Cyclist's revenge

My daily commute is normally quite uneventful, with the only excitement coming from sights along the way. But today was different, with two close encounters on the way home.

First up was a Buick-driving bozo who leaned on his horn, gave me the finger, yelled something out his window, and zoomed around me a little too close, apparently taking offense at the mere presence of a cyclist on the road. His road. I’d tell you what he yelled, but I couldn’t hear him. When will drivers figure out that cyclists can’t hear them yelling over the gunning engine and blaring horn as they zoom angrily past? Whatever, dude. I’m sure it was a finely-argued point of law. As long as it makes you feel better and you don’t run me over in your blind rage.

Next up was a guy in a delivery van, who leaned out his window at a red light to ask whether I planned to continue to ride in the middle of the lane or would get out of his way and ride up against the curb like cyclists have to. I replied that I’d continue to ride in the middle of the lane because it wasn’t wide enough for both my bike and his van and I wanted to make it clear that he had to move into the next lane to pass safely.

He then went on to make the typical claims: motor vehicles have precedence over bikes, cyclists have to move out of the way, and that his “road taxes” pay for the road. I countered with the usual rebuttals: I can take the lane if it’s unsafe to share it and there is no such thing as a “road tax” that only motorists pay. He was neither happy nor in agreement and finished up with a smirking, “Pisses you off, don’t it?” as the light turned green. It ended, as do most of these encounters, with neither person making a positive impression on the other and two cases of elevated blood pressure.

In fairness, he was semi-polite (if a little loud and completely wrong) and he did swing out into the next lane to pass. That would have been that but for his fatal mistake: he was driving a clearly-marked delivery van from a local retail establishment not more than a five-minute bike ride from my house. It took me all of two seconds to resolve to take my cyclist’s revenge: going to his workplace to continue the conversation.

He and the truck were nowhere to be found when I got there five minutes later, so I asked for the manager instead. I explained my tale of woe, told him how poorly it reflected on his business, and gave him the identifying information I had. He agreed that the driver was wrong and that he’d have a talk with him when he returned to the store. The manager of this store was much more helpful than acting store manager Andy at the place down the street.

I was outside unlocking my bike when I saw the truck pulling up to the back of the building. “We meet again!” I exclaimed gleefully as I pulled up. The driver climbed out of the van and turned into a normal person as he shed two tonnes of metal and glass. Suddenly, he was willing to converse, not just yell. To listen, not just get angry. And we actually had a civil conversation about bikes, roads, the Highway Traffic Act, and “road taxes.” The store manager joined us too, and together we educated the driver on several topics:

  • Cyclists are not second-class citizens to drivers.
  • Cyclists are allowed to take the entire lane.
  • Cyclists are allowed to make left turns from the left turn lane.
  • For most traffic purposes, the HTA makes no distinction between “vehicles” and “motor vehicles.”
  • His driving a truck that can kill a cyclist with one wrong move means that it’s incumbent on him to drive safely, not on me to get off the road.
  • The privilege of using the road doesn’t flow from paying taxes.
  • Just because I’m riding a bike right now doesn’t mean that I don’t have a car or pay “road taxes.”

At the end of our 10-minute conversation, the driver seemed genuinely repentant and vowed to treat cyclists with more respect. And that was the best revenge: successfully converting a road-raging truck driver with reason and conversation, rather than merely exchanging shouts and fingers as we passed on the road.

I’ve always wanted to ask road ragers, “Are you an asshole in real life, or just behind the wheel?” Now I know the answer.

But the real kicker of this story: the delivery truck driver is a cyclist who rides to work every day! No kidding. I couldn’t believe it.

Update, July 3: We met again, again.

11 Replies to “Cyclist's revenge”

  1. Good question, Christopher; I was actually thinking about that earlier. I didn’t learn anything about the legalities or courtesies of sharing the road, but I did learn that (at least some) drivers who honk or yell at cyclists are people too. If you get the chance to explain in civil conversation that you ride the way you do in order to ensure your safety and not just because you’re daydreaming while you take a leisurely ride in traffic, they tend to understand.

    Unfortunately, the level of discourse in traffic is pretty low. Speaking to someone after an incident is fairly rare.

    Many cyclists (myself frequently included) are too quick to assume that drivers have the worst intentions toward cyclists. In truth though, I find that the larger issue doesn’t stem from the small minority of drivers who openly display their animosity toward cyclists, but from the small minority of drivers who simply don’t see bikes, pedestrians, or even other cars. The same goes for cyclists.

