Why do some people hate cyclists?

After being the recipient of some verbal abuse recently I got to thinking about what it is that aggravates some people by the sight of cyclists. Why do people have such a passionate dislike of cyclists? To be clear, the cyclist-hating types are a minority and on the whole my experience of motorists here in Aberdeen lifts my heart – they overtake slowly and give us lots of space on the road. But critical thinking has been drummed into me from a young age and I will always do it, even though I’m not very good at it, so I can’t help but wonder about the minority and I have a couple of theories.

The people who hate cyclists usually justify their views by saying cyclists run red lights. It’s true that some cyclists go through red lights but some motorists also go through red lights and yet the same passionate dislike is not directed at all motorists. It’s likely that the percentage of cyclists who run red lights is higher than the percentage of motorists who do the same because there are more motorists and running red lights is more heavily policed for motorists. But it also carries a greater risk for cars since cars travel faster and they’re bigger and heavier and can cause more damage. Bicycles are lighter, there’s better visibility on a bike, and they’re more nimble. For these reasons I don’t think it’s rational to dislike all cyclists because some of them go through red lights.

Here are my theories:

  1. Seeing cyclists makes them feel guilty about sitting in a car and not getting the benefits of exercise while polluting the air at the same time.
  2. Sitting in traffic is stressful and when you’re stuck waiting in line it’s aggravating to see someone else come flying past straight to the front of the queue.

Perhaps the best way to counter this irrational dislike is to demonstrate that all of us are cyclists including our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, sons, and daughters.

18 responses to “Why do some people hate cyclists?”

  1. I think it’s three things: visibility, tribe and culture.
    If you are a motorist having to slow down because it’s unsafe to overtake a cyclist, it’s annoying. Most motorists in a 30 zone aren’t best pleased to be stuck behind a pensioner doing 25, so to have to slow down to 15 or less is even worse. However, if 1000 people in a town commute by bike, and there are therefore about 800 less cars on the road, the motorist will save time through less congestion. The later is UTTERLY INVISIBLE to the motorist, the former is EXTREMELY VISIBLE (and probably wearing hi-viz, just to make it even more visible).
    Secondly, humans like to simplify, so all cyclists are categorised as cyclists. You and I know there’s a multitude of cycling ‘tribes’, but most motorists only see one. The sins of one tribe are lumped in with those of every other tribe.
    Thirdly, cultural. There’s an ‘eco-mentalist’ vibe about cyclists that anyone who voted either for Brexit or for Trump probably has a fair amount of contempt for. So that’s kind of the cherry on the top.

    1. Yes, I think you’re right with all of those points. Being stuck behind a slow cyclist is irritating and I am one of those slow cyclists.The man who yelled abuse at me was not stuck behind me at the time though. He and I were going in opposite directions.

      Having a lot of cyclists in a city also makes a big difference partly because so many motorists are themselves,cyclists.

  2. …and at the danger of sounding like the Spanish Inquisition, fourthly, class. Since the 1960s there has been an unconscious assumption in the UK that anyone riding a bicycle is doing so because they’re too poor to afford a car.

    1. I hope this assumption is changing in the same way that smoking was once the domain of the wealthy and it is now predominantly the poor who smoke. The average cyclist in the UK is middle class:

      http://www.cyclinguk.org/resources/cycling-uk-cycling-statistics#What kind of jobs do most cyclists do?

  3. I think there will always be haters, and I simply just brush it off … you don’t want to make the situation any worse than it already is. I think it’s a matter of you’re blocking their way. They don’t care that we are human beings too!

    1. I agree that they should just be ignored. The fellow who yelled abuse at me was not stuck behind me though and so I was not in his way at all.

  4. I did manage a visit.

    You still love your cargo bike.

    A V

    1. Great to see you again AV! Are you going to post about where you’ve been all this time?

  5. Maybe it is also due to numbers we perceive this dislike of cyclists: there are more motorists that don’t use/ have never used a bicycle in daily traffic than cyclists that have no experience as motorists. If you haven’t experienced the “other” side, you are less likely to understand the other group of traffic participants*. So the probability to be cursed at is higher as a cyclist than as a motorist.
    *I also think I am a better motorist because of my experiences as a cyclist and vice versa.

    1. Exactly! The more people in a city who are cyclists the more people who are both motorists and cyclists and this is good for both groups.

  6. Your suggestion 1 is completely wrong. These people don’t think or care about such things. Your point 2 is much more likely. The biggest complaints from authoritarians and angry people is at perceived injustices where they come off worse, even if it is a situation of their own making.

    1. It’s strange that those people don’t complain about other motorists then given that one of the biggest issues is traffic. They don’t seem to understand that the solution to traffic is more cyclists and pedestrians. Building more roads doesn’t work because of induced demand.

      1. They do complain, sort of, by demanding more roads be built. They are stupid, but not so stupid as to demand that all other motorists stop driving so they can have the road to themselves!

  7. This from a couple years ago explains a lot. I realize the culture wars aren’t the same in the UK and especially Scotland, but I expect lots of people there also see increasing use of bicycles as a harbinger of a future they loathe.

    Also see this latest in a string of powerful findings about the effects of air pollution (the bulk of it transit-related) on health, in particular that of children. Local elected officials need this shoved in their faces.

    1. Trying again: This. I especially like how the host can barely keep herself from losing it. The HSR issue is different, mainly because it’s very expensive infrastructure, although I don’t disagree with the rest of the sentiment in that quote.

  8. The first link doesn’t work but maybe you’re referring to this <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/09/12/decline-fall-rinse-repeat"article from the New Yorker:

    “…people who don’t want high-speed rail are not just indifferent to fast trains. They are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas: these things give too much pleasure to those they hate. They would rather have exhaust and noise and traffic jams, if such things sufficiently annoy liberals. Annoying liberals is a pleasure well worth paying for. As a recent study in the social sciences shows, if energy use in a household is monitored so that you can watch yourself saving money every month by using less, self-identified conservatives will actually use and spend more, apparently as a way of showing their scorn for liberal pieties.”

    I think this is true for some people.

    I have also been following the air pollution findings and am dismayed that we’re not banning diesel cars today. I am impatient and like to see action and in the case of cars there’s really no excuse at all. People don’t need cars to survive so banning one type of car will not cause any hardship but it will improve the health of the many and prevent premature deaths. There’s nothing even to debate here at all. Just ban them.

  9. it is very irrational of drivers to blame cyclists for holding them up when most people including me when I drive have never had to slow down for more than a few seconds to wait to pass a bike but have spent hours stuck in traffic caused by road works, car crashes and the sheer amount of traffic there is and the red lights issue is a non starter because even if some people on bikes break the rules sometimes we only have to look at the extent of drunk driving, speeding, hit and runs, phone use, dangerous overtakes, and general aggression and negligence exhibited by so many drivers and the carnage it causes to see where the real problem lies

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