A ‘Newbie’ View of the Urban Cycling Community

Background Reading

Reader Mail: New rider disappointed by ‘rude and dangerous other cyclists’

Blue light bike signal NE Oregon and Lloyd-2
How can we promote polite pedaling?(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
It’s been a long time since we reached into the mailbag and pulled one out to highlight here on the Front Page.

Today’s email comes from Rachel J. She got in touch with us last week to share her impressions as a new rider:

Subject: New to biking, disappointed….

So I just started commuting to work. Its a 20 mile round trip commute, and I have never biked in a city before. I’m still getting used to the signs and routes. I read up on the laws, visited this site, got gear, maps and books. I consider myself as prepared as I could be for a new cyclist. I was worried about other cars, but I was not prepared for how rude and dangerous other cyclists would be.

I have had multiple instances where I suddenly see a sign in front of me that tells me to change lanes or speed, and just as I do so I have someone whiz by without a warning and shout obscenities and harsh words that I did not do it sooner.

I am regularly shocked at how fast these guys (my own data gathering seems to indicate it is done by 99.9% men, which is surprising and disappointing) whiz through children and weave in and out of groups of kids right by OMSI despite the warning signs to slow down. (A few places on SpringWater trail I’ve been grossed out by gas powered scooters that foul up the air and reek, again despite signs that clearly state no motorized vehicles.)

I’m glad I started by driving in Portland or I would have thought the city was full of assholes.

My point is, I don’t want to give up cycling… but is there something I can do to promote polite cycling? Is there a best practice for interacting for these people, or a way or reporting them?

I’m always fascinated to hear the perspective of new riders. Their experience can shed important light on how we’re doing as a biking city. We talk so much about inadequate infrastructure and scary driving behaviors — but here we have someone whose biggest problem is rude behavior from other riders.

I’m sad, but not surprised by Rachel’s email. As someone who rides slowly on a big and heavy upright bike, I can relate to her feelings. There’s a lot of poor decision-making out there — especially on our central city bikeways that tend to be crowded during peak times.

So… What would you tell Rachel to keep her spirits up and convince her to not lose faith in her fellow human-powered commuters?


How can we promote polite pedaling?(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

How can we promote polite pedaling?(Photo © J.


It’s one thing to see a movie about the ‘Minions‘ from ‘Despicable Me‘, but it is quite another to find yourself immersed in the world of the ‘Minions of the King of the Combover‘. His problem is that he believes himself above guilt. He is either the ultimate victim or worthy of the love and devotion of mankind for all the good he has wrought in the world thus far. And his bank balance says all that you need to know about him.

Urban Cyclists are not unlike that guy. Listen in on their conversations on any given cycling forum and they will tell you in no uncertain terms that:

  • Pedestrians are clueless people who never pay attention
  • Motorists are horrid ogres out to disembowel cyclists
  • Rollerbladers should be banished to another era
  • Runners are always in their way
  • Nobody appreciates their personal sacrifices in the manner to which they believe is appropriate
  • Anybody saying the things I have just written is a bicycle-hater and should either be sued or drawn-and-quartered
  • None of the traffic controls applicable to cars should be used to control bicycle traffic
  • No matter how bad cyclist behavior seems to be, they do not kill anyone…
  • Oops! They kill far fewer people than automobiles
  • We are above training and licensing and besides either would hinder the growth of our culture

We are nothing if not arrogant and self-centered. If a new park opens up we complain that there are too many pedestrians using it for us to enjoy our new toy. In fact to hear us tell it nothing built in the city is for sharing with anyone else because well, it was built to help keep us safe and having everyone else using it at the same time is well rude and nasty.

We are in fact a law unto ourselves and that is what gives us the right to act as we do. The worst thing of late is the notion that somehow riding our bikes in poorer neighborhoods is going to bring about Heaven on Earth. We are just by our presence going to do what anti-gang violence marches, voter registration drives, job fairs and churches have never been able to do before. Why? I guess because bicycles are actually metallic angels that by their very use evoke love and peace.

Frankly, a good ‘night out‘ walk around your block is probably as effective. Bikes are expensive, clumsy to stow when concentrated in numbers and almost certainly guarantee some friction with motorists trying to get home of an evening to attend their children.

I’m not saying give up on group rides around the ‘hood. What I am saying is that contrary to our collective folklore about ourselves the sun does night shine forth from our anuses. We are not able to make ourselves or our communities any better than our worst behavior.

Our neighbors are not going to be unaware of our behavior on the streets. And just because we get together to ‘spread peace and love‘ we still are in essence conducting a Critical Mass Lite Ride. And that is never going to win over very many people.