The continued clash of bike and car commuters

This New York Times article, Moving Targets, is a fascinating read about the growing animosity between cyclists and drivers on the roads. While the main subject focuses on the issue of sharing the road, there’s also several interesting nuggets of information gold buried in there. Here’s my take on it…

This is my favorite paragraph from the whole article:

This summer, the number of new cyclists has increased strongly across the country. In June, nearly 11,000 first-time riders participated in Denver’s Bike to Work Day. Dahon, makers of folding bikes popular with commuters, reports a 30-percent sales increase from a year ago, with many models having been sold out since the spring. Transportation Alternatives, a bicycling advocacy group, estimates that 131,000 people cycle daily in New York, up 77 percent since 2000.

Everything is up up up! Sales of commuter specific folding bikes, number of people cycling, etc. We all know it’s true, but it’s nice to put numbers with it.

The increasing violence continues to strike fear in my heart:

A Brentwood, Calif., doctor was charged with assault. Police say he intentionally braked in front of two cyclists, with one smashing into his rear window and the other crashing to the pavement.

In bike-utopia, Portland, Ore., where 6 percent of the people cycle daily – the national average is under 1 percent – a cyclist knocked off his bike clung desperately to the hood of a moving car. And a car passenger fought with a cyclist after yelling at him to wear his helmet.

Last weekend, Utah state police arrested the driver of a pickup truck, suspected of plowing intentionally into cyclists on a morning ride.

The article continues for a full three pages and I encourage you to read the whole thing, however it basically reiterates the same things I see everywhere:

  1. Some cyclists act like complete dumb asses
  2. Drivers focus on the dumb asses and use it as an excuse to attack ALL cyclists
  3. “Normal” cyclists that obey the laws take the brunt of abuse

And I keep coming back to the top two things you and I can do to make a difference:

  1. Ride confidently and courteously
  2. Obey ALL the laws
  3. Educate people every chance you get

Another quote from the article:

But the bottom line, say driving behavior experts, is that the learning curve has just begun. Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do” (Knopf, 2008), said that because drivers do not expect to see cyclists, they don’t.

Therefore, said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group, the turmoil will abate when enough cyclists are on the road, so that everyone learns to share the space.

Keep ridin’ and smilin’

Thanks to Nick for pointing out the article to me

Picture credit Hiroko Masuike

Sign up for our Adventure-Packed Newsletter

Get our latest touring, commuting and family cycling posts and sales delivered to your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

0 thoughts on “The continued clash of bike and car commuters”

  1. peteathome says:

    Well I hope this uptic in bike sales continues and the antagonism goes down. But I remember the so-called 10-speed revolution in the early 70s when bike stores could not stock enough bikes. As soon as gas prices fell again, all these bikes ended up in garages.

  2. Ringer says:

    I’m not thinking we’re going to see gas prices fall significantly–I’d be surprised if we ever got down to $3 again. I was but a young pup in the 70s, but, from what I hear and read, we’re in a completely different energy/political situation today, especially with China adding millions and millions of cars to the roads yearly.

    And, as far as antagonism goes, I think I’ve been lucky–or the drivers in NH are just plain courteous (which they tend to be–they’re nuts about stopping for people in crosswalks). Other than one elderly gentleman who pulled out of a bank and didn’t see me, I feel safer biking on the road than I did when I was running.

    Fingers crossed…

  3. Cafn8 says:

    Not to be nit-picky, but I think it’s important to avoid prejudice if we all plan to get along without a lot of animosity. I agree with the three things we, as bicyclists, can do to make a difference. However, while I agree that “Some cyclists act like complete dumb asses”, I find your comments about drivers to be a lot more generalized. While I have encountered many drivers who also act like complete asses, I’ll say that I routinely encounter a lot more drivers who just treat me as they would any other road user when I ride in a predictable manner. Really, that’s all I can expect.

  4. Juan says:

    I found this article very disturbing. Not because it was about bicycles and autos, but because of the actions of some people in this world today.

    “A Brentwood, Calif., doctor was charged with assault.”

    ” the passenger, swearing, jumped out and pummeled him.”

    What makes people act this way?!? I honestly don’t have a very bright outlook for where this world is going.

  5. Ringer says:

    I agree, Juan. However, as the writer of the article points out, these are extreme and isolated instances. Even though it’s good to know about instances like this so we bike commuters can be as vigilant and careful as possible, I also think we don’t want to romanticize these events to the extent that we envision the devil incarnate lurking behind every steering wheel. There are nutcase drivers out there, but my experience parallels Cafn8’s: I encounter “a lot more drivers who just treat me as they would any other road user when I ride in a predictable manner.” The worst thing we could do is ride paranoid–or not at all.

