The self-appointed bike policeman will see you now!

Some people are really right.  And they know it.  Let’s give them handcuffs and a gun so they can arrest us all.

Ok…. I was in a hurry today, late for an appointment.  I’m riding along on my bike, and I come up behind this tall dude on the bike path, riding on his mountain bike on the path.

I have an electric assist, but when I caught up with him, I was intentionally not using it.  See, I don’t like to pass people on the bike path, especially using the assist, and especially men.  They get a bit “torqued” out over that.

So instead, I pedal up behind him by dint of pure leg power, just to make sure that, if I were to pass him, it would be by human power alone.

We were on the twisty part of the bike path, so there wasn’t a clear opening to pass. I hung back.

Then we got onto the road. He wasn’t giving me any room, and there was oncoming traffic.  So I was stuck behind… (you know, kind of the same feeling you get when you’re in your car and get stuck behind a pack of cyclists?)

Problem is, I was in a hurry.  We got to a stop sign, and we both turned right.  We turned onto a multi-lane road, and he was pulling into the left lane to turn.  So, feeling a bit impatient, I passed him on the right (with at least 10 feet to spare), then I did the left hand turn.  Since I was now on the road in traffic, I used a bit of the extra e-assist to get past him safely and with plenty of clearance.

His way wasn’t impeded by this at all.  Nobody’s safety was in jeopardy, though, technically I wasn’t supposed to pass on the right.

But, as I suspected (I have a feeling about certain cyclists) – he didn’t like being passed by a woman on a cargo bike.

I could see in my rearview that he sped up, trying to catch me.  Whatever, dude.  I’m in a hurry, and I already spent 3 minutes of my day stuck riding behind you.

But it was clear that he was motivated to catch me.

Anyway, I got to the next light, which was red, but it was a right turn for me.  And at that particular intersection, the opposite side of where I was turning is a parking lot – not a real street.  So even though I normally don’t run reds, I make this intersection the exception.  That gives momentum for the next hill.

So, I slowed a bit, then go right through the red.  I see a few other cyclists riding up the hill.  As I go past them far to their left, I call out “on your left”.  One of them even thanked me, “thanks” she said!

I get to where I’m going, barely on time for my errand. (The location happened to be Cycle 9, so that I could pick up a lock, because I’d forgotten mine, and had to go for dinner downtown, and didn’t want to leave my bike unlocked… I’d already left it unlocked on campus for two hours because I’d had no other option …. it was one of those days…)

Here comes big dude on bike, riding right up, with a bug up his fanny.

“You broke every law in the book, you’re the worst cyclist I’ve ever seen!!!” (Exclamation point)

I say, whoa, hold on mr uptight dude, what’s got your panties in such a bunch?  (Actually, I kept my calm and said nicely, “Hey, let’s discuss why you’re so upset” – he ignored that and continued….)

“You shouldn’t be on the road, you’re an awful cyclist!  I was watching you, and I even talked to that other dude you passed and you cut him off!  You should be banned from the road!”

Then he rides away.  No civil discussion.  No explanation for why he ran the same red light that I did, but felt that it was justified by his need to chase me down and point out my own particular “cycling flaws.”  No explanation for how his passes of those other cyclists were better or more justified than mine.  No explanation for why he felt the need to get “moral support” from another cyclist I’d passed (with at least 4 feet to spare, on the open road).

No, pretty much it was all lecture, all crap, with the sole intention of spewing his negative garbage on me.

Some people are really, plain and simple, jerks.  That would include this guy.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that.  He probably just had a bad day, working in some lab at UNC (that’s the University of North Carolina) where his adviser probably gave him a hard time about his latest experiment on fruit flies.  Maybe he fed them tainted bananas and they all died, so he just lost two years of his PhD, and his adviser told him that he won’t get his degree.  Or something.  Poor guy.

But, here’s the problem – for whatever reason, he singled me out as the focus of his angst.

Actually, it is not for “whatever reason”.  I know the reason.

Because I’m a female, who passed him on a bike.

C’mon dude: deal with it.  Unless you’re a racer who rides 200 days a year, I’m probably faster than you!  That’s because I ride 300 days a year.  It doesn’t matter whether I have electric assist or not – I ride fast.  I’ve been riding fast for 25 years, and I’m not about to stop because I’m insulting your ego.

