“Cyclists Just Annoy Me”

I had a conversation in the playground this week which was depressing, educational, annoying, bewildering and frustrating all at once. I learned a lot about how some drivers think. But I have no idea what to do with what I learned.

I was chatting with another couple of mums about close passes and Operation Close Pass. Incidentally, neither of these women ride bikes, and at least one of them has absolutely no idea why anyone would ever want to get on a bike. They both drive, although I mostly see them walking to and from the school.

Neither had heard of Operation Close Pass or the fact that 1.5 metres is considered to be the ‘safe’ passing distance between a bike and a vehicle. Here are some of their comments which depressed / educated / annoyed / bewildered / frustrated me:

  • ‘Well, I would definitely get pulled over, I never give anywhere near 1.5 metres’ (said with a laugh)
  • ‘What really annoys me is when I’m behind a cyclist and they pull out to go around a pothole – what if I’m pulling around them just then?’ (I did point out that if you pull around with 1.5 metre passing space, then this would not be a problem – even Edinburgh doesn’t have potholes 1.5 metres wide!).
  • ‘They shouldn’t be on bikes in the winter, that’s just dangerous.’ (I did point out that I have ice tyres on my cargo bike in the winter which makes it far safer than my car which does not).

But the comment which really stayed with me was this:

‘I don’t mind cyclists on paths, but on the roads they just annoy me. I don’t know why, they just do.’

I pointed out the gridlock I passed (which I was merrily avoiding on the cycle path) around a series of junctions near me the day before. This gridlock is a daily occurrence and is caused by the sheer number of vehicles at certain times of the day. I pointed out that, while bikes are frequently regarded as a source of delays for drivers, there is never a bike at the front of any of these lines of traffic. This massive daily delay is caused by the sheer number of vehicles on the road. This was the reply:

‘Yeah, but it doesn’t annoy me as much when I get held up by other drivers because I can just shout at them from in my car. It’s only bikes which annoy me’

I was left wondering who these women thought they were talking to. They know that I cycle everywhere and that my life pretty much revolves around bikes. Their words terrified me because it was a blatant admission that the mere sight of a bike on a road causes them anger and aggression, which is then directed at the person on that bike.

The thing is, when they complained about bikes on the road, I don’t think that they were actually talking about me, despite the fact that they know I cycle everywhere. Because they know me. To them I am Diana; mum to Danny and Ellen, a bit of a scruff, usually early for pick up, slightly prone to ranting, slightly odd sense of humour. They see me as a person. But they see strangers on bikes as ‘that bloody cyclist’. Not a person. Not a human. Not a person who they could kill or injure with their annoyance fuelled aggression.

This is a horribly dangerous attitude.

When we spend or lives surrounded by walls of brick, metal or cyberspace, we are disconnected from the people around us. Those ‘other’ people are just not quite real. Therefore driving at them because ‘they just annoy me’ is OK – it will teach them a lesson and serve them right for being annoying.

Or it might just kill them.

I am singling these two women out because the conversation with them was the inspiration for this post. But what really scares me is that they are not alone in their attitudes. I have long suspected that some drivers use their cars to dispense a kind of justice which they feel entitled to. This conversation just confirmed that suspicion.

The other thing which really alarmed me was just how bigoted this attitude is. Yet those who held these views could not hear anything wrong. Take the sentence ‘Cyclists just annoy me, I don’t know why’. Now substitute the word ‘cyclists’ with any of the following – women, Muslims, gays. I do not think many would dispute that this is now a completely unacceptable sentence to be uttered in 2019 (or indeed, any other year). Yet, when the minority targeted is cyclists, the view is nothing to feel ashamed of.

The thing is, ‘cyclists’ are not a minority group. They are not even a group. Some (like me) accept the term ‘cyclist’ with pride – being a cyclist is a part of their identity. Others reject the term completely and view themselves as people who ride bikes, but not cyclists. Why is it that someone who chooses to use a bike to get from A to B is seen as a cyclist and nothing more? Yet someone who chooses to use a car to get from A to B is not seen as a driver and nothing more. Why is it that those who play golf are not considered ‘those bloody golfers’?

It should not matter how people choose to travel, or how they choose to spend their leisure time. We all have families and lives and loves and identities. Nobody should be defined by one thing and condemned for it.

So, how can these attitudes be changed? Nothing I said made a difference to these two women (in fact, one of them has not spoken to me since).

