Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Russ Roca shares more about his New Zealand road rage incident

Posted by on January 12th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

The incident made headlines across New Zealand.

Former contributor to BikePortland and recent Portland resident Russ Roca and his partner Laura Crawford have finally been able to come up for air following a harrowing road rage incident that happened to them while biking in New Zealand.

Foster and Roca were riding in Wellington when a man driving a sedan passed them aggressively. After hand gestures were exchanged by both sides, the man driving the car stopped, got out and assaulted Russ. The man assaulted Russ, striking him in the face hard enough to cause him to fall to the ground, and then speeding off.

The story grabbed major headlines throughout New Zealand and far beyond (it is just now hitting U.S. news on the web). Russ and Laura had a whirlwind of media appearances on TV and radio and even sat down for tea with the Mayor of Wellington.

New Zealand is a country that takes cycle touring very seriously and to have this nasty interaction happen to Russ and Laura, arguably the most highly visible and well-known cycle tourists in America who are there specifically to highlight the country’s great biking, is a major embarrassment.

The headline about the incident the New Zealand Herald read: “Shame, fear over driver’s road rage attack on cyclists.”

As for the incident itself; before you start thinking that Russ deserved this treatment because he flipped a finger at the man in the car, read Russ’s perspective (which is thoughtful and classy, as usual):

“It is not a proud moment when, as a bike advocate, you lose your cool, but I did. Finger gestures where made, to which the driver returned the same. This is where some “blame the victim” usually creeps in and people will no doubt say that I somehow brought this whole incident upon myself, conveniently disregarding the fact that just moments before someone driving two tons of steel had threatened us with bodily injury. This point has always bothered me when I’ve read these sort of stories myself. The cyclist is suppose to not react, to be a Ghandi-esque figure at all times, not registering any discontent at the fact that two tons of steel was just maliciously steered at them with impunity. Forgive this cyclist for being imperfect and human.”

I highly recommend reading Russ’s full account and thoughts on what happened.

While it’s unfortunate that Russ and Laura had to experience this and that the reputation for amazing bike riding that New Zealand enjoys has been sullied, there is some good news. The incident will vastly increase the visibility of Russ and Laura’s Path Less Pedaled initiative and bike touring in general, and it will remind the world that road rage is a very real and serious issue.

Thank you Russ and Laura for being such great bike ambassadors and we hope both of you continue to lead inspiring adventures.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you.

  • 9watts January 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Lots of anger out there. Perhaps some resent/imagine those on bikes are having more fun, have no car payments, can ignore rising gas prices?

    Most of my life I’ve wondered about the sound a car’s engine makes when passing me after the light turns green and we both start to accelerate. I have come to believe that I can tell when the person driving feels the need to assert their superiority, their ability to–no their need to–get and stay ahead of me.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Matt January 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Totally agree. I’ve had motorists pass me closely, but very safely and non-aggressively. Somehow I got the message that they knew what they were doing and all was OK. I’ve had others come no where near me but overall were much more threatening and intimidating. It’s not always about proximity. Funny how intentions can be communicated that way.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • thefuture January 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Have some friends who live in NZ now and can’t wait to visit and do a bike trip there. Though this was an extremely unfortunate incident that I’m glad to see get into the public conscience it won’t make me hesitate to bike there at all.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Joe January 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Ive let the finger fly and leaned a great deal on how some ppl react in a very wrong way. * so glad ur both ok ” time to burn this and move on, even a hand gesture gets some into trouble these days.

    Happy Trails

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Mark Allyn January 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I am about the invest in some cameras; one for the helmet and one for the rear fork.

    I think this is about time to have some ‘witnesses’ with me at all times, especially with this anger.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Spencer Boomhower January 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    From Russ’s post:

    “We’ve been inundated with emails and comments from apologetic Kiwis. We met the mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown, for afternoon tea. Walking down the street the other day, people stopped us to tell us how sorry they were about what happened.”

