Hey road-raging farmer: Why do you hate cyclists so much?

I got road raged by a farmer.

A friend and I were on our road bikes on a rural Sunday morning ride recently on the outskirts of the city. It was a warm and smoky day, and we had pedalled about 50 kilometres when we turned off onto a secondary road. There was no shoulder on the highway so we were hugging the right side. We weren’t riding two abreast, but we weren’t exactly single-file either — we were chatting, which is one of the joys of riding with friends on a Sunday morning.

A highway ride that didn’t result in an angry farmer. Photo by Tom Babin.

The pickup truck approached from the opposite direction and I knew immediately that something was up because the driver-side window was rolled down and I could see a reddening face. The driver did a U-turn on the highway to confront us, shouting unintelligibles the entire time. I rolled my eyes — every cyclist knows an angry motorist when he sees one — and slowed down, mostly to avoid getting run over. He pulled his truck up beside me.

I told myself to stay calm, and I sat back and waited while he frothed. I let him shout his bit, and he calmed down enough that I stopped fearing for my life. Then, he squealed away.

I’ve encountered angry motorists before, but none as furious as this, and none seemingly set off by my mere presence. It was unnerving. It laid bare my vulnerability in that situation. We got our wits about us and finished our ride, but the joy of the morning had been sucked dry.

I tell you this not as a precursor to a rant about entitled motorists and their irrational anger toward cyclists, but as a plea to help me understand. As I recounted this story over the next few days, nearly every cyclist I spoke to had a similar story. What I’d like to get out of this is reasonable answers to a simple question: Dude, what’s your problem?

I’m being serious here. While Mr. Angry Farmer in a Pickup Truck wasn’t in his most articulate state, he did shout a few nuggets that gave me an idea of what his problem was. “You cyclists!” “I have to live out here, this is just a joyride for you!” “Last week, I passed 200 of you guys!” “This is my life!” “Once, some cyclist was mad that I dropped manure on the highway. I mean, who the fuck do you guys think you are?”

This road ride, on a closed highway, resulted in zero angry farmers. Photo by Tom Babin.

Based on that, I’m making a few assumptions. I suspect he feels his homestead is being invaded by outsiders. I suspect he perceives all cyclists as disobeying the rules of the road, and he doesn’t want to be responsible for inadvertently running over a cyclist. I also suspect his anger goes a tad deeper, fuelled by a vein of discontent throughout rural areas because of a perception (rightly or wrongly) that rural life is being disrespected.

So I can empathize, even if this is just my speculation. But still, it’s difficult to square the reaction we received to our behaviour — we were riding a bike on a quiet public road on a Sunday morning when traffic was almost nonexistent. I take some responsibility for the situation. We weren’t, at that moment, following the letter of the law requiring strict single-file riding (although I tend to agree with those advocating for a change to improve visibility,) and I apologized. My sense, however, was that Mr. Angry Farmer in a Pickup Truck wasn’t nitpicking the nuances of the traffic act, it was our mere presence that set him off.

So here’s my plea, to those who live in rural areas and honk or scream at cyclists: What’s up? What’s so bad about our presence? What’s so awful about sharing the highway that it comes down to threats and anger? Is momentarily slowing down and passing bikes really so burdensome? Is this really about cyclists, or are you projecting larger grievances onto unsuspecting passersby? And do you really want to rid the world of people out riding bikes for pleasure and fitness on weekend mornings?

Seriously, help me understand. Leave a comment below, or drop a note on Facebook or Twitter. Let’s see if we can better understand each other.

You can also follow Shifter on Facebook or Medium or our YouTube channel.

Follow Tom Babin on TwitterFacebook or Medium.

Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 


Also published on Medium.

Previous

This gorgeous e-bike is impractical, unruly, illogical and totally loveable

Next

After the road rage: Five rules for rural-road users to avoid bike-car conflicts

13 Comments

  1. Kevin Dalton

    I suspect your farmer was reacting to your presence on bikes because he saw a you as a symbol of the rural urban political divide. That divide sees people like him perceiving themselves to hold less power and less respect amongst urban citizens as represented by you send your friend riding on bicycles. They perception made him angry and he decided to vent.

    This type of behavior is why I now ride with video cameras on road rides. You were assaulted. With video you would have proof and could press charges. Someone with that little self control should not be operating a large machine that could be used as a weapon.

