On Arrogance

I think I’m a nice guy. I’m generally friendly. Rarely surly, rarely aggressive. Even on the roads I try to be nice. When a car coming off the freeway swung into merge lane the other day as I drew level, I waved him back, then as I edged across his bonnet to get to the bike lane, I waved thanks for letting me in. Then I waved thanks again when I was safely across. And I said, “Thanks for making me make you show me the courtesy to which I was already fully due.”

(Merge lanes, no problems if you have a rocket bike.)

I try to let no small mercy go without a compliment. Don’t try and run me over in a roundabout. Thanks. Polite wave. Actually stop at a crossing and let me cross without trying to run me down. Thanks. Polite wave. Slow down behind me at a pinch point and wait for a safe moment before overtaking. Thanks. Wave. Etc. You get the idea. In general I’m politely condescending to all the cartards and dangerous morons we share the roads with. If they accord me even a small portion of the rights I’m entitled to as a road user then I respond with a wave of thanks.

Note that when I’m in a car I rarely do any of these things. In a car, when someone doesn’t try and kill me, it’s usually unremarkable. I’ll wave when someone lets me in during peak hour at Marine Parade. But in general I don’t have to wave. In general my vehicle is a similar size to other vehicle and other drivers don’t get the feeling like they could run me off the road. In general it’s the disparity in size that emboldens cartards. No-one has ever tried to run me off the road when I’m driving.

I’m not sure why I’m so polite. I don’t believe in “setting an example”, as though all bicyclists are responsible for doing good PR for other cyclists. I don’t really believe it’ll help reduce the incidents of cartards acting foolishly and dangerously toward cyclists. I think it’s just because I’m a decent fellow and I want to reward people for showing me the small mercies to which I’m due. And also perhaps because cycling is a more personal experience than driving. On a bike you’re not hidden by the barriers of your vehicle and so I think, why not interact with the people around me. So many people in cars pretending everyone else doesn’t exist. Well on a bike I’m better than that. Perhaps.

There does, however, come a time when all this politeness can be counter-productive. Sometimes you have to be somewhere on the road. Sometimes there’s safe places to be and safe ways to get there. At times politeness sucks. Give someone the friendly smiley face that you think says, thanks for letting me across mister, and then he doesn’t let you across, and then you’re hanging your arse out to dry in the traffic, and then you have to double-guess everyone to get across. In these instances you’re much better off just getting where you need to be, doing it how you need to do it. Then maybe give the cartard a little wave and let him think he decided to let you do it.

And sometimes you just need to be arrogant. There are times when you need to take control. I find that when I’m in city traffic the best frame of mind is a “I am king of all I survey” kind of attitude. Treat the cartards like meek sheep who need to be guided. Not so much a wave of thanks as a hand that points and says, “That’s my gap not yours.” Drivers will respond in kind and let you do almost anything if you feel you’re up for it. You can’t fake it though. Unless you feel the arrogance, the certitude, then you can’t act it. Cartards pounce on weakness.

(Arrogance personified. Cippo.)

This works best in heavy traffic. When drivers have their cars bumper to bumper there’s a docility that overcomes them. They don’t have the momentum to run you down and maybe they give up trying. They’ll do stupid things, pull into gaps without checking, so again you have to be up for it, you have to have your own momentum, your wits about you, your reactions tuned. And you have to know the traffic. You have to know traffic so well that you know when a driver is going to pull into that gap before he does. Which isn’t hard. Most drivers don’t know what they’re doing until they’ve halfway done it. An observant cyclist can see the gap, see the inclination of the driver’s head, see the little thought bubble that forms from the driver’s foggy childlike brain as his hands start moving to turn the wheel. Then as the car edges into the gap and blocks the cyclists he might see, finally, a flicker from the indicator light.

When you learn your cycle prescience, and you can see all this before it even starts, then you let your arrogance shine. Enjoy the commute because you are now king of all you survey. And the cartards are nearly stationary, listening to Miggsy, Macka and Wacka on drive-time radio as their sanity teeters on the brink of collapse. (Or anyway, that’s how I feel when I’m stuck in peak hour traffic in a car. Cartards seem to have some coping mechanism that I lack, an adaptive mechanism designed for the futility of bumper to bumper traffic. Their tiny minds switch off while I sit there ready to combust.)

If you’ve ever seen anyone writing about cyclists in the newspapers you’ll know they get upset by our arrogance. Problem is, arrogance is a natural attitude for people so superior. How can you not feel exceptional when you’re in city traffic? When there are thousands of people in cars getting nowhere and you’re weaving between them. To look at so many people stuck in gridlock you’d think that any moron would see the problem of repeating a transport solution that clearly isn’t working. As you move past thousands of cars it’s easy to assume that they’re stuck in traffic because they lack either the mental or physical traits that would allow them to follow your solution. And it’s hard not to feel a little superior.

The good news is that arrogance, properly harnessed, is like a prophylactic against the hazards of riding in traffic. With due and not excessive arrogance you’re in control of the ride. You make all the decisions. You direct traffic. You know what’s best and you do it. Arrogance is not only natural for cyclists it’s the safest and best attitude to adopt in city traffic. So long as you’re not faking it.

The further you get from the city the less arrogance will protect you. In the semi-urban areas you’ll be tolerated for it. In the suburbs you’ll be resented. Wave a hand and assume the meek will part for you, then hear the gunning of engines as the cartards, now fully enraged and indignant about this pissant on a bike assuming they have equal rights to their road, attempts now to run you down. Just to teach you a little lesson on courtesy, you understand. Back in the burbs your best bet is to smile and wave at the careless, heartless monsters who prowl there. And perhaps that’s the reason I’m so nice to everyone.

(Caption this, “Thanks cartard!”)

2 Comments

  1. muswellbrook

    I don’t think it’s arrogance – it’s flow. Sometime I have the flow, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think I have flow and I don’t. That’s when I cycle with arrogance, putting my life in danger and those around me.

    Great post though – know exactly what you mean

  2. James Pollock

    I like that you express it better in on paragraph than I did in my whole long article. I think you should be the bike blogger and I’ll be the guy who reads it. Yes, it’s flow. We all know the experience. And when it’s not there it’s like you never had it. Same in any sport or activity really.

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