An Essay on Zen and Bicycle Commuting

The following article popped up on my daily Google Alerts bike roundup…a very well-written, heartfelt, and enjoyable article by Jenn Lindsay about the changing attitudes of one cyclist on the mean streets of Boston:

Bike commuting is like a very high-risk video game. Not only are the motorists and pedestrians complete space cadets, but bike commuting has evoked a level of rage and recklessless in me that I never imagined was there. But it’s there. Right at the surface: raw, poised to attack, and loud. Foul-mouthed, selfish, entitled, impulsive, and sweaty.

In short, not my best side.

Some of the language is a little spicy, but it fits with the tone of the essay. Please visit State of Formation for the rest of the article, and let us know if YOU’VE had a “sea change” in attitude as you became a bike commuter. We’ve talked a bit about this topic here in the past, and we’re always thrilled to hear from other readers how they handle the troubling things they encounter on their routes. Drop your comments below, and I hope you enjoy Ms. Lindsay’s essay as much as I did.


  1. Karen

    I practice all of the author’s Zen bike commuting techniques on a regular basis because I, like her, understand in my brain that my rage only hurts me. The drivers who honestly believe that the lines and symbols on our roads and streets are actually decorative markings that can be ignored do not care about my rage and underlying concerns about safety in the least. Nonetheless, the rage, I do feel. I don’t scream or throw vulgar hand gestures because I am a public employee but I do mentally berate them for a couple of hours every time one of them makes a right turn in front of me or ignores the sign that read “Not a parking lane”. Again, this does not really help me, so I endeavor to smile at motorists who give me my turn or allow me to cross the road safely at the bike crossing.

  2. Richard W

    I try to practice the Zen techniques outlined here too, but it is hard. I struggle to understand the drag race to the next stoplight, and the walkers who are in their own world on the path. But all we can do is keep trying, and to treat others as we want to be treated. Respect breeds respect.

  3. Ghost Rider

    This is an issue I’ve long struggled with…but the longer I rode around the cities I’ve lived in, the more I realized that my rage didn’t help anything. Hell, it didn’t even make me feel better to “vent”, especially when I discovered that my shouted epithets weren’t heard or understood by the motorists that pissed me off.

    It’s tough out there sometimes; people (including fellow cyclists) are going to do stupid, dangerous things and all we can do is a) keep an eye out for the dangers, b) try to stay calm and c) acknowlege the friendly gestures of fellow travelers with friendly gestures of our own.

  4. Jesse

    Oh boy, been there.
    To say that drivers in Seattle are space cadets is one of the mildest things I can think of to call them. I’m with the others here in that I know, on some level, that the rage only hurts myself. I’ve had two run-ins in the last few weeks that exemplified this. The first was a car turning left across my lane and nearly T-boning me. She did see me finally and screech to a halt so close I could feel the heat coming off the engine. I hurled a few choice words her way and continued to campus. However I felt bad about it ALL DAY. Literally everything else I did that day had the specter of what I yelled out on the street looming over it.
    The second incident was more recent (and on a day I had meditated, coincidentally). Similar situation, but this time it was a car passing me and turning right across the bike lane without seeing me (ironic seeing as how she had moved left as she passed, so she did know I was there). This time I was able to just smile real big at her and wave as I passed by her open driver side window. You see, after passing and cutting me off, she was held up, blocking the bike lane totally, by pedestrians in the crosswalk.

    That one made me smile all day…a much better way to dwell on something.

  5. The non stop biker in portland

    Although I have my days, I’m a pretty passive commuter. I am actually afraid of getting my butt kicked by a road rager, and that pretty much keeps me in line.

    There are many inattentive drivers and pedestrians, and even bikers that haven’t a clue, but I try to steer clear of them.

  6. Mike Myers

    I just put my headphones on, ride defensively, and don’t get too excited about things. I wasn’t always like this. For a couple of years after I was hit from behind, I would FREAK out if I thought someone passed me too closely. We’re talking panic-driven rage attacks. I called some morbidly obese woman who DARED to tell me to move over to the right a “Donut eating manatee”. Now I just chill. Why? Because putting more negativity into the universe isn’t going to benefit anyone.

    And I carry a gun. If I escalate a situation, some psycho takes things to a physical level, and I end up shooting him, that’s not defensible in court. So I just let stuff slide.

  7. Ghost Rider

    @Mike — it probably IS defensible in Florida, thanks to that old-Western “Stand your ground” law that passed a couple years ago! Yeehaw!

    I’ve thrown some choice epithets over the years, but “donut eating manatee” makes me smile from ear to ear. Nevertheless, I am with you — negativity doesn’t solve anything. I’m not a religious man by any stretch, but I like something attributed to Jesus Christ: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

  8. Craig

    My moment came a month ago while I was still an angry rider. I was on a bike path through a local park and slowed my pace going through it. When I was forced to hit the grass because a kid was standing in the middle of the bike path and I said a few choice words. I stopped to refill my water bottle and the father confronted me and said I overreacted and I told him he should tell his child to be aware of his surrounding. Would he allow him to stand in the middle of a street totally unaware. I look back at this and realize I was over the top. Now when I see the rollerblader going from left to right on the bike path with no clear lane to pass I don’t get mad I just let them know I’m behind them. I no longer want to be an angry cyclist.

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