Seeing Red – Anger and Antipathy on Two Wheels

Ever wondered why a very reasonable person can get behind the wheel of a car and become a complete degenerate? The roads do funny things to people, as does the illusion of separation created by being in a private alloy bubble. Road rage is not a new phenomenon, there are courses on it (tackling road rage that is, the learning efficient and potent road rage course is still in development, I have pre-registered), but cycling road rage?

It seems, as we forever jostle for space in a city of some 8.8 million people, cyclists are frequently turning on each other. Or at least that’s the impression I got as I saw one particularly vexed cyclist repeatedly screaming unrepeatables at another, amongst other heated altercations. I believe some of this antipathy is stemming from a tribalism between different types of cyclist, and a belief that some people are “doing it wrong”. Let’s take a moment to reflect here.

Unlike many anecdotes claiming innocence only to be crudely cut up by the forces of evil, I will not start this vignette with “I was minding my own business when…” – I wasn’t minding my own business, I was minding the business of the bin-lorry and minicab circling each other at the left side of the road, and was altering my road position accordingly (i.e. moving to the middle).

In this instance, I was riding a hired Santander Cycle (hereafter referred to as a “Boris Bike”) and was hurting no one except for maybe any hypothetical children who saw my lack of helmet and thought to themselves “Wow, he looks cool, I’m never gonna wear my helmet again.”

Nonetheless, to the team-kit-clad roadie approaching me from behind, I was a Boris-Bike-riding clueless tourist who needed prompt reprimanding and a brief middle-of-the-road lesson on road positioning (this he sternly delivered whilst looking back at me and not at where he was going).

I have been riding in and around London for years and it’s fair to say I know what I’m doing. If I had been on my normal bike in my normal gear, this self-righteous tit would’ve seen that and not batted an eyelid. But cyclists seem (unfortunately, myself included to an extent) to be increasingly judgemental of those who are deemed to be “not proper”. I wasn’t taking this and upped my cadence to somewhere around 100,000 rpm as is required with the unhelpful gear-ratios on Boris Bikes, and (calmly) told him not to patronise me.

In my opinion, the first person to break into expletives in an argument has already lost, and he rained them down upon me. Things got even better when a woman cycled up alongside me at some lights and defended me. He sprinted off and was promptly run over by a bus, everyone cheered and a dog-waste bin was dedicated to his memory, or at least that’s what I imagined as he disappeared from view.

The trouble is, in the preceding narrative, I too am guilty of some degree of prejudice. I have described him as a “team-kit-clad roadie” in order to portray him as the villain, but this is unfair. I don’t like team kit on the whole and think that those who wear it take themselves a little too seriously. But is this supposed impropriety really hurting me? Additionally, with hypocrisy and overtones of hipsterism, I sometimes wear retro team kit; a Molteni jersey and a Bic hat (which makes absolutely no sense, these teams were huge rivals in the mid 1970s, this is like wearing a Man United shirt with Man City shorts).

Whilst the occasional Boris Bike rider lurches into my path (they are incredibly unwieldy things), some of the politest dialogue I’ve had on the bike has been with Boris Bikers; an apologetic weaver recently said to me, “I’m so sorry mate, I’m still really pissed!”

Before judging those who ride hire bikes, give consideration to the heroes who hired a few Boris Bikes, drove them in a van to southern France and cycled up the Tour de France classic, Mont Ventoux, and then drove back and docked them before the 24 hour hire window expired.

These days, I am increasingly catching myself before I pass judgement upon other cyclists. The man I see most days in a racing aero-helmet on a red Brompton fold-up is certainly “doing things wrong”, but why do I care? I’ve come to revere him somewhat as I see him bouncing along the Victoria Embankment.

I am forever biting my lip when I see cyclists on decent bikes (i.e. their front shifter definitely works), riding on flat London roads in their small front ring and their smallest rear sprocket (this is wrong in a practical sense too however, as this pulls the chain at an angle that wears it down quicker, makes a bit of a racket and isn’t good for the bike). But ultimately, my chain lives on, and if you overtake me in that gear, fair game!

Much like the human race as a whole, our differences, our quirks, and our non-conformance to the standard approach are things to be celebrated, especially with something as deserving of celebration as riding a bike (I need reminding of this, so sport Champagne cork bar-end plugs).

When the roadie becomes apoplectic with the Boris Bike rider, the Brompton rider loses it with the mountain biker, or you break your thumb violently ringing your bell, remember we all use our legs and two wheels to get from A to B. That some people decide to ride with an open golf umbrella, go slower than a sloth on temazepam or wear full waterproofs on a sunny July day is neither here nor there.

Let’s not turn on each other. We must unite against the common enemy. No, not the Judean People’s Front, or the Romans for that matter. I’m talking about pedestrians! Though this rant will have to wait for another day: there’s not enough room on the internet.


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