January 19, 2012

My Mittened Response to Angry Honks on Snowy Days

Often with the snow comes disparaging talk about cyclists. You can find it in the elevator at work, overhear it at the bar, and it comes in the form of blaring horns.

Driving in the snow is stressful, even without having to worry about sliding into a bicyclist. Drivers see me peddling along perched on my bicycle and they get mad. They honk, yell out the window, and rev their engines.

I'm always left wondering what they're suggesting with their honks and expletives. Do they think it would be better for me to get a car, too? How is that better? Where are the solutions? It’s hard to guess at what a honk and expletive emanating from a metal box is suggesting, other than to get bent.   

Perhaps these angry motorists are as confused by their encounters with me. As they speed away in four-wheel drive, are they wondering why I’m out there biking when the lines of the bike lane are no longer visible under the snow?

Here’s why - I've made a decision to use a bike as transportation and that means having to ride in poor weather conditions. I'm trudging though the snow to get home, not to make a statement.  I don't like unsafe conditions and I don't want to die in the name of bicycle rights, which is why I obey the rules of the road and bike defensively.

My bike isn't a toy. Yes, it is a joy to ride but when it comes down to it, it's my transportation.  I don't recreate by biking down West Broadway, that's me going to work.

The solution for motorists isn't intimidating cyclists off the road, because we aren't going away. How can we as cyclists convince motorists that better bikeways is a win-win solution? Supporting improvements to bike infrastructure doesn't require one to not drive, or even ride a bike. Both motorists and cyclists want to change existing conditions that lead to bike-car conflicts and crashes.
Expanding the network of bike paths is one answer.  It gets more people out on bikes and off busy roads. The City of Madison has already created many safe spaces for bicyclists and has more projects in the works. As the urban landscape changes, I hope attitudes follow. Though, to increase ridership, the gap between irate drivers and evangelizing cyclists needs to close.

Most encounters with angry drivers last only a moment, leaving no time for lengthy explanations like the above. If you want to make an impression, I can only think of one appropriate gesture - no, not that one - Raise a mittened hand and give a friendly wave.


  1. Chapeau, Alyson! Nice read! And TERRIFIC response to those horns! Safe riding, especially in this weather!

    In my year of bike commuting (I am car light, not car free), I actually have had very few incidents in the Madison area. And the ones I had were with younger people (teenage drivers, a child in the passenger seat) rather than adults. *knocks on wood*

    1. I also have few encounters in downtown Madison- drivers expect bikes and peds. It is when I get out where I am the only one in the bike lane that I have problems.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I enjoyed reading your well-written article. I am also a user of the mitten-wave.

    As a winter biker in Manitowoc I have often felt anger as motorists rev the engine as they pass me. I appreciate your approach and putting your thoughts into words.