In Helsinki I can really tell we’re in the thick of the beginning of the bicycle season, because I am swearing an awful lot on my bicycle. Clueless pedestrians not yet accustomed to looking before they step into a bike lane (despite having had years to learn), drivers on edge from having cyclists zip around them without warning, bike messengers pretending they are immortal, rotten cyclists who should never have been put between two wheels, and here come THE TOURISTS. It’s always THE TOURISTS.
When you’re on your own personal chariot of divine fire that other people rudely refer to as just “your bike”, it becomes so easily about you. Who cut you off. Who stepped into your lane. Who stopped beside you at a light with the obvious intention of overtaking. What’s going on here? It’s road rage, of course.
The thing is, assuming no accident takes place, the only person who gets hurt by my road rage is me. Several articles about driver road rage mention increased instances of accidents, risk-taking, and heart attacks and stuff. We don’t want heart attacks. We need our hearts, or doing the next 100 km ride becomes exceedingly difficult. So I decided to look up a few tips to help chill me out.
1. It’s not about you
It’s not personal. Another person made a mistake, or you did, but it was a mistake, and has nothing to do with you personally. Favourite line: “Traffic is not a conspiracy to prevent you from getting where you want to go.” Those of us who run red lights and ignore other rules often have a tendency to think of other people and drivers as obstacles and nuisances rather than people sharing the same space. Do you do that all the time, or just when you’re on a bike?
2. It’s not about you and your gorgeous beast of a bike
Plenty of us see our bikes as extensions of ourselves. (I talk to mine. Extensively. It worries some of my friends.) But this extension-of-me can also lead to treating cycling as therapy – taking out a hard day on the road. That’s not necessarily something you want to do in traffic.
Shoulders down, bend your elbows, release those clenching fists and jaw…. aaaaaaand breathe. Ooooohkay.
4. Watch your tongue
I seem to remember “Jeeeeesus fucking Christ in a blender” coming out of my mouth more than once in the last month while on a bike in the downtown area. I suspect “whoops” would have been sufficient to describe the actual situation.
5. Don’t engage
If someone reacts badly to you, try not to go for the bait. That can be really, *really* hard, I know, but it’s the ultimate test of being chill on wheels. Ultimately there is very little point in getting in any argument on the road whatsoever. Mistakes happen.
6. Budget more time
So you’re in a hurry. Are you, by any chance, always in a hurry? Leave earlier. Text ahead to say you’ll be late.
7. Take a trip to Selfawaria
This I found from a driver’s guide to road rage:
Classes designed to help curb aggressive driving often have participants tape-record themselves while driving. Hearing themselves swear or rant on tape is enough of a wake-up call for them to recognize and reduce dangerous behavior. So try analyzing your driving. Do any of the following statements sound like you?
– I regularly exceed the speed limit in order to get to work on time. – I tailgate other drivers, especially those who sit in the left lane. – I flash my lights and honk my horn to let drivers know when they annoy me. – I verbally abuse other drivers whether they can hear me or not. – I frequently weave in and out of traffic to get ahead. – I feel the need to set bad drivers straight.
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your driving may qualify as aggressive.
8. Don’t be surprised
What if you think about it this way: say on your daily commute, you come into reasonably close contact with 200 other people. If one of those encounters involves a mistake on someone’s part, that’s a rate of half a percent for traffic boo-boos. That’s not really so high. But you encounter a lot of other drivers, cyclists, and walkers in a day. Why not just expect that once or twice a day, something will go a bit wonky?
9. Turn off the screamo
I know “Jesus Built My Hotrod” is an awesome track, but listening to aggressive music tends to make people drive more aggressively. Besides, you don’t have earphones on when you’re riding anyway, do you. Do you.
10. Remember the long-haul trips
One of the things that really surprised me when coming back from my tour was that for almost the whole rest of that summer, I was a much kinder cyclist. I really didn’t experience aggressive feelings on the road because I’d gotten it into my head that wherever I was going, I was going to get there sooner or later and it didn’t really matter if I was going as fast as possible all the time. Do more long rides, away from heavy traffic.
Wow. I feel better already.