Health & Fitness

The battle for Australian Roads… Why Road Rage Is a Cyclist’s Worst Fear


Ask any cyclist, what is your greatest fear? You may expect a plethora of colourful answers including a mismatch of socks, itchy lycra, a flat tire, or even riding 50km in the wrong direction before noticing. The reality however, is that there is nothing that puts an uncomfortable heaviness within our bibs like the erratic behaviour of some Australian motorists. We may be opening a whole can of worms here, but I am only one more P-plater side whoosh away from chucking out my last Scicon X-Over bib – and those things are not cheap! Yeah, it’s definitely cars. Everyone is uniformly afraid of drivers on the road.

Most drivers mean well – or so we’d like to think… surely they wouldn’t want to hit us ON PURPOSE?? The reality is that the majority of motorists have probably never been so exposed and vulnerable as us cyclists. Simply put – they’ve never been in our weight-weenie, carbon-soled, boa-dialed shoes before. If they had, they’d find them uncomfortable, and they would show us way more courtesy while behind the wheel.

Until drivers squeeze into some tight lycra kit and try riding in the gutter to avoid being smashed by someone’s side-view mirror, they’ll simply never understand the difficulties cyclists go through to stay safe.

Of course, this perspective might also be a bit too generous. Maybe a lot of drivers out there actually do harbor ill-will toward us. Perhaps we look too free out there, sun on our skin, getting great exercise in, and so they take their after work frustration out on us by giving a scare. After all, who can blame a car-bound driver for feeling a bit of jealousy when our legs, chiseled with tanned muscles and reflecting sweat, look so good?

No, not us.

Not All Fun and Games

However, it’s not all fun and games. Cyclists do get hurt in a very real and sometimes irreparable way. You probably know at least one person who’s been tagged by a vehicle – it’s very doubtful they enjoyed it. You might be sitting there nodding your head yes as you read this because it was you who was hit.

One day, I was riding down a narrow and twisting mountain road when a small SUV came around a blind turn on my side of the road before slamming on its brakes. Luckily, my cat-like reflexes spared me from going over the car’s hood – I smashed into the driver’s side mirror and door instead, leaving a cartoonish outline of my body imprinted in the metal.

While some may chalk that incident up to irresponsible driving and not aggression, the kicker happened when the driver approached me as I laid on the ground in shock and pain and started gesturing in anger at their damaged car door.

Where Does the Road Rage Come From?

How many times have you been honked while precipitously riding at the edge of the road with nowhere else to go? Surely you’ve experienced the chilling effect of being unexpectedly yelled at by some teenagers, swearing as they go by in their parent’s car. Such events often lead to long periods of soul-searching while putting in kilometers on the bike. What did I do wrong?

The fact of the matter is you probably did nothing wrong, but a lack of compassion and understanding from the driver’s side is a major contributing factor to the situation. Many drivers fail to understand that we belong on the road too – cyclists have every right to take up space on the blacktop. We aren’t just any type of traffic, however. We’re largely unprotected and over-exposed to the whims of those around us.

A car weighs anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 kilograms. Even at low speeds, the sheer inertia of an object that size moving forward in space is enough to severely impact and decimate a puny cyclist weighing a mere 60kg. The great thing about cycling is we can eat anything we want and still lose weight – but the downside is all that weight loss makes us pretty fragile. That’s all without getting into the fact that our bikes are made out of papery carbon fiber.

Suffice to say, when faced with a gargantuan SUV, we’re as good as paper mache in a hurricane. Road rage, when armed with a steering wheel-driven guided missile, can be a very dangerous thing indeed.

Where does road rage come from? Driving is, in and of itself, a stressful experience. It’s loaded with danger, and people often step into their cars with pre-existing problems. They’ve just had a fight, or are late for an interview, or simply can’t focus on what they’re doing as their mind takes flight elsewhere. None of these issues are ones that cyclists can guess at or should even bother trying to figure out, and yet we’re affected by them nonetheless.

What Can Cyclists Do to Make Roads Safer?
I am a firm believer that most drivers simply do not understand how fast many road cyclists are actually travelling, whether solo or in a group. Drivers do not expect riders to be actually doing the speed limit, 40 or 50 KPH in built up areas. Motorists pull out from side streets or into roundabouts and then we are there – no where for either to go.
As to the teenagers, tradies etc, some of the things I have witnessed over time simply defy description. Suffice to say, there are stories on EVERY ride of fellow cyclist being cut off, verbally abused, knocked off their bikes or had a vehicle whiz past them so close that the draft almost sucked them into the car.

I ride in Perth WA. I also ride for the most part in a reasonable size peloton. Perth has very few dedicated bike paths, most are shared, cannot accommodate bike groups, or any rider wishing to ride at any speed. Riders are required to ride on the road for their own safety as well as the safety of other users of bike paths.

How can we help? First, if a driver says something, don’t answer back. There’s nothing to be gained.
Always signal your intentions so drivers behind have some idea of what you plan to do.
Always have your lights on, no matter what time you ride. Be seen.
And the easiest, when drivers give way, or slow down or do anything to assist in any way, acknowledge with a smile and a wave. You’re never too pro to wave.