Dealing With The Overly Courteous


We have yet to have had a 10° day in the Kansas City area this summer. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT have a problem with the cooler temperatures. Last year, July and August gave us afternoon temperatures around 10° to 10° on a regular basis. What I have noticed this year is that the necessity of having a water bottle for my commute seems to be negated; I still freeze a bottle overnight and then freeze it again when I get to the office – I just don’t really need to drink during the 20 minutes I’m on the road when the temperature is in the 80’s.

Still, I was reminded this morning how the water bottle serves other purposes as well. Some people keep them handy to use as a projectile in the event they are threatened by drivers or dogs. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I use mine as a psychological prompt for over-courteous people.

I pulled up to an intersection early in my ride and a driver who had no stop sign and clearly had the right of way stopped to wave me out into my left-hand turn onto a busy street. What these types of drivers don’t understand is that they may, in fact, be waving cyclists into some other on-coming traffic (Fritz calls this the “suicide wave”). Perhaps you’ve gotten into an exchange of waves that goes something like this:

“You go.”
“Thanks, but you go.”
“No, I insist, you go.”
“I really appreciate your looking out for me but, please, you go.”
“I just won’t take -no’ for an answer, you go”

That just gets the driver (and all the cars piling up behind them) miffed at you. The answer to this dilemma is as close as your bottle cage. I now just stop, put a foot on the ground and grab my water bottle to take a drink; off the drivers go and everyone is safe and happy. I use that a lot when I come to parts of the bike/hike path that cross over driveways in the office park. I also use the technique when I get to the door of my building. I appreciate that people want to hold the door open for me as I carry my bike in, but it really is much easier if they go ahead and let me open the door for myself.

Do you encounter people that think they’re doing you a favor when they’re really not being helpful at all? What do you do?

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0 thoughts on “Dealing With The Overly Courteous”

  1. Eric S says:

    If some one waves me on, I just take a quick look around and go.. I give them a nice “Thank You” wave…

    If they insist on waiting you can always point to the danger you are trying to avoid…


  2. I usually look around and then grunt on through it having already lost most of my momentum… I commute in a very high-traffic area, so, I am really appreciative any time that drivers are courteous.

  3. Hmm… you guys are nicer than I am about it. I tend to give them a “well? We’re waiting…” look as I gesture for them to go. I never get anyone that actually talks to me about it, though.

  4. danimal says:

    I got the “bikes don’t belong on the street” comment from a guy that waved me on yesterday. When I turned around he was parking after going through so I tried to talk to him about it and inform him of the vehical code. He just said he’d call the cops if I talked to him again so I offered to call them right there if he had a problem with me on a bike on the street. He stormed off inside his house at that point. I just don’t get people.

  5. danimal says:

    er, vehicle code that is.

  6. Alberto says:

    I like that water bottle thing! Neat idea.

  7. BSR says:

    I’ve used the water-bottle trick myself. Sometimes it’s a useful way to drink more often than I normally would remember to.

    The times I REALLY find this aggravating is when I’m with my kids. All the things I teach them about behaving like another vehicle on the road get screwed up when people think they’re being nice.

    There’s one tricky intersection between school and home, where I have repeat problems. It’s an entrance to a park, with crosswalks for pedestrians, and lots of joggers and dog-walkers crossing there. The cars don’t have to stop except for the pedestrians. But almost every time we are waiting there, some well-intentioned ignoramus stops and waves us through. Lots of times it’s a bad idea, as cars are coming the other way, and I just point.

    I once got into it with one insistent female who had to roll her window down to tell us to go. I finally said, “Ma’am, I’m trying to teach my kids how to ride on the street as vehicles. You have the right of way, and I’d appreciate it if you would just treat us like cars, and move along!” (By this time she had almost 10 cars stacked up behind her.) She gave me a “well aren’t you a screwy parent” look and drove on, shaking her head in disbelief at such a thing.

    My daughter (11) gets it now and is starting to have the same “would you just move along” attitude as I have. But my son (6) is still pretty confused by it all. I have to make sure he’s only listening to me, and not watching these drivers.

    I have a better reaction now — if I see someone starting to slow down, I turn away from them and pretend I’m having a mini-conference with one of the kids (normally has to happen with the 6yo at least once on the way home anyhow). If the driver sees I”m not watching them, he usually proceeds.

    I know people are trying to be nice, but there’s nothing wrong with just following the rules of the road and taking your turn when you’re supposed to.

  8. ohmypolarbear says:

    In one neighborhood I ride through on my commute, things are even worse: drivers who are already at the stop sign wait for me to get all the way to the intersection (often 30 feet or more), slow down and stop, and then give me the slightly impatient, but smiling, “well, go ahead, I’m being nice!” wave… when they could have easily made it safely through even if I maintained my cruising speed – saving everyone the time and confusion!