When I ride my bike, I do not think I own the roads or the paths. I do not think I am more entitled that anyone else. I do not think that everyone should be forced to ride a bike (although I do think that those who want to ride bikes should be encouraged and enabled to do so). I do not think cars should be banned. I do not want to annoy anyone and I try to be respectful of other road and path users. Actually, I do not really even want to spend as much time as I do thinking about this (and ranting about it).

I just want to get to where I need to go safely.

Is that too much to ask?


20 Replies to ““Cyclists Just Annoy Me””

  1. This underlines the recent stuff about the dehumanising of cyclists, and the need to emphasise perhaps something like “people on bikes” when juxtapositing with e.g. “people in cars”.
    Or, put another way, the need to normalise cycling in Anglophone countries. Until riding a bike is something “normal people” might be expected to do we’ll continue to be an outgroup of awkward sub-people who are (barely) tolerated.
    I suspect the real key to this is genuine political leadership to change culture, like the insistence that it’s not okay to drink and drive or make other people breathe in tobacco smoke.

  2. It’s so very depressingly true. Driving a car is treated like it’s a ‘grown-up’ activity. A necessity of being a productive citizen. But somehow, cycling is treated only like a hobby (or an iritation), something that gets in the way of what the ‘grown-ups’ in their cars need to do. It just doesn’t seem to register that cyclists have just as much as much need and right to be on the road and that our transport needs are just as important.

  3. I wonder if the other mum is telling the truth when she says she doesn’t mind cyclists on paths. Could it just be that she is so stuck driving (climate breakdown) that she can’t envisage herself on a shared use path and would be just as intolerant on a path.

  4. I can’t quite believe they said this to you, of all people! It goes to show how far the de-humanisation of “cyclists” has become. The way our transport systems are designed should be to enable people to get where they want to go, whether they are walking, driving, cycling or using public transport. You don’t suddenly become a “busist” or a “trainist” just because you’re taking public transport. Keep up the good work shouting about this, Karen

  5. You have my utmost sympathy. If I’d been you having that conversation I’d have gone home and not been able to get it out of my head. It’s just incredible what some drivers think. Like complaining about traffic jams – they never seem to think they are part of the cause of the jam…. People who don’t cycle really do need educating and I think it’s going to take a lot of work to do it and change attitudes. But it will happen – it has to! I joined Cycling UK in 2017 in order to get myself more involved in all this stuff.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this very well thought out rant, and for having the guts to have that conversation with those women. It’s not easy speaking up for what you believe in when you know people are likely going to disagree with you and that you’ve still got to see them on a daily basis.

  6. Thanks for your blog! Keep fighting the good fight! Keep having the tough conversations with motorists! Cyclists are the future

  7. Congratulations on such a well written piece. The attitude of the two ladies seems to sum up the attitude of far too many car drivers, these days. Not that it was much better years ago (I’m 68) but there was much less traffic about and less need, it seems, to get from A to B in the quickest time possible. I cannot remember having any problems getting to school on my bike, but now I ride for pleasure I can guarantee that EVERY time I ride I have some sort of ‘driver problem’. Education and just plain courtesy must be the answer. Education, by making it compulsory to undertake some sort of ‘bike pass’ during the driving test (immediate fail if within 1.5m??) . Courtesy – both drivers and cyclists to try and acknowledge each other

  8. Yeah, I’ve had this in work, my colleagues know I cycle (the fact I arrive in in cycle gear everyday is a bit of a give away) but it doesn’t stop them coming out with relentlessly negative attitudes and anecdotes about cycling and it’s awkward to tackle them without being too aggressive because I have to be with these people day in day out. As you say it’s hard to know where to start because their views are just so bizarre and can only really be explained by the out-grouping of cyclists, I think all we can do is carry on with a smile on our face and hope that one day things will change.

  9. Perhaps the way to an adults opinion isn’t through other adults – but through their children?
    Teach the children how to ride their bikes ON THE ROAD and they’ll start talking about it to their parents – and when their parents get frustrated about that BLOODY CYCLIST the child will retort Oh, that’s Jonny’s mum, slow down so I can wave.
    Our son (preschool) thinks all cyclists are my friends – and there are a lot of cyclists around us.

  10. Ah yes, but how can we change this attitude by motorists ? After all its deeply ingrained in the Psych of the country. I’m 85 years old and cycle everywhere, and don’t own a car, although I was a motorist for 60 years. I live in Dundalk and find the motorists here very understanding and respectful, but, is this because I’m a cyclist or because I am 85 ? Getting rid of the Psych will be an uphill task and take many decades to achieve. !

