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Cycling and Road Rage

I just read an article on the Human Cyclist blog about aggressive drivers and cyclist on the roads, and an overall lack of respect. The author is in London, which is surprising to me, as I envisioned an enlightened society where pedestrians and cyclist would be treated with the utmost respect. Anyway, I was thinking (and dreaming) about our summertime group rides and the “occasional” altercation with an aggressive driver. Individuals collectively sometimes take on a “group mentality”, and small incidents can quickly become bigger. If anyone has ever had a child in organized sports they can probably recall many times when parents became extremely angry. To be honest I personally remember myself furious over a ref that obviously needed new glasses, or an opposing team’s parents that were acting up; Only to be embarrassed later, and re-commit myself to never doing it again.
In a recent article,Tamara Avant (Psychology program director for South University, Savannah) was quoted as saying, “Groups can generate a sense of emotional excitement, which can lead to the provocation of behaviors that a person would not typically engage in if alone.”
If you remember, in 2013 there was a national story about a motorcycle gang in New York that chased down a driver who had his wife and two year old in the car with him. They attacked the family and smashed out windows of the SUV while the family pleaded for them to stop. It was caught on video, as well as an audio recording from the terrifying 911 call. Apparently the driver had bumped into one of the bikers and that had sparked outrage among the group. It makes your blood boil to watch this video and think your family could be in that car. All I can think about is that two year old in the back seat screaming in terror. Later, I heard a TV interview with one of the bikers. He was not one of the individuals that had attacked the car, but he did watch it all happen. He said he did not know any of the other riders. The ride had been posted on a popular Facebook group page or similar forum; The type where you meet at XYZ for a 40 mile ride, so on and so forth. Wow! That sounded familiar, kind of like most the cycling rides I go on. Then I began to think of the several times on a group ride where we were run off the road, or almost hit, or yelled at etc… and the ensuing war of words and gestures from my fellow cyclists. Its easy to become angry when someone almost causes you serious physical harm. Its also easy for the group to start building the rage into something bigger. If the automobile is forced to stop at a stoplight, and all the bikes catch up, things can get ugly. That guy in the interview could have been me.
This motorcycle ride story made me realize, though perhaps I should have realized it sooner, that, while riding in a group, I will be judged as being with that group. Just as I, and everyone else saw this motorcycle group as a gang, or collective group of bad people, so too will they lump me, or you, into whatever group you are riding with. A cycling group is an eclectic group of individuals and we can all probably think of several people in our usual riding groups that are aggressive. While I never witnessed anything remotely close to the New York motorcycle incident, I have seen several verbal arguments that made my heart race, and could have escalated into something worse.
My point of this post is this; Next time your on a group ride and an altercation does take place, remember you, and your reputation, will be lumped into this group if anything bad happens. Instead of adopting the group anger, take a deep breath and try calming the aggressors. If unsuccessful, consider removing yourself and other like-minded riders from the situation. You will be so much happier with yourself later for taking the high road and maybe saving yourself and others a lot of grief. Enjoy the ride and let me know what you think.


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