5

I rode in a Velowagen (1) with over 300 cyclists on the national bike route in Switzerland, while on a narrow countryside road a few cars began piling behind us and one of them started trying to pass in an increasingly aggressive manner. At some point the left lane was free for a few meters and he started accelerating with the intent of klaxxonning (honking/blasting the horn) his way into getting a free lane as fast as he was moving. (2)

To avoid a potential accident, my hotblooded reaction was to get in front of him and brake to force him to stop. After that and me nearly being run-over, the driver got out, almost started a fist fight, and a shouting match in French and Deutch followed between the two very angry of us, which very slowly allowed for a de-escalation and a safe distance to the convoy.

In a similar situation, where a cyclist mass is blocking the road and drivers getting violent, how can the motorists be handled in a way that minimizes the risks ?


(1) A Velowagen is a big group of diverse cyclists going to a protest in another city. Includes every kind of riders : lycra, commuters, coursiers and families with children, so the global speed is around 15-20 kmh. The goal is not to intentionally block the road but to move across the country on the intended bike routes to keep the convoy safe.

(2) While most cyclists were in the correct lane, a few were in the wrong lane to pass or because the group was very dense)

10

Context about OP's ride: There was a climate demonstration in Switzerland and people organized to ride there in groups, over large distances. So it was very much like a critical mass, but as a one off thing, it appears the seasoned regulars were missing who usually make sure everyone stays safe. Blocking traffic wasn't the goal and even less of a welcomed side effect than in normal critical mass rides. A critical mass is, as described on Wikipedia:

Critical Mass is a form of direct action in which people meet at a set location and time and travel as a group through their neighbourhoods on bikes. The idea is for people to group together to make it safe for each other to ride bicycles through their streets, based on the old mantra: there's safety in numbers. A Critical Mass is a traffic jam on bikes – though often cheerier. Where usually motor vehicles have right of way, taking space away from those who want to walk or cycle, during a Critical Mass bikes take the priority and the space back from the motor traffic.

This particular case: See at the bottom of the answer, because it assumes knowledge of the general conventions for riding like this.

Long general answer:

I regularly ride in groups like that, with a maximum of around 1000 participants in summer. It's a protest against too many cars, and it's expected that some motorists will become very, very angry. In Switzerland the police usually tolerate it even though some aspects of it are probably not legal.

There is a set of rules that is usually distributed on flyers/etc.:

  • Be polite. Talk to motorists who need to wait and explain why. They are not your enemy, traffic planners and the like are.
  • Let emergency vehicles through. While police without sirens don't really count, they don't tend to react well to being corked (see below), so let them too.
  • Stick together. You need to keep so close together that no car can fit between the bicycles and if a car tries to force its way in, actively prevent it.
  • Don't block the opposing lanes of traffic. Stick to the road markings, i.e. use a well defined number of lanes (for the events I know, its usually "all of them in our direction", i.e. 1 to 3).
  • If a traffic light changes to red in front of the first people, wait. It's often good to wait for a phase even if it's green so everyone can catch up and the group doesn't drift apart.
  • If a traffic light changes after some people passed it, keep the ranks closed and continue. Cork the cross section (see below).
  • Have some confident riders in the back riding next to each other and block the whole lane(s). You need about 3-4 per lane.
  • Cork: To cork means to block pieces of road where traffic would usually intersect the convoy to help prevent any motorist from forcing in. How to cork guide : don't cork emergency vehicles and the opposing lane, cork intersecting roads in groups and talk politely to the driver

Now when you run into conflict anyway (which you will):

  • Make sure children and vulnerable people aren't in the very back and preferably surrounded on the sides too (motorists have been known to attack with pepper spray while overtaking!).
  • Remind angry motorists that it will only be couple of minutes to the next crossroad where either the cyclists will take the other way, or the motorist can take a detour with less cyclists (where applicable. We usually do this in a city center where this is always true).
  • Stay calm, don't react to provocations.
  • If someone gets out of a car and tries to start a fight, just ride on. Probably they can't keep up on foot. If that's not possible try to calm them down and do that so loud that other cyclists notice and come to help you.
  • Note down number plates and phone numbers of fellow cyclists if anything happens that needs police attention.

