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!”
Big Ring Bob says
Ah, the eye of the beholder (or maybe the ear)!
Peter Wimberg says
I’m not sure allowing someone to scream at bikers, walkers and runners is something I’d allow my daughter to do when she was younger. Actually, lets just say I definitely wouldn’t allow it. Maybe a little talk on self-esteem would be appropriate as we only belittle others to make ourselves feel better. As for young men yelling at cyclists and runners, lets call it like it really is. They’re just immature. I once had a group do that to me in a national park. I caught up to them at an overlook. I said that they never knew if the person they were trying to scare into wrecking their bike might be a park ranger. I’m not, but they quickly apologized. I said I’d be on the lookout for them the rest of the day. As for the older people doing this, I blame it on ignorance. As George Carlin said, imagine how stupid the average person is and then realize half the world is dumber than that. We have no shortage of ignorance. As for dissing all things male, I’m not at all worried about it or offended by it. Look in the mirror each morning and realize that is where the good and bad starts and that is what you can control. For the record, I’ll be 59 soon with 350,000 miles on the bike.
Good for you. Knight of the road!
Dave Le Fevre says
If a road user or pedestrian is nice to me, I wave to thank them.
And if a motorist sounds their horn, their intention may be to inform me or it may be the more usual get-out-of-my-way. Either way, I wave with a cheery smile. Were they trying to inform me, then I’ve acknowledged. And were they being stroppy, then either I’ve defused the situation or they’re now incensed with rage, either of which I consider a successful result.
And if they say something and I have no idea what they’ve said, I wave. Or occasionally I cup a hand to my ear to let them know that I didn’t hear them (which if they were being stroppy will incense them – result!).
So my standard general-purpose road interaction is waving to others.
Greg Titus says
I think your strategy for dealing with verbal abuse from motorists is perfect! Kudos to you, and I hope more cyclists adopt it.
Stan Purdum says
Actually, I’m 75. And I was speaking from experience. In more than 40 years of riding, I’ve never had a female scream at me from a vehicle. They’ve all been male. And screaming at rider from a car is not harmless. It can startle the rider enough to cause the rider to crash. I’ve also had a lit cherry bomb thrown at me by two guys in a truck (it exploded it air right behind me) and another guy, sitting in the bed of a pickup try to hit me with a stick. Still, I’m not willing to let those incidents make me into a jerk.
Craig W says
My observation from rural Tennessee: Two boys in a pickup truck are morons. Add a girl, and they become idiots, and there’s no telling what they will do.
Rick Oberle says
It always astonishes me how much stupid can fit into a Silverado.
Peter Wimberg says
I drive a Silverado! 😉
Lady Cyclist says
Yelling at us, horn blaring, or throwing drinks filled with ice out the window at us ( as happened to me) are very, very dangerous. No matter how attentive you are when on the road it’s still scary. Once my friend in her car spotted me cycling and she blasted the horn forever just to say “hi”. People who don’t cycle don’t get it. And the ones who do get it and continue that behavior have other motives.
Peter Wimberg says
Same issue with people blasting their horns in tunnels. It can be rather shocking for the person on the bike. I had a guy years ago tell me that he always honked at cyclists as he approached from behind because it thought it was helpful. I explained why that was unnecessary and dangerous unless needed to warn a cyclist of an impending danger.
I think it is best not to engage with the yellers, and just try to stay neutral. Most importantly, it does not escalate the situation; beyond that, it may take the fun out of it for the yeller, possibly even dull their urge to yell the next time.
Someone said above they like to respond in a way that can cause rage. Wow.
brad Wheeler says
I was sitting at a light when a hefty guy rolled up in a pickup. He rolled down the window and yelled “do those tight shorts make you an asshole?” I looked at him for a minute and replied “ why yes. What’s your excuse?” He was well flustered and tore off at the green light
Bob C says
That is hilarious and such a perfect response!
Actually, I have had lots of women yell at me. Men too. Typically over 70 year olds who live in the country and think they own the road and those hippies on bikes should not be an infestation to the rural area. Same thing in the city, just a different setting but not limited by age. Get over it.
