Hating on Portland’s Bicyclists

I love to hate Portland bicyclists.

I mean, it seems like every time I’m out driving in SE Portland, some bicyclist is engagine in some suicidal ass-holery, just daring me to run into him or her. If I wasn’t driving a modern econo-car, which would probably sustain $1500 damage while just denting their tire, I might take them up on the offer.

I see people riding the wrong way on Hawthorne, people riding through red lights downtown, all sorts of foolishness.

I mean, really, it makes it sooooo easy to think that bicyclists suck.

It’s with this mentality that I entered the world of the commuter bicyclist a week and a half ago. Astounded by gas prices and by my likewise-inflating six-pack keg where my stomach used to be, I talked my wife into letting me get a bike so that I could ride in to work on days where my schedule accomodates it. The first ride was last week, and I realized that, though you may never forget how to ride a bike from the standpoint of basic pedalling and staying upright, there’s more to it than that.

I was riding into town yesterday when a thought crossed my mind. I’d been watching a lot of bicyclists in the last few days. Probably at least 50 in the four days out of the last seven that I’ve been commuting by bike. And, among them all, I may be the worst transgressor of the various rules of the road for bicyclists.

Amazing. I realized that, if I was driving a car near myself on a bike, I’d watch myself, hate myself, and use myself as a justification for my ongoing wrath against all cyclists.

Which opened my eyes. Because I try to be conscientious in the things I do. I just don’t always succeed.

There’s this thing in psychology called the primacy effect. Basically it says that we develop a first impression of something, and we look for things to reinforce that first impression. When I was a kid, I loved bicycling. Did it alot. Then I stopped biking for a long time, fell in love with my car, and drove around oblivious to the bikers around me until someone did something that pissed me off. And then I decided bikers sucked, and then I found lots of individuals to support my derision towards all bicyclists as a class.

Upon review, that was stupid and wrong. When you think about it, for every one bicyclist that miffs you by doing something intentionally wicked or just stupid (I’d be in the second class, I swear!), there are scores that ride very well, within the rules, and in as unobtrusive a way as possible. To judge a whole barrel of apples by the one bad one that is entirely failing to spoil them isn’t fair.

So, I still despise bicyclists. However, I confine that loathing to the particular individuals who particularly offend, as opposed to the whole group as a class. And I remain hopeful that the next time I come upon a particular detested biker, they will have cleaned up their act.

And, by the way, if you see me out there messing up, feel free to hate me, but just don’t run over me. I may get this whole bicycling thing figured out yet!

17 Comments so far

  1. TKrueg (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 4:54 pm

    Rusty said: “So, I still despise bicyclists. However, I confine that loathing to the particular individuals who particularly offend, as opposed to the whole group as a class.”

    So… it took riding your bike to figure out that hating bicyclists is kinda crazy? Dude…

  2. Sheesh (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 5:56 pm

    Here’s what’s sad about your post. You know what’s right or wrong. You know bikes have equal right to the road and that they need to follow the law. You criticize them.

    But then what do you do when you become a cyclist? You ignore the law and become the very problem you hate.


  3. Lady (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

    Living in The Pearl and working in NW Portland I have to take my hat off to cyclists in this area. I take my car to work because I need to visit long distance sites. Other than for work, I rarely use my car. Bicyclists in my area are generally careful, polite and obey all traffic laws.

  4. chris (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

    Hate is such an awful word. Do you really hate?

  5. Rusty (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 10:16 pm

    I’m both astounded and gratified to learn that, unlike me, none of the readers here has ever fallen prey to generalizations and made a decision regarding a whole class of people based on the conduct of a few more obvious and bothersome examples. But, really, I suspect that most of you, at one time or another in your life, has dropped a “I hate _____ ” into a conversation because you were thinking of some representative of a group in your mind who managed to turn you off to the whole category. “I hate Christians,” “I hate hippies,” “I hate Republicrats,” “I hate stoners,” or whatever.

    And I don’t think that I’m the only person that has had a realization of my own hypocrisy at some point. Perhaps I’m the only one to share it.