    …it sounds like Kiwis are a thoroughly classy people. (Except for that one road-rager of course!) Glad they came out of the experience OK, and are raising awareness and changing attitudes in the process.

    Personally, I always hone in on the “someone driving two tons of steel had threatened us with bodily injury,” parts of these stories. We’re so used to the constant presence of many such tons of steel that it’s easy to become inured to the danger they present, to the point that people threaten each other on a daily basis with cars in ways they would probably never do with actual weapons.

    That gets me wondering if there’s some way to quantify that danger. What kind of damage can a car used as a weapon cause compared to an actual weapon used as a weapon? Can a car do the same damage as a hand grenade? A car can smash though the front of a building after all; I don’t think a grenade can do that. Who would win in a duel in a parking lot: someone on foot with a pistol, or someone unarmed in a Ford Explorer? Seems like it might be a tossup. Now, I really do hate to evoke such horrible thoughts (and I don’t like thinking about weapons in general, but I have done some design work on action-packed video games, which is probably partly why I delve into trying to suss out these calculations), but I think the goal is a worthy one: to make vivid just what kind of deadly force a road-rager like the one who attacked Russ is throwing around when they buzz someone on a bicycle. Or even the potential risk that unintentionally gets thrown around on roads everywhere, all the time. Like the risk thrown around just last night when the driver of an Cadillac SUV nearly clobbered me as he rolled through a stop sign, apparently never seeing me on my brightly-lit bike, engrossed as he was reading text messages (or maybe it was a song playlist) on his iPhone.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Opus the Poet January 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      On that parking lot duel, between even skilled marksmen only hitting human-sized targets about 5% of the time, and bullets only being fatal 9% of the times they hit someone (down under .5% probability now) throw in the armor effect of the car, and the speed a car can reach in a parking lot, and it’s no contest. especially when other cars preclude the shooter from being able to dodge the car. The shooter would need a Thompson SMG (specifically designed to kill people inside cars by spraying a fountain of hot lead through them) and a 200 round drum to have an even chance.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • q`Tzal January 12, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I’m glad that I’m 6’1″ and kinda mean looking.
    Everyone of these stories makes me angry and even though I’ve been through a fairly long bout of anger management classes I still find myself really getting worked up.

    I know its wrong, and I’ve had too many examples of why, but I find myself thinking that cyclists won’t get any respect until it’s the driver on the pavement as a bloody smear.
    And when that inevitable road rager gets out of their auto to come at me I hope I can control the adrenalin because I sort of act like I’m on PCP. It’s why Spock wasn’t just cool to watch as a kid, I’ve had to enforce that level of control.
    I hope I can avoid this sort of situation.

    Drive safe, ride safe, share the road.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Kristen January 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Laura’s last name is Crawford.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Allan Folz January 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Rule to live by: the moment a motorist leaves the safety of their vehicle they are threatening assault and one should not allow them the opportunity to get the first swing in.

    I’ve heard of too many instances of motorists getting out of their car (or Tri-met bus, ahem) taking a cheap shot at the cyclist and then fleeing in their vehicle while the cyclist is still in shock from the assault. Having a bicycle between one’s legs, which occupies at least one hand to balance is a position of great vulnerability for a cyclist. One must be ready to defend and protect oneself immediately, waiting until the assailant is close enough to be an imminent threat is too late.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • resopmok January 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Probably the best course of action if you suspect someone has the intent to assault you is to dismount the bicycle and hold it between yourself and the potential assailant. And remember, your personal safety is always more important than a chunk of steel (or aluminum or carbon), no matter how much you paid for it.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Neighbor Gregg January 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

        After living and riding in other-less friendly- cities, I have learned what makes me feel safer if someone gets out of their car. I stand behind my bike with my ulock in my hand and calmly say (Very loudly so people will stop what they are doing and pay attention to what is going on) “I want you to stay away from me. I want you to go back into your car so I can get on my bike and leave.”

