Guest Post: Dark Sider

Sharing the Road
Sharing the Road

Sharing the road with cars is mostly a losing proposition. It’s hard to share when your vehicle weighs 8 kgs and the other guy’s is 800 kgs. If we have to share we have to let go and that is not easy, as @Kevin Wilkins explains. 

Yours in Cycling, Gianni

Anybody who knows me also knows that I have a temper.

Most of the time it’s just a funny thing to talk about over a beer, like, “Remember when you tossed your helmet into the tree and had to spend ten minutes throwing a log at it to knock it down?” Or, “I liked it when that guy cut us off and you squirted him with your water bottle through his window.” Or, “It was hot when you threw your board so hard that the tail just snapped clean off.”

“Yeah,” I say, grinning to hide my embarrassment. “Hot.”

Anybody who knows bikes also knows what it’s like to be intentionally messed with by people driving cars and trucks. I’m not talking about getting cut off accidentally or not being seen and having someone turn in front of you. I’m talking about those obvious and malicious actions that people take toward cyclists””full beers thrown out of vehicles, head-on moves that require evasive action, or swerving, or threatening, or blah, blah, blah.

On average I’d say the accidental stuff happens every other time I ride. And modestly, I’d estimate that the obvious offensive moves happen like once a month. Of course, the more you ride the more this shit happens. Individual results may vary.

As I get older it’s all getting easier to ignore, but the aggressive near misses have always had an accumulative effect. Everyone says so and everyone has their own stories. The moral? There isn’t one. After you get swung on a dozen times it’s hard to hold back the defensive urge to swing back.

About five years ago I was out riding by myself on a notoriously lame stretch of Nebraska Highway 2. Early in the ride, I’d just gotten out past Lincoln’s busy grid and was cruising along on the shoulder minding my own business. That’s when I heard the growl of the newly carved rumble strip””the warning mechanism gouged out of the road to let errant or sleeping motorists know that they are veering off the roadway. In this case it was also a warning to me that a car was coming up quick from behind. I looked back just in time to see what looked to be an out-of-control car swerving onto and off of the shoulder. I moved quickly to my right as far as I could without ditching it and the vehicle sped by me at what must have been 60 mph. I could feet the wind from the car on my hand and knee as it blew by, no further than a foot from mowing me down.

I gave ’em the “you’re number one” sign and tried to ignore the adrenalin being released into my system. “Did that just happen?” I thought. “Did that car just try to run me over?” Before I could answer my own questions I watched dumfounded as the car, now a half a mile up, pulled over onto a gravel road, turned around, and parked it””nose out to the highway.

Waiting for me? Preparing to finish the job they started? Getting ready to drive back out onto the road and knock me into traffic?

I didn’t want to know the answer to those kinds of questions so I decided not to ride past the parked car. I wasn’t going to subject myself to that danger. Instead I slowed down and pulled off the road. That’s when the driver and back seat passenger rolled down their windows and started jeering and laughing at me.

I reached in and punched the driver in the face.

No sooner did I do this then four kids jumped out of the car. I set my bike down, prepared to get my ass kicked, and then everything went black for a few seconds. When I woke up I was on the other side of the vehicle, in the ditch, with a headache and a guy standing over me yelling, “Come on!”

I stood up on shaky legs and dodged his punches, getting in a few of my own until he ran off. Then kid #2 came at me. I held off his attack while assessing the damage to my cheek, my eye, my skull. I fought #2 off only to be approached by #3 who said, “We’re gonna fucking kill you!” as he began swinging at me too. I was in ninja mode by this point, blocked all his punches, and pinned the dude on the ground in time to look up and see #4 throwing my bike into the ravine. As I got up to retrieve it a mini van pulled over and all the boys jumped into their car and sped off. Later the driver of the mini van said that when he pulled up, all four were coming after me, one of them holding a small bat or a steel pipe.

The mini van Samaritan helped me to a farmhouse, called the Sheriff, and eventually drove me back into town, some fifteen miles out of his way. Thanks, again, whoever you were.

The x-rays showed no fractures, but the doctor said it was obvious that I’d been hit with something in the head, not a fist, but some kind of small blunt object.

