Commuter Races

A quick pit stop during this morning’s “race”

So, this morning I’m cruising along, whistling a happy tune, noticing the birds along the trail, when on my left a bike rider whips around me like a sprinter going for the gold in the Olympic Velodrome. As he passes, he gives me a look back, not unlike the look Lance gave Jan Ullrich in the ’01 Tour. I kept lazily rolling along, keeping my pace nice and slow to keep from perspiring in my work clothes. I caught up at the next stop light where I flashed a friendly nod and smile that was met with a steely-eyed, racer-like grimace. When the light turned green, he bolted like Mark Cavendish off the front of the peloton in a final sprint, leaving me in the dust.

When I arrived at the train station a few minutes later, I noticed my rival on the platform, covered in sweat, but basking in the glory of perceived victory. But alas, it was not to be. I stowed away my bike in my bike locker, then I flashed a little grin as I slipped on the train ahead of him and grabbed the prime seat next to the exit, stealing victory from his clutches at the line.

You gotta’ love commuter races… :-)

56 Responses to “Commuter Races”

  • Jim says:

    Most bike riders are tools.

  • sean in calgary says:

    This post really hits home for me. Here in Calgary we have a huge network of multi-use pathways that many cyclists use for commuting to the core. Many of these cyclists ride really aggressively (as you described in your post) and seem to revel in passing as many other users as possible. We have coined a term for them –

    Pathway Olympian.

  • Rick says:

    When I lived in L.A., I used to tell people from out-of-town that, when driving in the city, “the faster you go, the longer it takes”; biking seems to be pretty much the same way.

    However, I still get the most pleasure while cycling on city streets: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the same thing with cars–they race ahead to the next light, and I catch up; they race ahead to the next light, and I catch up…repeat as necessary. Oh, and don’t forget to give that friendly nod to the driver when you make eye contact! :-))

  • RDW says:

    I’ve never understood the competition thing, guess I just don’t have the competitive spirit.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Commuter races can be fun. I like to stay just ahead of riders like this slowly adding speed as necessary to stay ahead. It is one of the advantages of my mirrors :)

    I shower at work and don’t need to stay clean and clear of sweat.

  • Chase says:

    Hahaha, great story. I experience these people everyday in Seattle. There is no point in sprinting to the next red light when you can just cruiser and catch all greens. :)

  • John says:

    I’m a commuting racer, but I only race with myself. It’s my workout. I have showers and towel service at work, so the sweat is not an issue. I hold no grudges against anyone going slower than me – and I always give them an audible when passing unless I go way wide around the other cyclist (like in the next car lane).

    Besides, sometimes gunning it is worth it. On NW Broadway in Portland, all the lights are timed for about 25 MPH. If you can catch the green light at Hoytt, you’ll not catch another red or yellow until Burnside (and that one you might still get lucky with) if you keep the pace up.

    Still, even this morning, I saw one of the guys that fits closer to your description. He came to my inside on a red-light right turn, passed me wide when I went to make an immediate left at the next street, then he was smack dab on the bumper of the car that slowed me down in the first place. He ran the next stop sign. He passed a petalon of commuters jammed up on the Broadway Bridge without giving any audible, squeezing dangerously close as he tried to pass cyclists yielding to pedestrians on the mixed path. As I got to the next light, there he was, like a douche, jockeying to get in front of everyone else that was waiting int he bike box. As I reached my destination, peeling off his route, I was still – in the end – only about 3 bike lengths back without having to pull a single douche maneuver like this guy had. They guy had the stink of a fair-weathered commuter about him too.

  • Wayne says:

    Some people use their commute as part of their training. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Mark says:

    I like to ride fast but I only worry about how I compare with other rides when I’m actually in a race. No need to get competitive or snobbish with others who are riding along at their own pace just trying to get to work or wherever. Absolutely no need for the Lance Armstrong “look.” I never understood that. Unfortunately, I rarely get to actually see any other riders during my current commute route.

  • Mr. Dottie says:

    Love it! I understand that some people want to squeeze in a workout while also doing the mandatory commute and I agree it would save some time on a busy day, but this scenario is hilarious to me. A sweaty butt on a train ride (or any other seat) sounds very uncomfortable and may be considered unsanitary by others.