        Sometimes crazy people do crazy things to random people. I once was hit by a driver while waiting for a red light to change for no reason. People from the sidewalk stopped him from punching me too. He didn’t know me and we had no interaction with each other. He went to jail, me to the hospital.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • JRB January 12, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    In a fear/anger adrenaline-fueled moment I’ve been known to flip the bird and although I’ve never been physically assaulted as a result, I have almost always regretted it later. I’m trying to find the middle ground between being a doormat and escalating the situation. This morning, I had a motorist lean on his horn because I didn’t start off the split second the light changed from green to red. Less than a minute later I had a tri-met driver repeated lean on his horn because I left the bike lane to make a left turn and slowed him down a couple of seconds. In both instances, I turned and gave them a slow measured look, but kept my hands on my bars. I think this may be the way to go in the future.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Matt January 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      I try to just wave at them in a really overly happy, exaggerated way or flash the peace sign, which to me is V for Victory!

      Recommended Thumb up 6

      • JAT in Seattle January 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        be sure to flash that peace sign with your palm away from you if you’re in a Commonwealth country, or you might be on your way to hospital.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Joseph E January 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      I think you should have yielded to the bus when making a right turn, since you are merging into another lane to do it; it would be the same with road with two lanes in each direction, if you merged left in front of the bus with a car and made the driver have to hit the brakes.

      (Unless you happened to have merged a long time before the bus came up and were waiting for traffic on the other side to clear before turning – in that case the bus driver was just being a jerk)

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Schrauf January 12, 2012 at 8:59 pm

        How do you know? You were not there, right? Who said the bus driver had to “hit the brakes”? There are a dozen situations where moving to the left lane to turn, and yet slowing down other traffic, would be perfectly acceptable and the best solution.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

      • JRB January 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

        No one had to hit the brakes. I left the bike lane into an open lane with the bus well behind. I have a right to take the lane to make a left turn if I can do so in safe manner. The fact that the driver had to take his foot of the gas for the few seconds it took me to execute the turn did not make my actions unsafe.

        Rather than making assumptions about my or anyone else’s actions, why don’t you just ask first and then you can at least offer an informed opinion.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

        • naess January 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm

          “Rather than making assumptions about my or anyone else’s actions, why don’t you just ask first and then you can at least offer an informed opinion.”

          perhaps the wisest words i’ve read on this blog and ones that every poster here should try to live by.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Oh Word January 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    That’s more like thoughtful spin, not perspective. This happens to me frequently. If you want to be a tough guy and escalate the situation to a face-to-face confrontation, you have to deal with the consequences of YOUR actions. He isn’t a “victim”, he’s the loser of a fight.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Dwayne January 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

      Okay tough guy, it’s on. You and me. Let me know what you ride or drive, because it’s going to be a surprise.

      Or wait, maybe calling me a tough guy and telling me I get what I deserve is not an act of aggression. Maybe it is. Maybe if I don’t klike the way you look at me I should be able to kick the crap out of you. Maybe I shouldn’t.

      If response to gestures or words can be used as a justification for violence. I think you’ve just found yourself on a very slippery slope.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • captainkarma January 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I will raise my arm like “WTF”, minus the middle finger. Not sure if the driver can always make that distinction, but if someone did that to me, I’d just feel like a dumba**, not a raging angry dumba**.

    If the driver does get out, I would initiate the “dialogue” with “whatever happens here next is being witnessed and probably is being recorded by more than one vidcam” while pointing out traffic and security cams potentially around, and mention individuals with cell-phones and bikers with helmet cams. Not to say that a raging bull will listen, but you never know.
    I also have made a show of memorizing the plate number, seems to help.
    Best to just ride away, if possible, in the opposite direction while the deusche is out of the vehicle and find a cop car, or even trimet will call it in.

    Hard to say in the heat of the moment though. Like Russ, we don’t really expect these things to happen.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Scott January 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      …or you could learn how to fight and level the playing field. Please, don’t give me the “violence is the idiot’s refuge” or whatever. That argument only works in the case of deadly violence, but bruises heal and the truly intelligent person knows that training for every situation is best.