It was kind of a wake-up call for me. My first son, Miles, was about three at the time. As I stewed over the incident in the following days I kept coming back to him. Not only what it would have been like for him to have a dad who was run down and killed by a car while out riding a bicycle, but what it would have been like to have a dad who was beaten down and possibly fatally injured because he was too angry not to fight back””what it would have been like to have a dad who was a victim of his own temper.

So, for him, I vowed to keep that temper under wraps.

And I thought it was pretty much over after that. I was mellower on the bike in reacting to asshole drivers and in turn my son and my next son and my wife and my entire family would get to continue to have me around … the new non-temperamental me. The best guy in the world.

Yeah, right.

A few months back, a friend of mine was asking me if I’d had any recent incidents while out on the road. “No,” I told him. “I’ve been trying to let that stuff go. I kind of realized that there was one consistent element in all those events””me. I figure I’m partly to blame, so I’m keeping it mellow.”

But there we were, literally two weeks after that conversation, cruising into to town after a ride, when a speeding car overtook our group in a sharp turn, crossed the double yellow into on-coming traffic, and then at the last minute swerved back into our group of riders, nearly hitting us. Cue adrenal gland.

Sixty seconds later we rolled up behind the guy as he was sitting at a stoplight. The signal turned green and we rolled past him. Stupidly, but hopefully making him more aware of our presence than he was earlier, I swerved a little into the lane in front of his car.

This set him off and he swerved at me from behind. I was able to push off his car with my hand and get away from him, but only with enough time to get out of the way of his second 45-degree swerve into me and my bike. By this time he’d moved me over considerably onto the shoulder and was now swerving at the group of riders I was with. We all avoid getting run over, only to have him swerve once more, stop in front of us, jump out of his car, and start yelling incomprehensibly. Something about how we’re not supposed to be out there on the roads. I didn’t hear anything else he said because I was loudly reciting his license plate number to him over and over. He eventually got in his car and left. I called the cops.

The officer came and met us, questioned us, took our statements, and said he’d go talk to the guy, but there wasn’t much else he could do. It was our word against his. That was fine with us. We just wanted the driver to know that he’d made a bad move, that it could have been potentially fatal, and to feel a bit of shame in having a police cruiser visit his home.

But almost immediately the guilt began to creep back in like it did after that incident five years ago. I could have avoided this latest confrontation so easily. And in my attempt to force some awareness on an obviously insane person, I almost got myself and my friends run over. Not cool. Not cool, at all.

I’ve since apologized to my friends. They all laugh and say not to worry about it, that the driver was out of line no matter what I did. But I still feel bad. I could have messed things up for about five really good guys and their families with my little swing-back. And that would have been a zillion times worse than any near miss””even if that near miss was only a near miss because everyone on bikes had enough skills to get out of the way of the driver’s first manslaughter attempt.

Still … bad temper. I have one. And it’s not called a bad temper because it’s funny or good or interesting. It’s called bad because it’s bad.

Hopefully with a little age and a little judgment I can learn to use my powers for good, because””even if I do say so myself””the force is strong with this one.

Must not turn to the dark side.

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74 Replies to “Guest Post: Dark Sider”

  1. I am incredibly lucky over here in the OooKay.  I live in stunning countryside with roads and lanes all around to ride on.  Although drivers here are not as good as those in France or Spain I have noticed a dramatic improvement over the last couple of years.  The awareness of cycling as a sport, and one we are doing well at currently, means there are lots more riders out there, and funnily enough most of them also drive cars.

    I do not envy you, I have a sneaking suspicion my reactions would be fairly similar if confronted in the same way, I just think with age comes the realisation that there is only ever  likely to be one loser.

  2. @ChrisO “Inshalla factor” is brilliant. We have a similar thing going here in Israel, must be a middle-eastern fanatics thing. I live in Jerusalem near two orthodox neighborhoods, and I’ve already witnessed several cases of young Yeshiva guys muttering “God will safeguard me” and walk straight into a four-lane road in heavy traffic. The only time I don’t dare to ride outside is during the big holidays, when they all drive their 13-kid families in the backseat and boot. Absolutely no control of their cars, and a complete disregard for any safety concepts.