Steve McDermott says
In my experience of over 35 years of cycling, the best response, when you don’t know who you’re dealing with, is to ignore the source of the yelling. Act like you can’t hear the yelling. As mentioned above, the yeller is in a vehicle that could kill you. In addition, the could have a gun. (especially nowadays), and aim it at you if provoked. Bottom line-you lose. Yelling at random strangers from a speeding car merely proves my theory that there is an inverse relationship between intelligence and loud yelling at strangers. The louder you yell, the less intelligence you exhibit. Be an ambassador for the sport.
Jack Hendricks says
As a 89 year old cyclist having to wear knee compression socks while cycling I have had more passing young women yelling at me-“love your socks”.
Bob Eltgroth says
On our tandem cross country trip from California to Maine, we only got yelled at twice. One was a woman in Waverly, Iowa. The other was mailman driving in the Adirondacks who felt we should be riding on the dirt shoulder.
Richard Lazar says
I was riding at the back of a pace line in the bike lane on Sheridan Road in Kenilworth, IL which is the poshest of the posh suburbs north of Chicago when I spotted a very well dressed older woman walking down the sidewalk next to the road. I turned my head towards her to say hello but before I could open my mouth she looked me right in the eye and yelled “a..holes!”. I was so stunned I had to ask the rider in front of me, did she really just say that? She did. I ride by that spot often and I think of that not so kindly old lady every time!
This article brought a rousing round of response.
Thanks for the amusing read, it was much better than thinking about “You Know What!”
Doug Ford says
Michael has serious psychological issues. At least he’s funny, however!
Bruce "0le" Ohlson says
Once I got yelled at by a couple of teenage boys out in the parent’s car. I don’t recall what he said, but it wasn’t complimentary. When I caught up to them at the next traffic signal, I pulled along side. To say that the kid was surprised to see me is an understatement. The color drained completely out of his face. In a normal tone of voice I said, “I know where your live.” He turned bright red and began hyperventilating, “No you don’t. No you don’t. I just moved!” We stared at each other for a couple of seconds, the light changed and the kid driving accelerated with alacrity. End of encounter.
Peter Wimberg says
I’ve used the ‘are you willing to take the chance that I may be an off duty cop’ comment a few times. I’m late 50’s, under 10% body fat, crew cut. I’m not a cop but it’ll get people thinking. Fortunately these issues are few and far between. I ride solo a lot so I’m easy to get around and I tend to not ride much in the city anymore. Country’ roads are just nicer. Fewer cars. Fewer chances to have encounters with them. And people in the farmland just seem to be more mellow.
Like you said, country roads, riding solo and people who live on farms add to the enjoyment of cycling. Same goes for riding a mountain bike on remote dirt trails that are too far from parking areas to be crowded with people. I will be celebrating my 80th birthday in April and bicycling for many years is one of the pleasant things that has kept me active.
Peter Wimberg says
Good or you!!!
I totally agree with Stan. I’ve been riding A LOT for 50 years, and I have only been yelled at by males. I’m a female age 70. And I agree with Stan’s thinking on why these guys feel compelled to yell at a cyclist who’s just out enjoying time on the bike. I believe it is shows a need to puff up their masculinity, to say they have the power (in their car speeding past). I’ve also had items thrown at me, again by males. It’s pathetic.
Ollie Jones says
It’s hurled the beer cans that entertain me.
Empty ones are pretty harmless.
And, the full ones are like shouted insults. I believe it’s just as difficult to aim a projectile out the window of a vehicle as it is to aim an insult. And one beer can lying at the side of the road fizzing through a puncture is 12 ounces less beer for the hurler to drink.
Peter Wimberg says
I once had a car come by and the passenger threw the contents of a full but stale coffee mug (they kept the mug) and hit me squarely in the face with the liquid. Totally disgusting. I spent the next hour thinking of what I would do if I happen to catch them at a store, gas station, traffic light, etc. Some of those Game of Thrones scenes come to mind.
I was riding solo on the shoulder of a county road on the way home from work when a car with three teenaged boys passed me. As they were passing they were laughing as they threw a glass soda bottle directly at my head. It was a slow-motion experience as the bottle shattered on the ground to my right. All I could think was, “I could be your mother. Would you do that to your mother”. It was an extremely upsetting experience, mainly because I like to think that humanity is good.