John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
For years, riders in Canberra have been the targets of bottles, bricks, eggs, and other projectiles hurled from cars.
While it’s too soon to say if Australia’s cyclists will no longer face a bruising gauntlet of bricks, soda bottles, and ice cubes, the country has taken a step toward protecting them by making it illegal to toss objects at riders in the Australian Capital Territory.
What’s that, you say? The Canberra region actually needed to pass laws about not hurling stuff at strangers (and, for that matter, placing objects in their paths)? It may sound odd to foreigners, but to cyclists who’ve gotten every item from the local 7-Eleven thrown at their heads, this action is majorly overdue. Pelting bicycles is “unfortunately a relatively common practice,” a road-safety minister tells The Canberra Times, “and many regular cyclists will have a story of being hit or nearly hit by an object thrown from a car.” (Motorists giving cyclists’ asses a hard slap when passing also seems common; perhaps a future law can address that behavior.)
The minister’s statement seemed bizarre enough to warrant an investigation. And sure enough, years and years of news reports are full of missile attacks against cyclists. Here are a few of the more heinous ones, with a couple stories of other painful or rump-reddening road mayhem:
• From that Canberra Times report: “When Nathan Edwardson headed out with his cycling club for a relaxed lunchtime ride along Cotter Road last year, little did he know he would be just metres away from a serious injury or death…. As he and a pack of other riders rounded a bend on the popular cycling route, two half-bricks were thrown at them from a passing car. ‘They just came out of nowhere and flew right past my head,’ Mr Edwardson said.”
• The Age, January 2016: “Rider Melinda Fisher said she was lucky to be alive after she was hit in the head by a full 1.25 litre of Coke that was hurled from the car…. The projectile knocked her from her bike, leaving her with an injured shoulder and grazes. ‘These guys were out of control,’ she told radio station 3AW. ‘Who gets up in the morning and decides, I'm going to go throw bottles at cyclists?'”
• The Examiner, June 2014: “Kane Jae Denney, 25, of Ravenswood, was left shell-shocked after receiving two weeks’ prison for throwing a glass bottle at a female cyclist, which struck her wheel, and then punching her riding partner.… [Cycling Tasmania executive officer Colin Burns said] ‘I have been in races where people have gone past and thrown stubbies... in Victoria they’ve gone around and hit people with PVC piping as they’ve ridden down the road.’”
• The Canberra Times, March 2013: “A Canberra schoolteacher has been left with several broken ribs after vandals dumped several kilograms of rice on a busy bike path.… He believes someone has targeted cyclists by dumping rice on the path, and smoothing it out evenly. ‘It was just spread across the path, there was no way it could have been an accident and for it to be spread out so smoothly,’ he said.”
• This account in The Gold Coast Bulletin in February 2007 deserves more-extensive quoting:
Dr Walters rides from Miami to the hospital and says Surfers Paradise is a particular problem area with objects often thrown out of high rises.
''I was on my way to a night shift about 8pm or 9pm when an egg thrown off one of the high rises just missed me,'' he said….
Dr David Pearson, also a cyclist, said although no objects had been thrown at him, he was slapped on the backside twice from people in cars driving past....
''You're not expecting it and then you get this enormous pain across your arse.''...
Physiotherapist Rob Schmidt has had water bombs thrown at him and has been whipped with a 30cm piece of rubber by a motorist.
''I got a massive welt from that,'' he said.
• The Morning Bulletin, January 2012 (headline: “I Don’t Deserve To Be Pelted”): “Stefanie, who lives in Park Avenue, thinks there are some people who think it’s fun to pelt her and her bike and wonders if they have tried to knock her off the bike she uses to keep herself fit and active. She says that on one occasion a bottle hurled from a car struck the front wheel of her bike. The next day a rock thrown from a car window hit her on the upper leg and caused a big bruise. A few days later she was riding along when someone threw a handful of ice cubes at her, again striking her on the legs.”
• Sunday Territorian, February 2008: “Triathlete Sophie Hawken, who rides on Darwin’s roads every day, pleaded with drivers to give cyclists a break. ‘We get up at 4.30 a.m. to miss the traffic and even then, without fail, we get bottles thrown at us,’ she said.… THIRTEEN per cent of cyclists won't ride their bike to work or university because they say it is too scary. ALMOST 50 per cent of Territory drivers said they found cyclists to be a road hazard.”
• The Gold Coast Bulletin, 2006: “Three elite cyclists on a training run were injured when they were pelted with beer bottles and menaced by hoons in northern NSW. The carload of hoons stalked the group of seven cyclists, trying to force them off the road from behind and hurling bottles in a kilometre-long attack before turning around for a frontal assault. The bloodied and battered cyclists then waited for two hours on the roadside for police, who never showed up.”
• The Newcastle Herald, 2004: “Mr. Owers has been hit on the chest with a lit ‘bunger’ while he and wife Sue were riding their tandem cycle in King Edward Park. ‘It was just lucky it bounced off my chest and hit the ground before it went off,’ Mr Owers said. An experienced cyclist, who did not want to be named, told The Herald he had been hit in the back with batteries, pieces of steel and ‘just about anything these people can find.’”