  3. Yep, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with drivers but these days (older, have a VMH, etc.) I do my best to let it go. But, this is what you can’t explain to non-road cyclists – how would you feel if doing what you love to do (gardening, golfing, swimming laps in a pool) involved being CONSTANTLY harassed and threatened and nearly hit?

    I love new age types who say happiness is all in your own mind. A friend of the VMH told me this once. (And she drives like a maniac!) But, after awhile you just get fucking pissed putting up with asshole drivers.

    Sadly, it’s just an “accident” in the U.S. if you hit a cyclist. No repercussions most of the time. We’ve had two cyclists hit and killed in my city in the past two years, pushing us way past the average. Not sure if someone has linked to it, but someone in Portland just analyzed the newly published cycling safety numbers. In terms of numbers of riders/trips, cycling is getting safer in the U.S.

    Yep, I’m on the board of a local cycling advocacy group.

    Ride defensively aggressive, and keep on riding! (though I respect anyone’s decision to head for the woods or trails) I love road cycling too much to give up.

    I’m a historian and I honestly see cycling as part of the 21st century civil rights movement. Same sex marriage, equal pay for women, and equal access to roads/trails/walking for non-auto users. I’m sure I’m missing quite a few, but I do see this as a time when things can change for the better.

    Heck, DE and KS have removed all their “Share the Road” signs and replaced them with “Cyclists May Use Full Lane.” Get out there and see what you can do to get the laws changed. It won’t stop aggressive drivers, but it surely will help out cyclists.

  4. On the roads I ride on here in SE Wisconsin, the drivers are generally outstanding in their courtesy. I get waves from some! I always acknowledge kindness and consideration is someone slows up or hesitates to pass me. I almost always get an acknowledgement back.

    I did have a rare negative encounter the other week: I was heading home and exiting a long, gentle S- curve. A milk semi (this is WI after all . . . ) passed me and gave me a wide berth. I was to the right of the white line as the shoulder is good, wide and smooth at that particular point. 100m earlier often has a lot of gravel on the shoulder. Because the milk guy went wide he “forced” an oncoming driver onto the gravel verge on his side of the road. Who got the abuse? Me.

    Generally though, in WI, if a driver kills a cyclist, a slap on the wrist is about all that’s meted out. We are the state with the most lax drink-driving laws in the country. You read of 5th, 6th, 7th offenses in the paper regularly. The first DUI is a misdemeanor here . . . It’s not a felony until your 4th offense. That used to be the 5th, but the state legislature decided to get tough and make it your 4th.

  5. Having ridden road bikes for 30 years I, like everyone, have had my share of close calls.  But the best revenge story was one told to me by a co-worker of mine when I was in the bike biz.

    The guy worked out of a Denver area warehouse at the time and for years was a big guy, as in typical ‘Merican fat guy. After a heart scare, he starts riding again and 12 months later is back in shape, riding to and from work.   So this one day he rides in only to have the weather crap out and it starts to snow. Not tons, but enough to muck up the evening commute. Regardless, he gets on his road bike and starts riding home. As he’s riding along, some a-hole cuts close, hits a puddle, drenches my friend, screaming out the window an invitation to get the F of the road. Nice.

    So a mile or two later the road comes to a big, busy intersection.  With the snow, its a shit show and traffic is backed up major.  As my guy rides up he sees the car that gave him the business. He stops, raps on the window, and the driver rolls it down, again screaming to get off the road.

    Now, my co-worker was known for his temper.  As in like blue touch paper. Boom and he’s off. But according to him, he waits for the guy to slack off a bit.  “So,” he says “you know what?”   “What!!” said the driver.  “I’m gonna make it home to my warm house tonight, but you are not” he said with a smile as he broke off both windshield wipers and tossed them as hard as he could into the snow.

    Karma, as they say, can be a bitch.

  6. My propensity for a bit of reverse road rage reared its ugly head on Sunday at the South Australian Amy Gillett Ride after the exit from the express way that formally only went one way, now goes two ways.

