Why do so many online debates about cyclists end up like train wrecks?

Single File Please
Recently, an online quiz in Australia about cycling road rules went totally off the rails after motorists and cyclists fiercely debated whether cyclists should have to be registered, forcing the Queensland Transport and Main Roads Department to explain why it doesn’t make cyclists pay registration fees. Geoff Baird explains this is actually a common tactic by cyclists. It distracts attention away from the real issue - namely, the Safe Passing Laws have actually made our roads more dangerous. Not for cyclists, but for motorists.

Every Monday the Queensland Transport and Main Roads Department uses its Facebook page to quiz drivers on recent changes to the road rules.

Most of the time their online quizzes tend to get a fairly modest number of replies  –  except for their quizzes about cyclists.  Whenever the Qld Transport Department posts a cycling related quiz the number of comments explodes by maybe 1000% or more.

Interestingly,  this same pattern happens  throughout the Western World.  If you follow the online content by any Transport Department in the United Kingdom,  or Canada,  or the United States,  the same thing happens.  Mention road cycling,  and cyclists from all over the globe instantly show up in the comments,  and they relentlessly start trolling motorists.

Welcome to world of recreational outrage.  For many cyclists,  showing up in the comments sections and arguing with motorists is a form of sport,  and if you follow these things like we tend to do,  after a while it becomes very clear the same names keep showing up,  time after time.

So let's take a look at the quiz which started all the recent drama. In it's purest form, it's a simple test of your knowledge and perhaps that's how it was intended. But that's not what unfolded. In an instant the quiz turned into a train wreck.

What was the correct answer you ask?  In Queensland the correct answer is 1.5m. They have a rule where the minimum passing distance varies based on the posted road speed limit. If you got that right, well done, you passed the test.  

However,  motorists weren’t happy.  As this recent post on our Facebook Page shows,  a lot of people believe the cycling problem is worse than ever.  And it is.  They say in life,  you don’t get something for nothing,  and the new Safe Passing Laws certainly adhere to that particular aphorism. 

For many car drivers the quiz triggered a highly negative response.  After all, this was a quiz posted by the very same agency which charges car drivers a hefty fee to use their cars on the road system each year.

Quite predictably the comments rapidly escalated into a fierce battle between motorists and cyclists about registration,  and when we say “quite predictably” it really is just that because these same online train wrecks keep happening all over the globe.  Sadly they never focus on the true underlying issues.

Reading through the comments it became clear many motorists are exasperated no end by the fact cyclists can ignore a bike lane any time they want  –  seemingly,  with impunity.  

There are now two variations of the problem involving cyclists who ignore bike lanes.  

Version (A) is when cyclists legally ignore a bike lane because they’re riding on a multi lane road.  In a number of countries,  this ‘new’ road rule was recently introduced with the introduction the Safe Passing Laws and it really did fly under the radar for many motorists who are unaware of the change.  

Version (B) is when cyclists ignore a bike lane on a single lane road.  This one drives motorists nuts.  Many drivers are unaware cyclists are allowed to ignore a bike lane if (in the opinion of the cyclist)  the bike lane is unfit for use.  Well here’s the problem with that.  In many cases cyclists love to use super light race tyres which can puncture easily.  So to avoid the slightest risk of puncture they refuse to ride anywhere other than the main traffic lane.  Even if a bike lane is perfectly safe to use.

Perhaps the most galling aspect is this…  in both cases outlined above,  motorists can still be fined for failing to adhere to the Safe Passing Laws.  

Single File Please
In this revised version of the original online quiz, it's possible to see why countless motorists were actually complaining. The issue of cyclists ignoring bike lanes which are built specifically for THEM is the issue which infuriates car drivers more than any other.

From a motorist’s perspective,  the Safe Passing Laws have been a disaster.  When cyclists make it impossible for drivers to overtake without risking a head on collision,  that risk now involves a third party who previously would not have been involved.   Namely,  oncoming drivers.

From a cyclist’s perspective,  the Safe Passing Laws have been a spectacular win.  Not only did the Safe Passing Laws fail to include Compulsory Single File,  cyclists are now permitted to ignore a bike lane any time they want.  All they have to do is to say “the bike lane was unfit for use.”

 Worse yet,  if a motorist wants to overtake a cyclist on a single lane road,  due to the distances mandated by the legislation,  drivers are forced to enter the path of oncoming traffic,  either partially or completely.  Yet the legislation also says drivers are only allowed to do this if it’s ‘safe to do so’.  

All of which begs the question,  how often is it actually safe to cross double solid lines on a road with oncoming traffic?  Most people would answer “not very often”,  hence,  the net result is cyclists are now impeding traffic more than ever.   And don’t even mention the need for courtesy.   Here’s an example of the sort of online commentary which is shared by many cyclists nowadays  –  oddly,  most of whom are white males in their 50s.

Single File Please
A common theme shared by many cyclists who flock to these online train wrecks is a "sense of moral superiority" over people who have no way to get to work other than to drive. Invariably these sorts of cyclists damage their cause by alienating motorists even further than before.
Why then do so many online debates regarding cyclists go pear shaped so quickly?  To understand the answer it first helps to know about the army of middle aged cyclists out there who are addicted to online 'recreational outrage'.