  • Rex says:

    When I saw the post title I thought it was going to be about themed races wherein the participants have to ride in non cycling clothes whilst carrying a laptop, a clean shirt and a lunch. Maybe a new trend waiting to emerge…

    Anyway, I will submit the friendly but dissenting opinion that this situation is not always as it seems. I don’t endorse competitive grimaces or other impolite gestures, but absent those I grant that there are plenty of good reasons a faster rider might pass me, the most likely of which being that he or she is simply capable of going faster and enjoys utilizing that capacity. I know I would and I wouldn’t mind sweating to do it (if you’re sweat averse in Phoenix you just stay inside May – Sept). And even with stop lights it’s not always cat and mouse; usually after two or three the faster rider catches a green that the slower one misses and that’s the end of it.

    I’m just sayin’.

  • Alan says:


    “Some people use their commute as part of their training. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

    Agreed. Though you have to admit it’s a little silly when someone behaves as if they’re racing you (over-the-shoulder glances, scowls, etc.) when you’re out for a leisurely stroll in the park.


  • Yangmusa says:

    I am fortunate that my office is only 3 miles away. There are no showers, so I ride at a very leisurely pace. However, I used to work in an office with showers, and I really enjoyed taking the long way to work on some days and getting some exercise – in which case the pace was higher. I think there’s room for both – if someone enjoys going fast, why not? Of course there’s no need for negativity, and if someone obviously “needs” to pass everyone then that’s just weird…

  • Wayne says:

    @Alan, sure I agree with you.

    If somebody that I’ve passed catches me at a junction, then I nearly always give them a nod if not a “hi”.

  • Bliss Chick says:

    I’ve never understood the game-face deal while bike commuting. I smile and wave to other bikers, even when I’m training, and I’m usually met with stony states from the lycra crowd. Life’s too short.

    Love this guy’s cartoons on the topic!

  • Richard says:

    What I can’t stand is when these aggro-racer types get outraged at anyone going slower than time-trial pace on the bike path. I’ve seen these guys yell at four-year-olds on training wheels before.

    My worst experience with this was when one of these clowns blew past me on the bike path, then immediately turned, covered one nostril, and blew his nose. I was hit with snot. When I caught him at the next intersection, I rather politely said he should look behind him next time he did so. Rather than apologize, he sneered, “I don’t have a mirror!” When I then said he should turn around and look, he began shouting at me that he didn’t have time for such things. My blood still boils at this.

  • Bryan says:

    I typically ride at a medium-to-fast pace, but I don’t mind speedy bikers going around me, nor do I look down upon the people that I pass. Passing while riding is one thing—butting in line at a light is another thing altogether (in my opinion). Nothing during my commute is more annoying than approaching a long red light, stopping behind the other cyclists already there, and having someone butt to the front of the line and blocking the entire crosswalk. Usually, it’s someone on a comfort bike (I see the same people almost every day, so not generalizing here) only capable of 2 mph, which clogs the entire bike lane for the next couple of blocks. My commute is through downtown Philly, so we have a narrow bike lane and typically car traffic is bad enough that passing in the adjacent lane isn’t an option.

    While on the topic of commuting pet peeves, here are two more—cyclists who ride slowly through red lights and almost get themselves T-boned, and cyclists who cut right in front of me into the bike lane from a side street without stopping or even looking.

    I’m all for everyone riding bikes and not sitting in cars, but the sheer increase in the number of riders during the past 10 years has clogged the already-meager biking infrastructure in this city. I’d love to see two adjacent bike lanes, or one very wide one! Lord knows those changes would keep my bike-rage in check. Alan, I’m not sure if you have before, but I would love to see a post on bike-commute etiquette.

  • dave says:

    My commute is 34 miles round-trip and due to the normal daily air flow pattern it’s a headwind both ways. Going home the typical sustained windspeed is 15mph-20mph. I find myself annoyed by the riders that cruise along at a pace that’s 5mph – 10mph slower than my normal pace but will immediately jump on my wheel when I pass. They never say hi. They never take a turn at the front. And they never say thanks for letting me do all the donkey work. I ride at a decent pace because I’d like to keep my commute time down to an hour. Most of the riders I see are friendly and courteous. But there are a few that don’t seem to understand that the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around them.

