Cyclists and road rage: Then and now

With many more bicycles on the road now the the cycling season is getting into full swing, a light-hearted guide for cyclists on how to deal with abuse from motorists suggests forgoing verbal retaliation in favour of psychological warfare.

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According to the guide, which is available as a guide at the excellent :

When people are confronted they greet it with aggression, but when you meet it with the unexpected, they are forced to think. Which is the meanest (and nicest) thing you can do. Because it sticks with them all day.

Old school road rage

While it can feel like warfare when you cycle on the roads, the roads are a less violent place for cyclists than they once were.

According to an article in Pearson magazine (not to be confused with Pearson, the British bicycle brand still trading from the world’s first bike shop it opened150 years ago), the cyclist who is a skilful rider, who possesses pluck and dash, who has mastered the elementary rules of defence on a bicycle, and who is armed with a knowledge of how to use a machine to the best advantage as a weapon, may rest content that he is able to defend himself perfectly when attacked under the majority of likely conditions

Whilst bicycle muggings in 21st century Britain do occur, victims are swiftly reimbursed if they hold a good cycle insurance policy and  cases remain incredibly rare. But in the late 1800s, all cyclists were wealthy and provided rich pickings for petty criminals.

Some of the techniques advised in the 1901 article, such as using the bicycle as a defensive shield, would be recognised by cycling police officers today, but modern-day cyclists looking for justice now spurn water pistols in favour of a specialist legal service.

Pearson’s Magazine. Vol XI 28 1901
A lady, say, is riding alone on a country road, when an approaching tramp suddenly assumes a hostile attitude, standing before her with legs apart and arms out-stretched, effectively barring the way. Let the lady put on a spurt, and ride, point blank, at her assailant, then swerve at the last moment. Certainly this requires nerve, but it is really simple, and marvellously effective. The tramp cannot overcome the instinct of self-protection which makes him jump to one side, when the cyclist, of course, at once swerves in the other direction
Nearly every cyclist carries a weapon on his machine which, under many circumstances, he may use with great effect: a strong, long, heavy metal pump offers as convenient a weapon as one could desire. Let the rider who is threatened by a foot-pad flourish his pump in his assailant’s face, and he will be surprised how quickly and precipitously the assailant jumps back. A formidable blow could be delivered in a man’s face with a heavy pump, especially when riding at speed. If the pump is carried in spring clips attached to the top bar of the machine — or in the case of a lady’s machine to the handlebars — it is ready to hand in case of emergency, and may be detached in a moment
You are riding along a country road, when suddenly, you are startled by a man who springs in front of you from the hedge, and attempts to grab your machine. Your best plan is this: Spring backwards off your machine, and by pulling at the handlebars, cause it to rear up on its back wheel. That your antagonist will jump back from sheer surprise at the moment when you make your machine rear up, goes without saying. Seizing this opportunity, you take a short sharp run forward, and hurl your machine at your assailant, letting it run on its back wheel, and so directing it as it leaves your hands that the front wheel will come heavily down on top of him
The last three or four methods of defence that I have described are hardly suitable for use by lady cyclists, unless particularly strong-minded and strong-armed! A simple means of defence that may be highly recommended for the use of fair cyclists is the water squirt. This is an ingenious little weapon sold in cycling shops, made in the shape of a pistol, but with an indiarubber handle which holds water, and which, when pressed, will squirt a shower of water for a distance of 20ft. or so. The water squirt is guaranteed to stop an attack from the most vicious dog or man — and certainly the foot-pad who attempted to approach a lady cyclist, and was met with a douche of cold water, would receive a severe shock that would probably cause him to stand back long enough to allow his prey to escape

Every cycle insurance policy from the ETA includes new-for-old replacement if your bike is stolen, cover for accidental damage (race events included), third party insurance (in the case of an accident you may need to seek compensation or even deal with a claim by someone else), personal accident cover and if you breakdown, we will even come out and recover you and your bike.

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