I met a Canadian cyclist this week while waiting for traffic lights to change near the riverside bikeway. I’d just decided not to cross on the flashing DON’T WALK, a good choice as it turned out, as the light against me turned green. “This is such a good city for cycling,” the Canadian said, pointing to the bikeway opposite us. “Except for your bikers. They’re so full of rage. Why is that?” It’s a good question. I blame cars.
I took up cycling again as an adult because I hate driving, or at least I hate waiting in traffic. I can get almost everywhere my work takes me – the city, the State Library, three bookstores and half a dozen coffee shops – more quickly on my bike than in a car, most of it on that pleasant riverside path. But forced at times to use the roads, I quickly learned that some drivers disregard cyclists, ignorantly or even maliciously cutting you off, travelling too close or yelling abuse. Last year I got knocked by a car that was pulling out of a parking spot– it took months for my back and shoulder to work properly again – and the driver seemed more concerned I might sue than about anything else. While I realised car drivers might not like bike riders, I always thought other bikers would be my chums. I was wrong.
I meet a writing buddy for coffee once a week. We have a range of cafes north and south of the river. My buddy walks, I bike. But at this time of year, two of our cafes become untraversable because of the cyclists, mostly male, who descend like plagues of lycra, their backs advertising toothpaste companies, financial institutions or restaurants, their shoes – socks on the outside – clattering on the cobbles as they join the queue. They carry coins in small ziploc bags which their gloved fingers have trouble opening. When they sit down, having ordered their complicated coffees, they talk about bicycle parts. If you smile at them, they don’t smile back.
They’re in teams, and I know feeling part of a team can be rewarding, but when they’re riding, their teams turn into packs, which is not so good. I’m not in a pack. I don’t wear lycra. Until a few months ago, my bike was a 1987 Trek. I don’t cycle fast and perhaps that makes me a target, the Piggy of the Lord of the Flies biking world. When I see one of those packs coming towards me in the opposite direction on the bikeway and I hear that now familiar chorus of “Bike! Bike! Bike!” shouted down the line like “Brace! Brace! Brace!” in a plane, I panic. They pull in at the last minute, sometimes yelling something I won’t repeat here. Yes, they frighten me, especially once my son was old enough to come along on rides. He’d totter into the wrong lane just before a flying giant would almost collect him, with more of those words I won’t repeat. But they are afraid too, and well they might be.
When I feel like meeting their cycling aggression with aggression, I remember the worst case of ride rage I ever saw. I was on foot one hot day at Brisbane’s suburban Milton near a busy fiveways. I watched a cyclist pedal hard to catch up with a car stopped at a red light, drop his bike on the footpath, wrench open the back door of the car and proceed to encourage a passenger to engage in fisticuffs. The light changed to green not a moment too soon and the car sped off, the door still open, the cyclist only then beginning to shake uncontrollably, sinking to the ground near me, starting to cry. His rage spent, he looked completely deflated, although people were still giving him a wide berth. The car had nearly hit him, he told me in between sobs, and the boys in the back had laughed. I stayed with him until he’d stopped crying.
No matter how aggressive they are, cyclists are more vulnerable to cars than car drivers are to bicycles. For this reason if no other, the weight and mass differential, those who drive cars ought to be the kinder and more patient of the two.
Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend on 28 September 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch, tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!