Bike rage? Top tips for calm cycling commuting

Road rage between motorists we know about – the hooting, gesticulating and worse - but what about rage between cyclists?

The Courier Mail and the Herald Sun have recently carried reports of "bike rage" and cyclists "turning on each other" in crowded or congested situations.

I find this interesting because in many years of dedicated riding, including peak hour explorations in cities around Australia and overseas, I can't recall seeing much aggro between commuter cyclists - or any riders, for that matter.

That's certainly not to say that incidents don't occur. After all, people who ride bikes are a cross-section of society. They're not all saints, or all sinners, and there's always the chance of conflict in any human interaction.

But to me, one of the things that helps reduce tension between bike riders is ease of communication. You're out in the world, with a 360-degree view, able to chat to other riders and on an easily manoeuvrable vehicle.

There's a certain disconnect when you're in a car, surrounded by metal and glass, with limited ways to signal your intentions to people "outside".

And when you're stuck, you're stuck – traffic chaos can leave frustrated motorists trapped, while bike riders can often find other ways through the gridlock and arrive at their destinations without significant delay.

Meanwhile, there are far more reports of road rage incidents between cyclists and drivers, often due to misunderstandings, near-misses or perceived threats (as I wrote about some years ago in "why are cyclists so angry?").

But what will happen as bike commuting increases in Australian cities?

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Some of the most exhilarating riding I've done has been during rush hour in cyclist-dominated cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Utrecht.

As a novice among local experts on crowded bike infrastructure, I was careful to keep to the slow side and ride smoothly and predictably, while marvelling at the skill, awareness and casual confidence of the people packed in around me.

These cultures have developed over decades, shaped by bike-friendly environments – and in places like the Netherlands, learning to ride in busy conditions is part of growing up for almost all children.

The key, as always, is to ride in a safe and considerate fashion. Here are a few suggestions for inter-bike etiquette.

Different folks, different pedal strokes

Commuter cyclists who are also sports riders are used to being in tight bunches where there is a mutual understanding of the techniques and skills needed to do so safely.

But on a commuter route you're likely to meet people with a variety of skill and confidence levels. Give them space - a manoeuvre that's acceptable in a race can be terrifying to a novice.

Pass with care

Being allowed to go past cars on the left is one of the great advantages of cycle commuting, especially when you're heading up the inside of a long line of stationary cars (like the bloke who passed 589 cars on the way to work).

But passing another rider on the inside can be risky, especially as a natural reaction of a spooked cyclist can be to move to the left, in anticipation of a vehicle approaching from behind.

Of course, keeping to the left makes it easier for the riders overtaking you to do the sensible thing - just so long as you stay clear of the door zone of death.

I find it can help to say something like "passing on your right", if a polite heads-up is needed.

Racing and rolling

There's a joke about the competitive nature of some cyclists that goes, "the definition of a bike race is when one rider can see another". That's all good up to a point, but while many of us ride to work as part of a fitness regimen, not everyone has the need for speed - and their preferred pace should be respected.

And while it can be motivating to try keep up with someone who has just come past, I've heard tales of cyclists who refuse to stay overtaken and will go to extreme efforts to get in front again – only to flag on the next hill.

'Shoaling' and 'salmoning'

These fishy metaphors are popular in American riding. "Shoaling" is the two-wheeled version of queue-jumping - rolling past on the right to get to the front of a group of riders waiting at an intersection (and possibly blocking the other direction on a bi-directional lane). 

Meanwhile, "salmoning" is riding against the direction of flow on a one-way route. Both these practices can get messy for all involved.

Watch for pedestrians

With many of the paths used by cyclists designated as "shared use", it pays to keep an especial lookout for walkers and pass them safely. Yes, some people can randomly change direction, or be tuned into their phones or headsets, or the like ... but it's your job as a rider to factor this in and make allowances.

Have you ever seen or experienced "bike rage"? And what advice do you have for better rider interaction? Tell us in the comments section. This will be tightly moderated so please ensure comments and replies remain on-topic.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011. He has won a Cycling Promotion Fund media award and is a regular voice for cycling on radio and television.

Follow Michael on Twitter or Facebook, email him or read more of his blogs.

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