• jules

    great article Justin. really crystallises some issues. however, there’s a couple of things you didn’t address. if people focus on the negative more than the positive, then why don’t drivers hate motorists? there seems to be an obvious explanation for that – they don’t want to hate a group they belong to, or identify with.

    also, aren’t you contradicting yourself saying that we should be courteous, if non-cyclists will perceive us according to their worst observations and experiences with cyclists? it seems like trying to set an example is ineffective, at least for the purpose of winning motorists’ hearts and minds. unless you can get 100% uptake, which I’d suggest is completely unrealistic.

    is a better option to train people not to stereotype groups based on isolated, negative perceptions? it strikes me that society has done reasonably well in de-training itself from doing that to ethnic/racial groups. but the irony of applying the same illogic to other groups (e.g. cyclists) appears to escape most people.

    • scottmanning

      They do hate motorists! More accurately, they hate a subgroup. Sunday drivers, women drivers, doof doof crown, ricers, hoons, or any other subgroup you care to mention.

    • Hey Jules, I’ll try to briefly respond to your questions. You’ve asked some good ones.

      First, why don’t drivers hate motorists? Because they’re part of their ‘group’ is your suggestion. That’s a reasonable explanation. But not entirely true. There are pejorative stereotypes about women drivers, Asian drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers, and so on. Motorists actually do hate other motorists. But… if there is no obvious differentiator then they accept the challenge and move on. Furthermore, the challenge of negative stereotypes affects minority groups. If you are in the hegemonic majority and you see the person who offended you as the same, you’re more likely to move beyond it quicker. There’s nothing unique about the offender that identifies them in a particular way so you can lump the negative behaviour with their particular uniqueness. Does that make sense?

      Second, the potential for contradiction on being courteous when we’re going to be lumped in with others who do dumb things anyway is real and an astute remark. While the negative is more powerful than the positive, when we behave in a negative way we reinforce the stereotype. We create more animosity. We give the motorist (or whoever hates us) even more justification for the way they’ll behave towards us (uncivilly). So while our ‘good’ behaviour may not win hearts and minds, it will reduce the likelihood that we’ll cause further harm. A positive or neutral experience will be ignored. A negative experience will be reinforcing of something negative, making it further entrenched and potentially harmful.

      Is it better to guide people to not stereotype based on an isolated incident involving a minority out-group? Of course. Yes. It’s a tough task. Research tells us that we succeed through explicit instruction (although if it feels ‘controlling’, it can actually make things worse. For example, studies show trying to force high-school kids to be accepting of LGBTIQ kids can actually have a rebound effect in the negative direction.)

      What seems to work best is giving people an opportunity to come into contact with the minority/out-group in a humanising way. Wade’s experience with a journalist who encouraged cyclist-hate a few years ago is a brilliant example of how this works: http://cyclingtips.com.au/2009/09/hats-off-to-wendy/. Obviously it’s a challenge to get everyone who hates cyclists onto a bike. But it might be small things like smiling, being courteous, waving a ‘thanks’ to someone… saying g’day. All of this makes us human and can potentially reduce stigma and the potential for anger and aggression.

      • jules

        thanks Justin. that makes sense. I understand the hating motorists too thing. but it’s not the same as the way some motorists hate cyclists. the vitriol aimed at cyclists seems much worse. i guess that is linked to the degree of identified difference between sub-groups – even women drivers are still drivers.

        I’m on-board with the humanising, positive reinforcement strategy. I wave a lot and where practicable, let cars through etc. I’m not an angry rider, and there are some shockers out there. But that all changes when I’m subjected to unprovoked aggression by drivers. I can’t bring myself to wave then. I’ve never thumped anyone, but I have a policy of not taking aggression lying down. some people say responding to aggression with aggression is counter-productive, but I reckon you need to stand up for yourself.

        • Jules, it seems to me that minorities will always be viewed with suspicion at the least and acrimony or hostility as standard. If you’re different and you stand out – and particularly if you slow traffic – you will be regarded negatively… unless… and it’s a big unless… unless you can seem like a real human being.

          Must admit I’m one who sees fighting fire with fire as generally unhelpful. Of course, sometimes we need to defend ourselves. However, screaming, gesturing, or throwing things at a motorist as they drive into the distance is typically futile at best, and counter-productive at worst. To change hearts and minds we have to be better and do better imho. That said, I’ve had a few scares on the bike and responded in ways that demonstrate that I’m far from perfect at this :) Being missed by inches by someone swerving at you tends to provoke fear as well as a ‘fight’ response.

          • jules

            I don’t go nuts, but if I can, I confront them. Even though I usually just ask what the hell they were thinking, approaching someone on the road in Australia is akin to declaring war. It often triggers a furious response. And then I don’t want to take that lying down, etc. Alternatively, the driver is very calm and reasonable. I love that one – I just tried to kill you, but now let’s be very civil and I’ll explain why I had to do that. I give them a hard time for that.

  • donncha

    So in summary, don’t ride with arseholes.

    • When I approached Justin with the idea for this article, it was because I noticed that some fantastic guys who I ride with (and even myself perhaps) will do inappropriate things in public – especially when riding in bunches. We normally don’t spit or curse loudly while walking down the street, but we do when riding in a bunch. We normally don’t talk loudly about inappropriate topics with children within ear-shot when at the cafe, but we do when we’re with our cycling mates. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

      • scottmanning

        I actually hate myself for firing off snot rockets for this reason. I wouldn’t do it off the bike but then I have no need to/have access to tissue. To console myself I sniff it up (another thing I won’t do off the bike) until I can no longer then wait until there is no one behind me to see me do it. One chap in our group keeps a hanky pushed under the leg of his nicks but that is arguably more disgusting than sending a discrete snot rocket to the country kerb.

