Urban Cycling

From Honks to High Fives: 7 Types of Motorists That Cyclists Encounter on the Road

driver in car

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This is all about coexistence. Like most sane people, we want cyclists and motorists to share the road space designed for both of them safely.

These 1000 or so words aren’t about driving a wedge further between motorists and cyclists. In fact, most cyclists are also motorists, so they understand both perspectives.

As cyclists, let’s help motorists understand what it’s like to ride a bike, and likewise, motorists, let’s try to keep an open mind about all this.

But the funny thing is that not every type of motorist cyclists encounter is necessarily bad – indeed, the first two we’ve categorized are just downright lovely!

car making space for cyclist

The One That Gives the Widest of Wide Berths

As cyclists, the first type of motorist gives us the widest smiles.

They pass wide, very wide, their wheels almost touching the verge on the other side of the road.

Cyclists will also give this type of motorist 10 extra bonus points if they slow their speed when passing.

After all, the speed of passing traffic can, as a cyclist, be downright frightening at times.

Thankfully, we’re seeing this type of motorist more and more frequently on our rides.

Changes in road use legislation and an increase in cycling adoption are perhaps two reasons why we are seeing these changes.

The One That Gives a Knowing Nod

This one is from cyclist to cyclist, from one two-wheeled aficionado to another.

Picture the scene. You’re pushing a decent pace on your bike and feeling pretty fresh, considering that extra shandy you knocked back yesterday evening.

At the junction you’re approaching, a motorist is waiting patiently.

You’ve spotted that he has an unusually beady eye on your bike.

To the uninitiated, your bike is just like any other—two metal triangles, two wheels, and a chain. But to cyclists, like the chap sitting behind the wheel of the car up ahead, your bike is anything but ordinary.

He’s spotted the neat front pannier rack carrying your work things, the dynamo powering your front light, and, perhaps, that gently aged leather saddle under your rear end. And so, yes here it comes… yes, you know it’s coming, he’s going for it… there it is, the knowing nod.

The fellow cyclist sat in their car admiring your bike and wishing they could be out there with you, feeling the wind in their face.

Enjoy some time processing everything from their working day but thinking about nothing simultaneously, too—the feeling of man and machine in perfect harmony.

fast takeover

The One That Just Can’t Wait

In a kind of 33% Sergio Leone, it’s time to go from the good to the bad. As a cyclist, you’ll have been there.

Plodding along on the daily commute to work, backpack on, admiring a tree you’ve never spotted before, nothing much going through your head apart from that oncoming car on the other side of the road that has just rounded a corner.

You’ve spotted them, and they’ll hopefully have seen you, but it’s of no real consequence, you’re riding on your side of the road, they’re driving on their side. But then… WHOOSH.

From out of nowhere a car overtakes you from behind at warp speed, putting you and the driver of the car going in the opposite direction in imminent danger.

Thankfully, thankfully, the driver of the overtaking car manages to nip in before colliding with either the car or little-old-you pedaling your bike.

Why, oh why couldn’t they wait until they’ve rounded the corner and overtaken on that lovely piece of straight road that’s up ahead?

The One That Gives Way

Don’t get us wrong. If there’s one thing that cycling teaches you, it’s that cars are big and ultimately pretty scary.

Therefore, even if laws in most countries put cyclists (and pedestrians) above other road users in all situations, it can be wise to give way to drivers at times.

This modus operandi (whether it’s right or wrong is for another day) means that now and again, cyclists come across a certain type of driver. No, after you. No, please, after you.

Once in a while, we cyclists will encounter drivers who can’t help but give way, even if you’ve pulled to a stop on the side of a single-track road or are approaching an obstacle, and they have the right of way.

One sunny morning, I was weaving through rush hour traffic, navigating a particularly narrow single-lane road. Ahead, a car was stopped patiently, signaling me to proceed. Despite having the right of way, I appreciated the kind gesture and gave them a big thumbs up in thanks as I pedaled past.

It may have held up the driver for a whole 20 seconds, but it made my day (and probably theirs too!)

flashing lights

The One That Flashes Their Lights

Riding a bike at night isn’t without its dangers. That’s why on unlit roads, cyclists need big, powerful lights—lights that reflect off the eyeballs of a squirrel at a hundred yards and help you spot a pothole just waiting to swallow up your front wheel.

Unfortunately, these bright lights can fall foul of the next type of motorist on our list – the one who flashes their lights.

We get it; it is disconcerting to see just one beam of light on the other side of the road, moving at a slower pace than you’d expect, but please – please – there’s no need to flash your lights!

A simple dip of your headlights is more than enough to acknowledge us and doesn’t run the risk of momentarily blinding us.

The Slow One

Some days, you’re the hammer, some days, you’re the nail—a motto for life, not just cycling. But in the peculiar case of riding a bike, some days can feel like riding with a booster pack, and other days can feel like cycling through treacle.

On the good days, especially riding in the city, you’ll sometimes come across a motorist who is very much out for a relaxed drive.

They drive so slow that it’s easy to keep up with them and even, heavens alive, you might think about overtaking them!

Now, before you get all Lycra-clad Lochinvar and fantasize about a daring city-traffic overtake, a word of caution.

These slow drivers can often be tourists unfamiliar with the city or nervous drivers taking extra care. The moral of the story? Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to sharing the road.


The One Who Needs a Chill Pill (and Maybe an Air Freshener)

Let’s talk about tailgating. We cyclists know the feeling all too well – that unsettling whoosh of wind as a car barrels up close behind you, leaving you feeling like a startled sparrow. 

Look, we get it, sometimes we’re not Tour de France champions, but there’s no need to play bumper bikes on the open road.

The truly perplexing part?  These tailgaters are often in the loudest, smelliest cars known to mankind.  Is there a correlation between road rage and a questionable exhaust system?  The scientific community may never know.

Here’s the thing, folks:  tailgating a cyclist doesn’t make you magically faster.  In fact, it probably just stresses you out more! 

Take a deep breath, enjoy the scenery (we cyclists certainly are!), and leave a safe distance.  Your heart rate (and our nerves) will thank you for it.

ALSO READ: 7 Things Cyclists Wish Motorists Knew About Riding a Bike

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