  • Doug R. says:

    As a bike trail rider, I get the “Lance Wanna Be” tribe members doing the nasty “On your left” pass all the time. I just smile, or say ” yes sir or yes maam” as they blow by. I do not appreciate the stare or the blow by with no warning. Some of these fools can cause serious accidents! I have seen this on the trail! I actual meet nice riders who pause for a moment and comment on my bike being the “Coolest on the trail” before they zoom off to never land, but my point is you don’t see the deer or the other wild life as you are in the imaginary race! Nor, do you meet a potential new friend. I like the workouts, but I temper it with just being a grateful viewer of my world from the back of a nice ride. Dougman.

  • bongobike says:

    Ha! It never ceases to amaze and amuse me. You see these guys around Austin all the time. Some days it seems everybody on the street is a Lance wannabee (hey, it’s Lance’s hometown, right?), dressed to the hilt in their “kit”. Some are nice and polite, others just plain idiots who, on top of being rude or arrogant, do every wrong thing in the book, from running red lights to riding in the dark without lights, to taking whole lanes unnecessarily.

    You reminded me of my encounter with one of these sweethearts when I read your recent post about triggering traffic light changes. I was going to tell his story then, but I went “nah”. But now it’s twice you’ve reminded me of him, so here it goes: I get to this red light where Lance Wannabee is waiting. I nod “hi”, no response. We wait through an entire light cycle, which is not short at this intersection, and I realize that he’s not pushed the button or stopped inside the sensor area. So I go push the button and then let him know, nicely, that we need to either push the button or put our tires directly on the grooves in the pavement to trigger the “magnetic” sensor (I guess that’s what I called it, I don’t know how they work). He proceeded to respond in a very sarcastic tone that “well, I guess I’ll just have to put some magnets on my bike then”. I laughed, which may have made him even madder, and as soon as the light turned green, he took off like a bat out of hell.

    What make me laugh now even more is that a guy who commented on that post says he put some magnets on his bike and that they work for him! That guarantees I will never forget that day. :-)

  • John says:

    Yes, I get my workout in on my ride to and from work, but when I pass someone, I do check over my shoulder to make sure I’m well past the person and clear before moving back in line – so this occurred to me:

    If I’m panting or straining, that might look like a smug look or a grimace (certainly not a smile). But all I’m doing is being courteous at that point, making sure I’m not cutting the passed rider off.

    BTW, I’m not all that fast (I’ve got a heavy 34 pound bike plus panniers), but I do pass plenty of people and then I’m also passed by plenty fair-weathered riders that pull out the carbon rockets when the Portland rain stops. I always say “thank you” to riders that give me an audible before passing closely (unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of riders I’m unable to say thank you to). In turn, I always give an audible to riders I pass if I’m close enough that we could reach out and touch each other with arms outstretched.

  • Carroll says:

    Bike lanes? Commuter trains? Must be nice. Indianapolis has one main bike thoroughfare, and the bike racks on the buses are usually filled up (but who wants to ride the bus anyways, it’s slower than my bike).

  • Logan says:

    Great Story! :) I’ve played both of those roles in the past. :)

  • Buck says:

    If it was you day off, would you have dropped the hammer?

  • ontario bacon says:

    It sounds like you are the one who felt a race was taking place.

    Don’t worry. There is always someone who is faster than you, and there is always someone who is slower than you. If you get passed, just stay cool and take it like a man. And don’t try to catch up with the guy or girl who passed you.

  • Molnar says:

    John’s point about the unintentional look of a grimace sounds right to me (not that I deny the existence of jerks who really do sneer), although my experience is reversed. I have noticed that I get a lot more smiles from runners and walkers when I’m going fairly fast on a racing bike than when I’m commuting at slow speed. It may be that they are just amused by how I look in Lycra and wool, but I think it’s because my grimace looks like a smile. There was a top racer in the 70’s named “Smiling” George Mount for whom that was definitely true; it worked out well for him, because his opponents were often demoralized by seeing him smiling as they were ready to collapse. Of course, the fact that he was a magnificent athlete didn’t hurt, either.