      • spicelab

        I like to think I’m fairly self-aware, but it hadn’t occurred to me that we probably piss off a fair few residents with our chatter when we gather at the start of a ride.

        I’m also with Scott on snot rockets.

    • slartiblartfast

      Don’t recruit more cyclist haters by doing things which upset people such as waking the neighbourhood before dawn, bunches riding through red lights, using open roads for unofficial races etc. Our bunch has a rule (not always observed) that if the group gets too big say over 20 then we split up into smaller groups. This makes it easier for cars to get past and cuts down on the aggro.

  • Bob

    here was me thinking that I avoid riding in groups because dodging snot rockets, riding behind transparent old knicks and flashing red lights, eating rooster-tails in the wet etc isn’t much fun. Turns out the real reason is that most people act like dickheads in a group – see also footy trips and bucks / hens nights.

  • Simon

    Yeah some interesting points but nothing new. I simply try to ride as if I’m a normal road user, I don’t expect any favours and refuse to see myself as a victim nor should I be expected to hold myself and other cyclists to a higher standard. I mostly avoid large groups as I prefer to ride in small bunches or solo. I love a well aimed spit (never aimed where peds walk) and will swear if someone shaves me or acts like a maniac but try to keep that to myself esp around kids. I often hear cyclists passing my house in the early hours and wish they’d shut up but I’m far from perfect. I can’t wait til cycling is seen in this country as unexceptional and even more as simply legitimate transport and articles like this are unnecessary.

  • Gordon

    So what Justin is saying is along the lines of road users don’t like me because I’m a cyclist and it is nothing to do with being Muslim, gay, female, Asian an ex offending priest, misogynist drunk who can’t ride a straight line. It is everyone else’s fault.
    Phew I feel much better now.

  • biker8337

    I have found that there are a lot of cyclists who feel that how other act on the road does not reflect on the cycling community in general (ie running red lights). Does this also apply to on-road behavior ? Just read the BNA forums

    • jules

      I feel that way. not because I don’t want to be responsible to the broader cycling community for my bad riding behaviour*, but because I don’t want to be held responsible for other cyclists’ bad behaviour. anyone who tries to use that as excuse for cutting me off, etc., will cop a mouthful from me :)

      * not saying that there is much, I think I’m pretty responsible

  • Sancho Panza

    Does the group ride have a leader? He/she needs to set the tone as well as the pace.

  • MattF

    This is spot on Justin. I’m often embarrassed by the swearing that intersperses conversation in my cycling group, particularly at a cafe. It’s very hard to control without offending your mates, being regarded as a prude and, quite likely, being labelled a hypocrite. All the while wearing a jersey shouts out or club name!

  • scottmanning

    Kinda like the internet isn’t it? People say things they never would in real life because of the anonymity and “Yeah – what they said” attitude?

  • Craig

    A good beginning to a very broad and complex topic. It would not be a simple matter to cover all the bases of group dynamics / social interaction / prejudice & bias / behavioural norms / etc in a brief and easy-to-read (or understand) format. Even such factors as in-group / out-group discrimination, or behavioural subordination, would take a while to describe adequately and effectively. I think the key point . . . We could do more to help ourselves . . . is valid. Recommendations for exactly how that could be implemented might take further time and discussion.

    • Thanks Craig. You are right. It is extraordinarily complex and terribly difficult to ride in a brief blog article. But the real take-home message is that when we get it right we are much less likely to create and promote the negative attitudes that are so pervasive towards cyclists we may not be able to stop at all but we can certainly reduce the increasing negative impact that more challenging and socially undesirable behaviours create.

  • Jon Hall

    “Have you ever noticed that as bunches get bigger, cyclist’s behaviour often deteriorates?”.


  • Derek Maher

    In the past when I used to go on club/bunch rides apart from giving out to the odd idiot who thought it fun to ride in the middle of the road blocking traffic.My biggest gripe was with riders who tried to hammer new riders into the ground and more often than not the new people did not turn up again.

  • Kamal Gola

    Thanks Justin for explaining the group dynamics and individual’s behavior so well. Read a great article in a long time. I feel when the heart beat is high coupled with noise of wind, one naturally speaks loudly (which is not a valid excuse). Sometimes group misleads to power. One point which I would like to add is making a purchase as a courtesy upon using the restrooms at gas stations. We have faced two miss-happenings in last two weeks in Georgia. It has made every rider/group worried. And have been advocating best behavior. Your blog would help spreading the message further. Thanks

  • SeanMcCuen

    whatever. and the car plague sucks.

  • Angelo Giangregorio

    Thank you Justin, not

    surprisingly it’s the same here in Italy.

  • Jessy Vee

    I just came across this video which focuses on generalisation of cyclists quite succinctly, specifically a small selection that ruin it for the rest who are just trying to do their best.


    • That’s a terrific little video. Ultimately the lesson is that when we’re in the uniform (lycra and a bike and helmet) we’re not people. Thus, once dehumanised and objectified we’re very very easy to abuse, hurt, ignore, or whatever. Our challenge is to become human to these people. Thanks for sharing Jessy. V. cool.

  • Darin Dunstan

    Next time you are on Facebook – search for a group called “Cockhead cyclists of Perth”. The vitriol and hate on this page is incredible.

  • Sammy

    Other then the loud convo’s I reckon people (and me) are more polite in the local bunch rides – ie less likely to get involved in road rage, running red lights etc. Im more likely to think twice about doing these, to not look like a knobber and set a better example to others around me. It sure was the example set by others in our bunch when I started.

    • Much of this comes down to the bunch Sammy. As I said in the article, we conform to the group for better or for worse.

  • dick

    What is the difference between individuation and groupthink? This is nothing new. Maybe read Georg Simmel on individuality and social norms


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