  6. Juan says:

    I’ve had my share of people yelling, throwing things and even one guy who pulled over after almosting hitting me in his truck, but I’d have to say that 99% of my encounters with motorists are positive. I’m thinking on a larger scale where all you hear about in the news is people killing each other, or stealing from one another and so on and so on. You’d think by now that people would be acting civilized towards each other, but this article reminds us that even something as simple as riding a bicycle, can put you in a position of defending yourself. Didn’t mean to rant, but barbaric behavior just baffles me.

  7. d-a-n-i-e-L says:

    I had one of these encounters on Friday biking home from work down 5th Ave. Some moron thought the nice wide bike lane was an extra car lane and cut right in front on me. I went to give him a nice bang on the window to let him know I was there and he started flipping out. Some people are just nuts.

  8. Timmy V. says:

    What a fantastic article! Thanks so much for the tip off.

    I’ve been commuting by bike through mainly suburban environments for awhile now, and I do have to say that the main ingredient for a safe ride is manners. There’s a basic Christian doctrine that says ‘do to others what you want them doing you’. Ghandi said it like this, ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

    I’ve been yelled at and honked at (luckily so far, never physically attacked or harmed in any way) many times and on occasion have had the tense moment where the driver who just buzzed you gets stuck at the light right next to you. At the end of the day, I take the low road and apologize for any inconvenience I’ve caused, smile, say have a good day, and if they’re interested, tell them that PA requires that I ride with them on the road by law and that at the end of the day it makes us all safer when I ride the way I do.

    The few opportunities I’ve had to do this haven’t all been good, but some of them have been, and I think that those times have forever changed those motorists opinion of bicyclists. Nothing pisses me off more than watching and listening to cyclists who should have a calmer approach to life in general mouthing off to drivers or flipping the finger at them and in general treating them the way they are so indignant for just being treated… What a poor response.

    Thanks again for the tip, and I sure hope those numbers keep going up and we can all learn to be that change we’re hoping to see.

  9. I’ll echo Ringer’s and Cafn8’s assertion that the majority of motor vehicle operators return courteous behavior if that’s what they’re given. The answer to Juan’s question, unfortunately, is that the inverse is also true. As the article points out, certain road users feel that they can get away with disrespectful behavior because they think they’re anonymous…

  10. Ringer says:

    Timmy V, good point about the Golden Rule–both Jesus’s and Ghandi’s versions. Truth be told, bike commuting has been pretty humbling for me. Glad to know you’ve been able to handle some dicey situations reasonably. If only all cyclists–and motorists!–could act similarly. Keep it up!

  11. Fritz says:

    We were talking about this perception of increased animosity on the San Francisco bike discussion email list (IIRC) a couple of weeks ago.

    I don’t think I’ve noticed any increased harassment or animosity personally, but I think these interactions are getting noticed more (and reported more) because a larger portion of the population are now riding bikes.

    We have many many newcomers who aren’t used to riding in traffic, and many situations that they would barely notice if they were driving (you know, all the stupid moves we’ve all seen and done while driving) all of a sudden become potential threats to life when you’re not enclosed in a two ton metal cage.

    I think attitude is a big part of it — no harm, no foul in my book, and I’ve never come to harm in over 20 years of year round cycle commuting.

  12. Joe says:

    I’m a 45 year veteran of riding in traffic. One area I could use some advice on, even after a this time, is the “Ride confidently and courteously” element. I have no issue riding well and safely on the roads I ride everyday, but when I go on adventures to new towns it is tough to always make the right decisions on where/how to ride. For example, bike lanes that suddenly turn into right turn lanes, and you find yourself holding up the stream of cars wanting to turn right on the red. This just happened to me in Chicago on my way to the Cubs game…Clark Street is marked out well for bikes…but still I was “in the way” with the best intentions in a right hand turn lane that was a bike lane 10 feet back. What do you folks do when riding in less familiar areas?

  13. peteathome says:

    I’m also a long-term bike commuter. But more like 25 years.

    The answer is simple. Mostly ignore bike lanes. Instead, use the lane that goes in the direction you want to go. In the situation you describe above, you should merge left well before the right turn lane and continue traveling on the right side ( if sharable) of the straight through lane.

    It’s not just avoiding “being in the way” of other road users but also being safe. If you travel straight in a right-turn lane you are setting yourself up for a right-turn hook, one of the most common car/bike collisions. Drivers in the right-turn lane simply aren’t looking for someone to their right who might intersect their path.

