Earlier this summer, a couple in southeast Houston found themselves staring down a furious man in a Dodge Charger sedan. Moments earlier, the man had revved his engines and buzzed by them, nearly striking the duo while screaming about how bikes didn’t belong on the road. The couple thought the confrontation was over after that, but the driver returned, pointed the car at them, and gunned it over a patch of grass in a brazen attempt to run them down.
The husband drew a pistol as the car hit his wife’s bicycle. Then he pulled the trigger three times, shattering glass and injuring the driver. That was the end of the fight — and the driver, 26-year-old Jose Angel Hernandez, was hospitalized with minor injuries and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for inciting the violence.
It’s the clearest example of how irrational road rage against cyclists has bloomed and rotted in America, and what people are willing to do to secure their safety when the cards are stacked against them.
Collisions between cyclists and drivers have been steadily increasing since 2009, with more than 800 cyclists killed annually in crashes with motor vehicles since 2015. The fatalities are rising as biking has gotten more popular and mainstream, but the correlation is concerning — more cyclists should mean more safety measures, awareness and tolerance. Yet, road rage remains a major fear for people who want to travel on bikes, and there’s little signs it’s getting better in a place like Texas, where violence toward cyclists has only gotten more extreme.
It’s not much of a surprise, then, that people in gun-obsessed America are turning to carrying a firearm while riding as a way to feel safer and more in control of conditions that make them the most vulnerable figure on the road. It’s the subject of debate on bike forums and Reddit, with questions of practicality — and plenty of mockery of why someone would strap up for a bike ride, too.
But it’s also obvious how the sensation of a person enraged at you for no reason, attacking from behind the wheel of a two-ton chunk of metal, might inspire one to make the leap to holstering a pistol when they go for a long ride. So it was for Doogie Roux, an artist, consultant and avid cyclist in Houston who began riding with a gun when he moved from Louisiana to Texas in 2012. He hadn’t encountered as many problems in his home state, but Texas seemed a different beast; within the first year, he was intimidated by drivers, pelted with insults and ran off the road.
“When we look at shared spaces in Texas, especially our highways, the sight of a cyclist should just mean, ‘Hey, this is a fellow Texan on the road.’ But instead, things have gotten so polarized, and people have bought into certain attitudes, politics and ideologies about what it means to ride a bike versus a truck,” Roux, 32, tells me. “The altercations can happen on a daily basis. And so many times in the past, I’ve felt helpless. It just got to a point where it felt like these interactions could crescendo to a point where a firearm is necessary to protect myself.”
Roux says he rides with his firearm most of the time, keeping it discreet with a holster on his waistband or on his chest. “Somewhere it can be easily retrieved and re-holstered,” he notes. The point isn’t to brandish the gun as a show of force, which could escalate an already mismatched encounter between vehicle and bike. But for Roux, it’s a key layer of security on top of other proactive measures, including keeping a cool head while riding in Houston and being aware of which neighborhoods are more likely to host antagonistic drivers.
It’s taken time for Roux to understand the landscape of cycling in Texas — and how easy it is to get into a fight without even realizing you’ve courted attention. Much of the advice for cyclists is to “avoid” road rage by de-escalating incidents or keeping a camera handy, but those measures only do so much amid a culture of drivers that feel entitled to harass and target people on bikes.
“If you’re on a road, and someone comes up behind you in a car, honking their horn and revving, and you look back and you’re on the shoulder of a four-line highway, and this person could’ve easily gone around you. Well, they’re initiating an altercation with you,” Roux says. “I might be riding all the way up to Galveston by myself. When that happens, for the lack of a better term, you’re forced to square up. And you’re doing so against a person whose weapon is much, much bigger than you.”
The imbalance of power between a person in an automobile versus one on a bike should be obvious, given both the size difference and the fact that the U.S. has massively underinvested in bike infrastructure, leaving few safe ways for cyclists to travel away from cars. But there appears to be a deep-seated hatred of cyclists in America, too, based on a whole number of petty reasons and a worldview best described as vehicular superiority, cloaked in masculine assumptions about size and strength.
The hypocrisy is glaring: Drivers routinely describe cyclists as arrogant, hypocrites and hazards who constantly break rules, despite themselves being clueless about what rights cyclists actually have — and how big of a hazard drivers pose. Research from Australia, for example, has found that drivers are to blame in at least 79 percent of reported accidents, despite survey respondents overwhelmingly viewing cyclists as being at fault. Other studies suggest that some drivers hate cyclists almost on automatic instinct, regardless of what they do or look like, and won’t even slow down to pass them.
Perhaps this explains why thinking about bike rides is enough to inspire unhinged rants about turning cyclists into “human chili” with a FedEx truck — and why people actually end up behaving so violently despite the risk to human lives. The number of annual bike fatalities doesn’t show the true number of people who have been stalked and threatened by drivers, given that road rage is widely underreported. And the angry incidents are just one end of a spectrum of violence toward cyclists, says Joe Cutrufo, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group BikeHouston. Indeed, a majority of cyclist deaths come from accidents in which the driver was careless, he observes.
“The problem is, when someone kills another with a car, the driver generally gets away with it, as long as they stay on the scene and are sober. Generally, the driver is the one who lives to tell the story of what happened, and they can say things like, ‘The cyclist came out of nowhere,’ or ‘It was dark,’” Cutrufo says. “There is still a lot of victim-blaming and the use of well-worn excuses that drivers have always made after hitting and killing cyclists.”
It’s a similar situation for reports of road rage, with law enforcement likely to view it as a both-sides conflict rather than a potentially deadly, one-sided attack. Meanwhile, cyclists have to live in fear that one bad gesture or argument could lead them into a potentially fatal situation. “We don’t recommend that people carry firearms when they ride bikes, but given all that we’ve seen happen right here in places like Waller County and elsewhere, we can certainly understand why some feel the need is there,” Cutrufo concludes.
Roux notes that his friends all take their own unique approach to safety while riding. Some only ride in groups, while others will avoid parts of Houston where they’ve consistently ridden into problems. (There is a racial element to navigating the map, too — as a Black man, Roux says he’s been subject to deeply racist attacks in some parts of Texas.) But such half-measures are frustrating for cyclists who have been patiently fighting for greater access and acceptance, and it can ruin the experience of exploring your own city.
“Some people end up saying, ‘Hey, I don’t want to carry a gun. I don’t need to be in those areas. I don’t want to interact with those people.’ But you miss out on experiencing these spaces and the joy of being out of your element on this bicycle,” Roux tells me. “Then again, I can’t fault anyone for seeing risk and wanting to avoid it. It’s quite justified.”
Roux says that he doesn’t think more cyclists arming themselves can be any kind of solution to the tension on America’s roads. Rather, he believes cities need to enact better policies to protect cyclists and punish dangerous drivers, as well as broaden the conversation about why more bikes are a good thing for everyone.
But in the end, it boils down to a battle over entitlement — both the legitimate right for cyclists to share the road, and the false entitlement that toxic drivers cling to, waging war against anything on two wheels (as if one’s choice of vehicle determines our role in the Culture War®). In a better world, people in cars would view a cyclist as just another human, finding the most efficient way to move through the world.
Instead, aggro drivers in America keep choosing their right to terrorize — and cyclists in states that allow for the open carry of guns are choosing their right to feel better, one hidden firearm at a time.