Getting hassled on the road for no other reason than simply being on a bike is unfortunately relatively common here in the United States. Usually it involves someone yelling at you, or honking, or revving their engine, or all of the above.
But yesterday we heard of a disturbing new method of anti-bike road rage: a smoke screen that sends a huge black cloud from a truck’s tailpipe. We’re not talking about someone intentionally revving their engine and sending a bunch of exhaust into your face (that’s bad enough, and yes, it’s all too common) — what happened to reader John M. Tuesday night was worse.
John says the incident happened while riding near the Mt. Tabor reservoir. Here’s his account:
“I had a weird biking incident last night and I’m wondering if you’ve ever heard of this before.
I was biking southbound on 60th Avenue, near the Mt Tabor Reservoir at about 6:15. Because of the snow everywhere I was taking the lane, but was still pretty far over to the right, and when the oncoming lane was clear (most of the time), southbound cars were going past me with no problem.
This one big burgundy pickup truck, however, swerved aggressively around me and then all of a sudden his tailpipe lets out a huge plume of black smoke. I couldn’t see a thing for a couple of seconds, and almost wiped out, by which time he was a couple of blocks away. I tried catching up to snap a pic of his license plate but there was no way…
… This was a newish pickup. And the smoke belch had a discreet beginning and end, after which his exhaust went back to normal/invisible. I had no doubt at all that this wasn’t just a car belching smoke because of a mechanical problem.
After John got home he did a bit of research online and was surprised at what he found. He said a smoke screen, like the one he experienced, is a weapon used by U.S. Military Humvees in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even more surprising was that aftermarket kits are available to the general public and there are lots of website with advice on how anyone can attach a smoke cloud creator to their tailpipe.
The AutoLoc Smoke Screen Kit is $186 on Amazon.com.
The company behind it says it’s a great way to “add a little more spice to your burn outs.” “Just think,” reads the product description, “at a push of a button you can have a huge billow of smoke emerge from your exhaust pipe. Ideal for car shows and special effects.” The company says their product is for off-road use only and that it’s “not intended for use while the vehicle is in motion.”
While smoke screen products exist, it’s also common to have people in trucks purposefully rev their engine as they pass to accomplish the same effect. I’ve had this happen to me and always wondered if it was being done on purpose or not. Given John’s story, as well as feedback about the issue this morning on Twitter, it seems like common anti-bike behavior. Here’s a forum posting about it that John dug up during his research:
“…The Bicyclists use to just run right down the middle of the lane and not in there Bike Lane… so when the on-comming [sic] traffic would clear I would accelerate let off the gas and build up the compression not to mention all that extra fuel and then punch it right before I would pass them… They (the bicyclist) would completely vanish in a cloud of black soot!… I would watch them emerge from the black cloud of death coughing and hacking all while trying to wave the remainder of the black cloud away from them. All the while trying to stay upright on the bike. I even had one crash. That was the BEST one.”
John thinks what happened to him was nothing short of an assault. I agree; but like many of these type of interactions, proving it to law enforcement and to a judge is much easier said than done.
Have you ever been smoke-screened? Have any ideas on what can be done to prevent it?