      If you think the bird is satisfyfing to throw at a car that tried to kill you, imagine how good a nice jab feels.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

      • resopmok January 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm

        weapon or no it’s still a crime to be the instigator in a bout of violence. if a rewarding jab is worth a night in jail and a potential law suit, then i guess you should go for it. i’m too poor to miss work and pay lawyers, though, so i think i’ll stick with mostly pacifism unless it comes down to revolution. let me know when that happens though, i’m in.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Chat January 12, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    my kiwi husband has biked in both places (USA and NZ) and told me that kiwi drivers were much more aggressive and less careful of cyclists. They have very narrow shoulders on the roads, so cyclists are out in the car lane more, getting in the way. I suggest reading expat sites around the web for cautionary information before making a trip to New Zealand. Forewarned is forearmed. The Kiwis made a fuss apologising over this incident only because they are very concerned about protecting their bread and butter tourist trade, not because they care personally. I have lived here for some years now and I can attest that this society’s high level of interpersonal aggression is not evident from the impressive marketing material. Many, many drunk and high drivers. I used to enjoy driving until I moved here! Now I feel like it is taking my life into my hands. All the more so on a bike. http://www.northernadvocate.co.nz/news/world-champs-of-dope/1234285/

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Matt January 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm

      Well at least kiwi drivers are likely unarmed. Flip someone off in NZ and you might get punched in the face. Flip someone off here and you might take a bullet in the head. I keep my middle finger firmly on the handlebars just in case.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Paul Tay January 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Once a motorist gets out of vehicle, he’s at a disadvantage. He’s now a slower pedestrian. Unless cyclist is prepared to fight, make u-turn, put traffic between you and cager-rager, and taunt him mercilessly behind the shield of traffic. Been there. Dun dat.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • dan January 12, 2012 at 8:03 pm

      I like your approach. Actually throwing down seems like a losing strategy — hard to see a positive ending. Either you lose the fight, or you win. If you win, is the guy going to get back in his car and meekly drive home, or try to run you down?

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • esther c January 12, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I hear Russ on the “blame the victim” bit because he gave the guy that tried to kill him with his car the finger. I watched as a Frito Lay driver nearly right hooked my husband. We followed the driver into the lot and when the lot gate guard wouldn’t let us in to talk to him I said “the fucking driver almost killed my husband.” When we went home and I called the safety officer to talk to her she started to bring up me cursing. I said, you’re kidding me. Your driver almost killed my husband and you’re talking about my language. Lets get real here.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Neighbor Gregg January 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Hmmm. I once had a Frito Lay driver swerve hard towards me just after passing me while I was as far to the right as possible. I almost caught up to him but couldn’t. I regret that I didn’t get the number off the side of the van- I could have called it in. Maybe the same driver?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Schrauf January 13, 2012 at 6:58 am

    The aggressive driver in New Zealand will probably end up being an American tourist.

    If I need to visually communicate with a stupid driver, I try to flash the peace sign. More passive aggressive, which probably angers some people even more than fingering them (so to speak). Oh well. The passive aggressive peace sign is nevertheless better than the loud, open-handed slap to the side of a car. But that occasionally has its place as well.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Chris I January 13, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Allan Folz
    Rule to live by: the moment a motorist leaves the safety of their vehicle they are threatening assault and one should not allow them the opportunity to get the first swing in.
    I’ve heard of too many instances of motorists getting out of their car (or Tri-met bus, ahem) taking a cheap shot at the cyclist and then fleeing in their vehicle while the cyclist is still in shock from the assault. Having a bicycle between one’s legs, which occupies at least one hand to balance is a position of great vulnerability for a cyclist. One must be ready to defend and protect oneself immediately, waiting until the assailant is close enough to be an imminent threat is too late.
    Recommended 2

    Dismount and place the bike between you and the assailant. Do not arm yourself with anything, as this can make the situation worse and increases your potential liability. Of course, if an assault is actively occurring, I think everything is fair game.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Mike Fish January 13, 2012 at 7:31 am

