Tuesday, April 5, 2011

IHollaBack (or not...)

It happened again Sunday night. I don't know how often this happens to anyone else, but for me, at least, it's every few months. A car will be passing me (usually as I'm chugging up Bank Street, somewhere near Ohio, on that hill south of Billings Bridge) and a guy will shout, loudly and suddenly, out the passenger side window as they pass me. Presumably in an attempt to see me jump, flinch, jerk the handlebars, or otherwise look startled. Apparently this sort of thing is a laff riot with a certain demographic of youngish males.

It doesn't bother me that much, I suppose (it's never actually caused me to have an accident, although I guess there is that risk), except that there is no recourse for me. I can't shout back: by the time I can react they've passed. And shouting back would just amuse them more. All I can do is what my mom told me to do back in elementary school: ignore them. But if you ever tried that tactic in elementary school, you know that even if you know you have the moral high ground you also can't help feeling a little foolish, a little powerless, and a little pissed off while you're ignoring the idiots. And there's no way I can have a conversation with them about why it's not a great idea to race past a cyclist and deliberately try to make her fall. For one thing, it would be pointless: for another, they're already a half mile away.

So I shrug, call them names in my head, and continue on my way. The same when someone cuts me off, buzzes too close, or tries to play "chicken" at an intersection when I've got the right of way. Or yells "Get out of the road!"

There's been a lot of news lately about the website IHollaBack.org getting an Ottawa branch... it's a website where people can post incidents of street harassment. I know that sexual harassment can be way more serious than the kinds of things that happen to me on a bike, but you know, there are similarities. In the worst cases, a cyclist can feel very threatened; in some road rage cases people can even get killed. Although in most of the cases I've been aware of, I just felt angry that the person yelling, driving aggressively, chasing, tailgating, or cutting off the cyclist, felt they had the right to do what they did. The video blog Bike View in Ottawa - because he has a camera mounted on his bike - is like a treasure trove of those kinds of incidents for cyclists (and, also, to be fair, of the joys of riding and good things that also happen.)

Not that you want things like this to happen at all. But it is really nice to know you're not the only one. Because as I'm cranking along, I know I, for one, do not hollaback.


  1. I had the joy of dealing with a car load of those types as I was headed south on March road, going over the 417 overpass last year. The teens yelled some pretty offensive stuff as they sped past me, only to be stuck in the left turn lane at the red light less than a block away. I followed them into the OC Transpo P&R and approached to give them an earful. Funny thing - they weren't so brave once I was standing right there. They locked the doors, rolled up the windows and avoided making any eye contact then.

  2. Niiiice. Yeah, that's the other thing. You just know they're not going to be so brave in person... I caught up to a couple of guys once that had gunned through an intersection, passing me on the inside as I was trying to make a left turn off Elgin at Catherine. Unfortunately, I didn't have a P&R to corral them in and didn't have the guts to bike in front of them and block traffic to tell them how dangerous what they did was. But I did pull up alongside to shout and get their attention.

    I'm liking the mad cut-off moves here: http://www.bikeview.ca/2011/01/14/not-safe-ms-bblx-139-suv/

  3. Kate:

    As an Ottawa Police officer cautioned me it isn't a great idea to confront them as it could go pear shaped on you, especially if you are alone. I am liking the helmet camera idea more and more each day

  4. Helmet cam rules! Have just switched to the road bike and the paths are clear so I'm hoping I'll have less car video and more nice nature video, we'll see what happens. Now I'm moving faster and sometimes that leads to more motorists underestimating that speed. I haven't had too many people do the shout out over the past few years, I'm sure being a woman you might be singled out more. Not sure. My reactions to these evens are to try to remain calm (I at least know I'm on camera) and confront people calmly (ok, I have sworn a couple of times this winter ;-)