  14. Digital Dame says:

    I blogged about both of the Portland incidents, if anyone wants links to the videos of the guy hanging onto the hood of the car.(look for the “More Road Rage” entry) The car was apparently driven by a young 21-yr-old man, who was under the influence of “intoxicants”. Apparently the cyclist yelled at him and the kid lost it and went after him.

    In the other Portland incident they mentioned, the driver yelled at a cyclist (who was hammered) for running a red light or stop sign, I forget which, which set him off. I don’t think yelling at people on the road is such a swell idea.

    @Joe: I do what peteathome says about staying in the straight-ahead lane rather than following the edge of the road and being in the right turn lane. This way the cars know I’m not turning, and I’m not in their way if they are. So far, it seems to work.

  15. Paul Dorn says:

    Interesting article. I’m still not convinced that motorists have gotten more hostile to bicyclists, just because of our increased numbers. Media outlets thrive on conflict; “if it bleeds it leads.” It’s easy to find people with a grievance against any other road users–motorists are notorious for abusing each other.

    It’s also frustrating to see the much hyped Woodside story introduced into an article about bicycle commuting. The slow-pedaling solitary bike commuter shouldn’t be punished for the sins of a pack ride of adrenaline freaks. Clearly, the motorist presents the greater overall hazard and has a greater duty of care. But some civility by group riders would help.

    Again, I’m fortunate to bicycle in a relatively supportive region (between Davis and Sacramento.) And, yes, lots of things are frustrating motorists. But I don’t think bicyclists are tops among their anxieties.

  16. Matth says:

    Two things… First off although I agree with you guys that there are more “nice” (or at least understanding after being thought) drivers on the roads, there are definitely some crazy ones and nothing is being done to change that (at least here). I can attest for a fact that the police *does not give a flying duck* unless you’ve been seriously injured. I’ve been attacked by someone that tried to push me off the road while I was riding at 45kmh, that is 5kmh under the traffic’s speed and get me to rear end him. Yes I even tried being nice that time. Other than yelling a big “HEY!” before realize he did that maneuver on purpose, I never replied to the insult he was vociferating out of his tin can. I slowed down to try and lose him, but so did he. Then he started pushing me in the parking lane, waiting where cars were parked so I couldn’t avoid them. By then I tried to warn him that it was enough by giving him the fingers… That is, showing him the first three numbers of his plate! (521 for the record); he threaten to beat me up (“I don’t care for prison if it’s to beat the sh*t out of you” to use is own words). And yet, all the police had to offer was for me to file a complain for “threats of physical” violence. Second, for the more aggressive cyclists (by that I mean those that don’t care to sweat) it can be real hard to keep your calm on close calls. You’re already primed, and someone tries to “attack” you (involuntarily or not). Adrenaline just shoots through the roof. Add to that receiving excuses like “[Oh I just passed you, it took 5 seconds because you were riding almost as fast as me, but] I didn’t see you” like it was fine and it wouldn’t have been a big deal if *you* hadn’t seen him in time. And then getting the same excuse over and over again, it can make your mind dangerously belligerent. I’m not saying it’s the way anyone should act, and I do as much as I can to avoid it… but I won’t lie and say I don’t get on my big horses when stuff like that happens. It’s the lack of respect for other people’s life that concerns me. And I really don’t understand how hard it is to understand that: I may bother you, but you need to realize you bother me much much more!

  17. Adriel says:

    I found this article to be very biased. And the message is do not bike there.

    Read my rebuttal here:

    I break it down paragraph by paragraph and show the bias and prejudice.

    I am very encouraged that cycling is on the rise, but I am alarmed that people in the media are trying to put a stop to it. Cycling is not as dangerous as the author suggests, and he is trying to create fear by pointing out a few nasty incidents.

    If I was an EXXON executive I would send this guy a check for $5000.

  18. Blue says:


    My hat is off to you.

    However, if anyone attempts to assault me like that I will not avoid them. I can send them to the hospital before they go to jail if they wish.

    This reminds me of my brother’s experience this past March on his birthday. While he was at a restaurant eating dinner, two fairly inebriated fellows pulled a knife out and threatened him. They went outside, but after my brother knocked the first one out with his right elbow, the other one dropped the knife and asked for clemency. The police arrested both of the fellows on various assault charges.

  19. Adriel says:

    Blue: some people (like myself) are non-violent. We need options for the non-violent. I am not judging your brother for defending himself, but there have to be solutions to the deeper issues that can prevent us from having to take the law into our own hands.

    We have decided to create a society of order and not anarchy, and while many in this society do not honor the system, the answer is to address it in a reasoning manner and not by the same anarchistic system.

