busy street, either, but a small neighborhood side street. Drivers seem to be getting much worse in the summer, as the number of cyclists on the road multiplies many times over. Seems to me their reactions are more about being threatened by this “other” taking up the road. All winter I can remember only one bad experience with a driver.

  12. I think it’s just mostly an issue of awareness on the part of drivers. Here in Portland, most drivers are pretty aware of cyclists and their rights to be on the road, so I rarely have bad experiences like that while out riding.

    This is just an idea, but what if you had a card or a small paper print which explained cyclists’ rights that you could hand out to ignorant drivers? Maybe that would be less confrontational and less stressful for you as well. Maybe there could be a common text or pdf file which everyone could have access to and print at home or something. It could be a project for your local cycling advocating group? It’s maybe a bit of a hassle to carry cards, but maybe it can raise drivers’ awareness one driver at at time.

    • dottie says:

      I was thinking about that. I don’t really think the problem is actual ignorance of the law, though, but ignorance in general – getting off on being a bully in an SUV.

  13. Carolyn says:

    Oh driver’s drive me nuts too! I am always worried drivers will get pissed when I have to take a lane because of parked cars on bike lane are blocked. Oh why oh why don’t they just understand? In the local paper there’s a big debate about it going on, some people seem to think that bikes don’t belong on the road! What the?

  14. paul says:

    Ah – the Honk… I get that a lot around here, and I’m like you dottie, I have a mixed bag of reactions to it. Normally I jump a bit and turn around to give the driver a nice square look in the eyes and keep on my way. Some days though it happens a couple times and it gets my blood boiling.
    I caught up to one of the cars and went into an out of control rage fest, and the guy driving said: “Hey man, I was just letting you know that I was behind you.” Many drivers think that they’re doing us a favor by honking and “letting us know that they were behind us.” I calmed down and told him that since I’m not in a giant metal and glass box, I can hear cars and trucks just fine. I also told him that it actually made it less safe because I jumped and went off my line a bit.
    I like the idea of little card with information about how cars and bikes can coexist. I already have cards for my xtracycle, what’s another one.

    Off to make some of those up!

  15. melissa miller says:

    honk. when you brought that up, paul, it reminded me of my drivers ed class so many years ago. we were taught to give a little toot of the horn to let people know we were there; whether it be cars, bicyclists or pedestrians. unfortunately the horn comes across as startling and/or negative. cars need a little bell. ;)

  16. academichic says:

    Sorry this happened Dottie, so frustrating! If you want, I have pictures of my dog Indie in a bubble bee costume from last Halloween too – if things get tough, I’d be glad to share! :)

    Although an airhorn sounds like so much fun and so tempting, I think the idea of cards with info. might actually result in better awareness. I also blame this on general lack of info and poor infrastructure. Having lived in Europe, I can say that people there know that bikes share the road and this happens much less. But I’m often surprised here at people’s attitudes towards cyclists. I think education initiatives in any shape or form would only help to better this situation.

    While in the 3rd grade in Germany, our whole class took “cyclist ed” and then had to get our cycling license in order to bike commute to school. The police set up a road course and just like with your car driver’s license, we were watched as we went through the course, making sure we knew how to be on the road and follow rules. It was great for us (we felt extremely cool getting our cycling license!) and great for the community at large because all those parents whose kids were being trained to bike commute were much more responsible and aware drivers in return. And then those kids grow up knowing that bikes have a place on the road and with a sense of appreciation for that.

    So yeah, all that to say that I think it’s a cultural change that needs to happen and that education initiatives are the way to go.


    • dottie says:

      That type of education is a great idea! Kinda like the Safe Routes to School program that recently started in the U.S., except that program is terribly underfunded.

  17. Another provocative piece!

    I think that being able to let these people know what they have done to you, is a very helpful to you and them. I recently had the joy of being cut off by this women, who was on a cell phone. The joy part was being able to give her the “hang up and drive” hand signal. It made me feel better and what could she say?