If police try to stop the whole thing: Remind them that this is not a demonstration and thus doesn't need a permit. There just happen to be lots of cyclists around. The way I described above is the most efficient and safe way to let so many cyclists use the road. The best thing they can do to make traffic flow faster is to do nothing and let the convoy pass. Incidentally, police once tried to arrest a participant right beside Zurich main station. If they had done nothing, traffic would have been slowed down for a couple of minutes. This way, traffic on some of the busiest streets of Zurich stopped completely for like 20 minutes until they released the participant again (who, turns out, hadn't committed a crime that warranted an arrest).

This particular case:

Against a swift blocking maneuver:

  • The driver was likely to hit you because you actively blocked them at short notice so both their anger and their reaction times count against you.
  • The rear guard should have been blocking all of the lane, with the leftmost rider right next to the middle line, so you would have veered into opposing traffic, too. You would have needed to stay in the wrong lane until opposing traffic arrives, let it through, then go into the wrong lane again. Or alternatively, have multiple people to the front and left of the aggressive car. Both are illegal and dangerous. Or maybe blocking the car once would have succeeded in making them reconsider.
  • In the case where the driver meets oncoming traffic, no one is actively blocking them and they see the situation coming in advance because they control it. They should encounter a closed line of bicycles to the right of the middle line where it's obvious they are going to hit many bicycles if the cross the line.
  • Maybe the driver would have succeeded and you would have been rid of them. Who are you to make judgment calls for them?
  • Corking them would have been very unpleasant in both cases.
  • You have the law (more) on your side if you stay on your lane and let the car get itself into a mess.

On the other hand the advantages of blocking early:

  • Most likely any collision would have been at lower speeds.
  • You might have seen it early enough so that the driver had plenty of time to brake (compared with later in the maneuver).
  • If you were thinking about blocking the car, you were probably of higher than average ability to handle dangerous situations, so it's good (for the group, not you) to make the dangerous situation happen to you instead of someone else.
  • Hopefully you were wearing a helmet and riding a better than average bicycle (i.e. you can steer and brake and jump off well).
  • If the group is not very disciplined, there will be gaps where the overtaking car will be tempted to smash in.
  • In case of unsuccessful overtaking maneuver, the car would have needed to wait in the opposing lane until all the cyclists went by (all the time blocking opposing traffic) and then could have gone back behind the cyclists where it started. This might make them even more aggressive and might make some of the opposing traffic aggressive too. Worst case, the pile up of opposing traffic blocks something further up the road and everything comes to a standstill.

PS: Zurich, Bürkliplatz, last Friday of the month at 18:45. All year round, come too! The event is child friendly, but there is also a special irregular Kiddical Mass with police protection and more child friendly hours.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Gary.Ray Oct 1 at 16:52
  • +1 Love this answer, for explaining the context, the general advice and the situation-specific advice. Also, go Critical Mass! Would join if it was in Bern instead of Zurich. :) – fgysin reinstate Monica Oct 10 at 11:29
  • @fgysin I don't know when the next one is but there appears to be some in Bern too : barrikade.info/article/2068 Ask around in the bike community, they know when the next one is – bookman B. Oct 10 at 15:24
29

Don't create the situation in the first place. Every large event I've ever been on would either have the roads closed down, or send the riders out in waves so as not to create a situation where a car would have to pass so many cyclists at once.

Obviously the guy in the car was in the wrong, but there are still things that can be done to prevent the situation in the first place. Forming a defacto blockade on the road isn't really in anybody's best interest.

13

I'm not entirely sure about the relevant legislation. However, as the question contains "deutch" I'll give the situation for Germany plus an update about Switzerland. I'd expect a) the situation to be sufficiently similar across other European legislations for practical every-day use.

Summary: IMHO everyone misbehaved: Car driver, OP, and in Germany also the convoy would have misbehaved. According to Swiss traffic law, there was no convoy. As OP mentions this was a ride to a protest, one may also consider that the organizers of that protest made a mistake: it would have been better to obtain convoy driving permit for a feeder ride or to include the feeder rides into the protest route and get the road temporarily closed for other traffic by the police (while I don't know for sure whether this is possible in Switzerland, I would be much surprised if it weren't). It may still be that the organizers were just underestimating the number of participants coming that route.