    Several riders in front of a 30 strong bunch charging towards a small “round a bout” were on more than one occasion warned that a vehicle was approaching from the right, they ignored our warnings and as we slowed to respect the vehicle that was approaching they finally decided that the vehicle was indeed too large to tackle and locked up brakes in a symphony of clashing wheels and bodies and carbon and mismatched kit.  Once we determined they were relatively unharmed, albeit in a tangld crumpled mess on the ground,  a tirade of abuse towards the fellow cyclists ensued from us, as the inniocent car driver slowly turned the rounda bout shaking their head.

    Yes, we cyclists are idiots also.

  7. As the seasons have changed, and now sunset time, for us Northerners, I’ve been reminded how distracted drivers are at all times. Even with multiple lights, hi viz clothing I’ve nearly been clipped this week while commuting.

    Already stated, but assume you are invisible to all drivers. Their mindset doesn’t help. “I wasn’t expecting a cyclist on the road.” Yeah, I wasn’t expecting you to run that red light either.

  8. Great article Kevin.

    It’s hard to keep a lid on the anger sometimes, especially if some dick has come within a whisker of putting you under their ute. I try and keep it to a minimum these days, but have been known to kick wing mirrors, throw bidons and yell obscenities in the past.

    A mate I use to ride with back in Aus was notorious for getting into alterations with drivers, pedestrians, other riders… always made for an interesting ride, sprinting away from cars full of rabid teens who’ve just been spat on through their window or pulling U-turns after some bogan jumped out of a car with a bit of pipe.

  9. @ChrissyOne

    @Ken Ho

    When I was about 15, I got flogged on the back and knocked into a ditch by a whip aerial wielded by an idiot in a passing car full of yobs. Back then, I took the rego number to the cops and all he said was, I’ll tell where they live, you can go sort them out. Typical piss-poor copper response.

    Holy shit are you kidding me?! Your banter and this story tells me you don’t live in the states, because there’s no way in hell any cop would give out this info here. I would LOOOOOOVE to find out where these assholes live. Not to knock on their door in broad daylight and try to be scary. Oh hell no. But to sabotage their car and plant narcotics and child porn in their mailbox. Fuck me, that would be AWESOME.

    Fuck, Chrissy!  Remind me NEVER to cross you!!!

  10. @ChrisO

    Here in Dubai/UAE driving can be very reckless but is not deliberately targeted or aggressive for several reasons.

    First, road rage is virtually unheard of here for legal and cultural reasons. It is a criminal offence to insult someone and it’s not just some strange law nobody enforces. There have been a number of cases of people giving the finger and ending up in jail. Tell the most useless call-centre operative they are an idiot and you are likely to have the police pay you a visit.

    So you get used to just ignoring the most crazy, lethal driving at 150km/h on a motorway. Accident and fatality rates here are on par with sub-Saharan Africa. It is common to see kids jumping about unrestrained in vehicles at any speed. This has been explained to me partly as the “inshallah” factor – if God wants you to die then you will, regardless of what you do. I don’t know how true or conscious that is in people’s minds.

    Second and more benign is the lack of any sense of gain and loss which I think is behind much driver-cyclist aggro in other countries. What cycling courses and paths exist are separated and cycling is mainly recreational or training. Nobody pays direct tax so there is no sense that anyone owns the road or has paid for someone to enjoy something they can’t. We rarely get in the way of cars or make them slow down or wait so they don’t hate us.

    Finally there is also the ‘boss’ factor if I can use the term, which is that when I’m out training and a bus or van is coming up to an intersection if you tell them to stop they usually do. It makes no difference who has right of way. Putting it bluntly if a bloke from Bangladesh runs me over the chances are he might lose his job or be fined or suspended. At the very least hell have a load of trouble from the police. Being in the right will give him no satisfaction if he doesn’t have a pay check to send home next month. So I’m alive and he’s employed – win, win. This doesn’t work with Range Rovers, Nissan Armadas or Dodge Silverados who have a greater sense of entitlement but the other rules still apply.

    I wouldn’t try cycling to commute or in some busy areas. It’s not only drivers but just the roads are set up completely for cars in terms of directions, lanes and so on. Having said that the RTA is building more cycle paths so maybe it will pick up. It’s just not very joined up now. I could cycle 80% of the way to work but at one end have to cross a 14 lane freeway and 8 lanes at the other. And have no shower or security facilities.

