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A third-party view of that u-lock-throwing-road-rage story

ulocker
Screen Grab from OregonLive.com. David Robinson
is on the right.

You know the drill. A provocative photo and/or incident illustrates the long-running “bikes vs cars!” narrative and then all heck breaks loose. Comment sections light up, the BikeSnob takes his cut, then the story gets piled onto our collective mental legacy about how we get along — or don’t — out on the streets.

Over the years I’ve gotten tired of these types of stories. The fact is, people yelling at each other and doing emotionally-charged things to each other is not news. It might be worth publishing if you’re in the content business, but if you ride a bike everyday you’ll know that jerk behavior — on both sides of the windshield — happens all the time.

Given how much attention the recent U-lock throwing incident got (over 1,600 comments on OregonLive!), I didn’t even plan to post anything about it.

“Here we had two people acting very poorly to each other, yet given the photo and the way the article was written most of the scorn tends to land on one side.”
— David Robinson, witness

Then I heard from the other guy in the photo. The guy who wasn’t on the tallbike. His name is David Robinson and he posted his version of the story on Facebook last week (and some of his comments were retroactively added to The Oregonian story). Robinson just happened to innocently ride into the situation and now he’s forever tied to it.

Robinson is disappointed how the story was framed by the media and he’s annoyed he even has to speak out about it. “My thoughts are that here we had two people acting very poorly to each other,” he shared with me via email, “yet given the photo and the way the article was written most of the scorn tends to land on one side.”

He was reluctant to even let me to post this, hoping that the whole thing would just go away. But we both wanted to share his version because it shows the importance of perspective and it can help us further understand the nuance and context often lacking from these road-rage fueled interactions and the media stories that result from them.

Here’s what happened according to Robinson (the man on the right of the iconic u-lock throwing image):

I’m in the lovely position of having ridden into the middle of a road rage incident immediatly [sic] as it boiled over (what lovely timing). I am not a spokesman for bikes, but as the only person involved who wasn’t livid — on the contrary, I still had very little idea what was going on at the time the photo was taken — I want to at least share what I can.

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My understanding is that tallbiker had yelled at a car performing an illegal (and marked as such) turn, and that the passenger (Mom) in the BMW took offense with this, and decided to share her take that this was why people hate bikers. Both parties claim that the other spat first, but as I was still blocks away at the time, I cannot confirm one way or another. Despite the article stating that the tallbiker turned and then came back to taunt her- my understanding is that they both continued straight (down Clay St, a neighborhood greenway, marked with sharrows, with stop signs turned to the side streets, one block over from the primary thoroughfare). This all started at what is essentially 4th, and I happened to turn onto the greenway and into the middle of this at 10th. At this point, I was caught up by the tallbiker, who yelled while passing that the car behind was being aggressive and acting crazily.

At this point, the gold BMW was exceedingly close behind us, blaring its horn. As I looked behind me, the lock was thrown (if I had to guess where it connected, I’d say license plate). As the tallbiker pulled a u-turn to retrieve his lock, he effectively cut me off, and I stopped. At this point, the car swerved onto the sidewalk and both passengers exited. I asked the driver (daughter) what was going on as the passenger (mom) charged the tallbike (it appeared to me as though she was ready to knock him off of the bike). The tall biker defensively extended his foot as he passed, neither party seemed to suffer any damage (though mom’s phone dropped), and the tallbiker continued on his way. At this point, mom’s attention turns to me, and the first thing she asks is if “this is what [I] represent”. I tried to explain that I was just riding around my neighborhood, but it became clear that I was being yelled at by an extremely angry person, who was predictably less-than-reasonable. I left after mom started accusing me of being complicit, taking my photo, and denying all culpability- though she made sure to mention that she occasionally rides to work, lives between two greenways, and has friends in the “cycling community.” As mother is yelling at me, daughter has retreated to the car, visibly and extremely upset.

The u-lock toss is a reaction to several blocks of aggressive driving and heckling from an agitated passenger, who (I have to assume) was encouraging her teenage daughter to antagonize the tallbiker (and eventually, myself) with the vehicle which to me is the saddest part of the ordeal, and a nuance that very few people reading the story (written based on an email about a facebook post) seem to pick up on.

I don’t think either party behaved particularly well, but the pictured moment is more a reaction to antagonism than a direct antagonism in and of itself.

All I know is that the weirdest three minutes of my day yesterday have become a thing I have to talk about, and that’s really fucking annoying.

At the end of the day, Robinson told me the two saddest things about the incident were, “That the daughter got such a close view of such poor behavior, and the tribalist hate that has resulted from the story.”

Let’s all try to do better next time.

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