Michael and I were about a kilometer into a chill, idyllic climb just outside Barcelona, riding safely and legally two abreast on a quiet road when a car came around us a little too closely. Reflexively, Michael extended the international one-finger salute in its direction.

Brake lights flashed.

Obscenities exchanged.

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Suddenly, the driver was out of his car and approaching us with a tire iron.

Let's get this out of the way: Avoiding driver provocation is my first goal on any ride. You can’t know what’s already going through the mind of a driver and a middle finger all but promises to turn a sketchy situation for the worse. Having failed this, we rode away from the armed driver and dodged the large rock he launched in our direction after he realized he wasn't going to reach us on foot.

A bit shaken, our surging adrenaline propelled us up the climb as we nervously chuckled and awkwardly discussed what had just transpired. But within moments, we realized we were still going uphill.

On bicycles.

He, an equally angry passenger, and his little blue sedan were headed our way.

The long and twisty climb bared its unsparing pitch ahead. A guardrail buffered a steep drop to our left. A jagged rock wall within an arm's reach was on our right. The sound of a revving motor grew closer. We were completely exposed and alone.

With the descent cut off by the car, we sprinted hoping for a safe spot. Fortunately, a parking area materialized and we made it to the safe side of a guardrail seconds before the car reached us.

For the next 25 minutes the driver and his partner repeated a cycle of blaming us for riding two-abreast and for insulting their intelligence, calming down with a cigarette, laughing at us, and then throwing another fit. And almost comically concerned for his own safety, the driver kept a surgical mask in place between smokes.

The tire iron made a return and was later trumped by a folded camping chair waved overhead. At one point, the driver dug a razor blade out from the depths of his car and threatened to slice us and our tires—the only things cut were his own fingers.

We eventually rode off unscathed, but in the days and weeks since, I couldn’t stop asking myself what we should have done differently—beyond keeping our fingers in check—to quickly resolve such a confrontation?

Our attempt to reason with our pursuers was not successful, but trying to educate irritated drivers on safe riding practices seldom is. “You're not going to change hearts and minds in a moment of road rage by trying to teach someone a lesson,” says Eric Boerer, advocacy director for BikePGH, a cycling advocacy organization in Pittsburgh. “Getting them to leave is the goal.” Here’s how to achieve that.

Approach any confrontation with calm, humility, and sincere remorse. As a bicycle messenger in San Francisco, Joseph Hellbender has had many run-ins with angry drivers. Having been on both sides of heated traffic confrontations, he has learned that a simple, “I’m sorry” can completely de-escalate the situation. Whether you actually did anything wrong doesn’t matter, says Hellbender. Apologize to the driver and get on with your ride.

Mike Conway is a retired police officer in Pennsylvania and a life-long cyclist. He concurs with Hellbender that when an aggressor is blaming you for a perceived wrong, you need to remain calm. “No matter how right you think you are, when it’s motorist versus bicycle, it could result in you being dead,” says Conway. In his experience, he has found that if you simply agree with the aggressor's allegations it takes the energy out of the situation.

Call local authorities. During the parking lot showdown, one of us should have called emergency services. Normally this would be the second bullet on my best practices list, but I was unfamiliar with Barcelona’s local emergency numbers and bordering on panic.

I also thought about recording video of the confrontation. Boerer has used the tactic. “I've had luck pulling out my phone to begin recording, or even pointing to my light and saying it's a camera that captured the whole thing. But that that can also escalate the situation.”

Pepper spray is a last resort, says Conway. After our run-in, I wondered if I should carry pepper spray. “I am not against cyclists carrying defensive spray as long as it is legal.” Conway says, “I would also caution the cyclist not to display or threaten the use of spray. The element of surprise is a great equalizer.”

Our situation finally defused when a nearby maintenance crew which had previously ignored our pleases for help came over and talked to the raging couple. At this point, all I wanted was a cold beer and to forget that I bothered to wake up this morning. The driver kicked Michael’s bike one last time, took a smoke to consider the four large men holding shovels that had joined us, and finally drove off.

The work crew told us they'd guide us down the hill for our protection. And just like that, we were ripping back down the tarmac.

As cyclists sharing the road with drivers, we need to be constantly on the defensive, and it's extremely difficult to check your temper when your life is threatened in a flash. Will I now carry a can of mace when I ride? Likely not. Will I keep my mouth shut and leave my fingers on my handlebars when a driver passes too close? Certainly. I also now have a plan in place to end any confrontation as quickly as it might begin.