  • Billi says:

    I do train on my commute, I don’t wear lycra when I commute, I do on longer rides, I do ride in the rain, I don’t care if you pass me, I’m not impressed by your awkward trackstand at the light, I do get pissed when I almost run over you in the dark because you have no light, I won’t judge you for not wearing a helmet, but I don’t understand why you are carrying one dangling from your handlebars. and I know don’t get there any faster by going faster, sometimes I just like to go fast.

  • Darryl Jordan says:

    It amused me reading these posts that people are racing to get to work but not racing to get home. Hmmm.
    I wonder if if it’s not the race but the time clock to get to work is the real incentive?
    Or if it is the need to get away or stay away from the house the propulsion to move fast in the morning?
    For me it is getting to work on time.

  • Richard Masoner says:

    Now awaiting your “I always pass the guys dressed in full kit with their expensive carbon bikes like they’re standing still” post. :-)

  • Perry says:

    Haha. Like! It’s always amusing to find yourself in a race you didn’t enter. Winning it though is priceless!

  • Alan says:

    @Richard M.

    I wish! I’m slow as a tortoise… LOL.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    I fall into the lycra and go faster (not fast) group . It’s simply the most comfortable outfit for the kind of riding I do, which would be sweaty no matter what because of the many steep hills and long distances. I don’t have to commute to work now (I work at home), but when I did, I washed up either in the university showers or in the bathroom, and changed into casual clothes for the job. Pushing on the ride is part of my keep fit campaign, and my body feels better for it all day.

    I acknowledge everyone on a bike who I see, even if they’re condescending toward someone on a steel bike with panniers and handlebar bag and *GASP* a rearview mirror. I announce on those rare occasions when I meet someone going my way who also happens to be slower. Not many cyclists around here, and I don’t care what they wear. I’m delighted to see anyone on a bike because they want to be there. Some are racers or wannabes, and some (in the street clothes crowd as well as the go fast crowd) scowl and behave like bores, but most are cordial.

    What you describe, Alan, reminds me more of the drivers who are impatient to the point of passing on double lines, only to end up stopped at the same lights as the following vehicle who they passed. It might be funny, if this didn’t also indicate a deep-seated impatience or even rage, and that’s darned dangerous in a motor vehicle. I had one chase me when I was on my bike. He was angry about something or other and I was the one who hove into his sights. He followed me into a parking lot, moving at speed. He came to an abrupt halt at a curb which had a drain slot that I slipped through. Sweet!

  • Nico says:

    Like a scene from the TV show ‘Seinfeld,” in addition to the grin you flashed him, you could have quietly said, “I win.”

  • j. pierce says:

    I’m not fast at all, but I can climb a hill pretty damn good. I love riding a fully loaded IGH steel bike with a porteur rack and panniers, in jeans and a t-shirt, and pulling past a guy on carbon with aerobars, full kit and aero helmet. I know he’ll blast past me on the flats of the downhills, and I’m not racing, just riding how I like to ride uphill, (get it over with already) but it’s funny to see him grimace and take it personally.

    I always try and ask before drafting.

    During my commute I get more annoyed by folks salmoning up the oneways (or worse, on the wrong side of a street with paths on both sides) who refuse to move; or folks who haphazardly dart back-and-forth between the sidewalk and the bike path without looking. (usually guys with full suspension; I guess you need to justify riding that as a commuter?)

    I also can’t seem to keep my mouth shut when I see folks riding MTBs/sloping top tube bikes on the road with saddles set *way* too low, trying their damnedest to pedal with their knees up around their ears; they don’t appreciate my advice on bike fit.

    No lights is also pretty bothersome, especially when they dart like a bat out of hell from driveways and between cars. As another poster mentioned, I don’t judge on the helmet question, but what is it doing, protecting your handlebar grips? I also get worried the number of commuters who either don’t buckle their helmets, or have it pushed all the way back on their head like a yarmulke. Particularly when I see parents riding with their children wearing helmets like this.

    I also hate getting stuck behind folks who never learned to shift and are swerving around the lane trying to move forward in their highest gear, with two heavy bags hanging off their handlebars.

