Share the road, not the diesel fumes, please

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.

Funny, huh?

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.


16 thoughts on “Share the road, not the diesel fumes, please

    1. No. Their are companies that make this modification on purpose for diesel pickups . Unhappy pickup drivers buy and do this on purpose. RAM pickups with Cummins diesels seen to be the polluting vehicle of choice.

  1. I live near a two lane curvy paved road that cyclists use frequently. A few things I see are one, cyclists that don’t use a flashing rear light on their bike, two lack of hi-viz colors or reflective tape on their jerseys and/or helmets and three traveling in packs of 10 or more cyclists where they take up the entire lane or where they are spaced unevenly impeding motor vehicle traffic to safely pass them.

    1. Thanks for the reply, David. I agree that cyclists should do all they can to be visible and should not impede the roadway when possible. I also think no one would disagree that everyone needs to be a bit more patient and understanding.

    2. The “inconvenience” of waiting 60 seconds to pass a large group of cyclists on a Saturday morning does not remotely justify the hatful and downright dangerous reactions I have experienced from many drivers. I’m sorry but this comment holds no water whatsoever with me.

  2. All the more reason to (if you can afford it) ride with a road cam, front & rear, recording your entire ride.
    The best way to end drivers assaulting cyclists is to capture them in the act and report report report.
    Notify/send to the local police or sheriff every time with the evidence and post to every local and regional site that photo/video.
    This has to stop.

    1. I tend to disagree. I own a dozen bikes and cycle several hundred miles each month and have for years.
      Too many cyclist go out ‘looking for drama’ and having a silly camera only enhances this trend.
      Our Cops have far more important things to do than listen to someone whine because their feelings got hurt. The majority of Cyclist create bad public relations with motorist by being inconsiderate jerks. Additionally, organized Event & Group rides are the primary reason many motorist dislike cyclist on roadways. Organizers are also at fault here as they don’t emphasize that cyclist not string-out naking it impossible for cars to safely pass.
      You seek drama… all you need to do to find it is go hang-out with a group of road cyclist. Much like dogs & wolves, packs bring aggressiveness.

  3. Oh good another way for aholes to mess with cyclists. Sorry that happened. NorCal or SoCal? —Another CA transplant cyclist in the triangle.

  4. Brandishing a firearm is a bad idea. I carry when I ride. If someone pulls a gun, I will feel it is necessary to use deadly force to stop the threat. Be smart.

  5. Being a member of both communities, I see this stuff a lot. I am on many cycling pages and many performance truck pages. “Rolling Coal” , first just the title is wrong. I jump on every one I see doing so, or even talking about it. All it is, is unburnt hydrocarbons, the hydrogen part burns easy, carbon part, not so easy. It is stupid and only morons think it is cool. It makes so much more power if you are using the energy not wasting it. I always ask people if the would let their furnace or boiler run like that . Every once in a while you will see a truck that has done it enough that it catches fire and melts the tail lights. European s have been using deisel for performance for a long time, generally with one small puff of smoke and maybe a small trail. It can be done cleanly. There are over 80,000 members on one of the Dodge pages I am on, and they have pushed most of that crap out. It just not tolerated. People who would do this would probably laugh at the knockout game. Just shitty people. I’m certainly not the greenest guy on the planet but come on people. I’m more of a mountain biker than anything else, and arrogant people on bikes on the road irritate me too, but people need to be made aware that bikes have just as much right as anything else on the road, and bikes need to know just because you have the right doesn’t mean you have to be an asset either.

  6. This “rolling coal” is an assault and battery using a motor vehicle and should be prosecuted criminally and civilly as such.

    I am the victim of a person who did this “rolling coal” while I was out road cycling, and he then immediately turned into my lane of travel causing a collision. But for my experience and skill as a cyclist and that I was in sufficient physical shape I could have been more seriously injured and even killed: he was trying to force me into a metal guardrail to my right and the marsh area below. He then got out of his vehicle and tried to physically beat me up, and showed what a coward he was when he fled when other vehicles stopped to intervene.

    The thug that did this to me is being prosecuted albeit without being charged with all crimes he committed.

  7. This happened to me as well when I was still living in Texas. I didn’t know that it was called coal rolling at the time, but I was shocked at the idea that this seemed like a good idea by this guy at the time. We live in a society where some people seem to take great pleasure from tormenting people whose beliefs and lifestyles are different than theirs, so like you, I am just greatful that I just had to inhale some soot rather than wake up in a hospital after being hit or shot by this clown.

  8. Let me just preface this by saying that I own 2 trucks that are capable of “rolling coal”, as you say. However, you seem to have the idea that these type of trucks are modified with the intent of making them able to smoke, which is simply not the case for most of us.
    These modifications are done for the purpose of additional horsepower & fuel economy, additional HP when throttled (extra fuel) and fuel economy otherwise.
    Put a trailer behind these trucks, and they smoke easily as the engine is under more load.
    I realize there are drivers out there that delight in rolling coal on bikers & pedestrians, which gives the rest of us as diesel owners a bad name.
    There are some of us that are quite conscious about where we hammer down the throttle, so as not to annoy those near us as we drive.
    As for the driver in question, it is quite possible he simply went into his throttle too quickly without thinking about what the consequences would be for you. As to “trying to poison” you? Nah.

    1. I am curious as to how the modifications are legal. Everything I’ve seen says that altering the fuel/emissions systems is illegal according to the feds.

      Diesel smoke is a carcinogen. Consciously blowing it on someone is an attempt to poison, IMO.

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