The convoy behaving themselves would have made it easier for the car driver to behave themselves (I leave this in here even if there are no civil convoys in Switzerland: the recommendation for [motor] bike group rides in the police letter below boils down to doing pretty much the same that German traffic law requires for convoys).
The car driver behaving would have made it easier for OP to behave themselves. OP behaving themselves would have made it easier to avoid further escalation.

Of course the polite, de-escalating and sensible thing to do would have been to provide a safe way for other traffic to pass unless this bulk of bikers was on that road for only a short distance. And to clearly communicate to the car drivers behind that a huge group of bikes is ahead and that measures have been taken to get everyone along in a speedy and safe fashion.
The more so, as according to the comments, this was indeed not an accidental happening of 300 bikes going in the same direction at the same time on the same narrow road, but people joining a larger protest/demonstration: this is a matter of (lack of) organization.


First of all, all road users have to behave themselves so that they don't endager anyone - this I expect to be case in all legislations. (In Germany, road users must not even hinder or iconvenience/burden anyone else more than neccessary. Also in Switzerland no hindering of others)

So,

  • The car driver must not start a dangerous passsing maneuvre, and
  • similarly, the bike drivers have to refrain from performing dangerous maneuvres to force the car driver to stop or force them to stay behind.
    Note that endangering yourself is not exempt (and one may argue that considering rescue work being a rather dangerous occupation you cannot endanger only yourself in road traffic).

What should have happened (Germany)

Now, a group of > 15 bikes in Germany ( > 10 bikes in Switzerland see below) bikes can form a convoy (§ 27 StVO).

  • In the convoy, bikers may go two besides each other.
  • Convoys (geschlossener Verband) form automatically when the participants bulk up so other road users unambiguously recognize the group as convoy.
    For cars/trucks, each car needs to be labeled (e.g. flagged) as belonging to the convoy, for bikes, pedestrians or riders no such labelling is necessary.
  • On the one hand, a convoy counts like a single road user.
    For example, if the first participant (leader) passes a green traffic light, the whole convoy follows regardless of the state of the traffic light (like a very long trailer).
  • On the other hand, there are particular rules for "lengthwise" behaviour:

    Geschlossene Verbände, Leichenzüge und Prozessionen müssen, wenn ihre Länge dies erfordert, in angemessenen Abständen Zwischenräume für den übrigen Verkehr frei lassen; an anderen Stellen darf dieser sie nicht unterbrechen.
    (§ 27 (2) StVO)

    my translation:

    Convoys, funeral trains and processions whose length necessitates this have to leave gaps for other traffic in appropriate intervals; other traffic must not break the convoy anywhere else.

The bike convoy in question would be 150 - 300 bikes long. We're thus talking here of a convoy length in the order of magnitude of 500 m without gaps, maybe twice as long with gaps.

  • Thus, the convoy should have gone in suitable subgroups (Abteilungen) leaving gaps for cars to pass safely.
  • Nevertheless, the car was not allowed to attempt breaking the closed convoy.
    And of course, passing is allowed only if safe, regardless of whether there should have been better conditions for the car.
  • The leader of the convoy is responsible for the convoy to follow rules. They should have made sure all convoy participants know the respective rules.

A second rule to consider here is § 29 StVO "Übermäßige Straßenbenutzung" (excessive road use).

 (2) Veranstaltungen, für die Straßen mehr als verkehrsüblich in Anspruch genommen werden, [...] , bedürfen der Erlaubnis. Das ist der Fall, wenn die Benutzung der Straße für den Verkehr wegen der Zahl oder des Verhaltens der Teilnehmenden oder der Fahrweise der beteiligten Fahrzeuge eingeschränkt wird; [...] Veranstaltende haben dafür zu sorgen, dass die Verkehrsvorschriften sowie etwaige Bedingungen und Auflagen befolgt werden.

my translation:

 Events that use roads more than usual [..,] need a permit. This is the case if number or behaviour of participants or driving style restrict [normal public] road use. [...] Organisers have to ensure that traffic rules and possible requirements and orders [?] are obeyed.