    @Harminator You have lived my dream. Just to have done it once would be enough.

    THIS is a brilliant post!  Loved reading it.

  11. @Buck Rogers


    @Ken Ho

    When I was about 15, I got flogged on the back and knocked into a ditch by a whip aerial wielded by an idiot in a passing car full of yobs. Back then, I took the rego number to the cops and all he said was, I’ll tell where they live, you can go sort them out. Typical piss-poor copper response.

    Holy shit are you kidding me?! Your banter and this story tells me you don’t live in the states, because there’s no way in hell any cop would give out this info here. I would LOOOOOOVE to find out where these assholes live. Not to knock on their door in broad daylight and try to be scary. Oh hell no. But to sabotage their car and plant narcotics and child porn in their mailbox. Fuck me, that would be AWESOME.

    Fuck, Chrissy! Remind me NEVER to cross you!!!

    Chrissy, that’s Buck saying that to you. Chapeau.

  12. @Ken Ho


    No, I don’t live in the USA. I live in sunny Queensland. I was about 15 at the time, and I’m 50 now. I was a skinny kid on a push-bike. I would have been slaughtered.

    About a decade later, there was a massive inquiry into the endemic corruption in the Qld Police Force, which changed things a lot. Systematic corruption in our police goes back to the colonial days, of the Rum Corps. Things have changed a lot, but sadly our police services still attract a lot of bullies and yobs. I have been elbow-shaved by a Police car as recently as a couple of years ago, and our mandatory helmet laws are still used as “gotcha” laws, a bit like the old “dull tail-light” to pull people up and hassle them if they are in the mood. As noted above, there are new minimum passing laws being trialled here, which at least puts a driver definitely in the wrong if they hit and kill you. That was prompted by a jury acquittal of a truck driver who killed a guy in Brisbane at a pinch point. His defence was “I thought I had enough room”. Murder by carelessness, and no punishment. Which explains why I run a mirror, Frank’s loony objection, be damned !!

    Both Oz and the US have adopted the stance that a bike is a vehicle. In Europe, bikes are treated more like pedestrians, which makes a whole lot more sense, and has resulted in much better outcomes. In Oz/US, the roads and road rules are indisputably biased toward the commonest user, the car.

    Things don’t seem to be getting any better in Queensland…

  13. A guy pulled in front of me and was close enough that I was able to tap his rear bumper with my front wheel. I’m a big guy wearing bright yellow and with several lights, but he clearly hadn’t seen me (i.e. hadn’t checked his mirrors) as he was obviously completely baffled when I leaned in through his window to ask him if he wanted me to wear anything brighter.

    I also lost my rag recently with a town mountain biker, who was cruising along the pavement and suddenly pulled out in the road right in front of me. I was semi-expecting it so I swerved, and then gave him a mouthful. He’ll look next time.

    Some cyclists sadly give the rest of us a bad name.

  14. @brett

    The copper could not even be original. The “cockies on wheels” line was originally delivered by one Derryn Hinch a few years ago a shock jock with proven microcephaly.   Idiots that say things like that discredit themselves and actually improve things, removing themselves and their influence from the debate.. With luck, he’ll be sent to a re-education gulag in Cycleria.

    I think things have actually improved a lot. I was thinking that my posts here painted a rather gloomy picture, but it’s been a while since I was badly shaved. My night riding in low traffic conditions sees most cars do a full lane overtake.   After the 1m rule came in I noted an immediate change. Mind you, I run good front and rear lights and a side flashing red as well at times, which sadly is broken now.  I have just bought a Monkry Electric 232 to make me even brighter.   I had a great ride in Mackay today, 40 km, super fast run to the town lines on glassy hot mix, no shaves.

    Riding in the Tweed is as good as ever, tons of great toads, lots of signs saying “watch out for Dutch bikes”, and I can ride the freeway there. Weird, in NSW it’s OK to ride on a motorway, but not a footpath, but in Qld, the opposite.  I like the last 60km  of freeway from Byron to the borDer. Lovely bit of road, with some super fast bits.

    Dont quote me for truth, but I can’t recall reading about a cycle fatality since the new passing rule came in.

