Pedaling home from my MBA class last Wednesday night, I was reminded just how vulnerable cyclists are on the road.

It was about 10:30 p.m. and I was on Mountain Avenue between Prince and Fort Lowell Roads when a red car sped past and I heard something metal clinking on the ground behind me. I turned around to see a crunched up beer can rattling on the ground.

I can’t be 100 percent positive, but I’m pretty sure the passenger threw it at me as they passed. I’m confident the can wasn’t in the bike lane when I rode by and I don’t think it was in the street either. Luckily it didn’t hit me and wasn’t full.

I’ve heard the horror stories from others who have had things thrown at them or even the extreme cases of being shot with a paintball gun or hit with a bat. I always thought those were extreme cases and that things had gotten better. It would never happen on one of Tucson’s premier bike routes.

In the days following I’ve been much more hot tempered on the bike. Everything has been a personal slight. I’ve felt like a target. I’ve felt like the driver who parks in the bike lane or drives a little too close to comfort deserves a u-lock to the side of the car. I’ve never felt like that before.

The car turned down a street and I followed it, but by the time I got there, it was pitch black and I couldn’t find the car. I went back the next day and of course there were five or six red cars that could have been the one who threw the can at me.

Have you ever had your confidence and sense of safety shattered on the bike? Leave a comment about it.

22 thoughts on “A reminder of how vulnerable cyclists are”
  1. I sympathize with your feelings.  

    It does seem that during some commutes on my bike, lots of drivers are  either discourteous, unsafe, intentionally rude or even (as in your piece) criminal.  I try to remind myself that I’m going to lose to a car each and every time and  just ride on.  

    But, most of my commutes are uneventful.
    There’s a large segment of this town’s drivers who believe that bike riders belong either on the sidewalk or in the backyard, but not on their streets.   I don’t see their attitude changing in my lifetime.

  2. I was hit in the back of the head once with a full opened beer can while riding on Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff and I nursed a resentment for a number of years. Every time I rode on Lake Mary after that I searched for that vehicle. I certainly understand your altered mental state while riding now after that experience. We are vulnerable while riding, even in such a massive bike lane as on Mountain Ave. It’s scary when that reality is made perfectly clear and those thoughts are prominent.  Last Wednesday a car sidled up within 3 feet of me while I was commuting on Tucson Blvd and I got into a hand signal discussion with the driver. I could have let it go easily, just rode on. My justification for my behavior was that I don’t seem to have any way to protect personal safety and must use exaggerated hand gestures to get my point across. The sad thing is that by doing so I set myself up for hours of nasty uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. I keep that state of mind alive. Yes, biking is dangerous and yes, there are people out there who don’t  take our personal safety as seriously as we do. My emotional safety is my business and I’d rather not ruin it even if I can justify aggressive behavior on my part. Thanks for posting your story, though. I think it helps to have a forum to discuss these things.

  3. It took me two years before I got hit by a soft drink in Tucson.  I was pissed at first, but then later considered it as an initiation as a serious cyclist.  I don’t think you count as a cyclist until you’ve had something thrown at you at least once.  At least you’re ok.

  4. I once missed being hit head-on by less than a foot.

    That was back in 1981 while I was bicycling around the United States. Had just broken camp along the Alabama River, and I guess I should have watched that oncoming car and the pickup behind it a bit more closely. Pickup pulled out to pass — and came right at me.

    Well, I froze, and as soon as that truck went by, I did what I was supposed to do and I got off the road. I almost fell off the bike before I got it stopped. Then I tumbled into a bunch of weeds and sat there, gasping and whimpering like a puppy.

    You’ve probably heard it said that when you’re about to die, your life flashes before your eyes in an instant. I’m here to tell you that it does.

  5. Yes, this happened to me on east Speedway a few years ago. Passenger threw something and yelled “Get off the road!” You can harbor the anger for a long time, not to mention it puts you on edge so much that I flipped someone off who yelled once, only to realize a moment later that they were giving me a shout of support because I was on a ‘bent. 

    I also had a similar incident happen while canoeing on Canyon Lake several years ago. A fast boat tried to swamp us with their wake, coming really close and laughing the whole time. It was February, the water was frigid and I had my 12 year old daughter and wife aboard. I yelled at them, pulled to shore and stood ready with my paddle to beat the boat driver to death if he came back.

    Paul Theroux has an excellent essay, “The Moving Target” addressing this as a “very American reaction, rewarding eccentric effort with scorn and violence.” I’ve read enough accounts of this happening to bike tourers in certain Latin American countries to realize it’s probably broader than the U.S., but I think Theroux makes several good points.

    Sorry this happened Mike; there a lot of assholes out there.