Some bike-friendly web sites argue that bike convoys are not excessive road use, but the legal text doesn't give any exemption for them. My (IANAL) legal understanding is that smallish bike convoys (say, a few subgroups of 2 x 5 or 2 x 8 bikes each) are not excessive, but I'd not be surprised if a convoy of 300 bikes would be considered to require such a permit because of the sheer number. Particularly considering that Swiss (and German) culture tends to put a lot of emphasis on organizing/planning everything: a convoy of 300 bikes is not something that I'd expect to happen here accidentally.


Update about Switzerland:

  • @bookmanB. pointed me to art. 43 Swiss Verkehrsregelnverordnung (traffic rules regulation).
    This article does allow > 10 bikes that are driving in "geschlossenem Verband" (convoi, but see below) to ride in two besides each other instead of single file if this doesn't hinder other traffic. It does not give any other rules for convoi riding, though.
  • In contrast to the German StVO, I could not find any rules nor privileges for convoys (geschlossene Verbände) in general.

  • I did find an answer letter by the police to a motor biker asking about convoy driving (Konvoifahrt):

    [...] Das Fahren im Konvoi ist in der Schweiz nicht erlaubt. Es gelten die allgemeinen Verkehrsregeln (Rotlicht, Stopp etc.). Es gibt keine Rechtsgrundlage, dass die Verkehrsregeln für Konvois nicht gelten würden. Ausnahmsweise wird für Konvois eine Bewilligung erteilt, sofern ein erhöhtes öffentliches Intresse daran besteht (vgl. Harley Ausfahrt für Krebskranke in Dübendorf). [...]
    Es ist auch schon vorgekommen, dass die Kantonspolizei, Organisatoren von Motorradausfahrten beraten hat, wie rechtskonform gefahren werden kann. Dabei empfiehlt die Kantonspolizei Zürich in Gruppen mit weniger als 20 Teilnehmenden zu fahren. [...]

    my translation:

    Convoy driving is not allowed in Switzerland. The normal traffic rules apply (red traffic light, stopping, etc.) There is no legal basis on which the usual rules would not apply to convois. In exceptional cases of higher public interest, special permits for convoi driving are granted (e.g. Harley tour for cancer patients in Dübendorf). [...]
    The cantonal police has given advise to organizers of motor bike tours on how to drive conforming to the law. In this case, the cantonal police of Zürich recommends going in groups of less than 20 participants. [...]

    Thus, no convoy priviledges without special permit (for civil individual traffic, military and civil aid can have special rules).

  • Passing: Art. 35 SVG (road traffic law)

    Im Kolonnenverkehr darf nur überholen, wer die Gewissheit hat, rechtzeitig und ohne Behinderung anderer Fahrzeuge wieder einbiegen zu können.

    Wer überholt, muss auf die übrigen Strassenbenützer, namentlich auf jene, die er überholen will, besonders Rücksicht nehmen.

    my translation:

    In Kolonnenverkehr [don't know the English expression, it's when the traffic goes in a file, but doesn't belong together as in a convoy], one can only pass if one is sure to be able to get back into the lane in a timely manner and without hindering other vehicles.

    Who passes, has to particularly consider other road users - especially those whom they are passing.

    Which was violated by the car driver. And of course, passing is only allowed if the necessary space is unambiguously clear.

    but also:

    Dem sich ankündigenden, schneller fahrenden Fahrzeug ist die Strasse zum Überholen freizugeben. Wer überholt wird, darf die Geschwindigkeit nicht erhöhen.

    The road is to be cleared for passing for the faster and signaling vehicle. The one who is passed, must not increase their speed.

    So maybe honking (in a non-aggressive [!]) manner is just signaling that they want to pass according to art. 35 SVG.

    Also, slow motorized traffic is required to leave space in front and even to pull out in order to allow faster traffic to pass (Art 10 VRV), but bikes are not mentioned in this respect. They'd still need to not hinder other road users any more than necessary, though.

