What to do when road rage finds you

Until I saw it with my own eyes, I never would have believed a car's front bumper could fold around a bicycle's back wheel.

But there I was, on a Sydney street, stopped dead in traffic, with the plastic, bulbous bumper of a car deformed and wrapped around my solidly built Mavic Open Pro, while the two women in the car screamed abuse at me.

I've been deliberately skimmed or swerved at, hooted at, shouted at, obstructed and had things thrown at me.

The situation wasn't a complete surprise. The driver had already harassed me at the previous set of lights, presumably for having the audacity to be on the road and in front of them in bumper-to-bumper traffic. She'd then tried to squeeze past me but nearly scraped a truck in the next lane. Even though we were at a dead stop, she'd decided to nudge me.

Road rage. A curious mental disorder that has developed despite – or because of – our increasingly sophisticated transport options.

I don't like to write too often about the occasional challenges and downsides of cycling, because I don't want to discourage people from an activity that will bring so much good into their lives.

But if you cycle on Australia's roads long enough, at some stage you are likely to encounter someone who deliberately sets out to harass, intimidate or annoy you. It may be one in 1000, or even 100,000 drivers. But when it happens, they're the only driver that matters.

In a decade of cycling, I've had my share of adverse encounters. I've been deliberately skimmed or swerved at, shouted at, hooted at, obstructed and had things thrown at me - even a firecracker. And, on that one memorable occasion, I've been rammed.

What is a cyclist to do in these occasional but alarming instances?

Bicycle Network Victoria gives a few guidelines, especially regarding what not to do. It's best you don't retaliate or respond, especially as they are likely trying to provoke a reaction. More importantly, if they really are deranged, you are a vulnerable road user and they're in a vehicle weighing at least a tonne.


The more interesting question is what you can do, with the first and most obvious being to report the incident to the police.

What are the chances of a satisfying result? I've heard every outcome, including fines being issued or the police phoning the abuser to warn them. Others have felt the police were unhelpful, even dismissive. You won't gain anything by not trying, and the best advice I can give you is: ask for a case number. That makes it official, and helps you keep track of any developments.

Bus and taxi companies have complaints departments that are often very helpful. Company vehicles can also be tracked down, although if it's a small business you might just find yourself dealing with the individual who endangered you. It's probably wise to send a polite, formal complaint from an anonymous email address first, to see if it's worth proceeding. There is a range of advice on this website, although I can't vouch for all of it.

Sometimes, a terrifying incident may not even be intentional. A few months ago, a van with logos skimmed past me, its side mirror brushing my elbow. I emailed the company and received a sincere apology – the driver was unused to the vehicle's width, had no idea they had passed so close, and would be more careful in future. Good to hear - but let's hope a legislated minimum passing distance will bring greater clarity in future.

And the road rage lady who rammed me several years ago? Well, I went to the police. It was tricky as there was no damage, nor were there witnesses. The helpful officer told me a few days later that he'd contacted the driver, who denied everything.

Still, maybe that gave her pause to think. Because I do believe our roads are getting better. Almost a decade ago, when I started cycling, I would tell people that I would experience, on average, one incident of harassment for every hour of cycling.

That average has since plummeted. And sure, it's likely I've become a more confident rider, who can better anticipate and avoid trouble. But as the number of cyclists increases, we can surely change the culture on our roads.

We've all seen angry, shouting cyclists on the road. Many of us have been that cyclist. It's a biological reaction when one is threatened, scared and feeling  vulnerable; a feeling one can experience when taking to the road balanced on two wheels.

But if I can manage it, I find it best to just smile and wave. It's the best way to calm a misunderstanding. And it must really disappoint the haters.

How do you deal with road rage? Have you had good or bad outcomes when making a complaint?

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Email: onyourbikeblog@gmail.com