    Why do people become such assholes when they get in a car? Read the book “Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)” for a whole bunch of them. Being in a box is one of them. Being in cars hampers our ability to communicate with those around us. Plus it gives us anonymity, which just like the internet, allows and perhaps encourages some of us to act like jerks.

    I too, can’t stay mad for long, when I look at my kitty kat Godfrey.
    Godfrey Winter 2009

    • Trisha says:

      Godfrey looks just like my cat, Willie (Nelson)! Is he a Russian blue? Also, I can’t wait for TRAFFIC to come out in pb so I can read it. Tom Vanderbilt’s blog is wonderful.

      • He’s a Wisconsin farm-mutt-kitty. He must have had some striped ansestors, because if you look carefully, you can see some stripes on his tail. People unanimously say he is a “pretty kitty”…It goes to his head.

        I haven’t finished the book, but could already write a few good blogs from what I have learned (They are in the works).

        I hope you didn’t name him Willie because he was always… “on the road again”! ;D

      • Catherine says:

        Trisha–as a librarian, I just can’t help but remind you that your friendly neighborhood library would probably be more than happy to let you read their hardback copy free of charge :)

        Between ditching my car for my bike, and the bookstore for the library, I’m pretty sure that I’m saving about $3000/year ($150/month on car insurance, $100/month on books). It’s making my Vancouver bike/sea kayak vacation fund fill up nice and fast!

        • Trisha says:

          Spiderleg: Willie is a mutt too but he looks so much like a Russian Blue that I think he must be part one…he got his name because he was found abandoned on the side of the road by some friends after they were coming back from a Willie Nelson show.

          Catherine, at my job we usually get free copies of new paperback releases, so I’m crossing my fingers that TRAFFIC will be among them next month. If not, the Nashville Library will be my next stop!

  18. Melissa Hope S says:

    Wow! What BS that those drivers did that!
    Good for you on snapping back at them, though.
    When I am mistreated by drivers, I am too spooked out to say anything. Or when I think of something….they’re long gone.

  19. Trisha says:

    Loving all these comments (and animal photos!). I do think in some cases it’s just ignorance, but as Dottie mentioned in Chicago that would be a hard thing to claim. Like Lovely Bicycle, I see both sides of the car/cyclist divide, though I cannot understand behavior like this at all. It’s so frustrating when people see it as an us vs. them situation, when that is not the case.

  20. Cyclin Missy says:

    I hate it when a car honks behind me. It scares the crap out of me, and I jump every time. It’s a miracle I don’t swerve right into the hood of the likely too-close metal beast. Arg.

    I hear your frustration, girl! But I’m glad you still love cycling! A little venting is not such a bad thing. Stay safe out there!

  21. Johnny says:

    I’d love to get some “I DRIVE LIKE AN A$$HOLE!” magnets made to flick onto cars like that. :)

  22. Val says:

    Definitely, what Paula said: the Air Zound. I have one on my road bike, and an even louder air horn on my cargo bike. They honk at me, I honk right back; it’s like a conversation. “I have a horn!” “Nice! I have one, too, and it’s even louder than yours!” It confuses them, if nothing else, and makes me smile. You should definitely try it.

  23. Mamavee says:

    I’m totally late…

    But, yeah it irks me to no end as well. I had a similar experience last fall riding home on a fine street. There was a UPS truck parked and sticking out into the lane so I had to move well into the lane to pass it. Some stupid BMW gave me a sharp brief beep. I ignored him and kept going around the UPS truck and then moved back to the side of the lane. He all revs of past me all huffy. I ranted and raved all afternoon about it. As you can see, I still rant about it. I’d love to meet up with him out of our cars/bikes and um… bitch slap him. yeah, that’s really what I want to do. take my 5 foot self and walk up to him and slap his face and tell him he’s a stupid rich guy who should be ashamed of himself.

    really helpful huh? WHich is why I work hard at trying to annoy that little noise and not engage. Although if I got nearly run off the road recently like you did, I might go off on someone. maybe I’ll get that Air Zound thing too. I def need a loud honk!

  24. Huff says:

    Here’s a post I saw in another thread about a similar/different topic:

    I live in Baltimore, MD. I asked my local police how I could avoid being harassed by motorists when I ride a bike around the city. He told me to wear a big fat gun on my belt – that’s what he does and it works great.