    Between them and the ones who never signal their turns, I have no choice but to stop whenever there’s a car near the intersection, so they might as well let the rules do their job if they want to be helpful.

    Maybe I’ll try your water bottle trick next time. It’s a great idea.

  9. Steve says:

    Flipping the bird with a loud verbal equivalent works too.

  10. Fritz says:

    There’s a reason we call that “courtesy” wave the “suicide wave.” People who mess up the rules of right of way like that endanger cyclists — we’ll accept the right of way and then get creamed from the opposite direction or by a motorist in another lane or whatever — and the cyclist will be at fault for incorrectly running the stop sign! Or better yet, you start the negotiation of “No, that’s okay, you can go” but then you perceive the driver won’t relent so you go but then the driver goes at the same time and you get hit and… again, it’s your fault for failure to yield.

  11. Drew says:

    I am so used to drivers being rude, that I am always especially appreciative when someone tries to do me a good deed when I am on the road. Even when the courtesy isn’t really helpful (like that police officer who stopped when I was timing my take off to pedal right out after he passed), those moments of helpfulness are so rare, I can’t help but smile.

  12. Nicole says:

    I’ve found that someone being overly courteous when it’s their right of way isn’t nearly as annoying to me as when they’re overly “courteous” when it MY right of way. Don’t wave me through a crosswalk (yes, I was walking my bike across) when I have the walk signal or wave me through an intersection when I don’t have a stop sign and you do. Grrr.

    ohmypolarbear — That drives me nuts too, but I see a lot of cyclists blow through an intersection like they own it, so perhaps that’s partly conditioning?

  13. Dan says:

    I’ve used the bottle trick, but my normal response is to hold up both palms in a “I’m not going” sign – maybe with a head shake. Then I look down or away to avoid their response. (I can pull off that grumpy middle aged man look that makes people not want to bother me.) They’ll eventually go, and the rest of us can all get back to our normal lives.

  14. Mary says:

    I get the suicide wave a lot..and hate it. I know when it’s my turn (and safe) to go.

    The one memorable time this happened, the person trying to wave me across into a left turn with oncoming traffic was so stubborn he let cars pile up behind him until I had to scream and point to cars that would plow through me coming the other direction.

    I hated to be rude, but…

  15. Leee says:

    I just stare them down without smiling and not moving so they never try to be “nice” again. If i have my loud horn, I honk at them.

  16. mark says:

    I like stretching. First the arms above the head with fingers interlaced, then the one where you grab the opposite elbow and bring it across your chest, then the one with the hand between the shoulder blades, elbow up. They usually get the point around the third stretch, but if not, there’s always the drawn-out yawn and neck and shoulder rolls.

  17. Julio says:

    They want to be nice but this just jars one’s sense of being NORMAL traffic not just some grown-up weirdo that is riding their bike in the street by some crazy chance.

    Until bicycle commuting becomes more normalized we’ll have to deal with this stuff.

  18. Val says:

    Personally, I’m never in so much of a hurry that I can’t wait for them to get on with their drive. I have no desire to be in front of someone who drives like that. I would much rather have them gone or, at least, in front of me where I can see them. I usually take both feet out of the Power Grips, plant them firmly on the ground, rest my elbows on the bars, and watch as they figure it out. The bottle is good, I may try that, and stretching sounds very effective, too.

  19. Matt Johnson says:

    “suicide wave” – LOL!

    I just flip them off so they hate cyclists too. That way everyone is predictable and I’m much safer ;^)

  20. Galvin says:

    Squirt them with your water bottle. But really, I like to play traffic cop when I approach intersects. I wave on all approaching traffic, so that they dont stop or wait for me. It usually keeps them moving and I dont have to slow down as much. I dont let them have the chance to give me the suicide wave. Also, by waving my arm at the approaching cars, it gets their attention that I am there. I also like to point and directional wave at 4 way stops, like a traffic cop.

  21. MoleMan says:

    I like the water bottle idea. I sometimes have to put both feet on the ground and pretend to check my pack or wheels to get them to move.

    The worst time was at a four way stop, the 4X4 across the way has the right of way, but doesn’t move. It is dark, and the 4×4’s lights are shining right in my eyes. There is traffic everywhere and I refuse to cross blind in front of him.

    My rule is don’t do anything that will allow someone to stand in front of a judge and say,”He just jumped in front of me”.

  22. Mike in Florida says:

    When I encounter someone like that, I point directly at them and say “YOU GO”, with a stern look on my face. It works.