Well,  let’s get back to the original quiz for a moment.  Cyclists from all over the world flocked to the comments section,  deliberately trolling motorists about their lack of knowledge and driving skills.   But how?  Where did they all come from?  How did cyclists from all over the planet get the smoke signal which said there was another trainwreck happening and they needed to show up en masse?

Recreational outrage is a real syndrome on social media nowadays.  Think of it as a group of devotees who are obsessed with defending their religion.  If anybody on the internet says anything remotely negative about their religion,  these people show up from all over the globe to smash them down.  

It’s worth noting ‘recreational outrage’ goes deeper than people with a shared interest who are itching for a fight.  ‘Outragers’ often view themselves as part of a persecuted minority group.  And when it comes to cyclists,  there’s a very specific demographic involved.  They’re overwhelmingly middle aged white males,  usually quite well off,  aged between 35 and 55 years of age.  

People who identify as 'a persecuted minority group' tend to be the people who most often engage in recreational outrage. A surprising number of middle aged cyclists view themselves as a persecuted minority.

Rob Scott,  a professional journalist who previously lived and worked in London,   explains it best.  “The major social media platforms actually thrive on conflict,  it generates more revenue for them.  It’s terribly cynical on their part,  but conflict generates more clicks and more content exposure.

“Name a cause,  name a political movement,  any cause you care to mention.” he continues.  “The moment people start seeing opposition to a cause,  that’s when they start engaging in recreational outrage.  They literally go looking all over the internet for stuff to be outraged about,  and when they find it they instantly share it with their like minded brethren.  

“Facebook does one thing better than every other social media platform.  It gives people the ability to create private forums where they can form their own online tribal groups.  That’s where the recreational outrage feeds itself.  It’s in private Facebook Groups where recreational outrage thrives more than any other platform.”

Perhaps no better example of a cyclist consumed with recreational outrage is Michael Kater, a cyclist known for having at least five fake Facebook accounts and no less than fifteen fake Facebook Pages - all of which he uses to anonymously harass members of the public. He only uses his real name within the safety of private Facebook groups. Another example is Peter Signorini, who publicly uses a fake account called il Padrone.

Rob Scott says he first saw the syndrome roughly 10 years ago,  long before Facebook started copping heat for allowing fake news during the 2016 Donald Trump Presidential Race.

I raced bikes for years back in England and I used to follow cycling issues online.  It’s amazing how cyclists follow the exact same playbook when it comes to recreational outrage.

“There’s a form of intellectual asymmetric warfare going on,” he adds.  “If you have one side who identifies as the downtrodden side,  or perhaps the persecuted side,  for them the ends justifies the means.   When it comes to defending their cause on social media,  nothing is off limits.

“And how this relates to cyclists is something most people are blissfully ignorant to,  but truly,  it’s how cyclists are acting now.  That’s why the quiz the other day went pear shaped so quickly.  

“Cyclists from all over Australia were linking each other to the quiz in their private Facebook Groups and they descended like hordes of fire ants into the comments.  

“We were watching it in real time in the office,  and as per usual the same names showed up just like clockwork.   Most of the motorists were local Queensland residents.  But not the cyclists who were arguing with them.  They were from all over Australia,  and many were also from overseas.  It’s the cyclists who love recreational outrage who made that quiz go pear shaped,  not the motorists.”

Single File Please
For many cyclists, recreational outrage is actually a form of entertainment. They derive immense enjoyment from linking each other to comments sections on the internet where they can flame complete strangers and they then return to their private discussion groups to give each other 'high fives'.

Recreational Outrage will remain an ongoing problem on social media until Facebook is forced to open up all the private groups which currently operate in secrecy.  In this article about a private Facebook group which was eventually shut down, thousands of cyclists were hiding behind the Group’s privacy settings,  engaging in relentless doxxing,  cyber stalking, and defamation.  

The group,  called The Revolution,  was eventually shut down because it served absolutely zero benefit to McInnes-Wilson Lawyers,  the lawfirm which owned it.  Screenshots containing appalling personal defamation started leaking into the public domain,  which in turn was putting McInnes-Wilson on the hook for potential lawsuits.

What's in it for cyclists who love recreational outrage to keep doing it? What's their end game? Well, at the very least they want THIS to go away.

They’ll never admit it publicly,  but the Petition for Compulsory Single File for Cyclists tends to scare the shit out of cycling advocates.  They would really like to get it removed if they could.  If it becomes legislation they know it will profoundly change the nature of cycling as it currently exists.  

For example,  Ed Hore,  the President of The Australian Cycling Alliance,  has attempted to remove the Petition from Change dot Org on countless occasions.  The managing director of Change’s Australia operations,  Sally Rugg,   eventually started ignoring his relentless emails and twitter bombs.

Of course,  forcing cyclists to ride single file won’t affect people who ride to work.  Nor will it affect elite athletes who often train single file in a fairly serious and professional manner.  So who will it affect?  You can start by looking at all the social recreation bunches who commonly ride all over the road.

In closing we’ll leave the final word to Michael Kater who, in this unintentionally hilarious post from early 2018 in The Revolution,  demonstrates just how paranoid and delusional many cyclists truly are.