Gear Prudence: Whenever my boyfriend and I ride together, it doesn’t go well because of his crazy road rage. He’s constantly giving drivers the finger and cursing at them, and I’ve seen him get into more than one screaming match when someone has cut him off. When I asked him about his (over-?)reactions, he said, “That’s just the way it is between bikes and cars,” and that bicyclists need to stick up for themselves if they ever want respect on the road. He has a point, but it’s just so embarrassing to ride with such a hothead who makes such a big scene over every slight. He’s totally normal and non-ragey off the bike, so is there any way I can get him to mellow out so riding with him isn’t so awful? —Ride Angry, Girlfriend Embarrassed
Dear RAGE: This sounds familiar. Is your boyfriend Dr. Bruce Banner? When he rages at drivers, does he turn all muscular and green and occasionally cavort with a squad of other superheroes in an endless series of tortuous comic book blockbusters? Are there piles of shredded bike jerseys and ripped Lycra shorts strewn about his apartment? This could be a problem.
It’s good that he’s normal and non-ragey when he’s not riding his bike, meaning his condition is limited to transportation interactions. However, to avoid the mortification of being seen with him when he flips out, you might just need to stop riding with him altogether. Tell him that if he doesn’t get himself under control, you’d be happy to let him ride solo. This hopefully shouldn’t HULKSMASH your relationship, but it’s better to say something then to be forever forced to ride alongside a rageaholic.
GP notices a lot of rage riding out there and wishes it weren’t so prevalent. It’s not so much that these reactions are surprising—the power disparity between someone driving and someone on a bicycle creates a situation where fear is channeled into anger—but that they’re mostly ineffective. Screaming your head off at someone is unlikely to ameliorate anything and has the potential to escalate a bad situation into one much worse. If you’re in immediate danger, do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. But if trouble has passed, really consider whether it’s truly necessary to aggressively drop a few f-bombs about someone’s lack of turn signal a few blocks back.
It’s hard to expect comity on the roads to arrive from yet more confrontation. If bicyclists earned respect on the road through swears and flipping people off, they’d have well received it by now. Bicyclists don’t need to earn anything: They’re rightful road users just like anyone else. But just like everyone else, bicyclists can try to play a part in making the roads (marginally) less hostile. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.