    I don’t know about Denmark, but here in the USA we have open carry laws. Anyway, I tried wearing the gun and now magically the motorists not only see me but they are almost rather polite. It’s actually a pretty facinating experiment.

    Okay, I know, a gun may be a deadly weapon, but then – so is a car – especially they way they are handled with regard to cyclists in the USA. I guess respect here requires equal footing. In my opinion, if you can’t be trusted to be responsible with a gun, you certainly can’t be trusted with a car either.

    I think the USA gun culture has a lot in common with the car culture. It’s not that we trust other people with guns and cars, we just don’t want anyone to infringe on OUR rights to have and use them in any irresponsible way we deem necessary. In many ways, the car replaces the gun as the primary form of personal protection and/or assult etc.. All americans are equal as long as they are equally armed….

    Oh by the way, when I asked police about the helmet, he replied “that’s going to get you any respect”. Nice…


    • Wow, I won’t even get into the “gun carry” thing, but you have got us American’s down. “Don’t tread on me” is deep in our psyche. It is also in some of our notions of liberty. “I got my rights, I don’t care about yours”.

      So if I go along with the American way of thinking, I’d better not rely on someone else making the streets safe for me. ?

      BTW~ I think you meant “that’s(Wearing a helmet) NOT going to get you any respect”. Could be wrong though…

    • dottie says:

      Carrying a gun is illegal in Chicago, so that’s out :) (Yes, there are legal challenges to the law and it probably will be held unconstitutional eventually.)

  25. I think one of the reasons why this happens less here in Portland is that a lot of people driving cars also ride bikes on occasion. And they know they wouldn’t want to be honked from behind if they were riding.

    Maybe people in Chicago know about basic laws regarding bicycles on the road, but clearly some don’t seem to have any respect for cyclists. I think a card with some well written words can communicate to the disrespectful driver in a way that may be hard to do verbally. At least the driver will see that cyclists are intelligent civilized people and not obstacles blocking the way.

  26. greyhound says:

    Illegitimi non carborundum.

    Don’t let’em take your joy either. Remember, the a-hole who honks at you at least has made clear that he sees you and is VERY unlikely to actually hit you. :-)

    I eventually copied, reduced and laminated the basic traffic laws giving bicycles the right to the roadway.

  27. I like to wave at honkers. There have been times when I just slow down when I am honked at, then even more if I am honked at again and so on. Mostly, I like to think of honkers as people who have limited imagination and vocabulary that should be pitied for their self limiting ignorance.

    • dottie says:

      I’ll try to stick to waving at the worst. I do that sometimes, too. I noticed today that I’m 90% more chill when I’m riding my oma – more inclined to wave with my entire hand instead of one finger ;)

  28. I’m interested to see that ‘cycling Tourette’s’ is not just a British phenomenon! Unfortunately drivers globally hate cyclists. My best response is to know the law and politely inform them of their stupidity at the next junction. Although, occasionally I lose it and swear… very loudly.

  29. Man says:

    The short version and most important
    Try to take a deep breath and be safe out there – confrontations like that can end badly.

  30. E A says:

    One of my biggest fears is being doored. Just last night a cab (who I thought was going to cut me off so I slowed a bit) actually came to a complete stop and next thing I knew the door flew open and out popped his paying passenger. I just narrowly escaped his door and scraped the curb! Whew! “Watch it!” I called back — still shaking from that near miss… Always be on the lookout when it comes to cabs.

  31. Sarah says:

    These stories are so frustrating! I’m sorry you had a bad ride. Wanna know something weird? I’ve been biking in Chicago for years and I rarely RARELY get harrassed by motorists. Sure, there’s the occasional catcall (me, in my frizzy hair and baggy sweats and uncute helmet and cheapo sunglasses and dirty shoes and old backpack) but other than that drivers give me a wide berth, hardly antagonize, and are generally polite. Now, it could be that they are glaring and honking and sneering at me daily and I’m just loooost in spaaaace but I don’t think so.

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