  23. Matt Johnson says:

    I think you’re absolutely correct to handle it that way(giving them the finger does work though). Directing them to do what they really should be doing keeps you from being in a position where you are submissive or indecisive, which are the two things I see in novice cyclists.

    Whatever I do I never give up my right to be where I should be. I’ve had to force my way out of Right-Only turn lanes at stop lights to take the center lane as mine own. It usually only takes a quick and stern look over my shoulder and straight into the eyes of the driver, but it does work.

    The overly courteous drivers are probably just nervous that you might do something unexpected or are doing something unexpected. If you run into these situations you should be sure you are not “messing about” and making drivers nervous. When I see cyclists being submissive or indecisive I’d rather yield to them and waste some time rather than run anyone over. So if you run into overly courteous drivers it may be your fault or the fault of other cyclists that person has experience with. But know that they are not being nice they are nervous.

  24. Jett says:

    I like this topic. This situation would make a good exercise in both driving and bike riding classes.

    When riding with kids I get more of the courteous vs. safe or right-of-way, and it’s a good chance to educate my kids about what should be happening, both when operating a car and operating a bike.

    I really like the water bottle idea, and the stretches, checking tires and so on. I do many of these things as well, but sometimes I do get to point out hazards — such as traffic approaching from another direction — that helps distinguish being nice from being safe.

    The discussion has been excellent. Thanks for kicking off a good one.

  25. r. says:

    I just usually mouth, “I’m not going cuz your in MY way. I don’t understand why they gave you a license in the first place.” However, I never thought about the water bottle trick; I think it’s a little nicer than actually having interact with the dumb***es on the road.

  26. Jack says:

    That’s a genius solution. I commute on a mixed-used rails-to-trails route. Six miles straight into the office. Being mixed use, though, there are stop signs at crosswalks for cyclists, while pedestrians (by state law) have the right of way at all crosswalks, even unmarked. It makes for a confusing experience for motorists, few of whom actually understand the difference, and most of whom have one standard reaction as soon as they see someone – its either go all the time, or stop for everyone.

    As a result, I’ve often had the “no, you go” staredown with motorist who don’t realize I am stopping because I have a stop sign. I appreciate their attempt to be courteous, but from now on I’ll reach for the water bottle. Thanks. 🙂

  27. JiMCi says:

    “I pulled up to an intersection early in my ride and a driver who had no stop sign and clearly had the right of way stopped to wave me out into my left-hand turn onto a busy street”.

    When this happens, I stop, unclip, point at the stop sign, fold my arms and wait… Some drivers may need more time than others to get my point, but this is their problem, not mine 😉

  28. Quinn says:

    Here in Reno, I don’t have as big a problem with the suicide wavers, I just stop and rest my forarms on my bars or jack-knife my fork, the Big problem that I have hear is the GD M-Fr’s that over take me when I am going around a Big-Rig/Bus/construction zone, paying no mind to the fact that I have no safety zone or that they are in the opposing lane.

    Although I will add the water bottle trick and see what happens

  29. red says:

    try this: mouth thanks, move along and then crash in front of them (pedal slip works fine, careful: balls not far!) and stay moaning on the pavement; they will probably give you a lift and if you’re lucky they load the bike too and you get to mess their car with grease (keep bike nice and filthy); if you manage to bleed during the ride good on you; pewing is ok too but not always realistic after just a small fall, unless you can simulate a state of shock. works great!

  30. Vanessa says:

    I totally know what you’re talking about! I just unclip my Timbuk2 bag and pull it down as if I’m about to open, wait for them to pass, and quickly redo it. Thanks, but I just want to be treated like a car, is that too much to ask?

  31. Jett says:

    I’ve got a 16-year old daughter learning to drive. Driving with her in the car makes you super aware of the example you’re setting. Knowing whether or not to override normal right-of-way is a good example to set — if for no other reason than not infuriating any cyclists.

    Just trying to BE the change I want to see in the world.

  32. Easy Rider says:

    If everyone sticks to the ‘Highway Code’ then everything works. People that wave you through when you don’t need it – the suicide wave – are not sticking to the code, and by accepting the offer you are only encouraging them.
    If it were not for cars giving way to others ‘against the letter of the code’ then some motorists would never be let out of side-streets into busy traffic, so the motoring community ‘suicide wave’ each other too.

  33. Othemts says:

    This sometimes happens when I’m waiting to turn left. Some driver will stop and motion for me to go. The less courteous drivers behind them are liable to just drive around the car that’s mysteriously stopped and whack me. I always look to see if anyone’s coming behind the stopped car before taking them up on the offer. Of course, if there’s a big break in traffic behind the car that stopped for me, I just feel a little annoyed for their wasting their time and mine, since I would’ve had no problem turning left after they passed anyway.

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