    I chose to discuss bicyclists in this post because both myself and my wife have discussed how much “bicyclists” (without qualifications like “some bicylists” or “this bicyclist”) piss us off based on one person who decided to use the car lane when a bike lane was available, or whatever. Bicyclists, for some reason, are very polarizing in Portland. To some bicyclists, motorists are all evil based on the conduct of a few who don’t share the road. So, on both sides, I’d guess generalizing happens.

    Chris: Do I really “hate?” Well, at times I’ve had a very visceral reaction, and an unfriendly feeling, based on what I’ve seen some bicyclists do. And I’ve certainly felt unfriendly towards those people. Whether that qualified as actual hatred, “hate” came out of my mouth. Of course, I often say I hate certain TV commercials or certain songs on the radio. Whatever. I used the word here. For the purposes of this post, I hated in whatever sense I meant it when the thought crossed my mind. It wasn’t a “that person shouldn’t even exist and I want to blot them fromt the earth” feeling. It wasn’t warm and fuzzy. Take it as you will.

    TK: I know it’s lame to have to switch places to learn an obvious point. That doesn’t change the fact that, for many, that’s precisely what it takes.

    Sheesh, I’m afraid you entirely missed my point. Of course I know bicyclists have a right to the road and need to follow the law. And, as I stated, the vast majority are very good at what they do. I’ve simply realized, by my own failure to meet the level of excellence that many bikers set, that to allow myself to succumb to the generalizations that I have in the past (and which, I’d guess, many readers have also fell into), that it was a stupid generalization, and I thought I’d share with others the lesson I’ve learned by walking a mile in a bicycle commuters shoes (or biking a mile in their seat…).

  6. Randy Leonard (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

    I did not miss your point, Rusty. I found your post refreshingly candid and honest.

    I too have a whole new appreciation of biking and its attendant challenges in Portland.

  7. Sheesh (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 8:34 am

    No Rusty, I understood what you were saying in your post.

    Like you, I get offended by cyclists who don’t follow the rules. But here’s the thing. I AM a cyclist, and I DO follow the rules. You said it yourself: “I’d been watching a lot of bicyclists in the last few days. Probably at least 50 in the four days out of the last seven that I’ve been commuting by bike. And, among them all, I may be the worst transgressor of the various rules of the road for bicyclists.”

    Indeed, you probably are. And yet, you say: “So, I still despise bicyclists.”

    That speaks volumes about you.

  8. Mick (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 8:56 am

    Nice post, Rusty. I have often wished bike haters would try bike commuting for a week to see the bike side.

  9. Rusty (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 10:42 am


    “So, I still despise bicyclists” is meant to be read in the context of the entire paragraph. A paragraph is a grouping of statements that constitute one particular idea or subject. So, there, the continued despising is clarified as only being directed towards particular individuals, as opposed to the class, and is further qualified as being transient in nature and open-ended, as opposed to the final and fixed hatred of before. I now hold out hope for growth in the particular offender.

    Just like I indicated that I would hate myself if I were a driver confronted with my own current bicycling incompetence, but at the end indicate that I’m improving, and excuse current hatred towards me based on my current ineptitude.

    And I think you’re reading my post to say that I’m intentionally out breaking the rules and mixing it up. If that’s in fact how you are reading it, please accept this representation that I’m not intending it to be read that way. And since I’m on a bicycle and currently have a degree of ineptitude that I’d hate for people to use to judge all bikers, I’ve opened the door, in my mind, to not just assuming that bad bicyclists are doing it on purpose.

    I still don’t like dealing with bad bicyclists as a driver. That perspective drives me to want to be a better bicyclist. But my new-found insight from the bicyclist perspective has made me less disdainful of the whole biking community.

    Thus ends my clarifications. Continue to misread or misunderstand if you must.

  10. Himself (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 11:21 am

    Rusty, some folks don’t appreciate (or get) irony, and can’t understand self-deprecation. Kudos to you for getting on your bike and acknowledging your previous failure of perception. (Especially given the sometimes anti-bike sentiment espoused by bloggers and commenters here.)

    Signal your turns, take a lane when you have to, and don’t feel like you have to apologize for doing the right thing!

  11. Sheesh (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

    I’m not misunderstanding you at all. I totally get the irony of your post and I appreciate that you see the error of your ways and can poke fun at yourself. I just think it’s a shame that you realize you are among the worst offenders, but you didn’t mention anything about changing your ways. You said you see the error in your ways, but I must have missed the part about change. If so, I apologize.

