Unwanted Advice

When I first started biking I didn’t know what I was doing. But I knew I was having fun. Yes, loads of fun, until…

Unwanted Advice

Yes, the unsolicited advice from strangers started coming. Of course some of it was useful advice. But no matter what it was also condescending. I wished they would be quiet and let me enjoy my ride. If I wanted bike help I could turn to my bike shop or the internet. I decided then to never give advice on the road.

Now with years of experience I have tons of tips I want to share too. When I bike in spring my inner monologue goes something like this:

Embarrassing Advice for Newbies

And when I see the newbie swerve I have to wonder:

The Newbie Swerve

But I just keep quiet and let everyone enjoy their ride and hope they keep riding… and maybe someday giving advice to others.

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40 Responses to “Unwanted Advice”

  • Nigel

    I wonder how regional or local culture works w/ this issue. I read ‘condescending’ here several times. That’s a mortal sin in my ‘hood (Montana). ‘Condescending’ never seems far from ‘SOB’ in our dialog.

    I wouldn’t offer advice so much as a hand. “Can I pump up that rear tire for ya? It’s nearly flat.” But even that’s pretty rare, as we tend to let forward motion stay that way.

    Insightful issue, Bikeyface.

  • Gingernut

    It seems it is the women who think that giving ‘advice’ is condescending. Why is that? I have on occasions let cyclists know that they need to have lights when riding at dusk/night. Don’t they realise it is hard to see them? AND … I am happy to move over from the six inches of bike track when there is a clearing to give the cars a chance to pass on by.

  • I often give unsolicited advice (typically about safety issues). It’s NEVER condescending. I do it because I care about other people who ride bikes and want them to be happy and safe and keep riding their bikes forever.

    When folks think someone else is being condescending, they’re often projecting their own insecurities. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could all just take advice at face value? I never judge others when riding a bike. I think it’s awesome. If they’re doing something that might jeopardize their safety, they often don’t realize this is the case. And most times, folks thank me for caring.

  • Vocus Dwabe

    There’s a medically recognised condition called “Dedman’s Syndrome” which manifests itself as an uncontrollable urge to assert one’s own authority by warning people of all manner of unlikely perils, like being struck by a meteorite or seized by a giant squid while strolling beside the Regent’s Canal. Some months ago in the small French town where I live, standing on the platform at the local railway station, a madwoman grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back from the platform edge “because the suction from a passing train might pull me onto the track”: highly unlikely (you would think) at a rural branch-line station where all trains stop, and none ever goes faster than walking speed because it’s the only passing place on the line. I thanked her for her concern for my wellbeing – but took good care to sit well away from her on the train in case she became violent.

    It’s the same with cycling: it does seem to attract people – at least in the English-speaking countries – who have an unappeasable itch to tell other cyclists how to go about their business: the sort of folk who probably sneer at your choice of tyre-valve dust caps. Though meant ironically (I hope…) The Velominati’s recent publication “The Rules” pretty well sums up this sub-fascistic mindset. My favourite among the ninety-five commandments was the instruction to make sure that when fitting a tyre, the label should always line up with the valve. Myself, if you’d asked my opinion, I’d have said that the label should be opposite the valve so as to avoid the wheel being unbalanced by the couple of milligrams’ extra weight. But really, if all you have to do in life is worry about things like that then you really should get out more: perhaps go for a nice ride on your bike.

    In Indian proverb says that “if you scratch your ear like this [reaches over head to scratch left ear with right hand] then you probably have a very good reason for doing so”. Unless I saw something positively dangerous, like a briefcase falling off a rear carrier, then I’d never dream or remarking upon what another cyclist does. Biking home one evening in Holland a few years ago I saw ahead of me what I took at first to be a nine-foot man riding a bicycle – until I realised that it was a youth being given a lift by a friend and actually standing on the carrier. It’s perfectly legal to carry passengers in the Netherlands, and they both seemed to know what they were doing, so who was I to pass comment?

    Cycling is about freedom: apart from the traffic law which applies equally to all road users, it has no rules other than those of courtesy and common sense.

  • Vocus Dwabe

    Sorry, forgot to switch off the italics after “standing”. It’s the Asperger’s Syndrome…

  • Kris R

    I’ll offer to oil their chain if another rider is riding in a group (because I carry oil with me and the squeaking is just godawful), and maybe tell them that their helmet is on backwards only because it’s actually a safety issue, but that’s about it.

  • Charlie

    So if I see someone who’s clearly new to biking with the seat too low and the knees practically smacking their chin as they struggle to pedal, should I not say something? Like “oh hey there, I noticed your seat looks kind of low. if you raise it up, it will be much easier to pedal. i can help you do it if you’d like.” Or should I be worried that they will be offended by my efforts to try to make their experience more enjoyable?

