7 things you should give up to be a happy cyclist

Cyclist at Oxford Circus

Riding around London is the source of a lot of joy along with a lot of anger at many things that are largely outside of our control. Whilst taking part in protest rides, writing to your MP and supporting cycling organisations are all a good idea, sometimes you just need to let go of the things that cause you stress in order to remember the real joys of cycling.

1. Give up on being angry at pedestrians: It’s as inevitable as a puncture on a rainy day. Pedestrians will randomly walk in to your path. You have two options. You can either get annoyed that people don’t look before crossing or you can slow down and pedal around them. One of those two will cause a lot less road rage.

2. Give up on being angry about cars not giving you enough room: Yesterday a taxi overtook me in the bus lane within such a small distance that I could have reached inside the window. I caught myself shouting at the driver. In the end this didn’t serve a much larger purpose than making my blood boil. I’d be better off putting my energy in to pushing for cycling being made a bigger part of the driving test or for more cycle lanes to be installed in London.

3. Give up on the helmet debate: One thing I avoid doing at all costs is getting in to an angry debate about whether you should wear a helmet or not. I find that most people have fairly embedded views on this and arguing with them mostly seems to just further embed them in to their own opinions. As humans we are not wired to prove ourselves wrong. Instead, I give up on the need to always be right.

4. Give up on getting frustrated by cyclists going through red lights: Whilst you are stood patiently waiting for a traffic light you notice two or three cyclists ignore the light and pedal straight through. It’s an easy one to complain about but it just seems to stress you out.

5. Give up on worrying about cyclists drafting you: Riding across Waterloo Bridge I caught a cyclist nearing my rear wheel. They were obviously in full Tour de France mode and wanting to save some energy whilst riding across the bridge. Some people get quite annoyed about that as it can be dangerous if you come to a sudden halt. I could have given evil stares but it’s far simpler to just get on with my cycling.

6. Give up on worrying about shoaling: Being shoaled is when another, slower cyclist overtakes you as you wait at the traffic light and you know that when the lights turn green you are going to have to manoeuvre around them. This happens surprisingly frequently and it’s one that for some strange reason seems to really bug me. However, I know I’d arrive at my destination a lot more relaxed if I just ignore it.

7. Give up on being annoyed when a Brompton overtakes you: Something that always puts a smile on my face is when a Brompton overtakes me. For some reason it always seems like an insult to be overtaken by something with such small wheels. Yet, as I find myself here writing about it, I can’t help thinking how silly that is! What does it matter if someone on a Brompton has overtaken me?

My favourite example of taking the approach of not letting it bother me came from a recent ride around Oxford Circus. As I waited at the traffic light, a car pulled up next to me and the passenger lowered his window. I prepared myself to be amused. The passenger shouted out: “Oy! Gay!”.

I’d spent a good part of my life in an English school playground so I knew how this worked but I couldn’t help but feel the urge to play along. I turned round, smiled and said “yeah?” The passenger and driver burst out in fits of laughter. Sensing that I had reached the limit of their creative plan to keep themselves entertained at the traffic light I pushed for clarification: “So, because I’m riding a bike I’m a homosexual?” The reply summed up the intelligence of the argument: “Yeah, innit”.

As cyclists we are faced with hundreds of little decisions like this every day. We can either choose to be rattled or worry about more important things.

What approach do you most often take?

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128 Responses to 7 things you should give up to be a happy cyclist

  1. MikeF 24/04/2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Some good points here. I’ve had no end of close calls, and a few actual accidents due to cars not giving enough space, so it will always irritate me. Shoaling doesn’t bother me much anymore, as I’m practically always the first to move when the lights change and I get in front of the other cyclists in no time. The only (minor) irritation there is the obstacles, but it doesn’t get to me

  2. accent 25/04/2012 at 2:10 am #

    Yep. Best advice I’ve read in ages.
    Just get on and enjoy your ride.
    There are much worse things in the world to get worked up about.
    Of course you could come downunder and try cycling in Sydney, then you’ll put the Zen to the test.

  3. Dave Krentz 25/04/2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Have you been following me around, taking notes? In Toronto? This is a great fit, especially numbers 1,2,4 & 6. Number 7 hasn’t happened yet, but I hope I can laugh when it does (please make sure it’s Cav or Swifty riding the Brompton).

    As a gay guy let me recommend this. When they try the “Oy! Gay!” bit, you might reply with something like “Are you really? It doesn’t show” or “Me too. Grab a drink?” … at least if you feel you can out-manouever them!

  4. Sam Saunders 25/04/2012 at 2:19 pm #

    I’ve always been a belligerent sod. over the last 30 years or so I have sometimes lost my temper while cycling. And just as oten often I’ve kept it while handing out a cold rebuke,

    Either way, the energy is much better expended through the pedals and the attention is much better directed at the road and it’s environs.

    Lovely article. Thank you.

  5. Tony M 27/04/2012 at 11:35 am #

    Andreas,

    a good philosophical approach leading to an overall much better journey and day if we
    can be sensible and apply your methods. i really enjoyed this article as i recognised nearly all the traits for which i am also guilty of, cheers.

    I concour with the Brompton scenario, they are a super cool style icon, so, when they overtake use the time to look at the cycle and enjoy its’ wonderful design, like a museum on the go, yes?

    People, may i suggest, that when it comes to being a cyclist we should understand that we are superior to the car-driving-non-cyclist, (i am conflicted here, i own a car as well, , but love my bike,sorry) , therefore we should take pity on this poor creature and understand its not their fault they annoy us,

    so , let it wash over you…
    and… Breathe…relax.

    cheers, tony

    • accent 27/04/2012 at 1:15 pm #

      No worries Tony, with the ‘let it wash over you and … relax’ bits.

      It’s the breathing I have trouble with

      Riding in city traffic and breathing are not compatible activities, no matter how powerful your Zen.

      Bicycle: the intelligent solution – to almost everything.

    • Albert Ross 12/12/2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Tony

      I both ride and drive and get equally annoyed with both bad drivers as I do bad cyclists. There are just as many idiots per capita riding bikes as there are driving cars. Thinking you’re somehow superior to those driving just because you’re on 2 wheels is the kind of attitude that annoys drivers and could lead to accidents. You should remember that despite your delusions of grandeur its the driver surrounded by 2 tonnes of metal that will feel much more superior cutting you up after he’s watched you speed through a red light.

  6. Sam 06/05/2012 at 11:52 pm #

    This post is mental. None of these things should make you that angry in the first place!

    You don’t even give any advice on actual specifics you can change to enjoy cycling more, instead you are just saying try to be less angry when bad things happen.

    Do you work in really highly-strung finance or something? It’s just cycling around.

    • Robbie 08/05/2012 at 5:36 pm #

      For someone who doesn’t seem to be angered by anything on a bicycle you seem to get rather riled by blogs on the internet?

  7. Paddy 15/05/2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Slightly surprised at (7). Have me and my Brompton been inadvertently infuriating other cyclists all over London? All I can say is sorry. Unless you’re a shoaler or a red-light jumper, that is ;-).

    The most upset I get with red-light jumpers is when they’re nowhere in sight, incidentally. It’s when a pedestrian with every right to use a pedestrian crossing is watching me with concern rather than step out, since they’re justifiably sceptical that the approaching cyclist [me] will stop for them Not that there’s any use getting sad or angry, but it can be a little hard to shrug off being condemned for someone else’s actions.

    • Mathew Mitchell 25/02/2014 at 2:55 pm #

      I’ve seen this a fair bit….I’ll stop and probably in my efforts to set up a track stand I give off a mixed message, but they’re clearly put off by the thought that a cyclist could go smashing through the red light.
      My thoughts on it are if you’re daft enough to go through a red light, you should never ever be caught up by the people that was stopped waiting – once you’ve caught up you can tap someone on the left shoulder and zoom off past them on the right.

  8. Dave 15/05/2012 at 8:47 pm #

    So much for two sides to a story. There are as many opinions at this forum as there are cyclists. The important thing is, we are all doing something right because we are all still alive (unless the undead are with us too)

  9. Bio-Mechanics Cycles & Repairs 27/05/2012 at 10:20 am #

    We love this article! We agree – just relax and try not to get cross. We even have a t-shirt and jersey line that agrees: Don’t Be A Dickhead. :-)

    http://www.bmcr.com.au/dbad.html

    It started out as a call for politeness between riders, but it extends to all areas of life, really…

    (Why, yes, we do do mail orders!)

  10. Mike 08/06/2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Like several others above I ride a Brompton quickly around London. They are fast little bikes – the only problem is they don’t maintain momentum very well due to the smaller wheels – so very quick off the lights but hard to keep up above 20 mph for very long. That’s why I like drafting racers around Regants Park.
    I still get annoyed and sometimes shouty at red light jumpers. Fixies especially seem to do this – praps because they have to actually stop, and then wind back up again. Should have bought a bike with gears then! Brompton has taught me not to be so dismissive of the Sturmey Archer Three Speed.

  11. Leftback 17/06/2012 at 6:55 pm #

    If someone nearly kills me through not giving way when they should on a little slip road feeding in to a road and I have the opportunity to educate them I will. This happened the other day. I could see the guy wasn’t going to stop so took evasive action but if I had just carried on then I would be in hospital or dead. I consider this a kind of duty. He’s going to drive that slip probably every day blissful in his ignorance or inattention. So after he had to stop in a traffic queue 100 yards up the road I had a “chat” with him. He actually thought he was in the right (it is an odd junction) but after a short time agreed he was in the wrong. He hadn’t heard of “Give Way to the Right”. So yes I did get a little angry, but controlled that and was pleased with the result. Good for me and others.
    So for me if something happens and I can educate someone I will.
    If no chance for education then I will be angry for a short time, I am not a saint, but will try to learn and think is there anything I could have done to reduce the chance of that happening? If I can’t think of anything I will just think, bloody hell that was close I am glad I am in one piece.

  12. Wilbur 19/07/2012 at 2:05 am #

    Habits of Highly Effective People: Know clearly what your goal is. My goal is go get home safely with a nice bike ride. With that as my goal, other things are irrelevant. Biker blows a red? Does that have anything to do with my goal? Nope. Keep Calm and Ride On!

    • Martin Turner 01/01/2013 at 6:25 pm #

      Fair enough, Wilbur. One of my goals is to help make my environment safer for (and therefore more conducive to) cycling. So, like Leftback, I take advantage of opportunities to educate other road users, hopefully in a calm exchange.
      But I respect your goals too!

    • taniac 03/01/2013 at 8:39 pm #

      This I like. Nice one Wilbur.

  13. bob 28/12/2012 at 11:23 am #

    I agree with all of your points Andreas. Especially around London, it helps being in a calm and collected state of mind while on 2 wheels. Getting wound up makes for poor judgement and rash decision making.

    For me, cycling is not a race, its about getting from A to B in a relaxed and enjoyable way. Getting stressed by the actions of others reduces that relaxation and enjoyment, so for the most part, I just shrug it off.

  14. John Somers 28/12/2012 at 8:39 pm #

    A good cycling friend suggested than rather than smile and wave at motorists who have just tried to “exterminate” you while cycling – blow them a kiss instead of throwing a track and going thermo nuclear!

    Now while I have not tried it (yet) I can see his point – it diffuses the situation through pure confusion if nothing else!

    Which is the complete opposite to my normal (though video restrained) responses…….I must grow older soon I think!! :-D

  15. Jessie 03/01/2013 at 3:45 pm #

    You know, part of me is idealistic about wanting to uphold the name of all cyclists by always being a saintly rider.
    But then, why can’t I be my badass self just because I am part of a minority? Drivers don’t worry about bringing down the name of all drivers do they? I guess it is the same way black people or women were treated before they got equal rights, like they had to behave better than everyone else just to get equal treatment.
    Power to cyclists! Be badass! Be road warriors! Make cycling the sport for rebels and trendsters! It is already cooler than its ever been, the cooler it gets, the more people will do it and the less we will be some hippy minority to be ridiculed and rammed off the road.
    Having said that, I like nothing more than cycling up to the offending driver, tapping politely on their window and telling them with crocodile tears running down my face, how much they terrified me, and how scary it is for a little lady like me. I find this, more than road rage, makes them understand how much their driving sucks.

  16. Dennis 03/01/2013 at 4:32 pm #

    ANGER:
    I have already given up my anger on stupid pedestrians and motorist long time ago. everyday before i start riding, I already set my mind that all of the pedestrians and motorist that i will come across that day are stupid and that i should be expecting something bad is going to happen. in this way, I condition my mind to be prepare in the worst possible scenario so that if it does happen then im fully prepared regardless on how big or small the incident is. if i do this then any road courtesy that i get is a bonus.

    Drafting:
    I am not bothered if someone drafts at me. in fact, i feel good because im helping someone save energy. so i dont understand why any one should be annoyed about this. if you dont like to be drafted then slowdown and let him pass or pedal faster and leave him. my daily commute involves a 15kg road bike with fully loaded double panniers (not included in the bike weight) so I will take any opportunity to draft to save energy. the worst bit when i draft is when the guy im drafting indiscriminately and intentionally blows his nose or spits just to keep me away from his back. now thats full on disgusting and annoying. he does not need to do that. so what i do is go in front of him and do the same.

    Shoaling:
    this does not bother me either. if we think about this, all cyclist are Shoalers (if theres such a word). if you place your shelf in front a car or motor bike (which most of us do) then you are shoaling too. so why whats make it different being behind a slower cyclist? just let over take them as soon as its safe to do so like motorist do. simples…!

    Over taken by Bromptons:
    Now this one I have to agree. I pride myself as a stronger than your average daily cyclist and even with my heavy bike and heavy load I can still keep up or overtake those competitive daily commuters. However, sometimes I do think how those cyclist feel being over taken by this guy with an ugly bike with fully loaded panniers? well probably the same as i feel being overtaken by a Brompton.

    I hate arguments and Im very poor at handling arguments so I try to avoid it like a plague so when i encounter stupid comments on the road I just ignore them and get on with my commute. the best thing is to pretend you did hear them or stare at them with a blank face and not say anything. shaking your head can help relieve anger sometimes especially if they see you do it. lol!

    RIDE SAFE BE A DEFENSIVE CYCLIST! thats how you can stay safe on LONDON.

    • David's 03/01/2013 at 5:50 pm #

      Hi Dennis,

      Well as a 63 year old Brompton rider I welcome another cyclist especially one with loaded panniers passing me, setting the pace and allowing me to draft (slipstream?) him. Just one thing though, there is no such thing as an ugly bike. Any bike represents freedom, independence, and in London a strong willed independent spirit. Yay London cyclists!

  17. Brompton Bumble B 03/01/2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Since I’ve been riding my Brompton my stress level has been reduced to just about zero now. I love it and I do luv zooming past other bikes when I’m riding “The Lengend of The Brompton Bumble B” Keep calm and ride a Brompron >:D

  18. Sara 30/03/2013 at 11:21 pm #

    A few years back, a friend told me about a book she was reading that encouraged you to shower people with blessings rather than insults. I decided to use that lesson to help me give up roadrage for Lent – whenever anyone didn’t share the road in the way that I woud like, I simply spent a little while thinking up a (more or less charitable) blessing for them. It worked amazingly well… although some of my blessings weren’t always well received (women don’t always seem to like it when you say “may the hair on your chin never grow any shorter” and men tend to panic when you wish them lots of babies)

  19. Jacob Smith 31/03/2013 at 2:35 am #

    I love getting angry and being really sarcastic with drivers and pedestrians, keeps me entertained.

  20. Dave 31/03/2013 at 6:03 am #

    \May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits is my favorite one!

  21. Bikehound 01/04/2013 at 9:59 am #

    What is it they say? “Holding on to anger is like holding on to a burning coal. You could throw it back at someone but you’ll burn your hand as well”.

    Sounds to me like you’ve sussed out the “only be angry about the things you can change” secret pretty damn well!

  22. Cecilia 02/04/2013 at 8:14 am #

    It’s so hard not to get angry sometimes. Yesterday I had to shout at a pedestrian who just walked out onto the road without looking, straight into my path. I didn’t even have time to ring my bell. After shouting at him ”don’t do that” he spat at me and gave me the finger. I told him what I thought of him and was so angry I almost got off my bike to remonstrate with him, but thought better of it. I felt so upset I wanted to cry and it really put me on a downer for a few minutes, but I decided to let it go and enjoy my ride home as the sun was still out. I will hopefully ride around the next idiot who walks into my path….. can’t promise it though.

    • Dennis 02/04/2013 at 10:14 am #

      cecilia,

      what i normally do is shout “WATCH IT!” as loud as i can making sure that the person hear it. then continue pedalling. i do not stop to argue or tell them off, i dont even look back.

      in this way you avoid unwanted arguments with them. you will also avoid attacks and rude gestures. and since you dont look back you dont know if they gave you a finger.

      dont waste your time by stoping and telling them off. youre just asking for trouble. you can already tell that this person is an idiot by crossing the road and not looking so chances are this person will not care what you say. just pass them as safely as you can but dont stop.

  23. Martin Turner 02/04/2013 at 1:06 pm #

    It helps reduce stress to have standard responses ready.
    When a ped has just dawdled across in front of me, I slow only just enough and intone: “mind yer ankles!”, which reminds them that they might suffer pain, if it weren’t for my paying attention.

  24. Perce 05/04/2013 at 8:56 am #

    I can identify with almost all the points.
    It does bug me that slower riders come past at the lights, that red light jumpers put their lives on the line and cars sometimes come too close.
    I usually just let it go.
    The only time I speak out is if I see someone trying to squeeze on the inside of a bus or lorry in a queue of traffic. I don’t want to see blood on the road.

  25. Mark 05/04/2013 at 5:41 pm #

    i quite enjoy shouting at an idiot who isnt giving me enough space, helps to unwind at th end of the day ha ha

  26. Gary 06/04/2013 at 9:30 am #

    I can relate to all the situations but in general, the public will not allow themselves to be educated.

  27. Pontylad 09/04/2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Well if someone nearly kills you the adrenaline rush has got to go somewhere and I’m not above a few well chosen swear words I’m afraid .If I do ever meet an apologetic driver (very rare indeed ) then I will tone it all down on the basis that if their sorry then they have learned something already but unfortunately most drivers I’ve had near misses with seem to think that not only must they threaten life and limb but throwing in a bucketful of abuse is compulsory too .Repaying in kind seems better than going home and kicking the cat/dog .

    None of the other stuff mentioned would bother me too much though .

    • Mark 10/04/2013 at 9:36 am #

      after being in near collisions or nearly being driven off the road i will make the driver aware i feel they were in the wrong (they are in the wrong 99% of the time, the 1% of the time i make a mistake i say sorry to them immediately!), i think about 10% of the time the driver is actually apologetic and then i immediately say thanks and not to worry about it.
      touch wood i have never actually been in a crash or collision and never had an injury on the road……

  28. Chris J-D 12/04/2013 at 11:38 am #

    I’m pretty relaxed when riding. Cars trying to pass without moving over is mildly irritating and also, when you are coming up behind a car/van or whatever and they purposely move over to block your path. That happens more often than I’d like. There is no need for it.

    The most irritating part of my ride though has to be the state of the actual roads themselves. I ride from Plumstead into the City every day and the amount of potholes and general crap and rubbish in the cycle lanes is unbelievable. Some sections are so bad that I have to move right out into the middle of the road to pass without wrecking my bike.

    General condition of cycle lanes is defiantly something that needs to be addressed. Campaigning for more lanes is great, but if the ones that we already have are not kept to a basic standard then what hope do we have.

  29. Pontylad 12/04/2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Spot on about the potholes there are some where I live which are literally life threatening on long down-hill stretches particularly if you get a driver overtaking you just as you get to one and you’ve got nowhere to go but through or literally into the hole. In fact it’s driven me off some of my favourite routes it’s so bad on to forestry roads via my mountain bike instead until they are sorted out.

  30. Rob 29/04/2013 at 4:31 pm #

    It is easy to spot the roads with the worst surfaces in London – the council paints them a pale blue with a white bycycle symbol on them.

  31. davyd 03/05/2013 at 4:15 pm #

    It always puzzles me to hear people complain or moan about bein overtaken by someone that they believe is somehow less of a cyclist because of the bike they ride or because they are not wearing lycra. In london especially, cycling is mostly about getting from a-b. My main goal is to reach my destination safely and not get into pointless confrontations with other road users. Saw someone riding today who was cut up by a driver who was too close to him and was screaming at him. Cyclist responded by thumping the car. Result was the driver pulling up and threatening to punch him. Driver in the wrong but when faced by road rage fuelled drivers, thumping the car is only going to get one response. What do you really think will happen when you provoke an angry motorist. Who is in the wrong will not be resolved in most cases when people with entrenched viewpoints clash. Mostly I say as long as you are not hurt just get on with riding. The journey through london is stressfull enough without boiling over every near miss. I know people will be thinking if you just accept these things nothing will change. But as someone already said, mostly people have made up their mind what they think and a traffic incident will not make them rethink the position. Especially if they are generally angry and confrontational. Just keep yourself safe and vent your issues in these forums. Life is too short to argue with angry motorists or cyclists unable to ride in grand tours.

  32. Ian 06/05/2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Cambridge many years ago.

    Students on bikes, on pavement, overtake bus as passengers are trying to get off.

    Nasty bike/alighting passenger interaction narrowly averted.

    Conductor: “Oi!!! What are you lot reading themn??”

    Students: “Geograhy and Mathematics, actually”

    Conductor “Well try the bloody Highway Code too!!!”

    Much mirth and merriment among passengers and onlookers.

  33. Stephen Taylor 11/12/2013 at 11:13 pm #

    And sometimes the fastest way to calm down is to express yourself effectively. But it’s very hard for drivers to get that they’ve done anything they might regret.

    I’ve used something like the following a few times, with gravity, and received an apology every time. (Probably need to be over 40 to use it though.)

    “If you get a penalty notice for [doing that] I suggest you pay it right away. Because if you appear in front of me for it I’m going to take points off your licence or suspend it.”

    • Mark 12/12/2013 at 12:38 pm #

      “If you get a penalty notice for [doing that] I suggest you pay it right away. Because if you appear in front of me for it I’m going to take points off your licence or suspend it.”

      are you a police officer?

      i dont know how i could say that in ernest if i wasnt a police officer, because how am i (a civilian) going to take points or license off them otherwise?

      • Dave 20/12/2013 at 4:04 pm #

        You are missing the point, Mark, the idea is to make them believe that what they are doing is wrong and let them think about it more. Steven has given me a new weapon in my defensive arsenal.

  34. Mark 12/12/2013 at 12:45 pm #

    i agree with everything this article says.
    except, all these things irritate/annoy/scare/endanger me….. but i dont get stressed about it!
    i still shout at drivers who almost clip my foot/handlebars as these squeeze past. i still get mildly irritated by shoaling, etc etc.
    but none of it detracts from my enjoyment of my ride to work . and certainly none of it causes me stress.
    i wont just “give in” and ignore someone dangerously overtaking.
    its bang out of order and to not mention it to the driver would be to accept it and “let them get away with it”. just because its a common occurance doesnt mean its right.
    find your voices people! just dont let it stress you out :-)

  35. hikerrev 27/02/2014 at 10:09 pm #

    My favorite was someone leaning out their window as they drove by as they shouted, “Hey … get a skateboard. “

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