    So we need to find ways to get recognized as citizens when on our bikes and not the second class citizens we get treated as. Perhaps lawsuits are the answer. I do not know all of the answers but I believe if we work together we can find them.

  20. Stuart M. says:

    My personal experience: I have been bike-commuting to work for awhile here in Japan. I also have to drive a car every now and then. I am always amazed by the number of crazy bicyclists (maybe I am not phased by the crazy motorists anymore) I see. Although it’s against the law, they weave onto sidewalks and then out into traffic, sometimes ride against the traffic, blow just inches past pedestrians on sidewalks and crosswalks, and many feel traffic lights are not meant for them. Seeing that makes me especially considerate and law-abiding when I am on my bike.

    I once almost nailed a bicyclist with my car at a routine turn at an intersection, here was the situation:

    Imagine you are me (we drive on the left but I will change everything to right drive perspective), and you wanted to make a right turn at an intersection. The light turns green, you move toward the right up to the crosswalk and wait for pedestrians to cross. You also have to carefully examine the sidewalks in THREE directions to make sure no bicyclists are going to shoot across at the last second. In my near-accident, I looked both back and forward on the sidewalk for bikes, but failed to consider that a bicyclist coming on the sidewalk perpendicular to my prior-turn direction would make a hard turn to the right at the last second into the crosswalk I just started accelerating into. If my wife hadn’t screamed, I would have run over that bicylist. What’s my point? I think I am a good driver and bicyclist. Everyone needs to drive defensively and not rely on an “I am right” mentality.

  21. Craig says:

    Ride with FEAR and JOY. ~Robert Hurst

  22. Blue says:


    I agree with you. There are few options for people who do not want to defend themselves with force against assault.

    About the only thing you can do, otherwise, is flee. Or ask someone else (police/government) to use force to defend you.

    Even so, I think that some of our troubles with drivers can be resolved by communicating and educating them. If you can get them to hear you out.

    For those drivers that won’t and just want to scream out you and endanger your life by driving recklessly, I am convinced that there really is very little protection of cyclists under the law (particularly dead ones).

    There must be a great deal of evidence showing that the driver purposefully tried to kill/injure you, otherwise, the driver often isn’t punished.

    So as far holding these folks accountable, I think that we need law makers to make laws with stiffer penalties for endangering cyclists and we need the police to enforce such laws.

    And I think this is the real grind for us, a lot of people are biased against cyclists and enforcing such laws isn’t happening.

    This reminds me of Jeff (, who is attempting to make roads safer for cyclist by providing proof to police of vehicles that violate the law and endanger cyclists.

    But it’s an uphill battle.

  23. Roger says:

    @ Adriel:

    If only the thugs shared your mindset. Unfortunately, they operate at a much more reptilian level of intellect.

    I certainly agree that force should be the last option, and I avoid it unless desparate(i.e., in fear of death or serious harm if I don’t act). But without the immediate threat of force (“fear of immediate punishment”), criminality would be far easier and more attractive.

    I admire your desire to be a sheep, but there are too many wolves in the world, and not enough sheepdogs.

    Drivers are the least of my worries.

  24. Adriel says:

    I resent the sheep implication, I think the ultimate end of a violent life is to kill all your enemies or die by their hands, everything in between is degrees.

    I choose to not live that way. It is not weakness.

  25. Roger says:

    @ Adriel

    After I wrote it, I was concerned you might take it negatively. I do not intend it to be so.

    Sheep are crucial. I wish we could all be sheep, and I dream of the day. But as long as there are wolves, there will be a need for sheepdogs.

    It is a metaphor. Nothing more, and not intended to apply a negative connotation to people who choose to live peacefully.

    I’m sorry if I offended you.

  26. Dylan says:

    After reading this post and some of the comments yesterday, I made it a point to try to signal my turns more than I have been. Well, on my way home today, I believe the driver behind me mistook a right-hand turn hand-signal for some sort of flip-off. A second or so after after signaling, the driver flipped out in a rage of screaming at me, almost incomprehensibly (could pick up a few choice words). He actually slowed to a near stop to continue yelling up the street at me after I turned. I think he wanted me to come back and physically fight him.

    I tried to be predictable by signaling. Oh well.

