Tempers boil over on Melbourne’s roads as lockdowns continue

As Australia's lockdown fatigue sets in, patience on the roads is at its thinnest.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

For those of you enduring Australia’s endless streak of lockdowns and who feel a tension in the air each time you head out for a ride on the roads, this video may give credence to those fears.

Last week Melbourne marked its 200th day in lockdown since the pandemic began. Sydney is living through its second month of lockdown, and other regions have been in and out of lockdown as well. There’s little doubt that lockdown fatigue has well and truly settled in and worst of all, we may be living with this for months to come.

The video above was taken last Sunday and shows a group of Melbourne cyclists in a heated altercation with a motorist. Melburnian Lee Turner was among the cyclists involved and described the lead-up to the events.

“My mate Chris and I – and then Adam was further back because we have to ride in twos – [were riding] and he [the motorist] went past super close,” Turner told CyclingTips. “Like, I felt it – it was millimetres. And we were in the bike lane. So it was deliberate.

“And then he stops at the lights and he’s already got the passenger window down screaming ‘You fucking idiots – get off the road’, you know. Blah blah blah.

We caught up to him [the motorist] as he stopped at the lights. And then he’s taken off again swerving into the bike line and then he swerved at me coming into the bike lane and then swerved again into a vacant parking spot, so I’ve had to hit the brakes.

“And then when I’ve come out to go around him, he’s reversed out at an angle. So he’s come out and hit me and my front wheel has got caught in his wheel arch, and it’s dragging me backwards.

Then I pulled my bike out of his car, rested it against another car, and that’s when the video starts.”

You can see the rest of the altercation in the video above.

As shocking as it is, this sort of incident isn’t anything new to cyclists in Australia and indeed in many parts of the world. And of course it can happen at any time, not just during a lockdown. But what stands out in this video is how quickly the situation escalates and the charged verbal nature of the exchange.

“I’ve had so many messages, whether it’s on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram since it happened and so many people have said that, ‘I think lockdown’s making people go crazy,'” Turner said. “I’ve had so many misses, abuse, and so forth lately.”

Like any good motorist vs cyclist story, the incident made mainstream news with the Herald Sun and Channel 7 covering it. But what made this different was the fact the coverage was more positive towards the cyclists than usual. I suggested to Turner it may not have been so positive if the driver hadn’t taken the extreme measures he did and hit one of the cyclists (Chris Papakostas).

“Honestly I wouldn’t have reported it to police because I’m just used to it and nothing’s going to happen,” he said. “I didn’t care. It was just another day because I’m so used to stuff like that. You get stuff thrown at you, close passes all the time, so you’re used to it. Water off a duck’s back. But once Chris and I were hit and dragged that’s when I had to report it to the police because, well, this guy is nuts.

“If there was no Chris on the bonnet like Starsky and Hutch, no [there wouldn’t have been mainstream exposure over this] – it looks good for the TV. But if that didn’t happen, they wouldn’t [have] cared about it.”

The case is being investigated by Victoria Police but isn’t as cut and dried as the video suggests. Turner described the police as saying it’s the motorist’s word against the cyclists’ with regard to how the incident began, and it’s unlikely anything will come of it.

Ride safe out there, keep your cool, and know that we’re all facing a time where patience on the roads is at its thinnest.