    This is also part of bigger societal ills. It is fueled by political leaders who choose to exploit our differences for their gain. It is also fueled by those political leaders choosing policies that favor the few wealthy over the majority.

    A lot think about on a weekend ride.

  2. Clancy

    I suspect he was angry over his previous encounter with cyclist. “Last week, I passed 200 of you guys!”. Boise has a road that services a lot of houses, but also makes a great ride to get out of town. The comment section of the local paper always has negative comments about cyclist, “those spandex guys on Hill Rd…” While you were not doing anything to incite this farmer, those 200 guys from the previous week may with some loose pack riding. As cyclist we always need to make sure we are the best ambassadors possible whether you are riding alone or with 200 of your closest friends, so the next encounter that farmer has is a positive one.

  3. Blinksy

    Research says it has more to do with how groups maintain power than how well another group conforms to any given rules… what is wrong with cyclists…
    http://m.brisbanetimes.com.au/executive-style/fitness/on-your-bike/youre-a-cyclist-so-its-your-fault-20140205-321np.html

  4. C Kilgour

    Only a few months ago I came across a female on a local group complaining about someone walking on a country road not getting out of her way.
    When I asked if there was traffic coming the other way and was there space to pass the person safely the reply I got was that wasn’t the point. The person walking should have moved over onto the grass verge to let her pass because roads were made for cars not people.
    I really just don’t understand why some people get so hot under the collar about sharing the road with other people.

  5. Mary

    I would like to respond to this ‘plea’!
    Living in a rural area, I have had many many near misses with cyclists. Nobody sets out to run over a cyclist but it has and will continue to happen. Someone needs to save these cyclists from their own stupidity.
    Why do I honk?? To let you know I am coming up behind you, AND to let you know you should not be on what you feel is a ‘quiet’ rural road, riding two abreast on a road or highway with a very narrow shoulder. Why am I angry ??? Because…. not only do you put your life in danger, but you put MY life in danger!
    Consider this,,, I am travelling on a secondary highway, in a hilly area, south of big City Calgary, I am hauling a horse trailer with two or three horses,, (or hauling farm equipment on a trailer) ,I am already going under the speed limit and suddenly I come over a small rise and there are two cyclists riding side by side or even single file at the edge of the highway. What should I do…. There is a car coming towards me and two cyclists in front of me…… Do I slam on my brakes, jackknife my trailer, killing my horses and possibly myself,,,or …do I swerve into the other lane to avoid the cyclist and have a head on collision killing myself and persons in the other vehicle….Or…do I slow as much as I safely can but still hit the cyclist! Cyclist is dead and my life is damaged forever!
    Why do I dislike cyclists? Your attitude in this article is the exact reason. Listen to yourself!!

    So here’s my plea, to those who live in rural areas and honk or scream at cyclists: What’s up? What’s so bad about our presence? What’s so awful about sharing the highway that it comes down to threats and anger? Is momentarily slowing down and passing bikes really so burdensome? Is this really about cyclists, or are you projecting larger grievances onto unsuspecting passersby? And do you really want to rid the world of people out riding bikes for pleasure and fitness on weekend mornings?
    Seriously, help me understand. Leave a comment below,

    To answer your plea…..First of all you lack common sense and secondly… you have an extreme sense of entitlement.
    I live in a relatively quiet rural community. Cyclists drive their fancy SUV’s ‘out to the country’,,, park all over the grassy boulevard making large ugly ruts in the grass, and consider themselves active and environmentally conscientious because “they are riding bicycles’. Everyone should just slow on down because no one else has anywhere important to get to while you are out riding your bikes for pleasure and fitness. And while you cyclists are riding down the quiet country roads bordering our property,, you think nothing of stopping and defecating in our bushes or flower gardens, throwing your paper and trail mix wrappers on our property.
    What would be your reaction if every Monday morning, I drove into your City neighborhood, left my truck and trailer parked on your nicely manicured boulevard, and rode my horse all over your yard, let him have a snack on your grass and crap in your bushes. And would it really be so burdensome if I rode down the middle of your quiet residential street and you had to drive slowly behind me until I decided to get out of the way. Would you be annoyed or angry, if because of me you were late for work or an appointment? Would you thank me for trimming and fertilizing your lawn in an environmentally friendly manner? Or would you think, oh it’s her god given right because it’s her day off and she is out riding that horse for pleasure and fitness?
    Seriously,,,, help me understand your stupidity???
    Most country folks don’t hate cyclists who ride on the miles of City bike paths! Or those who are respectful of rural property owners and who ride safely, single file, on a secondary highway that has a vehicle width shoulder so they are not endangering themselves or rural drivers.