  15. @RobSandy

    People are what they are, mode of transport not withstanding.  When I’m walking to my coffee shop on our beach path, I often get buzzed  by path bandits. Very annoying.

  16. @Ken Ho

    The comments at the bottom of that article show a disturbing trend in the attitudes of drivers towards cyclists in Australia though. It’s almost as bad here in NZ. When a person is dehumanised because of their choice of mode of transport, that’s scary.

  17. On a lighter note, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the “Get on the sidewalk!” shout with the driver who screamed it at me. They got caught in traffic. It’s a blast to ask an unhappy, angry driver to assess what they just yelled at a stranger…and then ask if it applies to that stranger who happens to be pedaling a bicycle.

    It’s like “What does the cow say?” toy, but for adults.

  18. @brett The comments that get posted under any cycle related article in the the UK press aren’t any better. Generally, a massive amount of whining about cyclists murdering innocent pedestrians on the footpath or “breaking the law” by riding two abreast. Apparently, the solution is compulsory registration, licensing and insurance along with taxation.

    Mouth breathers repeating something they’ve read elsewhere but didn’t understand and with no idea of the law or how the roads are funded. Unfortunately, unless it’s a William Fotheringham article, anything cycling related in the mainstream press is best ignored.

  19. @PeakInTwoYears

    @Buck Rogers


    @Ken Ho

    When I was about 15, I got flogged on the back and knocked into a ditch by a whip aerial wielded by an idiot in a passing car full of yobs. Back then, I took the rego number to the cops and all he said was, I’ll tell where they live, you can go sort them out. Typical piss-poor copper response.

    Holy shit are you kidding me?! Your banter and this story tells me you don’t live in the states, because there’s no way in hell any cop would give out this info here. I would LOOOOOOVE to find out where these assholes live. Not to knock on their door in broad daylight and try to be scary. Oh hell no. But to sabotage their car and plant narcotics and child porn in their mailbox. Fuck me, that would be AWESOME.

    Fuck, Chrissy! Remind me NEVER to cross you!!!

    Chrissy, that’s Buck saying that to you. Chapeau.

    Ha!  I have truly seen some really fucked up stuff in a few places in the world but the idea of planting kiddy porn takes the cake!!!  Can you say “Eeeevil???”

  20. I didn’t read this at first because I figured it would touch a nerve.  It did.

    Best comment so far was Red Ranger re: rapists blaming women for bringing it on themselves.  Seems like as cyclists we get blamed for bringing it on ourselves.

    My VMH and I ride together a lot… and commute together often (we work near each other).  If someone buzzes us, I take it as a threat to her life and I will defend her.  I only control my anger if I realize that someone has the potential to hurt her and not just me.  I often worry that I’ll be biking home and come across an accident scene involving her.  It stresses me out.  She’s had a few incidents and she’ll often be much better at controlling her anger than I am.  The thing that baffles me, is how harassing and threatening a girl makes some men (in vehicles… especially big trucks) feel more manly.  Does trying to run over a girl make them feel closer to being a man?

    I hate cars.  We live in the Auto Age.  It’s the epitome of laziness, entitlement, ignorance, and arrogance.  I do not stand for it.  Law makers, licensing agencies, and society are all part of the problem.

    @Gianni had a good idea:  Bear Spray (for the fucktards who get out to beat you up – don’t mistake it for a CO2 canister though).  It should only be used for self defense, since using it as a weapon is against the law… and unfortunately the only way to win is by beating them at their own game (the law that is).

  21. I’m (relatively) quite fortunate that in the UK police are cracking down on drivers being deliberately aggressive to cyclists. The result is that the worst that has happened to me “” in terms of using the car as a weapon””is driving past extremely fast while leaning on the horn. It makes me jump, but it’s not an outright attack in the same way as swerving to deliberately run someone off the road.

    On the subject of temper, I’m training myself to wave at a bad driver to bring their attention to my presence, and””at most””mutter a non-expletive under my breath. I figure the more polite I am to a careless and/or aggressive driver, the more amicable they’ll be in return, and if it comes to a confrontation, the more confident I’ll be that the authorities will take my side (no accusations of verbal abuse or road rage).

    Stay safe out there. VLVV

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