    Fixed gear kids who can’t figure out how to get out of their clips and then do anything to avoid stopping can be frustrating too…

    wow, I just realized I’m a lot more bitter than I thought! I don’t actually get upset about all this, just kind of quietly bemused, rolling eyes sort of thing…

  • Saddle Up says:

    As a 51 year old that smoked cigarettes for 35 years, I put the hammer down and ride fast because I can. It has nothing to do with you!

  • Alan says:

    @Saddle Up

    “As a 51 year old that smoked cigarettes for 35 years, I put the hammer down and ride fast because I can.”

    That’s awesome – congrats!

    “It has nothing to do with you!”

    Well, yeah, you’re like 1000 miles away or more… ;-))

    Have a nice holiday!

  • Tim S says:

    love it!

  • Paul says:

    I wear my work clothes while commuting so i can’t ride at speed on the way to work in the morning. On the way home it’s a different matter. I like to ride as fast as possible to get in some decent exercise.

    There is always one chap who seems to ride at an average pace but when I pass by looks offended and will race me. He tries to go around me, and when he fails (he always fails lol ), if he can maintain my speed he will sit a few inches behind me and let me do the heavy lifting.

    He is stubborn though .. if he can’t maintain my speed he will still be going as hard as he can while 10 bike lengths behind me.

    I have no idea who he is or where he lives. Just some mysterious guy on the bike path network.

  • Eric says:

    I live in Korea, where cycling is quickly becomeing the national pastime. Seoul is interconnected by a sytem of paved paths along the han river and the rivers that feed into it.

    I’ll offer up another kind of cyclist you don’t see in America…In Korea 60, 70 and sometimes 80 year old chain-smoking, soju-drinking guys ride EVERY day, because they have nothing better to do! These guys ride FAST (20mph+). I like to ride hard, but at 35 these guys blow past me on a regualr basis. Full lycra gear, $7K titanium bikes and so many lights, bells, and accessories you can’t see the handlebar. But they only ride on the paths, and every 10 miles or so they stop for a smoke. And watch out for the snot rockets and spit!!!

    Last week I saw an old guy in full lycra going top speed on a baby blue girl’s bike with a basket! More power to’em…I’ hope I’m that fast at 80!


  • Xipe says:

    Silly commuter racing is the best racing. :)

  • Buck-50 says:

    Meh. Says more about us when we notice such things.

    Everyone rides for their own reason. I ride fast, wearing lycra, towing a giant burley trailer. It makes me happy. I ring my bell, pass people and in turn get passed. Sometimes people I pass catch up to me at lights. Good for them. Sometimes, they don’t catch up. No big deal.

    Best advice I ever got about riding was to ride you own ride and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, let them ride their own ride.

  • Mr. David says:

    You write well. Keep it up.

  • David says:

    Not everyone going fast on the trail is competing. Some of us are exercising. Of course, it’s never helpful to be rude when passing.

  • Alan says:


    “Best advice I ever got about riding was to ride you own ride and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, let them ride their own ride.”

    Agreed. I get passed on a daily basis and never think a thing about it. I can’t help but notice though, when someone actively engages me as if I’m involved in a race when I’m obviously a slow, middle-aged geek on a touring bike loaded down with cargo. That, I find a little puzzling, if not mildly amusing (hence the humorous tone of the OP).


  • Doug V says:

    I enjoying pushing myself and going fast for my 18 mile commute each way………….it allows me to get a good work out and see what I can do. I do however smile at everyone I pass and say “good morning” to as many folks as I can………..we all ride at our own pace and for our own reasons………..and I hope FUN is a big part of it!!

  • Neil O says:

    “Best advice I ever got about riding was to ride you own ride and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, let them ride their own ride.”

    In addition I try to always smile and wave, and say hello at the stop lights. I can’t understand why some people grimace and frown but I certainly don’t worry about it.

  • Tiny says:

    I had to grimace when I encountered a guy riding against the flow of traffic pulling a trailer with garden tools while talking on his cell phone. I do admire his anarchist riding style, though.

  • Herzog says:

    I hate people that cycle on the local MUP for exercise. It’s simply too narrow and full of pedestrians, strollers, rollerbladers, toddlers, groups of people for cyclists to be able to maintain any pace that would be suitable for exercise.