    I tried to give someone the finger once, and then I realized I was wearing mittens! Maybe we need more mittens out there.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Devin January 13, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I am waiting for the sad day when a cyclist deems the need to use deadly force against a driver who uses their 2 or more ton weapon in a deadly manner, but on the flip side, maybe that is what it will take and when he is absolved of all charges, drivers will think twice about using their weapon carelessly.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Rob January 13, 2012 at 8:29 am

    I’ve considered “riding hot”, partially because I live in a county that very much believes it is your personal right to possess and use a handgun. And I’d like to know that I have that option if it ever comes to that.

    I still haven’t done so because I’m not convinced of the feasibility of the exercise (“where will I store said weapon? will I really be in a sound enough mind to provide an audible warning?”). Plus I like the idea of making drivers think twice about agitating cyclists if they knew cyclists may be armed if provoked. 🙂

    But mostly, it’s because in four years and something over 6,000 miles, this type of situation hasn’t happened to me. Yet.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Spiffy January 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      I think if you just put a plastic gun in a visible shoulder holster that would be enough of a deterrent for most people…

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Doug Smart January 13, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I like the approach that commenter Stripes offered in a recent thread about using your cell phone camera to take control of a situation.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Mark Allyn January 13, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Well folks, if the driver does get out of the car to do something nafarioius, what would happen if you stand there (one hand on the bars and the other pointer to the camera mounted on your helmet, pointed at the approaching driver.

    An you said, as calm as possible, “Please be aware that you are being recorded”.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • dan January 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      I guess he would beat you and take your camera 😉

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Spencer Boomhower January 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    From user “thepassingofdays,” just posted on Reddit – http://bit.ly/ySHOC9 – this seems relevant to this discussion:

    “Got attacked by 2 dudes in a white van on Thurs in NE”

    I was riding my bike to a 4pm class on Sumner in NE. I came to the stop sign at NE 17th and a white van slowly came up to the intersection and stopped. They had the right of way, so I pointed at the stop sign. They both looked at me kinda blankly so I pointed with both hands at the sign and said “look, I have a stop sign, you can go!” Then van pulls into middle of intersection, guy jumps out passenger door and yells “are you getting lippy with me faggot?” and charges at me with, I shit you not, a hammer. I start my escape but he caught me on the back with a hammer swing. Luckily I was carrying a huge bag full of hard stuff and the hammer blow didn’t do any noticeable damage. I sped off down Sumner, planning on turning onto 14th Pl because it deadends there for automobiles. The guys in the van followed me and ran the stop sign at 15th and Sumner, but I was able to get onto Killingsworth well before they got close to me again.

    White van, no windows, WA plates, 2 very normal looking white guys with white t-shirts.

    As an aside, what is it about two-way stops that some drivers find so baffling? They either stop and wait when they don’t have to, or cruise through the stop assuming cross-traffic will stop. Quite a few times I’ve done the same kind of, “look, I have a stop-sign!” pantomime this guy describes.

    Anyway, someone asked the OP if he called the cops, and this is his response:

    “I called and they said it wasn’t worth filing a report over because I wasn’t injured and I don’t know any identifying features about the guys. I was surprised. I figured getting hit by a hammer by a crazy dude is grounds for a police report.”

    What I think is funny is when people call for license plates on bicycles, as if they’d be able to report someone on a bike for blowing a stop sign and actually have something come of it. The police don’t follow up on that kind of thing, and probably for very good reasons, like they’re understaffed, they know when something can’t be prosecuted, and they need to prioritize the use of their resources.

    Still, it would be good to have some record-keeping of these kinds of incidents. If only to have some data to hold up against the hissy-fits that occur on the very rare occasion that someone on a bike actually causes damage to someone else in traffic, like in the case of that recent TriMet panic stop.

    Oh, and one thing I like about that Reddit thread: the most consistent advice the poster receives is, “tell BikePortland about this!” 🙂

    Recommended Thumb up 1