Commentary: Road rage
Editor’s note: This column was originally published in the May issue of Velo magazine. Author Dan Wuori asked us to publish the story online in the wake of a Denver Post opinion piece that was critical of cyclists.
“Get off the road, Lance Armstrong!”
Of all the taunts shouted at me from passing car windows, this is the one I seem to inspire most regularly. I’ve never been sure if the comment stems from my chiseled calves, my perfect cadence, or the fact that I ride with a dozen attorneys in tow, but I’ll be darned if it hasn’t been hollered at me in at least five different states.
If you’ve been a roadie for any length of time, chances are good that you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of a motorist’s ire — or some smartass kid’s efforts to impress his buddies. If you’re lucky, they’ve only hurled words, and not bottles or cans. It’s time we take a stand against these indignities.
There’s something particularly cowardly about screaming at strangers from a speeding SUV. Without the likelihood of ever being confronted by your victim, the act is not unlike Internet trolling or writing a magazine column. Everyone’s a tough guy from a safe enough distance. Of course, motorists have a right to act like idiots. As they’ll be the first to tell you, they are taxpayers who have bought the privilege.
“I pay to be on this road, asshole,” one driver “explained” to me recently, as a preface to his suggestion that I leave it. His stupidity made my blood boil. I’ve never known quite what to make of the suggestion that cyclists are not also taxpaying citizens. It’s just a wild guess, but I can’t help but suspect that the dude I saw yesterday on the $7,000 Colnago pays more than his fair share to support the nation’s rural infrastructure.
I bet he also drives a car. And that’s when it hit me. What if I could use my own role as a motorist to bring healing to my two-wheeled brethren? What if we cyclists were to band together to spread love from our car windows?
And that’s when I decided to start yelling at cyclists.
On my way home from work the next day, I spotted one of my buddies riding up the road ahead. Keeping a safe distance, I rolled down the window and laid it on him.
“Tom! Hey Tom!” I shouted, eliciting just the puzzled look I’d been hoping for. “Oh man, I am so sorry… I thought you were Tom Boonen. You must get that all the time. Have a good ride.”
As I drove away, I watched his bike rock with laughter. And so I vowed to keep playing my game.
“Slow down, you’re ruining my Strava segments!”
“Your sock height is immaculate!”
“If you were any more aero you’d be a Prius.”
Silly as it seems, the idea is more than a joke.
As a follower of the sport, you may be aware of a sad phenomenon. Enter the word “cyclist” into a Google News search and you’re much more likely to find news of a confrontation, or death, resulting from the careless or malicious actions of a driver than headlines about Brad Wiggins or Peter Sagan. It’s almost enough to scare you off the road.
And it’s why we all need to model good behavior, both in the saddle (where traffic laws and stop signs apply to us, too) and behind the wheel, where my new campaign has yet to result in anything other than a smile and a wave.
That’s exactly the way things ought to be when it comes to drivers and cyclists. There’s no place you’re going that is more important than respecting the safety and humanity of those around you. And there’s no day so frustrating that you get a free pass to take out your aggression on strangers. And there’s nobody who doesn’t pay taxes. Nobody.
So I’m inviting you all to join me in an effort to do better out on the road. Give your fellow cyclists some love and encouragement. Make sure you are as courteous to drivers as you’d like them to be to you. Follow the rules of the road. And, for heaven’s sake, be careful out there. The life you save may be your own.