There’s a first time for everything. I was coal-rolled the other day.
If you’re not familiar with the term, rolling coal is when a driver dumps excess diesel fuel into the engine, generally with a modification or sometimes, I’m told, simply by flooring the accelerator. The result is a noxious cloud of diesel soot that says as much about the driver’s anger as it does about his or her lack of concern for air quality or fuel mileage.
I’ve known about truck drivers – not to be stereotypical, but very few Jetta station wagons roll coal – who have “fun” blowing smoke at hybrid cars that draw their ire, mostly Toyota Priuses. (Prii?) It’s been called a form of road rage at either liberal politics generally, the environmental movement specifically, or both. There are videos to be found on the Internet and websites that sell merchandise glorifying the practice even though tampering with your diesel emissions controls is illegal nationwide and rolling coal specifically is illegal in many states.
Coal-rollers also target cyclists, presumably for the same antisocial reasons.
I hadn’t been the enemy until a regular lunchtime ride from our office in Chapel Hill, N.C. I had turned off a four-lane highway onto a quieter, two-lane county road, a favorite for local cyclists and one that during weekdays has the occasional bit of construction traffic. I was hugging the white line on the right side of the road, as usual, when I was passed by a red Dodge Ram pickup towing a trailer. Suddenly, I was in the middle of a black cloud, thick and acrid, which not only made it difficult to breathe but impossible to see. I felt lucky to emerge after a few moments having not ridden into a ditch.
Like many longtime cyclists, I’ve had my share of run-ins with drivers. I’ve listened to taunting and threats, had drinks and other objects thrown at me and once, on a century ride in Georgia, had a driver flash his pistol.
But never coal-rolled.
I suppose the driver could have vented his or her frustration by driving me off the road or just hitting me from behind. I’m grateful that didn’t happen. I’m not so keen on being doused with a Group 1 carcinogen.
After the smoke cleared, literally, I continued my ride trying to reconcile in my own mind why someone would want to purposely poison me, which led me to the larger picture of why some drivers hate cyclists, period, and will go to violent ends to make their point.
For the record, I don’t hate drivers. I’m one myself. I know the feeling of annoyance that can creep in when you’re stuck in traffic. (I’m from California, where road rage was invented.)
I’ve also been the two-wheeled voice of reason in countless discussions about whether bikes belong on roads at all. I’ll save time by saying that unless posted otherwise, they do. Absolutely. And it’s been proven in the U.S. and elsewhere that cities and towns that embrace cycling have a healthier population and a better standard of living. And yet throughout the country there are running battles about whether communities should accommodate cyclists, how and to what extent.
There are things we do as members of society that are by their nature inconvenient. I get that. We pay taxes. We wait in lines. We take our shoes off at airport security if we’re not TSA Pre-Check.
And there are things we shouldn’t do despite the inconvenience. We shouldn’t cheat on our taxes. We shouldn’t cut in line. We shouldn’t yell at the TSA agents.
And we shouldn’t try to hurt people.
So, to my coal-roller I’ll say this: I’m happy to share the road with you. All I ask is that you don’t try to harm me when you reciprocate.