When I’m not riding my electric bike, I go out and ride a road bike or a mountain bike – and I ride them FAST.  I like speed.  I don’t like going slow.  If you are slow, I’m going to pass you.  I will try to do it gracefully, but that doesn’t always happen perfectly.  Get over it.

Here’s what’s so stupid about this.  If I were another guy, he would have never confronted me like that – because it likely would have come to blows.  Another guy would have punched him out over a lecture like that.

Good thing in my old age I’ve calmed down a bit, because otherwise, it just may have come to blows.

I’m not dainty, and I’m not cowed by obnoxious angry dudes who feel like they have a right to yell at me because I’m a woman.

I used to be a bit of a hothead.  If a car or cyclist cut me off, I’d yell, pound my fists, and raise the finger.  Evil people!  I’m going to yell at them until they realize how evil they are!!!

Yeah, right.  It never works like that.  This guy was the one being the asshole, which became obvious the moment he showed that he couldn’t actually stop ranting for long enough to hear the other side of the story.

Did I bike “perfectly”? Nope.  But neither did he.

Would I like to have executed a better pass that wouldn’t have raised his ire so much? Yep, but I’m not perfect.

The thing that really irks me about this whole thing is that biking is supposed to be a pleasant, healthy alternative.  (Usually it is, excepting occasions like this).

But for some reason, this is not the first guy who has taken offense at being passed – and then resorted to yelling at me simply because I passed them.

Do you guys do the same thing on the highway?  Every time a woman in a car passes you, speed up to make sure she doesn’t “get the best of you”?  Or, if someone makes a bad pass on the highway, do you chase him/her down to the next McDonalds and take it upon yourself to start yelling at that person? No, because the person might pull out a gun and shoot you dead.

I happen to know someone who used to carry a gun on his bike, everywhere he went.  He was a vet, and he didn’t like people messing with him.  Maybe he still carries it, I don’t know.

I’d like not to resort to that extreme measure.

But, you know, people have lost any sense of civility these days, and it is really sad that it spills over to biking.

And here’s the worst thing – judging from this guy’s bike and his (lack of) speed, he drives more often than he bikes.

You know, if you’re going to lecture me about my biking, the least you could do is get out and bike year round yourself.  Don’t be an armchair bike cop.

Better yet, don’t take it upon yourself to lecture, because it never works.

When was the last time that a driver you gave the bird to suddenly decided to be a more cyclist-friendly driver as a result?  Probably never.

Next time I see you, mr lecturer guy, I’ll make it a point to pass you even faster (but, for everyone else, I’ll continue to attempt the most gentle and gracious passes that I can muster).

If you search the blog for “red light guy,” you’ll see this isn’t the first time.  There are one or two other guys out there, who clearly don’t like a woman passing them on a big cargo bike.

If I had passed him in an unsafe manner, the guy might have a point.  But the only argument that could possibly be made about safety would relate to my own.  By riding fast, I am mostly endangering myself.

Sure, cutting off another cyclist (if I had actually done that) would be unsafe.  But just passing someone 8-10 ft to his right, though technically not “correct”, is not inherently unsafe – especially if I yell out when I do that.

I’m not sure what particular argument the guy was trying to make.  It likely boils down to something pretty simple:

  1. I, a woman on a big heavy bike, passed him going fast.
  2. Male ego gets insulted
  3. Male ego must respond by tearing down the person that “insulted” it

    Well, dude, get over it.  I’m not going to stop cargo biking, and I’m not going to stop riding fast.  It isn’t an insult to you or your ego.  It has nothing to do with you, except that I executed a poorly planned pass because I was in a hurry, and you were in my way.

    If you are so deluded as to think that it is an insult, read this piece by Seth Godin.  Stop taking things like this personally, and try to be kind to other people.

    You’ll get a lot more distance out of life than you’re getting right now.

    8 thoughts

    1. This article is awesome. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I recently wrote generally about the male biking ego here. I’ve not had an incident that aggressive, but it would not surprise me.

      On a lighter subject, I’m happy to find out about your blog and shop (someone just sent me this link, knowing I would enjoy reading this). I’m from NC and studied undergrad at UNC. I live in Chicago now, but I’ll try to visit your shop the next time I visit the area. I’d love to test ride a Madsen.

    2. Dottie, your blog is fabulous! thanks for the pointer to your article, the comments were fun, and gave me a feeling that I’m not alone in this kind of experience.