    You’re right that a few bad apples give a bad name to the otherwise really awesome bunch. Like I said, I’m a cyclist too, and it bothers me to see cyclists run red lights and such because it gives us all a bad name. Since you know the rules, how about just following them, ok? You’ll be a safer cyclist and be part of the solution rather than the problem.

  12. Sheesh (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

    P.S. I should add that I definitely give you credit for getting on your bike. That’s awesome. It’s something I wish more people would do. As you know, it’s great for your body, it’s great for your mind (a benefit lots of people forget about), and it’s wonderful for the environment too.

  13. Orygunner (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

    I think some of the comments by some here are pretty representative of the attitudes of many of the bicyclists I’ve encountered. If you really want to experience Portland’s bike culture, I suggest commuting by foot to downtown from the east side. You’ll get to deal on a daily basis with one or more of the following:

    (1) Clueless idiots riding on the sidewalk despite there being a bike lane 3 feet away—this is a very popular activity

    (2) Scowling bicyclists in their Lance Armstrong outfits riding as fast as they can straight towards you and only swerving at the last second (can’t count the number of times this has happened)

    (3) Bicyclists suddenly blasting past you from behind with no warning on shared sidewalks/bike paths like the Hawthorne Bridge (who came up with the idiotic idea of shared paths anyway?)

    (4) Bicyclists who purposefully run into pedestrians because they’re “in the way” (saw a spandex jockey on the Hawthorne Bridge do this to a girl 10 yards ahead of me, then head straight towards me—I pushed him off his bike before he could hit me; he ended up apologizing for his abominable behavior)

    (5) Bicyclists who stop at red lights but pull out in the crosswalk, completely blocking it (this happens ALL the time—it actually surprises me when a bicyclist DOESN’T do this)

    (6) Use the steep downslope on the northeast approach to the Hawthorne Bridge to accelerate, even though it’s a shared path, there’s a blind corner at the bottom, several signs saying to slow down, and tons of pedestrians around (it’s always an adventure to go around that corner)

    I could go on and on, but suffice it say, as a pedestrian who walks pretty much everywhere, I don’t care for Portland’s bike culture one little bit. While MOST bicyclists are law-abiding and respectful, there is a large minority who are complete jerks and who have zero respect for pedestrians. As a population, bicyclists are far worse than car drivers in my years of experience as a pedestrian in Portland.

  14. el timito (unregistered) on June 1st, 2007 @ 11:31 am

    Thanks Rusty for the refreshing candor.
    What your post brings up for me is the odd way we tend to associate behavior with vehicle. Remember, most of those crazy-ass cyclists probably drive too (especially the souped-up spandex wearers). Do you think they instantly turn into polite, law-abiding motorists when they get behind the wheel?
    How many times have you seen someone speeding in their car, California “stopping”, ignoring pedestrian right-of-way, etc…
    And how many times have you said, “Drivers…!”
    I’m guessing not many. Most folks I hear say “That jerk!” In a car, you are an individual, on a bike you are an archtype. Why is that?

  15. Rusty (unregistered) on June 1st, 2007 @ 11:49 am


    Great point. Don’t know the answer, except that there’s often an “us vs. them” sort of mentality that seems to play prominently into certain things. And it seems to be magnified, in Portland at least, in the cars vs. bikes setting. And I don’t know why…

  16. Dave Sohigian (unregistered) on June 1st, 2007 @ 3:31 pm


    I was thinking the same thing myself earlier: why do you see comments often directed at cars (“I hate cars” or “cars suck”) rather than drivers? In the case of bikes it is the other way around:”I hate bicyclists” instead of “I hate bikes”. It is a funny shift that happens when people are put inside such a large mechanism (car): it is like the become the machine. The same can be said for computer-based conversations vs. face-to-face: the medium defines the message.


    Great post that shows how important it is for people to get out on bikes even if they continue to use a car as their primary transport. The world can always use a little more empathy.

  17. Chris (unregistered) on June 3rd, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

    I can’t believe all the people who attempt a serious response to this guy. He is a complete a**h**e plain and simple. The world would be better off without him and his idiotic blog. He should be isolated not indulged.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.