The Ignorant Motorist

The first mile or so of my trip home is on a relatively busy road. It has two lanes in each direction with a center median but no bike lane, or even a shoulder to speak of. I typically ride on the sidewalk until I reach the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Once on the trail, it is quiet enough for me to call my wife to let her know I am on my way.

This afternoon, I made it a few blocks from work and noticed several people walking on the sidewalk so I waited for the traffic to clear and then got on the road to go around them. There were two or three groups of people on the sidewalk so I decided to stay on the road until I passed all of them. The traffic was light because the bulk of the traffic was stopped at a red light about a block behind me.

That is when a car came up behind me and slowed to my speed. As it approached, I notice the window was open and a young man was sitting in the passenger seat. A young woman was driving and she leaned over to say something to me. I have had several people comment about my bicycle because, believe it or not, there are still people who have never seen a recumbent bike. I assumed I was going to hear a comment about how she liked my bike, but instead she yelled, “Hey! You need to be riding on the sidewalk!”

I was a bit shocked. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me?” but she sped up past me before I could reply. I actually wanted to say something much worse and then I wanted to ask her why she had the right to be on the road and I didn’t, but the moment had passed and all I could think to do was yell “Thank You! and wave so she could see me in her mirror. Then I flipped her the bird. I know I shouldn’t have done that but she just irritated the hell out of me.

The funny thing was, I was not slowing her down. She had plenty of room to go around me. It was as if, in her mind, she was doing me a favor by letting me know bikes are not allowed on the road. Can people really be that stupid? And it wasn’t just her. Her boyfriend, or whoever he was, opened his window and went along with it.

I have always been amazed at two things: The height of human intelligence and the depth of human stupidity. These two fell into the later category. For much of the rest of the trip home I felt irritated by what happened. I was listening to an audio book on my iPod and had to keep rewinding it because my mind was wandering.

I am well aware that a cyclist can slow down traffic and I try to do my best to be respectful to drivers and minimize that as much as possible. In this case, I knew that I could pass all the pedestrians and be back on the sidewalk before the heavy traffic arrived. It didn’t matter. It seems there is always going to be that ignorant asshole that thinks the world revolves around them and nothing you do will make them happy.

I try to empathize with drivers, which is not hard to do because I am one, and I honestly don’t remember ever being upset because a cyclist was on the road, even before I rode my bike on a regular basis. The only exception would be when my wife and I came up behind a bunch of cyclist on a group ride. We were on a back road in an industrial area. There was no traffic so the cyclists had spread out across the entire road, including the oncoming lane, making it impossible to pass them, so we had to follow them at ten miles per hour for several minutes until we could turn. If there ever was a reason to roll down the window and yell at a cyclist, this was it, but we just patiently waited for our chance to turn and went on our way.

Sometime I think about moving to a small town in Wyoming where everybody knows one another and nobody is in a hurry, but then I would miss all the drama.

5 thoughts on “The Ignorant Motorist

  1. College Tri

    I hate it when motorists assume we shouldn’t be on the road. Honestly, red lights make more of a difference in trip time than a cyclist will! Bikes tend to bring out the worst in other people.

  2. Lune

    This has never happened to me, but I read about it happening to others all the time, and I try to imagine how I’d react if and when it does.

    What are the motorists’ motivations? Are they honestly concerned for our safety? Are they feeling possessive of the road? Perhaps they are are so insecure about their own driving skills that they are giving you fair warning to stay out of the way? Honestly, I have no idea.

    Seems like saying something rude in return is the wrong answer. Perhaps just a “Thank you for your concern. I’ve got it handled.” would be a better idea.

    During my commute home from work, I can’t avoid crossing a few very busy streets, and this time of year the commute is in the dark. I don’t have to tell you that this can be a little nervous-making. But I’ve got the lights and reflective tape (I recently found at REI a pair of reflective flexy straps that can go around the wrists so that my hand signals are more visible. and I ride the recumbent just like it was a car, maneuvering into the appropriate turn lanes, and the motorized vehicles have all been quite accommodating. They might be saying mean, nasty things in the privacy of their cars, but they’re giving me room in the lane.

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      This is the first time someone has told me to get off the road but there are many agressive drivers that will risk their safety, as well as mine and that of drivers in oncoming traffic by trying to squeeze past me when they really should wait a few more seconds. That is what concerns me the most. I have found, around here anyway, that people are very stressed and in such a big rush to get to nowhere important. If people, when they drive, could learn to relax and appreciate what is around them here and now, maybe they would enjoy life better and cyclists would have a better chance to enjoy life period. Just a thought.

  3. womencyclists

    Good post! I can’t believe she told you to get on the sidewalk! That is one of the most unsafe places to ride and is actually illegal in many areas (maybe not Tampa, though?) but there is a good reason for it–sidewalks are often more dangerous to ride on. Specifically at the spot where there is a side/cross rode. I can’t tell you how many times I have nearly hit a cyclist because I was turning and they come zooming across from the sidewalk. As a cyclist, I am constantly looking out for fellow cyclists so I haven’t yet. But that’s why roads are typically safer–drivers actually see you! We aren’t looking for cyclists on sidewalks because those are for slow moving people on feet.

    Sometimes drivers are in a bad mood and get road rage…and yell or gesture rude things. Sometimes it happens to us cyclists too. Don’t beat yourself up for the rude gesture. It’s always easy as an outsider to criticize and say that what you did was “wrong”, but we weren’t there and shouldn’t judge you for it.

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      Thanks for the great comment. It is legal to ride on the sidewalk in Florida unless it is prohibited by local ordenances. I try to ride on the street as much as possible but there are areas that I feel safer on the sidewalk. There is a section of Hillsborough Avenue, the busiest road in the area, that is covered with debris on the bike lane. I don’t know if Tampa has street sweepers but if they do, they don’t clean where I ride.

      I know there are potential dangers involved in riding on the sidewalk so when I do, I am extra careful and give cars lots of leeway. I have been guilty of driving over a sidewalk and forcing a cyclist to stop for me. It is embarrising but more important, it is a reminder to pay more attention.

      My closest call came recently when I was riding on the road and someone in an “Orkin” vehical turned left onto the street I was riding on and caused me to brake and move off the road. He never saw me. That driver was very distracted and just another reminder to never assume that you will be seen.


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