by Stan Purdum
Sooner or later, all of us who ride bicycles on the road get yelled at by passersby in motor vehicles. Typically, those doing the yelling are teenage boys, usually crammed in the front seat with others of their ilk, though occasionally they are older persons, but almost always of the male persuasion.
I suppose there are any number of reasons why these guys feel the need to verbally express themselves to complete strangers mounted on bicycles, but one having support among some cyclists I know is that these shouters have manhood issues. Thus, they feel the need to mouth off to convince their cohorts that they are indeed in possession of enough testosterone to make their voices sufficiently deep to carry when bellowing out the open window of a rapidly moving vehicle.
Another theory I’ve entertained has it that the shouting is some form of displacement, wherein the cyclist at whom the shouted phrase is hurled is actually receiving it in place of the testy girlfriend to whom the shouter would rather address it. The shouter, however, knows that if he did address it to her, he would suffer consequences too severe to contemplate. (Of course, the fact that this possible outcome leaves him quaking gives room to question his possession of the above-mentioned hormone.)
A third theory involves alcohol, and I assume no further elucidation is necessary.
Whatever the reason behind this behavior among this particular subspecies, however, this much I know: They have no idea that what they are shouting cannot be understood by the cyclists. The vehicles containing these shouters are generally moving past us so fast that their utterances reach our ears as so much gobbledygook.
This, of course, has certain benefits for the cyclist involved. For one, if the shouter is saying something less than complimentary, the content of the message never reaches the rider’s ears. For another, no matter what the shouter is actually saying, the cyclist is relieved of all responsibility for composing a reply — although, in my experience, several possible rejoinders do spring to mind unbidden nonetheless. Still, it’s generally better not to react, thus avoiding possible escalation of the incident. (Remember, the shouter is armed with motor vehicle.)
Be that as it may, since I can’t understand what these motorized passersby are saying, I sometimes chose to assume that certain matter was included in their comment.
Such an opportunity occurred just the other day as I pedaled down a country road. Three teenage boys whizzed by me in a pickup, and the one by the passenger-side window pealed forth with some sort of statement that was totally unintelligible by the time its sound reached me. Simultaneously with his bellow, he made a gesture with a finger of his right hand.
That gave me a clue as to what he might have been saying, but since I really couldn’t make out even one word, I replied to what I chose to assume he’d said.
And so, as the speeding truck grew smaller in the distance, I responded with enthusiasm, “God bless you too, sir!”
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.