  2. On a similar note, I was hit by a cyclist who claimed he “didn’t see me” and that he had been hit by a car as well. So even though cyclists drive, they are not always looking out for each other.

  3. One day, while I was cycling, I was honked at by a man in a van who was angry that he wasn’t able to pass me. I turned around and informed him that I had just as much right to be on the road as he did. I had been intending to turn right in about a block, but instead I rode three more blocks before turning, just as a special treat to him.

  4. I was outside unlocking my bike when I saw the truck pulling up to the back of the building. “We meet again!” I exclaimed gleefully as I pulled up. The driver climbed out of the van and turned into a normal person as he shed two tonnes of metal and glass.

    That was lovely- I saw it like an animal or insect shedding its old skin and being soft and clean for a little while.

    I drive in a city where it seems most people aren’t aware of other motorized vehicles, let alone human-powered ones. Unfortunately I don’t speak the local language well enough to have this type of reasoned conversation with the locals, but certainly, I hope I can someday!

  5. I applaud your cool head -after 35 years of cycling, I am losing patience and exacting revenge just for me because I know most morons stay morons – good on you mate

  6. Just so you know …
    According to the Highway Traffic Act, cyclists travelling at less than the normal speed of traffic should ride in the right-hand lane when practicable, and as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway (Section 147.1). In some situations it may not be practicable or safe for cyclists to ride adjacent to the curb. For example, there may be debris or poor pavement in the curb area that poses a hazard to cyclists; or the lane may be too narrow for cyclists and motorists to travel side-by-side, so the cyclist may “take the lane” to discourage the motorist from passing too closely.

    This is not a dig. Just something more cyclists, and motorists, should be aware of. I am not a cyclist, I’m one of ‘those’ motorists on the road. Not the ‘get the cyclist’ type but one who understands the struggles of being a cyclist in Toronto AND the struggles of it’s motorists. There can be idiots on both sides but, sadly, there is definitely a need for more education for all concerned. I was an avid cyclist back in the 70’s. I rode from Don Mills and Eglinton to 1 Yonge Street every day down through the valley on dirt paths past the Domtar factory and onto the dreaded Bayview Avenue. Long before bike paths and bike lanes were prevalent in Toronto. Those were scary days. In fact, the day they opened a bike path south of the Brickworks to just north of Rosedale Valley Road, I was in amazement. Hmm … things have come a long way in the development of paths and lanes but education of the people sharing the road has a long way to go. BTW, I enjoy your blog and periodically drop by to see how things are going.

    1. Actually, the Highway Traffic Act says that a slower vehicle (not just a bike) should move to the right, and, on a multi-lane road, that just means being “in the right-hand lane.” If you accept some car drivers’ assertions that bikes must actively give way to cars even on multi-lane roads, then all of the cars downtown in rush hour should be piled up at the curb so that the fast-moving bikes can pass in the left lane.

      But to address your point, I’m well aware of what the HTA says about cars and bikes. The problem is that many motorists think that it means that cyclists have to ride with our tires almost rubbing the curb and that any other position is somehow illegal unless we’re portaging around a yawning crevasse. But the lane mentioned in this post is too narrow for a car (never mind a truck) and bike to share, so it wouldn’t matter whether I was scraping the curb or as far left as I could go, whoever’s behind me is going to have to change lanes to pass. Additionally, there’s a restriction against turning right on red at the red light where we were were waiting and there was a car parked in the lane about 100 metres up ahead. So here’s a guy who has to wait at the light anyway if he’s turning, and who can’t continue in the lane if he’s going straight: either way, he has to get out of the lane. What’s the point of yelling at the cyclist? Why not yell at whoever parked the car?

      In the end, as a cyclist, I chose my lane position not because I want to piss off drivers or get in their way, but because I’m trying to arrive at my destination without being hit by another vehicle. Many non-cyclists don’t understand this, but riding smack in the middle of the lane can be the safest place for a rider to be. My safety is my responsibility, and I’m not going to sacrifice it just because a driver has to change lanes to go around me or wait five seconds for me to clear an intersection.

      I drive too, but whenever I have to wait for a few seconds behind a cyclist, I realize it’s not the cyclist that I’m waiting behind, it’s the hundred other cars in front of both of us, the double-parked delivery truck, the BMW illegally parked outside the Starbucks, the condo under construction that’s closed a traffic lane for the last three months…

      If the only traffic I encountered that day was that lone cyclist riding taking a lane, it would be a peaceful day.

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