    • I’m shocked and horrified at the behaviour of some people you describe here. I had no idea this kind of thing happened, and I don’t blame you for being upset. I certainly would. Let’s make a deal: the feedback I’ve received to this piece has reminded me that the vast majority of rural landowners are understanding of cyclists, share the road reasonably and responsibly, and understand there are a few bad apples out there who ruin it for everyone else. In return, perhaps you can think of cyclists the same way. I hope things improve around your property.

  6. Jeff

    You need to understand that the rural roads were not built for two cars to pass as well as a biker. Especially if you are riding out into the main lane or two and three abreast. Like all thing there are the bad apples that wreck it for the rest of you. I have a full time job as well as run a few cows, so most of my farming activity happens on the weekend when the bikers are out in full force. I know this and do my best to drive defensively so I don’t kill anyone. There have been several instances when I have come over a hill with a load of cattle and there are bikers 2 and 3 wide, chatting not paying attention and an oncoming vehicle is approaching as will. It is all I can do to slow down or swerve to not kill one of the bikers.

    I know bikers really enjoy the area as do the residence but you have to follow the law all the time or someone will be hurt or killed.

    I empithize with the farmer that ripped a strip off you. I know it’s no big deal to you when you don’t know the sick feeling that you may need to make a decision of, “Do I hit the biker? Swerve into oncoming traffic and hope they can stop in time? Go for the ditch? Or slam on the brakes and hope for the best.”

    It might not have been you that put one of us “Farmers” in this situation. But there are far to many bikers that don’t follow the rules and do this.

    I just wished there was some budget for the police to come out and stop bikers to educate or ticket them until they start following the rule of law on rural roads.

    • Thank you for this comment. Yes, cyclists need to do a better job following the law on those rural roads to help make things safer. I can’t speak for all cyclists, but I’m a driver too so I know the difficulty of the situation you describe. This wasn’t the situation I was in, but this helps us all understand. Thank you.

    • Brian Glover

      “You need to understand that the rural roads were not built for two cars to pass as well as a biker. Especially if you are riding out into the main lane or two and three abreast. “

      That’s simply not true. Roads are built for all vehicles, slow and fast, to use. If there’s a person using a slow vehicle in front of you — whether it’s a bike, a tractor, a backhoe, a combine, or an Amish buggy — you just have to slow down and wait for an opportunity to pass.

      When I’m driving a car in the country, I frequently have to slow down to pass farm equipment. Somehow people don’t seem so upset about that. Please stop pretending that this has anything to do with engineering — it’s all about social resentment and you know it.

  7. Blinksy

    Like you said, drive defensively. Same situation if someone comes over a rise or around a bend and there is a tractor, cow, horse/ rider tree down, crash scene, pot hole… I’m also a truck driver, motor biker, bicycle user, walker and have family and friends involved in farming and trades…
    It’s the motorised vehicles killing people which should be driven accordingly regardless.

    See my other post re. the psychology at play here. It’s got nothing to do with who follows the law. Any tax payer funding policing should be directed towards the causes for people actually being hurt and injured based on actual data and not perception. 😉

    Cheers

  8. Couple of questions. Were you on gravel? Is that the truck in the first picture?

    The reason I ask is that I ride a lot of gravel and paved county roads in rural Iowa and seldom have issues at all with farmers. They’re courteous to a fault. If I have issues with anyone at all, it’s most likely that they will be the new arrivals from suburbia who moved out here thinking they might want to be farmers without understanding just how far away the closest Starbucks is. They typically tend to “over truck” and so they’re pretty easy to identify. These folks seem to always be stressed and in a hurry.

    I try to avoid them whenever possible but when I know they’re gonna be around I try to stay safe. I ride defensively. I use the mirror. I wave and try to disarm any potential conflict up front. It seems to be working. I understand I’m fortunate to live where I do. Part of it is by design. I moved here to ride these roads. But another part is serendipity. People are kind here, generally speaking. It has worked out well.

    I wish you all the best going forward. Cycle safely!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén