Monday, January 11, 2010

16 Why Do Hate Groups Toward Cyclists Exist?

Interesting things happen on Facebook. Readers will have known by now that there is a 35,000 strong group on the social networking website that goes by the name of "There's a perfectly good path right next to the road you stupid cyclist!"

In direct opposition, (drum-roll) sprang up another group called "Help remove this hate group against cyclists!" that is exponentially increasing its membership as we speak and ironically, is no less of a hate group than the first.

For instance, you'll find members here bad-mouthing the admins of the first group and calling for desperate measures to have it taken down. Defense lieutenants suggest the sabotage of computer systems, among other militant tactics. Below, an example :

Earlier, I had asked the fans on my own Facebook fanpage to join the second group hoping that if this group accumulated a lot of members, perhaps Facebook would consider taking some sort of action against the first group. But over the weekend & rightly so, I struggled to differentiate between the two groups.

Is it disturbing that hate groups exist anywhere for that matter? Sure. But on Facebook, hate is one of the most common used words anyway. So much so that more than a million or so members are rallying for the website to pamper them with a "Dislike Button". Oh boy.

What's more, there's a fanpage for "Killing", "I hate bicycles", "I hate cars", "I hate God", "I hate stupid people", "I hate black people", "I hate Steve Jobs", "I hate Jews", "I hate Arabs", even "I hate myself".

The subjects for Facebook hate groups are immensely wide. They cover everything from ice cream to computers to complex racial prejudices you and I would rather not talk about in public. In short, Facebook members have managed to hate almost every thing there is to hate in the world.

So for Facebook officials to think about deleting one specific group, they would have to ban many of these other offshoots of hate with equal reason, groups where perhaps the admins themselves don't encourage hatred and violence, but the members who are ensconced there do. If Facebook doesn't do so, anyone can rightly accuse them of displaying double standards.

For a start, Facebook has already issued a statement refusing to delete the hate group towards cyclists in question. So it's likely it won't happen. Even if they did, that won't eliminate the hate. People are going to hate wherever they want, why limit it to Facebook?

Now it is hardly surprising why we cyclists are a sensitive bunch of whiners when something like this happens. Cycling as a mode of transport is just growing in Western countries. In many of these places, cyclists are a minority group trying to get established on 4 feet of side road or narrow shared pathways.

Day in and day out, you hear of cyclists being seriously injured, maimed or killed on the roads. In November last year, the Guardian reported that the number of cyclists killed on English roads over a 3 month period in 2009 had increased by 19% from that of 2008. A staggering change indeed, if true.

Trying to intentionally harm cyclists is a serious offense and punishment is growing to be severe. The message these days couldn't be clearer. A doctor in California who was recently found guilty of such a heinous act was sentenced to 5 years in prison. It was big news, one that was welcomed with reluctance by a nervous cycling community. They expected more!

But neither are cyclists an innocent bunch. The NYT has reported several times about brash behavior from urban cyclists. I myself did highlight one that was featured on the front page, one which was particularly embarrassing to read. In places like Victoria - Australia, punishment for such rogue riding is severe, from hefty fines to jail terms.

To add plenty of drama on the side, independent cycling groups lobby for an anti-car world. They organize critical masses, block traffic, ride naked on the streets, come up with fine jerseys such as this one to make the message clear - that no one group is exclusively funding road tax so you know what, we are the traffic too so shut up and get along.

Motorists on the other hand continue to violate traffic laws, kill pedestrians and cyclists and spew hydrocarbons into the atmosphere to often travel what are frequent, small distances (an inefficient way to use gas).

To top it all off, newspapers such as Daily Mail publish anti-cycling content and victimize the minority, for no obvious reasons but fun.

One has to recognize that it is in the middle of such lawlessness and all the hullabaloo on the side that the law itself is trying to bring some sense of balance. For the rest of us perfectly law abiding citizens who ride bikes but also drive cars, all this comes in the form of news or entertainment. It could even offer us a basic, nevertheless important economics lesson.

Economics has it as a fundamental idea that resources in this world are limited. Land, labor, capital etc., all come in discrete quantities. Between cyclists and motorists, the road is the predominant resource that is shared. And you can have only so much people on a given quantity of road.

As an affluent middle income class grow, they want to buy and use more cars. As health and environmental consciousness rise and advocacy for cleaner transport grows alongside, more folks turn to the alternate modes of transport such as the metro and bikes. As oil prices skyrocket, people start driving less. As oil prices drop, people may or may not start driving more but cycling could continue its growth.

As cycling increases, it feeds itself. There is now more apparent safety for members of the community, hence the numbers of cyclists increase. They might start taking liberties while riding two abreast. As motorists crash into them and take them out one by one, the numbers decrease. Alternatively, as cyclists ride dangerously without abandon, their numbers decrease.

You see, the point I'm trying to make here is that the road sign you see on the left holds a simple truth - share the road, for it is a limited resource.

As long as the status quo is preserved, resources are not going to increase out of thin air to accommodate transportation growth patterns. This inevitably leads to more conflicts between cyclists and motorists. Its like the sharp struggles of life that happen in the animal kingdom between territorial creatures, creatures that have to share one piece of land.

In this limited world that has to be shared by cyclists and motorists, numbers rise, numbers fall, some people die, others break bones, and still others are taken to jail or fined. Where is the equilibrium to this dynamic world?

To find that out, you'll have to create a model built on mathematics and consider cyclists and motorists as a species trying to gain control of a shared area. You know, its like that neat predator-prey model you studied about in differential equations class that started out with a list of assumptions and described the world of the eater and the eaten. Or it's like Conway's Game of Life, a computer program that provides a great insight into evolution, emergence and self-organization of life.

I did want to go into this interesting topic more mathematically but perhaps I'll attack that another time. Meanwhile, perhaps you readers could think more about the interesting mathematical patterns you see in the cyclist-motorist rivalry and what it shares with other more fundamental aspects of life?

Bottom line - one aspect is clear in my mind after this discussion. The disturbing rivalry between motoring and cycling warrants a need for more advocacy and a tougher call for tolerance, sacrifice and respect from both parties involved. Share the road. Otherwise, stay at home.


  1. Just quickly, in regards to the Guardian article you link to and the purportedly 'massive' leap in cyclists deaths in the UK, I would question this reporting as strongly as you can - if 10 people die one year, and 12 the next, it hardly seems fair to call it a 20% increase. Indeed, using the same figures as the Guardian I was able to twist it that cycling was safer than walking - make of that what you will:

    With regards hate groups, yup - there certainly are some sad and bitter people out there. The best thing you can do in the face of this sort of spite is to get out there and keep on cycling!

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for chiming in there. I didn't take it for granted that statistics behind that news piece was true. ButI must say I heard similar dire news for Britain from other sources.
    Sky News reported with the headlines "UK is a dangerous country for cyclists" that there were strong hospital admissions for cyclists in 2009. Cycling in Britain is, according to them, 3 times more dangerous than cycling in Denmark or Netherlands. Are you with the CTC?

  3. Hi Ron,

    No, not with the CTC (or any of the lobbying organisations). I am fully aware that people do fall of their bikes, or worse get hit by other road users and that it happens fairly regularly, but I am equally unnerved at the way in which this is played out in the press by the UK to make cycling out to be an uber-dangerous activity whilst ignoring the elephant in the room (see previous post about deaths in cars / deaths to pedestrians etc) I think this, coupled with certain parts of the media's 'cyclist are a menace' stance are doing more to harm cycling levels in this country than any single other thing. Perceptive fear is a powerful tool that can be used against us, which is why I try to focus on the upbeat messages.

    I am sure that cycling in Denmark and the Netherlands is less dangerous than the UK but it's a poor comparison - those states have 25 to 50% modal share for cycling - we have 1 to 2%. In which case, it could be argued that cycling is as safe here as it is there when applied to volume of trips. But statistics are all swings and roundabouts :o)

  4. I think the easiest explanation for hate is that in vilifying someone, you justify valuing your well-being above their's. It's a self-ruse to overcome our social bias.

    We're a social species: we value the group because the health of the group is necessary for us to propagate our genes. Humans aren't so good at surviving in isolated pairs, and this realization is hard-coded into us. But we can overcome this social bias by excluding others from the "us". If "cyclists" are no longer "us" than I feel justified in monopolize the "resource" which is the public roads. They're a competing tribe. More for me, less for anyone else.

    If we were inherently selfish, there'd be no need for vilification as justification. We'd just take what we want and to heck with anyone else. No offense.

  5. "Sharing the Road" is an excellent philosophy. When I ride, I keep along the right side, maintain a straight line, signal my intentions clearly and actually stop at red lights. For my trouble I am occasionally shouted at and more occasionally crowded off the road because, frankly, unless I am surrounded by 2 tons of steel, the road is not mine to share. It is easy to hate cyclists since they are either poor and unable to own a car or else Lance Armstrong-wannabes. Either way they are a lot more vulnerable than any driver. Statistics suggest that cycling fatalities are actually decreasing in North America in spite of increased numbers of cyclists. Of course, a lot of these cyclists are well-off and well-educated people on expensive racing bikes who are used to making their voices heard, so the War Between Motorists and Cyclists is bound to go on. But a Facebook group that hates ice cream? Perverse.

  6. Excellent article, as always. But a big part of the "problem" stems from the fact that a great majority of cyclists (myself included) use road, trails, etc. to practice a sport, and not necessarily for transportation.

    I did join the group to petition the removal of the "hate" group, but I have to admit that I felt like I was "burning books" by ... See Moredoing so. Hey, if someone dislikes me for riding a bike, that's THEIR problem. Will having a group removed from FB make roads safer for all of us? Unlikely.

    I agree 100% with the fact that more tolerance is needed, but that's just wishful thinking.

  7. Anonymous3:05 PM

    Ron, also chjeck out this website "Share the Damn Road" Conflicts between cyclists and cars are also a good business idea :)

  8. I have a theory about why motorists "hate" cyclists. It does seem to me that the psychology of motoring is very self-centric in this country - possibly everywhere, but certainly in America where our cultural identity is 1) tied up n the automobile and 2) based upon the notion of entitlement to consumption, space, and unfettered movement. This sense of entitlement creates a dynamic in which sharing the roadways is unthinkable - the motorist encounters something that requires an alteration of his or her trajectory and there is anger and frustration - "it's just not right that this intrusion should be allowed - I paid for these roads, and bikes belong on sidewalks damnit!" That is the subtle basis for such self-centered behavior I believe. It could be anything, but cyclists are an easy target, and probably there is some projection of guilt...the person trapped in the car on a long commute to and from their soul-sucking job at the widget factory would really love to be riding outside in the beautiful fresh air, right? I think it is important for we cyclists to be extra courteous to compensate for those bad apples that provide motivation for hate...That is like "being the change."

  9. Once I decided to break the old rule I learned back in BBS days, Don't Feed the Troll, I went through at least three gyrations.

    The one that I thought had the least practicality, but felt the best was sending screen caps of hate speech running next to ads to the advertisers. I posted an example of an email I sent to a car insurance company running next to someone who talked about driving over cyclists.

    Finally, it looked like enough pro-bikers had flooded the site that the hate speech had been pushed off.

    The solution to pollution may be dilution.

  10. Ken : Did you receive a reply from the ad company?

  11. @Sprocketboy

    You said: 'It is easy to hate cyclists since they are either poor and unable to own a car or else Lance Armstrong-wannabes.'

    I would venture to suggest that this is really a myth not worth repeating in public. I, for one, am neither. Where I live in inner London (UK) around 50% of the population do not own cars. In the same borough we also have a well-above average median wage. The idea that people cycle 'cos it's cheaper than a car should be rejected - most people cycle because it either makes sense (ie faster than driving in an urban area) or because it is fun.

  12. Mark, I am neither as well but this perception that cyclists fall into two classes is very common among non-cyclists in most places in North America and even many parts of Europe. But I think a lot more people would be willing to try cycling if the roads were safer.

  13. Great piece, Ron.

    Thanks for saying my jersey is "fine" but is not anti-car. It points out that many cyclists are also motorists so - in the UK - pay the mythical 'road tax' demanded of them by a vocal minority.

    It also points out that many cyclists don't own cars but still pay for roads via general taxation.

  14. Carlton : I should reiterate that. I did not call your site anti-car, I just associated your jersey idea with promoting the notion that motorists alone do not pay taxes for the roads.

  15. I don't know why (some) motorists are so angry with cyclists either, but I do have a couple of observations and a hypoothesis that may be of interest to the group:

    1. Driving a car carries with it a sense of both power and entitlement. That's why drivers get so upset when other drivers cut into "their" space.

    2. Driving isolates, literally cutting the driver and passengers of a car off from everything else around them. If you look at the body language/eye contact of people in cars,they don't involve the normal rules of civility that would hold if they were in "traffic" on a busy sidewalk or in a crowded building.In fact, the very people who would never dream of being rude in a public space are often the ones who turn into the worst maniacs behind the wheel.

    3. I've lived in places (Bremerton, WA and Fort Smith AR) with almost no cyclists and horrible roads (almost UK-style in their lack of shoulder, ditches on either side, etc.). And the number of bad interactions I've had with drivers-- on a per-car/bike-encounter basis are a fraction of what they are, even in "cyclist-friendly" cities like Seattle.

    Given the three points previous, I tentatively hypothesize that when bicycle traffic reaches a vaguely defined critical mass in the eyes of drivers,enough of those drivers feel their power/entitlement is being sufficiently "violated" (i.e., they're being detained or otherwise inconvenienced) by cyclists that normal courtesy goes right into the toilet.

    If my hypothesis is correct, jerseys with slogans like Share The Damned Road will not be helpful,although 3 Feet, Please might be. Assuming I'm right, the "cure" for motorist-based rage at cyclists is for us to humanize ourselves, not to further isolate via sloganeering.

  16. Rick,

    You have astute observations. I too have seconds thoughts about placing a damning message on a jersey like "Share The Damn Road". Feels like its only going to encourage belligerent feelings between cyclists and motorists. Maybe the next idea from motorists would be to trash talk to cyclists in some fashion by placing a similar provocative bumper sticker or something. So what next? Is the cycling community going to sit and cry over that as well? It can be argued where some cycling groups are really doing anything helpful to patch up the sore wounds of transportation rivalries between predator and prey.

    What will work great is if the law enforcement authorities recognize this as a serious problem and continue handing out strict punishment for either party towards deliberate misdemeanors, road rage, not following rules etc.


Thank you. I read every single comment.