  • 1
    It's a good legal answer, but leaving gaps in the convoy, while something we could have done, is not required per swiss law : admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19620246/index.html#a43 And anyway, the problem was the road being narrow and the driver acting dangerously, not the legality of the convoy – bookman B. Oct 1 at 8:50
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    Sounds like the problem was the road being narrow, the driver acting dangerously, the cyclists acting selfishly, and one particular cyclist acting extremely dangerously. – T.J.L. Oct 1 at 12:27
  • @T.J.L.: IMHO this is a very good summary :-) – cbeleites supports Monica Oct 1 at 12:37
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    While this answer summarises the applicable law well, it does not answer the actual question. To this question it is not relevant if the group of cyclist followed all formal regulations and if the organisers did do their job well. The driver was most definitely not allowed to overtake and did endanger everyone in the group. How can such a driver be stopped? – gschenk Oct 1 at 19:15
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    Yes, the riders in the group were at increased danger. Not only by being hit by the car but also by accidents amongst them. Stopping the car is necessary to prevent harm. I applaud everyone who has the courage to do so while accepting a real risk to themselves. The concept here is civil courage. Imagine yourself in a subway car where a thug harasses and threatens a vulnerable passenger. You would certainly intervene. – gschenk Oct 1 at 19:45
7

I'm both a cyclist and a motorist, so I know this situation from both sides, I suppose. In my experience, these situations can be avoided, if people are willing to be reasonable - once you move into the legalities of the matter, you have in effect lost the more important perspective, namely that all road users should be able to go about their lawful business in a safe way.

If you are a large group of cyclists on a narrow road, would it be unreasonable to hope that you would make room for a car to pass? As I understand it, this was a casual event - otherwise the arrangers would have talked to the police to have roads closed etc - so one would assume that people could ride single file when needed. Before you set out in a large group, you could easily have agreed on a simple set of rules for behaviour. As a motorist, I certainly know how it feels, having to drive 10 - 15 mph for miles behind a group of cyclists, who could easily give me a bit of room to pass. I, on the other hand always take care when I do pass. You know, even though you have time for leisure, I may be on my way to something important; shouldn't that matter too? I'm talking about being reasonable here.

As a cyclist, I have certainly also experienced aggressive idiots in cars - but most motorists are perfectly decent, and if you are reasonable, so are they. It is all about attitude - if your starting point is "it's my [expletive of your choice] right", then you won't get much sympathy from anybody.

  • 3
    Whether the cyclists can allow cars to pass them is really down to the width of the road. Cars are typically 2m wide, a cyclist 0.5m. Add to that 1m on each side of the road plus the 1.5m required lateral safety distance between car and cyclist, and you get a minimal road width of 6m for cars being able to overtake. If the road is less wide than that, as all single lane rural roads are, sorry, no overtaking. If motorists try it anyways, they are endangering the cyclists lives. – cmaster Oct 1 at 15:58
  • You are getting in to legalities here - as a cyclist myself, I would be willing to pull over and stand at the very margin of the road if necessary, and let the car inch past. – j4nd3r53n Oct 1 at 16:02
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    Well, yes, if you are standing, you don't need distance to the road's side anymore. And yes, when there is no better opportunity in sight, it's a nice thing to do. I sure prefer to reach a place where a road/whatever comes from the right so that I can really get out of the lane. And as long as the cyclists is riding, cars have to honor the lateral safety distance. Cyclists need to stand up for their right to sufficient lateral safety distance, because the ignorance of motorists endangers our lives! And taking your lane is the only way available to do that. – cmaster Oct 1 at 16:12
4

Quick summary:

How to handle motorists' dangerous behaviour with an impassable group?

You're quite right that the behaviour is dangerous, but it's also predictable, and that means you can manage it. Don't be an impassable group, but a selectively permeable one. That means you have to actively choose when to allow (and when to disallow) an overtake, and you have to actively manage the process.


When you're riding in a large group on the open road, the usual suggestions would be

  1. be aware of what's behind you - if a car is going to want to overtake, you should try to provide them with a good opportunity and actively block them from performing a dangerous overtake until that opportunity is ready.

    This requires paying attention, communicating with other riders, and communicating with the driver too. If they think you're just blocking the road and ignoring them for no reason, they're more likely to behave unwisely.

