Roadie Rage

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A few years ago I submitted an article to a local periodical called the Tucson Pedaler. (Aside, I used to live in Tucson.) I’m not sure they are still publishing, but in the summer of 2011, they ran a short story about a cyclist who had an altercation with a car driver and they asked readers to send in their reflections about the story. So I did. I called it “Roadie Rage,” and they published it in the August/September 2011 Issue. For this week’s post, I have included it below. By way of background, a “roadie” is a cyclist that rides (primarily) on the road; for those that know nothing about cycling, think Lance Armstrong type bikes.

Because I ride my bike a few times a week, often near traffic, I am frequently reminded of my words in this article. In fact this morning, in snowy weather, let’s just say it is a remote possibility that I raised my voice to one particular car driver – a driver who was quickly too far away to hear what I said and who, naturally on a very cold day, had the car windows rolled up and would not have heard what I said anyway. And maybe that was for the best. Regardless, this morning I was reminded that I am a man still in need of God’s grace and that I long for the maturity of character to respond rightly to my own reactions.

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Roadie Rage: Natural, but Wrong Nonetheless

I have a three-year-old son who loves to wrestle his dad. However, the other day when we were wrestling, he kicked me in the crotch.

I think it was an accident, but I yelled anyway. I reacted. Protective instincts took over. I pushed him away. There was a twinge of rage in my heart.

It all happened very quickly, but in a moment, I was reminded that I am fragile. I am vulnerable. I can be hurt. So I lashed out.  But it was only natural, right?

Last week I read a police report about a cyclist who reacted; a cyclist who lashed out. Apparently the cyclist was cut-off by an absentminded motorist. At a stop-light, he caught up to the car and pounded on the passenger side door with enough force to leave dents. He broke the side mirror and promised in colorful words to do the same to the woman driver. “I will run you off the road and you will know how it feels,” he roared. From her cell, the women called 911, but before the police arrived, the perpetrator pedaled away.

What is uncommon about this event is not the close call between motorist and cyclist. Anyone who has ever spent time as a road cyclist knows such an experience – a car runs a red light; a large pickup truck brushes you back; a city bus zips by only to slam on its breaks while 30 tons jerk over into the bike lane to make a pickup.

Instantly, your blood boils.  You see red.  Obscenities spring forth as from a geyser.  “Don’t you know that is how people get killed!”

Yes, we cyclists can ‘bob and weave’ in traffic with nimbleness, and can cover great distances at great speeds, but we often forget that we are wearing spandex and sitting on a piece of machinery weighing twenty pounds with only a helmet for protection. We are vulnerable.  We can be hurt.  So we lash out. It is only natural, right?

I suspect that most who read this harrowing account of the assaulted motorist, feel a measure of compassion for her, culpable though she is. Yet, I suspect a few, but still too many, read of the cyclist’s actions with vicarious pride. “Finally, someone stood up for us. Somebody did what I have never had the chance or courage to do myself,” they think.

As the cyclist put away his bike that day, safe at home, I wonder if he felt ashamed of his actions, as I did after I pushed my son away when he accidentally kicked me. Or perhaps, on the other hand, as he recounted the ordeal to his buddies, a grand satisfaction welled up regarding how ‘he showed her’. It is impossible to know.

In the end, while the cyclist’s actions (and ours) may be in many respects “natural” reactions – just as when a doctor taps you on the knee with a rubber, triangle hammer to check your reflexes, and you kick – we must conclude that what comes natural is not always right. Maturity and character are not always best assessed by what comes natural, but in how we react to our own reactions.

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[Image from a picture I took on Thanksgiving Day 2014 riding Peter's Mountain in Harrisburg, PA]