  6. Mike, I was hit with an unopened beer bottle on the head on Speedway heading toward Freeman. Luckily, I had a helmet on, but unfortunately the impact of the bottle threw me and my bike off the pavement and into the dirt shoulder and thus a crash and over the handlebars. NOT FUN. By the time I pick myself up, the truck (99% positive it was a truck) was long gone. Definitely beat up from the crash, but really more raving pissed off! That was quite a few years ago and luckily no instances like that since. It’s just awful that someone would do that…to this day, I am still shocked that even happened.

  7. been here 4 years.  average 2 assaults per year.  projection of a missile from a moving vehicle.  federal offense.  when people tell me to get off the road.  i tell them to get off the mc donalds or get on a bike.  video works.  a gun and a broken back window works too.

  8. I had a pick-up truck miss me by about two inches riding south on Mountain Road from the mountain Park.  The guy honked behind us and then nearly grazed us, despite there being plenty of room to move over a bit and give us space.  

  9.  He actually rides a bike.  He just doesn’t realize yet that he’s “one of us.”

  10. I’ve had fingers thrown at me, shouts, honks, even a hoot or two, but no missiles hurled at me. I’m surprised and thankful.

    Also, Jon Justice is a tool.

  11. I’ve often thought that an online database with descriptions of vehicles driven by ahos would be a good thing. You could post things like “that jerk in the blue pickup truck tried to kill me” and include the make, model, color, and license number of the idiot’s ride.

    I’ll bet that this database might even cause the Tucson Police Department to wake up.

  12. I’m sorry this happened to you Mike! When things like this happen to me,  I try to remember all the good reasons I ride a bike. I also try to remember that it isn’t personal & the incident is more a reflection of the perps state of mind.

    I think Martha has a pretty good idea, start a database & see what happens. If anything, it would be a positive way to let off some steam.

  13. As a pedestrian I’ve had a beer can tossed in my vicinity and as a bicyclist I’ve had a gun pointed at me in very close proximity.  Both of those incidents seemed random and neither one really upset my equilibrium or shattered my illusion that I’m safe.  4th Ave tunnel south end turning on to Toole a truck not signalling made the hard right on to Toole and just about killed me.  I had hung back just a little because the body language of the truck wasn’t right.  That scared me.  I wasn’t able to ride through that tunnel for weeks and I’m still pretty shaken up by the incident.  Funny thing was the driver was somebody I knew.  When I told him about it he was completely shaken up too.  Scared the heck out of him.  

  14. When a same-direction vehicle slows down and pulls even to you, the chances of an assault are high, in my experience. Most attacks are carried out by vehicle passengers sitting on the right side. Slowing abruptly can get you out of trouble. Don’t ever pass a vehicle that appears to be waiting for you, especially on the right. Wearing a helmet- or glasses-mounted mirror helps immensely. A high-definition camera can also level the playing field.

    After being attacked, expect some PTSD. Getting right back on the bike helps, but everyone’s tolerances are different. There is an online database of sorts called PlateWire. Venting there may help in the recovery process.

  15. One other thing: If there are no third-party witnesses, TPD will merely laugh at you.

  16. I had someone swerve at me yesterday near Broadway and 4th Avenue. I was in the green bike lane (which is always a little scary cause you have cars on both sides). A car came from the far left lane to the bike lane, coming within about 1 foot of my rear tire and then went all the way to the left lane again. I yelled a lot, but I couldn’t read the license plate number and the lights were not in my favor, so I couldn’t catch up to read them. I was very mad. My last experience with TPD didn’t help much either.

  17. The trouble with that green paint is it doesn’t have any car repelling properties.  Maybe we can get somebody to work on that?  I was in the paint when the truck cut me off.  So was he now that I think of it.  So I get yelled at for riding in the traffic lane on Mountain but cars stray into our protected lane and nobody cares?  

  18. I’ve gotten airhorned on a couple different occasions on Sunrise….not fun.

    For a bit of levity I did have one projectile thrown at the actually made me laugh.  I had just started my ride on a major street and felt something pelt the left side of my neck, but it didn’t hurt at all.  out of my peripheral vision i saw the large yellow swoosh of a elementary school bus go by will all of the kids’ heads out the window looking at me with excitement.  realizing the culprit i look down just in time to see the projectile of choice…a purple dinosaur fruit snack.  i couldn’t help laughing.  that kid had good aim but if i’m prepared next time i wouldn’t mind a few extra mid-ride calories.  I just hope it’s not a precedent for the boy to grow up to be airhorn guy.

  19. Oh yes. See my post I Feel Your Rage.

    Similar feelings and emotional fallout. But it was all resolved when a nice person showed some extra consideration for cyclists.

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