Mike and I were 65 miles into a 69 mile ride. It was hot but just started raining, so it felt wonderful. Unfortunately I was on the Venge and Mike was riding his 7 Series Madone – not the rain bikes. We were on a country road that gets a little more traffic than we like but have ridden it dozens of times in the past (not a highway, standard two-lane road country road). We were single file, 3″ left of the white line. Heads down, in the drops, 22 mph, trying to beat a line for home before getting too soaked. I took the lead with three miles to go and took it up to 24. A mile into it we heard the car horn… From about a quarter mile back. A succession of honks followed by a sustained, loooong lean on the horn. Mike said, “Oh boy, here we go.”
I gave the motorist the one fingered equivalent of “so sorry we’re in your way” as he drove by. Apparently the driver didn’t appreciate that because he jammed on his brakes and blocked the entire lane with his truck. It’s always the trucks… I passed on his left (into the oncoming lane) and shouted, “What’s your problem, old man.” as I rode by (he was old, late 60’s and rather bulbous). He yelled something unintelligible, gripped the steering wheel with both hands and gunned the engine, launching the truck at me… He swerved a couple of feet before running me down and drove off.
I’m lucky I didn’t get squished.
What I should have done as soon as he blocked the road was stop, take out my camera and start taking pictures. License plate, that guy’s mug, everything… And let the court system have its way with the old-timer. In Michigan this is “Felony Assault with a Vehicle” while flipping a grumpy jerk the bird is simply rude. Especially what he did after I went around him because he’d blocked the road.
This is that 5% rule in effect. 5% is a made up number, but the principle is this: 5% of motorists suck and ruin “it” for all motorists. Conversely, 5% of cyclists ride stupidly and ruin “it” for the rest of us. I’d say the percentage of poorly educated cyclists is a bit higher though and, in our neck of the woods, the number of bone-headed motorists is lower.
One important factor that must be accounted for here is that, at least in my case, we’re not talking about highways or busy cities roads… We’re talking about back-country roads. We have hundreds of miles of back roads so we can avoid busy arterial roads like the plague. While this shouldn’t matter at all, it goes to show just how wrong that old fart was.
Another interesting point here, suggested by Mrs. Bgddy (and this may be a cause for educating motorsists about bicycles), is that the old fella may have expected that we’d pull of the road simply because the King of the road aproacheth, onto the wet dirt and gravel shoulder, while traveling north of 20 mph on road bikes, when he blared his horn repeatedly. If you don’t know anything about bikes, pulling off the side of the road in the presence of traffic could seem reasonable. Now, if you know anything about bikes, at all, you know that this would be only slightly less dangerous than BASE jumping… with a plastic Winnie the Pooh umbrella instead of a parachute. In other words, bend over and kiss your ass good-bye.
For those who might read this post and not understand why pulling into the shoulder would be so dangerous, hold up your pinky finger. The surface area of a road bike tire that contacts the ground is about the width of your fingernail. In short, that doesn’t work on dirt or gravel, and especially not when those two are wet.
Now, fairly stated, that old fart was an angry, ignorant jerk but I reacted poorly. I should have recorded what happened rather than try to give an ignoramus a lesson. Had I been thinking, he’d have, at the very minimum, gotten a visit by an officer and caught a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. Instead, he’s still out there, even more pissed and God only knows what will happen to the next cyclist who crosses his path – and what if it’s me.
While I can fairly say that I made a mistake in judgement, the reality is that I am Monday morning quarterbacking the scenario. I never could have been prepared to handle a situation where the motorist was that completely ignorant of the fact that he was not only entirely in the wrong, but that he’d be so belligerent. In more than 21,000 miles, I’ve never encountered anything close to that level of animosity – especially when the oncoming lane was wide open for more than a mile. The truth is, because I wasn’t prepared, I couldn’t get to the wise thing to do in that situation. In fact, at no time during that altercation did I even think about grabbing the phone out of my back pocket when that is exactly the right thing to do.
The reason for this post, and its length and descriptiveness, is to let you, my fellow cyclists, know that crazy things can happen out there – no matter how correctly you’re following the law. Be prepared, go for the phone first and record everything you can, photo or video. Kicking someone’s ass, while viscerally more rewarding when it comes to a jerk like that, won’t do what is necessary to help your brothers and sisters on two wheels down the road. The only thing that will help everyone is for that person to be set straight by the law.