Signs and signals – what you wear and how people treat you

I started riding in a college town in late 2010 wearing regular clothes and a hat my girlfriend bought me. In the 8 months of so I was riding around town I only had one or two negative experiences that were relatively benign. Once a domino’s delivery driver buzzed me and once a drunk dude told me in a regular speaking voice to move out of the road. The times I was riding were mainly during the midday or late at night. Usual traffic was stay-at-home parents and college students.

Then I moved to a suburb of Atlanta in Gwinnett County in 2011. Much higher traffic roads and a much wider variety of road traffic. I wore the same type of regular clothes and hat and was riding in the morning after commuting hours. Usual traffic was stay-at-home parents, delivery truck and landscaping trucks. The only negative experience from 2011 to mid-2013 I remember was when a passenger opened his door to try to hit me as he was passing at more than double my speed. I followed him to his destination as the driver pulled in right after they passed me, he got out, walked to his pouch and started ranting at me. I think he had some mental issues as his posture and syntax was really strange. I just watched from across the street for a bit and then rode off.

In the spring of 2013 I bought a road bike and started racing. I bought racing kit, a helmet and stopped wearing regular clothes. In the 6 months I rode around Gwinnett County wearing racing kit I had several negative experiences. Several times I was honked at, people flipped me off, a high school student tried to brake check me into the curb/back of his car. Once a old man honked and yelled at me as he passed and then pulled over at the next turnout and got out of his car – I just rode by confused at his aggressive posture and screaming. People also seemed to pass closer and faster and use less care in choosing where to pass.

There are other incidents I cannot recall but the experiences live on in license plates kept in my notes and Strava titles listing make/model of car but nothing else.

It’s hard to quantify the changes and kind of hard to say my experience was in any way objective but truly I noticed a difference in how I was treated on the road due to a simple change of attire. I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve abandoned wearing racing style cycling kit. I ride in a t-shirt, cutoff shorts and a cap under my helmet. It’s been about three months and I’ve noticed the same changes mentioned above. People just don’t treat you quite so shit when you’re wearing regular clothes. Now, I read enough about other’s experiences to know that regular clothes are not armor against impatience and a 4,000 pound automobile but they do seem to tone down the aggression from drivers.

What it is about racing kits that signals to drivers that this person requires less care and caution?

 

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