Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 9th, 2013
We’ve all felt it: You’re riding along on a crowded bikeway and sense someone is coming up fast from behind. Do you speed up? Ignore them? Merge to the right as fast as possible? Just maintain your speed until you can safely get out of the way?
We just heard from a reader who was in this position — and it didn’t turn out well at all. Let’s call him Kevin (he wants to stay anonymous). Kevin says he was biking eastbound on the Hawthorne Bridge path yesterday around 6:00 pm when it happened. I’ll let him share the details:
“A slower bike was in front of me. She stayed in the bike lane and didn’t make room. There were some pedestrians, some of them in the bike lane too [the bridge paths are 10.5 feet wide and shared by walkers and bikers]. I noticed a guy close behind me, so made room by riding on the pedestrian side whenever possible, but he didn’t make an attempt to pass.
Halfway over the bridge, he started calling me the worst names and screamed I should move over. Because of more pedestrians and the other bike, I was forced to continue. It’s maybe worth adding that we didn’t go slow by any means. The bike in front of me took the “OMSI” exit at the end of the bridge. So when there was finally room, the dude behind passed me like a mad man, screaming and yelling at me. He then cut me off and wanted to get off his bike, but got all tangled up and tipped over on the sidewalk in his apparent rage. At that point, I decided to avoid any kind of confrontation with this mad man and rode off.
If anybody witnessed this, I’d be curious to hear their perspective. He was maybe 50, with a white beard, a yellow jacket, and messenger bag.”
What Kevin experienced could be the result of someone simply letting out their stress after a bad day at work; but this kind of riding behavior is, unfortunately, not uncommon.
Reader Natalie Baker shared with us on Twitter today that she recently heard a nasty exchange between two riders behind her while waiting for the light on NW Lovejoy at the Broadway Bridge. “Every couple seconds,” she recalled, “this one guy would break the silence and loudly say something like, ‘Don’t forget to leave room,’ in this bizarre, taunting way as if he was trying to pick a fight, to the woman next to him. She’d respond, annoyed, with something along the lines of, ‘Don’t tell me how to ride,’ and they just kept going back and forth.”
“I couldn’t believe this kind of BS was happening among bike riders,” Natalie said, “I generally chalk up road rage to frustration from being trapped motionless in a tiny metal enclosure.” After a while she even turned around and asked the guy to “quit being a jerk.” (It didn’t have much impact.)
The fact remains there’s a large disparity of skills and speeds among people who share our bikeways. Back in 2007 we published an essay by veteran messenger John “Dabby” Campbell that explained why some people like to ride fast and urged everyone to co-exist peacefully.
To me, the problem is likely a mixture of people simply being jerks and a lack of space to ride freely. In a car, you can usually swerve and go around someone in a different lane; but on a bike there is often not the same amount of space to operate. On dedicated paths like the Esplanade, a similar phenomenon plays out with fast-riding “pathletes” swooping by more leisure-focused traffic.
For Kevin, he’s still trying to figure out if he did anything wrong. “Should I have stayed in the bike lane so he could pass me on my right in the pedestrian lane?” he asked. “I don’t even know… I have never been yelled at by a bicyclists so far. It was bad.”