  2. When you want to let someone past, you need to form up into overtakeable groups. Staying two abreast is usually still best, because switching to single file encourages closer passing and increases the total length they have to pass. Two or three car lengths is the maximum that most drivers will be able to pass safely, and you need to leave a couple of car lengths between groups for them to slot back into.

  3. It must be a sequence of leapfrog overtakes, because otherwise they'll just ride alongside until they encounter oncoming traffic or run out of road, and make it your problem when they pull back in.

  4. You (or whoever is at the front of your group) frequently have better visibility of what's ahead, over the brow of a bridge or hill, or round the bend. Make a show of looking ahead and then signalling back if you think the driver is going to attempt an unwise overtake, and equally make a show of encouraging them on when it is safe. Many drivers are incapable of thinking about anything that might happen on the far side of the cyclist(s) ahead of them.

All of these either require the cyclists in the group to know what they're doing (and to have discussed beforehand how they'll act), or for some to act as marshals, making sure there's always a back marker, communicating with each other, and herding the other cyclists.

0

I had a situation a while ago on a very narrow road where there was a motor vehicle behind be unable to pass. No group, just me. I rode on until I got to a safe and convenient place to pull over, just before I hit a big hill that would have seriously slowed my pace.

The driver behind me was patient and happy to wait a minute, i was happy to let faster traffic pass when i was safely able to.

  • 1
    That's not practicable when you are a convoy several hundred meters long (no matter whether legally there is such a thing as a convoy of bicycles). And 300 bicycles are several hundred meters long. – Nobody Oct 1 at 14:04
  • You also cannot hope to communicate to such a long group to stop. If they are stopped they would need 10 min to move to the side, with dozens stumbling over each other. Bikes are difficult to move sideways. I have seen large rides with some hundred cyclists reducing from two to one lane to let emergency vehicles pass. It is even slow when everybody knows what is to be done and have space to move. – gschenk Oct 1 at 19:49
  • I think the key is, then that the circumstances where you're going out in a semi formal big group mean that there has to be some pre-arranged 'ground rules'. As in if it's clear you're holding up faster traffic then split up into smaller groups that are easier to safely overtake and, if necessary, can pull in to a layby or passing place for a few seconds. Does that sound reasonable? – Richard Clinker Oct 2 at 9:30
-3

To avoid a potential accident, my hotblooded reaction was to get in front of him and brake to force him to stop

There's nothing hotblooded at all about that reaction, even if you were angry or otherwise agitated by the driver's actions.

You acted in a perfectly rational manner to prevent an accident that would be life-threatening for any cyclist hit.

You prevented a !()%#! from being a deadly dangerous @!&(%$&!.

Your best option is to get an HD camera and video such interactions - and make clear in some manner that the motorist is being filmed.

Aggressive, angry (!*&@$&s tend to start behaving once they know their actions are being recorded for replay on YouTube and for law enforcement.

  • 4
    This was a dangerous thing for the OP to do. Assertiveness is fine when it doesn't put you in serious danger. – Ben Crowell Oct 1 at 1:24
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    Getting in front of the car was ok. Braking was not. In my country, the later classifies as a state offense (coercion). Imho, it was a mistake for the group to ride so far to the right (left?) that the motorist thought he could try overtaking them. I don't know how long they've been blocking the road, if it was for more than five minutes, traffic laws would require them to pull over and stop from time to time to let the motorists pass. Yes, I'm all for taking your lane. But your answer goes way too far as the bikers were not exactly innocent. Consequently, your language is inappropriate. – cmaster Oct 1 at 5:02
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    @cmaster I doubt the group was riding on the side. I expect more something like a 200m long stretch of lane which was thoroughly blocked (3 cyclists abreast, 2m per cyclists, 300 cyclists gives 200m). Motorists still try to overtake, I've seen shit like that. – Nobody Oct 1 at 13:58
  • Yeah, we were riding as much as possible on the right lane, but you know how it is in a critical, there will be some people on the other side if it's free – bookman B. Oct 1 at 14:42
  • Good idea, I'll defenitely get my phone out next time I find myself in a confrontation, and maybe have a bikecam in general – bookman B. Oct 1 at 15:21

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