Why cyclists should thank courteous drivers

Being both a driver and a cyclist, and having done my bit for the cycling cause over the last few years, I feel justified in offering the occasional critical observation on the behaviour of cyclists on Britain’s roads.

You don’t have to be Jeremy Clarkson to know that some cyclists ride carelessly. All the clichés are true: if you go for a drive in town, you’re bound to encounter a cyclist talking on a mobile phone, dangerously riding up the left side of a vehicle, riding with earphones in, suddenly veering across the lane to turn right, not having front and rear lights at night, and blasting through a zebra crossing or red light – perhaps all at once!

That said, you’re also bound to encounter careless driving, which is a bigger sin, because a bad driver is in control (or not in control, as the case may be) of a ton of metal, effectively a missile.

However, this ‘take the plank out of your own eye before you point out the mote in mine’ attitude has its downsides, and these are in evidence when it comes to cyclists. Being right can easily spill over into being righteous, and this brings certain unappealing habits.

I’ve noticed that cyclists often – more often than drivers – don’t say, or make a gesture of, ‘thank you’ when you drive courteously in relation to them. For instance, if you slow down to let a cyclist turn in front of you, or to allow a cyclist out of a junction which you are about to turn into, or if you wait behind a parked car to let a cyclist pass in the opposite direction on a narrow street, often the cyclist won’t acknowledge your gesture in the way that most drivers would. I wonder why?

You could argue that cyclists don’t raise a hand of thanks because they don’t want to take a hand off the handlebars. I’m not sure about this explanation. Cyclists momentarily ride one-handed in other contexts – say, when signalling to turn, or, indeed, when rebuking bad drivers (we’ve all done it, even though we shouldn’t). In any case, cyclists could at least smile graciously or mouth ‘thank you’ to a courteous driver, but usually they don’t. They just pass by seemingly in their own world, like a weary soldier with a thousand yard stare, or a rollerskating waitress on a busy night at the diner.

I suspect that righteousness is the reason why cyclists aren’t friendly to friendly drivers. It is as though when cyclists don’t say ‘thank you’ they are thinking, maybe subconsciously, *my mode of transport is more ethical than yours, so drivers like you should always get out my way, and when you do, I don’t owe you any special acknowledgement*.

The flaws in such a dismal attitude are obvious. Under the law, cars and cyclists have an equal right to use the roads. Even ethically a cyclist has no automatic precedence over each and every driver. Yes, sometimes drivers are being lazy. But sometimes they have a good reason for driving – a bad cold, a big load, a long trip, and so on. Drivers are people too, and, like all people, deserve courtesy as a default.

The most perverse thing about the thanklessness of righteous cyclists is that their rudeness on the roads harms the cycling cause, by exacerbating the sense of resentment many people inexplicably feel towards cyclists. Worse still, ungrateful cyclists give those people a genuine reason to be irritated, and therefore supply a veneer of plausibility to the rest of their spurious complaints.

Come on, cyclists, let’s lighten up, and show gratitude towards good drivers. We need to give them all the encouragement we can. And, with a thankful smile on our faces, we’ll drop a big hint about the pleasures of cycling.

A rather cool image I found here:


I signed up to the website

I signed up to the website purely to say what a great article this is! I've been driving for 12 years but only started cycling last year, and yet I find myself only rarely thanking drivers when they let me out or stop for me. To be fair to myself, I at least do it occasionally (and far more so than other cyclists, I've noticed), and I certainly make an effort when they've gone out of their way to be particularly courteous/kind, but nonetheless I'll admit it's a rarity. Is it because of a sense of self-righteousness? Honestly, I just don't know, but I was instructed to always say thank you whilst driving and stuck to that ethos, so I genuinely wonder why it hasn't pervaded my cycling style to quite the same extent.

Either way, I'm going to make a concerted effort from now on and will say raise a hand in thanks every time a driver does me a solid. Thank you very much for making me aware of this huge divide - you've really made a difference!

Dear RedRedRobyn,

Dear RedRedRobyn,

Thanks for your message and nice feedback. Your post made me think, too - perhaps righteousness was too strong a word. Perhaps among cyclists there simply isn't a culture of saying 'thank you' to drivers, because this is not something we all get taught when we first get out there on our bikes (more a sin of ommission than commission...).

Oh well, never too late! Thanks again - Ben 

A nice photo to accompany a

A nice photo to accompany a thoughtful article. Yes, we certainly could be showing our appreciation to thoughtful drivers more than we do. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "There is no human duty so underrated as the duty to be happy." I find that being appreciative with a wave and a smile makes me happier, and I'm sure it makes others happier, so everyone gains.

I cycle every day and I thank

I cycle every day and I thank drivers all the time. I think of myself as a cycling ambassador, so will always give a friendly nod and mouth a 'thank you' to a driver who is nice (most are).
Can I add that it would be nice if cyclists also thanked walkers? I recently spent a day walking with my dog along a canal. Every time a cyclist came along (and many did), I pulled my dog off the tow path so they didn't have to slow down. I started noticing that very few thanked me, and started doing a rough tally, and only about one in 5 cyclists thanked me at all. Most just carried on, heads down, and didn't even make eye contact. Come on cyclists - a thank you wouldn't hurt.

A polite cyclist would

A polite cyclist would acknowledge an act of kindness by another cyclist. A polite motorist would do the same to another driver. So why wouldn't a polite cyclist thank a beneficent motorist? That would just be rude. I do it not just to make the object of my thanks feel good but to make myself feel good. It's called 'society' - participate!

I'm enjoying these replies -

I'm enjoying these replies - thanks to all. Andy, I quite agree that showing appreciation on the roads makes everyone feel happier. Jane, that's a great point about the need for cyclists to be polite to walkers. I should have mentioned them too. And Robert, yes I agree it all comes down to politeness. Recently I read a great book called 'Why We Hate Us' which was (partly) about how simple things like politeness (or the lack of it) make a big difference to a society.

As a keen cyclist, both

As a keen cyclist, both recreational and as a commuter, I am often out and about on my bicycle. I make frequent use of canal towpaths, and bridle ways. During my rides, I regularly encounter runners, joggers, walkers, and other cyclists. I make a point of greeting each one I pass with a polite "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon". After being ignored repeatedly, I decided to keep a tally - an unofficial survey of the number of responses I gained, and the ages and activities of the respondents.

I was quite disheartened by the result. Of 100 people that I greeted, only 35 answered me, and 70 odd percent of these were elderly people out walking. I fully accept that runners with their mandatory earphones and shortness of breath may be unable to respond, but that still leaves a lot of bad manners out there.

On the subject of courtesy to drivers, I make a point of thanking them when they have exercised courtesy and consideration to me. Again, sadly, I am rarely in a position to do this, as I find that its almost every man for himself, despite the fact that cyclists are soft skinned vehicles.

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