  11. Psychology researchers at UC Berkeley have been noting and testing this phenomenon. The This American Life radio show reported on it this week: https://overcast.fm/+E24BfP0yI/39:32 “Dacher Keltner: And 0% of the drivers of poor cars zoomed through the pedestrian zone. They all stopped. And 40-some odd percent– 45% of the drivers of the fives, the rich cars, blazed through the pedestrian zone, and just say, the rules don’t apply to me. I’ll carry on.”

    I’ve no idea how to address it yet …

    1. In Spain you regukarly see signs reminding drivers to pass with a 1.5m gap. I do think it falls to the state to work on attitutdes, much as they have with drink driving. Many things drives consider selfish by cyclists are due to ignorance that it is legal and safer (2 abreast, orimary position).
      Until that happens, your conversation like this one does help, little by little. Thank you and keep talking.

  12. This attitude is common even in Cambridge, where 54% of the population cycles regularly (at least once per week).
    I have had incidents which quickly escalated from anything we doing “wrong” (myself & 11yo child cycling along a quiet residential street) to “you cyclists” and threats to kill (myself and child).
    A completely tribal attitude where demonization of the sub-group dominates the logical “I know Dave, he’s a cyclist”

    Very reminiscent of my parent in 1970s/80s: had a number of friends/ colleagues from asian backgrounds, but would still rant about “Asians”. “Not Dev, he’s okay”

  13. I always leave at least 1.5m when overtaking, often significantly more to pass cyclists- as a horse rider myself I feel l can empathise with vulnerable road users but in comparision to horse riders the majority of cyclists seem to not empathise with car drivers. For example accelerating down the hill after I have just waited whilst they climb up a hill to ensure there is sufficient space to pass wide and not cut them up, also not creeping up their back end whilst they struggle up a hill- I show respect for them and yet they then storm off down the hill- not allowing a couple of seconds for me to overtake safely before the next hill. This happens all the time . I live in a hilly area so the respect would be nice if it could go both ways!

    1. Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I probably don’t wait for motorists to overtake me when I’m going downhill. I’ll have to give this some thought although my first thought is that, although my speed does go up when I’m riding downhill, it rarely gets to even 30mph and a car can usually accelerate faster than me. Also, if the cyclist is now going at a speed where you can’t overtake, perhaps you do not need to overtake and could do so when they slow down again?

      1. Thanks! I feel this is often the case- people (be that drivers or cyclists) just don’t think- as a horse rider I am on the look out for places to let people pass, will trot on or stop in a layby which obviously hinders our journey but maintains the flow of traffic and maximises all users safety (i am also aware there are some less considerate riders!).

        I believe if drivers believed that cyclists also would try to minimise the inconvenience other users face because of them, drivers may be more sympathetic towards cyclists eg cyclists waiting (not stopping- just avoiding accelerating) for a couple of seconds when in a safe area to be overtaken for example. NSL areas and packs of cyclists up steep hills do significantly delay drivers round here- there are few sufficently long stretches with good visability (obviously the faster the cyclists are going the longer stretch is required) – this is particularly frustrating especially if there are many seperate groups- it all adds up and if everyone feels their ‘right’ to be on the road is more imporatnant than the long line of cars behind it leads to people overtaking with smaller spaces, cutting back in and passing with less distance. This is made worse by cyclists rapidly changing their speed sometimes predictably eg slower up hill other times unpredicably- how fast they accelerate when at the brow of a hill or as they are being overtaken.

        Moreover, as a horse rider I thank considerate drivers (and often less considerate drivers) which I hope fosters some goodwill, but not sure I have ever been thanked by a cyclist.

        1. It’s a pity you’ve never been thanked by a cyclist, as they certainly should do so. I started to cycle (in Oxfordshire) with a Cycling UK group last year and can honestly say that we are all a very polite lot, indicating to the rest of the group that horse riders or pedestrians are up ahead, and cars for that matter, taking care when we pass them, and thanking them when they have slowed up or pulled over for us. We also split into smaller groups when on busier roads so that drivers don’t have to overtake a huge group of us at once. Maybe not all cycling groups are as good as ours in that respect. I have also in the past been thanked by horse riders for ringing my bell nice and early when approaching from behind. It is a matter of education to a large extent; if you’re not used to horses on the roads, then you need this education on how to behave around them.

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