  • Adam says:

    My commute involves a multi use trail that connects parking facilities for hospital staff… It is nuts sometimes to try and find a way around nurses walking 3 or 4 wide and talking. They don’t hear you when you ask to get around. I usually end up riding around in the grass. I don’t really know any other way. Another frequent problem is folks with iPods and cell phones. Even if you try to let them know you’re coming, they don’t hear you…

    Bells are a good thing–sometimes folks hear them better than anything you’re saying.

  • Don Bybee says:

    I agree with Herzog. During a lot of times the bike trail is not the most approptiate place to do hard training rides. During the morning commute it is pretty deserted but watch out on a Saturday afternoon. There is such a high number of users with a wide range of abilities that it is often not safe to ride fast and hard. At those times it would be more appropriate to hammer on the deserted valley farm roads around town or to go do some hill climbing in the coast range or up the Morman Immigrant Trail. But oh wait…if I am riding those roads no one will see my steely, stern go fast face and realize what a serious rider I am.

    The term “on your left” is good to use to warn of your approach but on my trail it has also come to mean, “I am coming around you, whether it is safe or not, whether it is a blind corner, or whether someone is approaching from the opposite direction, You better hold your line as I squeeze past.” On those busy days it feels safer riding in traffic.

    Sacramento, Ca

  • Jack says:

    I am planning a post about choosing a route and attitude (but I am planning a lot of things, but I really do mean to get to this one). The greenways I ride most of my commute are mixed use, but actually pretty lightly used at the times I ride. I have come to realize that some riders don’t like them because they have to sometimes slow down. To them riding, even commuting, is a sport. They are training with every turn of the cranks and they would rather ride in traffic than slow down to under 15 MPH because someone is walking their dog down the greenway.

  • Garth says:

    I seem to ride in the off peak commuting time, so don’t run into a lot of people. I do love bike-watching, though. To see who’s riding what, kind of an anthropological fashion thing, I guess.

    I like the comment about riding your own ride and not worrying about anyone else. If someone is drafting me, I just slow down and let them pass.

    What can be awkward is riding parallel to someone for a long time. It becomes apparent you simply coincided and you have the same riding speed. Being a fellow human, I often feel a tension in wanting to say hi and acknowledge the other person, but also respecting each of our spaces. My ride is also my thinking time.

    I notice that I also speed up a little bit after someone passes me. Perhaps it’s the herd mentality kicking in?

    I think an interesting angle to this discussion on commuting social interaction is flirting. One time I found a very friendly young lady riding parallel to me who wasn’t at all hesitant to strike up a conversation. Being already married I tried to be polite and pleasant, but not too much! Admittedly, it was still flattering!

  • SFF says:

    I would just like to see another bike commuter along my route. I’ve been biking to work for just over a year now and I’ve seen maybe 2 or 3 other bike commuters during that time. Sure gets lonely out here sometimes.

  • kanishka says:

    i agree with the lonely sentiment. i love seeing anyone else on the same direction or opposite direction as me, or having anyone pass me. re-energizes me, and reminds me that i’m not a freak. i live in the suburbs, really car focused plus lance wannabes, for the summer, and i live in a rurul/suburb during school year, which is just very empty.

    one of my favorite bike transportation moments was when i was riding from my hostel to the bus station one weekday morning, leaving boston. actually running into 3-4 other bikers at the same time, place, pace as me for a long stretch of road. i just wanted to strike up a conversation, but didn’t know if it was too mundane for them to run into other commuters

  • Courtesies. Positivities. Mammaries. « Car-Free in PVD says:

    […] distance and occasionally roll my eyes in his general direction. There was no need to get in a commuter race. On this stretch of Canal Street, I often glance behind me to see what the cars are up to, but this […]

  • ted says:

    Why is everyone here so pleasantly civil? Ifeel as though I’ve strolled in the room and sat down to listen to a conversation among nice, ‘normal’ people. I think I’m really tired of going to the snobbish racer guy blog’s to ask advise, only to leave their feeling so stupid for having asked my question.
    Thanks for not being a bunch of jerks!

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