  27. Siouxgeonz says:

    “being a sheep” generally means mindlessly following, not non-violent. Being mindfully non-violent is very far removed from being a sheep. There are many better metaphors … I could suggest that it would be like unto a linguistic sheep to just follow metaphors that don’t really fit, eh?
    Is there already a metaphoric symbol for being mindfully non-violent?
    There have been threads in many places with creative responses to aggression. (One of my favorites
    I do fully understand the automatic response… I have tried to train myself to, when compelled to make a forceful verbal comment, say “Be Careful!!!” which is explosive enough in its phonemes to generate some physical satisfaction.
    I was inspired to think of it when the driver involved was a mom with a car full of trick-or-treaters who drove obliviously. *These* are the legion who are our biggest threat; when these folks so tied up in keeping track of the 5 8-year-olds in the van don’t see others and hurt or kill them, it’s treated as “a shame, but gosh, they’ll have to live with that” and “well, what are cyclists doing out there anyway – they know the risks!”
    People have gotten somehwat more mindful about driving drunk – that’s much less acceptable. I think we should be pushing *hard* to make every “but I just didn’t see you!” cycling assault a “It’s your job to figure out how to see things, so that’s not an acceptable answer!” It’s not acceptable if it’s a kid walking to school, is it?
    I think there’s a real danger when we lump the oblivious with the aggressive drivers. Both are dangerous; both issues should be addressed, but they are different problems.

  28. ohio_biker says:

    While I welcome the increasing number of cyclists,
    I am dismayed by poor or illegal or unsafe cycling.
    I take opportunities to educate cyclists when I can,
    but I know I am reaching very few compared to the
    quantity of new riders.

    There have always been clueless or hostile drivers.

    Now would be a good time for Public Service Ads
    that remind cyclists and drivers alike, what the
    rules are and what their respective responsibilities
    are. These are messages that all too often both
    cyclists and drivers need to hear.

    I am just wondering if some of the many dollars
    being spent on bike lanes and the like, could be
    directed toward PSAs that would educate both
    cyclists and drivers. It might also be a
    good idea to post similar messages in drivers
    license and auto-license locations.

    Surely this had been suggested before ???

  29. Adriel says:

    I agree 110% We need driver education and we need it now. And we do not need to wait for the government to “get it” we should be able to raise private funding.

    What we need now are ideas.

    I have a few, one is to create some billboards that will educate motorists, and raise money to post them. I can handle the website portion of this.

    The other is commercials, same idea. We can post them on youtube and solicit donations to put them on tv.

    There is too much focus on helmet use and bike lanes and not enough on education. The real problem cars have with cyclists is they do not expect them to be there and do not think they belong. THAT is what needs to be addressed.

  30. lithus says:

    danieL gots to remember the JD golden rule! how would you like some one ‘giving a good bang on your window’? maybe I’d flip out also. its hard to hold back on stressful situations these days. i myself have succumbed to road rage i must shamefully add but im on the pedal side now and i have seen the light!

  31. bikeman says:

    Bike rage/ Road Rage.
    I’ve been riding quite a few years, and have had my share of ignorance displays, and have found that the best thing is to just put it behind you and ride on, as I usually have forgotten the situation by the time I get home. It’s just not worth getting angry at drivers. Don’t forget, we all get what we deserve in the end.

  32. Greg W says:

    Interesting perpectives.

    I have been living in Northern Italy for the past 2 years. I started commuting to work not too long ago. The amazing thing is that the Italians around here SEE YOU (I can’t speak for the allegedly crazier Italy from Rome on South). I have not witnessed significant road rage. I have never been flipped off in a car, my motorcycle, or riding my bicycle. Nobody slams on their brakes if you’re too close or tries to run you off the road. Yeah, the driving is different – even aggressive – but I can deal with that as long as people are calm and reasonably polite.

    Grandmothers ride on busy streets and there is never any hiccup. I can commute in rush-hour traffic and never get honked at or abused. Oh, and the average car is a 2500# Fiat Punto, not a 5500# SUV.

    I hear the stories of US drivers and it makes me not want to return home. As a motorcyclist for 20 years, I have seen America’s worst from that perspective – applying makeup, eating, talking on the phone – but I could always escape expeditiously if things got rough.

    And, yet, I have to return in one short year. I am committed to the simplicity of biking to get around. I will weather abuse and some personal inconvenience if it saves a few pounds of CO2 and some bucks.

  33. Rennie says:

    I also ride a motorcycle as well a bicycle and I have much the same attitude with cars while they give a little more respect (fear) of a motorcycle rider with colors on. I had one old lady tell me a few years to keep my biccle and ass off of the roads we did not belong there.

  34. Fredy says:

    Hi Ron,you have several very good photo’s of our pootlen arriving at Carlton. Beginning with the red Canadian cycling shirt (Joe), next Jeff in the orange Rabobank shirt, myself with the white Tour shirt and Maria in the white horse shirt, you have our pootlen from the London Cycling Club. We traveled together both ways and meeting great people along the way. Thank you very much. William

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40% Off Croozer Trailers while supplies last Buy Now

Scroll to Top