    Regarding the men given women advice thing, I think a lot of men just have the urge to be helpful or chivalrous, or maybe they just think the woman is pretty and is looking for a way to talk to her. Haha

    I don’t know, it seems like folks are being a little too sensitive about this issue. I am a very experienced bicyclist, and occasionally people offer me suggestions, but generally I’m grateful that they are trying to help, rather than annoyed that they somehow think I’m stupid. For example, I have a rear blinky light that turns off automatically after 1 minute and doesn’t have a button on it. So often times when I walk away from my bike, someone will say “oh you left your light on.” Rather than get all offended that they think I’m stupid for leaving it on, I say “oh thanks! it will turn off by itself”

    • Kris R

      I too have the automatic blinky light, and people search all over for a button. I have a generator front light too with a standby light, which is equally entertaining. My general response is, “Hey, thanks for pointing that out, but it’ll turn itself off in about a minute.”

      RE: the seat & pedal thing for better comfort, I will only say something if they’re stopped and off the bike, e.g. rest stop or getting water, or if they say something like, “You make it look so easy!” I’ll respond with something like, “It’s because this bike is set up for me. Most people have their seats further up than yours, for example, because it helps them pedal.”

      Sometimes it’s because the rider prefers it that way. My fiancee freaks out when she can’t touch the ground so her seat is intentionally set low.

    • “So if I see someone who’s clearly new to biking with the seat too low and the knees practically smacking their chin as they struggle to pedal, should I not say something?”

      even bare bones cheapie stores that sells you a Walmart/Target bike, the sales associate probably wouldn’t just sell it to you like that if you’re awkwardly fitted that way (never seen anyone leave those stores with a bike that fit them THAT poorly). another scenario would be that if i saw someone riding like that i figured that bike is probably not even theirs and it’s their kids bike (or it’s those little BMX bikes which i’m sure has a totally different style of fitting).

  • Thanks for this comic, Bikeyface. As always, you’re on the mark! Occasionally I’ve experienced people trying to offer me advice. Both incidents that really stick in my mind involve white people over age 40, and in one a man actually trailed me to say (essentially) that’d I’d gotten in his way. I’m a young, black woman on a bike in the city, so I REALLY don’t know what I’m doing, right?!

    Eh. There’s some old stuff happening there -gender, race, age. I’m over it.

    Barring actual danger (like hard-to-see road hazards or crazily swerving vehicles, etc.), my opinion is that it’s best to let people just go about their business. They’ll figure it out.

  • mouse

    Just cleared my first month of daily bike commuting. This comic is a couple of months old now but I wanted to comment as I can certainly see both sides. Delivery can often make a big difference. I had a guy point out at a light that my quick release looked off on my front tire and offered to give me a hand. It turns out it was so loose my front wheel was liable to come off and I was a bit embarrassed but happy for his help. He departed with the friendly inclusive comment of ‘it’s a great way to get around, isn’t it?’

    Today I had a guy pull up to me in the bike box while I was waiting for the light after crossing at the shared bike/pedestrian crossing and doing a box turn. Without so much as a smile he said “cars can’t see you if you whiz out across the road before the turn. They’re expecting pedestrian speeds.” before taking off with the green. I had made eye contact and got the nod from the driver who had been waiting to turn right and wasn’t exactly tearing across the intersection so I felt a bit … rankled by his unsolicited advice. At the same time, it’s still GOOD advice and it’s true, maybe I could go even slower on those intersections. Can’t be too careful. I spent the rest of my ride feeling both irritated but mindful of triple checking at intersections where the separated bike/mixed use path meets with pedestrian crossings. It’s funny because I know it’s the kind of things a lot of car drivers mutter (or shout) inside their cars at fellow motorists (god knows my father is fond of ‘instructing’ drivers who cannot/will never hear him when he’s behind the wheel – “Pull into the right if you’re going to turn! Use your signal! GO, it’s GREEN! Damnit, ease off the gas you’ll wear out your breaks, can’t you see there’s a red ahead?!” – which is super helpful(/s) for passengers in his car), but it’s only really on a bike that you get that kind of intimate opportunity for interaction.

  • David Booth

    The problem with “unwanted advice” is that there is no objective difference between a helpful suggestion and unwanted advice: it depends on how the *receiver* chooses to interpret it. Sure, “advice” can be said in an obnoxious or condescending way, and that’s rude. But it is also rather obnoxious for the recipient of well-intended advice to be so self-centered as to think that the observer should somehow know what the recipient knows about the condition of his/her bike, helmet, scarf, loose package, open backpack, etc., . . . especially if the recipient *appears* to that observer to be unaware of that condition.

    If well-intended advice is given but not wanted, a polite recipient can simply answer: “Thanks, I know”, or just “Thanks” if he/she didn’t know but still doesn’t care.

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