    3. Great piece— I knew it was you, not Elise, at the moment you mentioned fruitflies. There is this competitive aspect to cycling that comes out to even the mildest of riders. I like it because it’s a reflection of how we see ourselves as selfmade “alternative engines” and we’re proud of what we’ve built. It’s amusing to see that ego played out.

    4. Hi Morgan.

      While I try to operate my bike in a manner consistent with traffic laws, there are situations that come up that are unique to bikes. I will name two for example.

      First, if you ride in traffic enough, you are likely to get stuck in the right lane at a light when you need to be in the left turn lane. This usually happens to me when I can see the light coming a long way away and I can also see, in my mirror, a long line of cars coming behind me. It is too early to move left to prepare to take the left hand lane; I would be riding in the center of the lane for quite a while with a big line of cars behind me that have no opportunity to pass. At the light where this happens, I usually take a right, and if there are no cars on the street, do an immediate “U” so I am back at the light, but 90 degrees from where I started, ready to go straight to effectively make a 90 deg. left by making a 270 degree right. In the place this usually happens, I actually end up in a parking lot for an apartment complex which enters the intersection but no light faces the parking lot entrance. After the through traffic clears, I go through the light as quickly as possible. I usually end up going through the intersection against the “light”, if there was a light facing that direction.

      In another case, I am making a left at a light after which there are a killer set of railroad tracks and a bit further on, another light. At the second light, I can take a right and go through a park and eventually catch a bike trail. Because of the very bad railroad tracks, I have to slow to a virtual stop to keep from knocking all the teeth out of my head. Cars behind me are usually in a big hurry to get through the next light and so it is a dangerous place. So, I have started not turning left at the first light, but continuing straight then turning left onto the sidewalk. I can take the sidewalk about 100 feet to the next turn into the park. I can cross the railroad tracks as slow as I like because I am not on the road. I do have to be very careful here because there are several drives that enter the road and cross the sidewalk and also look for cars turning left from the road into the park. It is the lesser of two evils.

      So in summary, there are times when a bike can’t safely drive like a car and you have to use your best judgement to be safe. I’m sure people watching me have thought at times that I needed to be busted by the bike cop, but in these cases, I have to be creative to be safe. It’s just like that sometimes.

    5. What a great anecdote — I can empathize, though I am a guy. There have been situations where I don’t pass someone (just yesterday actually), because I can tell it would piss them off and it did not cost me much time anyway.

      Paul: I totally understand your story too — I am forced by circumstance to use sidewalks for safety’s sake on part of my commute.

      My favorite incident was when I stopped at a fast food place to grab a bite on my way to work. I’m locking my bike up, and this customer inside is giving me the evil eye. ‘Isn’t that CHEATING?’ he asked me as I entered, pointing out the window at my electric assist bike. I was really taken aback, but I said ‘I’m not ashamed,’ and went to order my food. The guy behind the counter was laughing. Mr. Righteous kept fumbling with his coffee lid, and said as he left, ‘Well, I ride 50 miles a week!’ ‘Good for you’ I replied, smiling.


    6. I must not be a very good man. I’ve been passed by women on several occasions. One day I had two flats (I was quite new and had a spare tube & no patch kit; a mountain bike guy was nice enough to fix my second flat) and on the way home was passed by some girl. She asked how I was doing as I was having a tough time up some incline. Noting her superior speed, I just said “not as well as you”.

      I don’t enjoy getting passed, but some women are in better condition than me. Fine, let more of them be in good shape, they are better to look at that way.

      Sorry, but you are not the worst cyclist ever. Sure, you are extremely evil for blowing through a red light, something not no other cyclist or motorist would ever contemplate, but you don’t compare to some of the Balti-morons that I have nearly run into. One idiot was going the wrong way in a bike lane. This is a divided road, a bike lane on each side and “Mr. Dumas” is coming right at me in this lane. And he’s bigger than me. I yelled at him, but he is a Baltimoron with foam insulation between the ears and ignores me.

      I stepped off a curb to cross a main street and was nearly hit by another bike based Baltimoron going the wrong way on Park Heights Avenue, a 4 lane main drag. I guess I am enough of a man to say that sometimes I wished that I had a shotgun to rid us of these Darwin Award wanna-bes, but I lack whatever it takes to be upset by being passed by a female of any age on any type of bike.

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