DC Bike Commuter's Encounter with Hostile Biker on the Capital Crescent Trail
On my daily commute between Bethesda and downtown DC I expect the occasional encounter with an aggressive, even hostile, driver, but last night was my first encounter with a foaming-at-the-mouth hostile cyclist.
I was on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), heading toward Bethesda at around 6:00 p.m. I had been enjoying a leisurely ride with a fellow cyclist sharing stories about the old bikes we were riding (his a 30-year old Raleigh with center-pull brakes, safety levers and an unhealthy amount of rust, mine a 22-year old Italian steel no-name with bubbling paint). But I was expected home soon, so we did the usual, “Nice talkin’ with ya, have a good ride,” goodbyes and I picked up my pace. Less than a minute later, just as I was exiting the rail tunnel by the Dalecarlia Reservoir, a guy passed me going at a pretty good clip, which I thought would be a good pace to get me home in time. So I sprinted the 100 yards or so to catch up and settled in behind him, figuring that as soon as I recovered from the effort of catching up, I would return the favor and take a pull as pace-setter. I’ve done this dozens of times during my commuting life, whether me latching onto the wheel of a faster rider or someone latching on to mine. In nearly every case, it ends with both riders eventually sitting up near where one of us has to turn off and then exchanging pleasant conversation. In other words, this is a totally acceptable and ordinary practice, not to mention a nice way to meet and exchange stories with other cyclists.
But this nut-job I was following had other plans. First of all, he would pass people without
warning them or signaling me, which I found dangerous, so I backed off a
little, keeping about 3 feet of space between us. Also, my bike has a bell, so I would ding it
a couple of times if I saw someone up the road.
(It makes no difference to the person being passed if the warning comes
from the first or second bike coming by as long as the warning comes in time to
allow everyone to get by safely.)
Further, having a little bit of Winter’s creeping crud left in my
sinuses, I spit off the side of the roadway at least once in the period I was
behind this guy. My point: unless he was
deaf or wearing headphones (which I did not see), there is no way in h*ll that
he did not know I was back there.
At this point, I had been behind the guy for a maximum of a half-mile (we were now nearing the stairway that leads down off of the east side of the CCT toward the walking path along the Little Falls stream). I had caught my breath fully and had just begun to look up the road to see if it was clear for me to come around to take a pull when, WHAM! He slams on his brakes, locking up both wheels and, of course, sending me into the back of his bike. Over the screech of our skidding tires, without looking up, the guy yells, “I KNEW IT!” and then turns around, face purple with rage, and adds for good measure, “A**HOLE!” and then pedals hard up the road. Somehow I had managed to grab my brakes and unclip. It was only dumb luck that I avoided going down hard.
Stunned, I could only yell back, “What’s your problem?” more as a question than an insult. I did a quick bike check; luckily, all I could see was a sticky coating of rubber from his back tire on my front spokes and my bottle cage wanged out of shape. On his bike, I’m pretty sure a reflector or rear light got busted from my handlebars hitting his seat post or the back of his rack.
Pissed, I grabbed my water bottle off the pavement and got up to speed figuring that I needed to talk to this menace. But I think he wanted nothing to do with me – the person whom he had just tried to put to the pavement at 20 mph! – so he began pedaling wildly to stay ahead. I was angry and wanted to get control of my emotions before confronting this weirdo, so when I got about 30 yards behind him, I just matched his pace. He slowed a bit and I figured I would soon catch him. I thought that I would, giving him a very wide berth, ask him what he had in mind and why didn’t he just request that I back off, rather than try to seriously injure me, as he almost did. At that point he turned left off the CCT and into the Kenwood neighborhood. I thought for a moment about following him, but decided instead to take a deep breath and let that strange bird and his panicky anger ride away.
I’ve been an avid cyclist for over 20 years, putting in 1,500 – 4,500 miles per year in commutes (year-round), large weekend club rides, small group rides, and solo treks. I have only once before heard someone express anger at a cyclist for following, and that person expressed it verbally, not by pulling a dangerous stunt like this.
Was it wrong or impolite for me to sit in behind another rider in the first place?
Should I henceforth announce anytime I get on someone’s wheel, “Hello there, dear fellow cyclist, I would like to sit back here for a moment while I catch my breath and then trade pulls with you, if that’s perfectly okay with you, of course, and you do not intend to pull any crazy sh*t…” ?
In all my years of cycling, have I missed out on a crucial piece of cycling etiquette so badly that I deserved to be crashed out?
Perhaps some of you have run into this person, or perhaps he reads this blog. If he does, I have a message: GET HELP NOW, because in life you will have to share the air, the roads, and the CCT. You will have people standing closely behind you in line at banks, in fast-food restaurants and at the grocery store check-out. Cycling should be a refuge from stress. If another cyclist is stressing you out, pull beside him and TALK to him. In short, act civilized.
To the general cycling public: be on the lookout for a guy in his mid-40’s (a wild guess), wearing round, metal-framed eyeglasses, riding a hard-tail mountain bike with a rack and a single pannier slung over the drive side. The rack may have a broken reflector. Yesterday he was wearing black, red, blue Performance brand shorts and a black cycling jacket.
Cycling is one of the great joys of my life, but for a few seconds last night, one strange, hostile (possibly deaf?) man, sucked all of the joy from it.