Biking Diplomacy: Courtesy is not Dead

Image credit: Cycling History

Given all the insane stories out there of cyclists being shot for riding with a kid, or drunk motorists who believe they should "get a medal" for killing a cyclist, two wheeled commuters may be forgiven for being a little defensive. But while taking a look at April's guide on how to diffuse anti-cyclist road rage may help, it's also worth remembering that not everyone is out to get you.
The Guardian continues its excellent coverage of issues facing everyday cyclists. (Previous posts we've got excited about have covered cycling drunk; the joy of slow cycling; and work-appropriate bike clothing.) This time the discussion centers on cycling politeness. Peter Robins recounts riding in heavy traffic, only to find a white van driver gesticulating furiously at him. Being a fairly seasoned cyclist,Robbins was at first a little intimidated - until he realized that the driver was trying to alert him to a bag he had dropped.

Similarly, readers' comments reveal that the roads aren't an out-and-out war zone after all. From the cyclist who was flagged down by a trucker in the cold - only to be offered a handkerchief to blow their nose, through to the SUV driver who stops to check on a cyclist after a near collision with someone else - it's clear that there are plenty of people willing and able to coexist on our busy roads.

Which begs the question - if there really is so much love out there, why does the common narrative seem like there's a constant battle going on? Sure - we're more likely to remember threats to our life than we are a friendly wave, or a common courtesy - but shouldn't we all do just a little more to also remember, acknowledge and encourage mutual respect?

Maybe we're all a little guilty of indulging in our favorite 'war stories' of the SUV that ran us off the road; the motorist that opened a door in our face; or those b******d bike thieves. While these stories may be fun, or even therapeutic, to recount as we blow off some steam - they do also fuel the sense of us against them. Next time you're telling someone about your fantasy of revenge involving a ulock, and a pristine paint job - stop and think - is there another, more calming story that's also worth telling?

As Robbins suggests - we can also do our part by behaving with courtesy, respect and mindfulness. In fact, Robbins almost makes cycling in the city sound like a practice in meditation and compassion:

The business of making your way – of seeing what's coming; of catching the eye of someone on the pavement in advance and either slowing slightly to let them cross or speeding up a little not to delay them crossing; of moving quickly and purposefully and mindfully enough to work with the traffic – feels delightfully skilled and grown-up.

I must say I've always felt the same way - while a hard and fast ride through traffic can be its own thrill, there is something calming about a more measured and intelligent approach to negotiating traffic. Come to think of it, it's not unlike hypermiling in a car - seeking a more complete union between rider/driver and machine - rather than merely squeezing the life out of it for the fastest possible ride.

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