Monday, February 22, 2010

Make yourself as passable as possible

This is my motto, many cyclists tell me this is wrong. Keep biking they say, maintain your speed, don't pull over. Well, to me this just makes cars angry and I don't want to be hit by an angry driver. With the advent of cell phones and texting, we are at a great risk of getting hit.

Large pace lines, large groups and being totally unaware of the line of cars behind you to me is just plain stupid. Yeah, I know, I can hear the elite riders laughing and telling me they have every right to bike however they want. But putting yourself at risk is not smart. Yes we all have the right to be on the road but being courteous to the cars goes a long way to make cycling less hostile to the cars.

Today I was out doing a solo ride. Here in the Northeast we still have a boatload of snow. The road shoulders are just not there and there is a lot of water on the roads as well. If I had a car behind me today, I did all I could to make passing me easy. Even went so far as pulling into a driveway to let a line of cars go by.

To me this is the only way to bike. Passing a cyclist is not easy. It puts the car at risk. Passing a large group or a pace line has to be near impossible to pass especially if on a 2-lane road.

You can bike however you wish, but with today's distracted drivers, make yourself as passable as possible.

Make yourself as well as visible as possible,too. Lots of bright colors, dayglow yellow jackets and blinkie lights. Be seen be safe and be passable.


Festoonic said...

You're absolutely right. Cyclists who fail to correctly anticipate the wishes and biological needs of drivers, and who foolishly assert a "right" to the road as citizens and taxpayers are certainly "asking for it," and must be held solely responsible for whatever retaliation appropriately-rageful drivers are compelled to inflict.

Libby Maxim said...

the cyclist who would rather be right than alive

more power to you

once you put yourself on the road you are at risk, you either accept that or you ride like you are better than the car, in a fight, the car always wins

i'd rather be accommodating than dead

Festoonic said...

Perhaps the rape metaphor was too subtle. Or maybe things really are different where you bicycle. Would you favor an entirely separate infrastructure for bikes and cede all other public ways to cars?

Libby Maxim said...

cyclists are outnumbered on the roads, knock yourself out and do whatever it is you wish, but i have no beef with car drivers, even when folks walk on the edge of the road, same thing, ya'd better yield to the car or risk getting killed

if you do not want to yield, and with your arrogate stance that you want to teach cars a lesson, will only result in more hostility and more deaths

BG said...

Libby, your logic is right but your facts are wrong: you're much less likely to get hit if you take the lane than if you try to share it. Anyone who has ever tried to be "as passable as possible" knows that the gutter is a dangerous place, full of obstacles (like snow, ice, potholes, glass); biking over on the edge of the road increases the chances that you'll have to stop or swerve suddenly. Not good.

More importantly, if you're riding to the right side of a passing car, then cars turning left from the oncoming lane can't see you. Wham. The left cross isn't fun. I've experienced it in exactly that situation. I won't be sharing the lane unless it's a full 14 feet wide.

Finally, riding to the side of the traffic does not protect you from drunks, texters, and other distracted drivers. It makes you more vulnerable. Most drivers are looking at the traffic lane in front of them. They're not looking to the side of the traffic lane. And when they're drunk, texting, or even talking on a cell phone, they get the "tunnel vision" effect -- their peripheral vision is reduced drastically. (For the studies that have shown this, check out Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic) If you want to be seen, you should be front and center.

You might annoy some folks, but in reality the annoyed folks don't do much harm. It's the ones who never even saw you that you have to worry about.

BG said...

One more point: if you're riding in the center of the lane and some kind of crazy sh*t does happen on the road near you (like the hypothetical road rager you mention), then you can get out of the way. But if you're riding on the white line when it happens, you've got nowhere to go. Leave yourself some options!

Libby Maxim said...

I never ride the white line, ever, if a large shoulder, i would be on the shoulder, if no shoulder or a narrow shoulder i ride about 2 feet in from the white line

but remember, when you force a car into the oncoming traffic lane, you put that car into danger, so it is a toss up as to who is right or wrong,

where i live, cars pass me no matter what, i have had cars squeeze between me and an oncoming car, most never wait to see if it is clear

but where i ride, either in 2 feet from the shoulder or on the shoulder depends entirely on the road,

Libby Maxim said...

btw BG, i am an excellent cyclist but i make an effort to be a polite cyclist just as i would do if driving a car

with a car or a bike, i try not to put other's lives in danger to satisfy my need to be right

BG said...

Libby -- I hear you. The problem here is that what you call "polite" is also dangerous. Do I ever let cars pass me in the same lane I'm using? Sure -- if the lane is very wide (14 feet or more), or if I can see that there's no oncoming traffic and it's safe. But if you let them pass you in a narrow lane when there's oncoming traffic, you're actually asking them to squeeze you off the road, just like you describe. You're making it much more dangerous for yourself than you need to.

Two feet to the left of the white line probably isn't enough (if the lane is ten feet wide, you should be more like four feet from the right edge). You need to make it totally clear that you are using the entire lane. Try it -- I guarantee you won't get those close passes any more.

This is not about who's right or wrong. It's not about teaching anyone a lesson. It's about what's safest for everybody. Drivers endanger you when they pass closely. So you shouldn't invite them to do it. Period.

The idea of a person on a bike "forcing" a person in a car into the oncoming traffic is...well...silly. Seriously: how exactly would you apply that force? Like you say yourself, "the car always wins." If you control the lane, drivers will wait, look ahead, and pass when they judge it safe to pass. Nobody's forcing anyone to change lanes when they don't want to. That's how traffic works.

Now, if you swerve suddenly from the side to the middle of the lane you will force drivers to swerve to miss you. That's totally dangerous. And again, it's why you should be out there in the center of the lane to begin with -- no need to swerve.

Bottom line: you can either be part of the traffic, or you can be a distraction and interruption to the traffic. It's way safer for everyone if everyone's playing by the same rules.

By the way: your latest post about large group rides is dead-on right. Those large groups are totally unfair to other road users. By definition, recreational cyclists can pick the routes and times of their rides; if they're going out with a huge group, they should pick roads and times that won't inconvenience other people. It's the same as a parade. But the rest of us, normal people going to work, to the supermarket, and to pick up our kids from school every day, are in a totally different situation.

BG said...

By the way, here's a great new video that shows how it should be done:

Libby Maxim said...

holy moly BG, i would never in a million yrs bike on 6 lane highways as shown in that video, I am not sure it is even allowed in PA

and the one lady with the baby wagon, YIKES,

Biking in FL is not like biking in PA

FL has flat roads with visibility, i have biked in FL and the number of cyclists killed in FL is the highest in the nation

but that video scared me to death, not my cup of tea,

i bike on mostly narrow country roads with lots of turns and curves and trees right up to the side of the road,

I pick routes that are not well traveled by cars, as I said, i keep myself out of the way of cars

I have no desire to commute on a bike on a 4 -6 lane highway

my only goal is to stay alive when biking, so i am defensive but not rude nor aggressive

was out today and took a route with some heavy traffic, when a 6 ton dump truck is heading down the road, i make myself passable

BG said...

Libby --

I can only recommend that you take a League of American Bicyclists safety course. If you keep riding the way you say you ride, you're likely to get yourself hurt.

Listen: even on rural roads, riding on the shoulder is not safer than riding in the lane. Here's an example of some folks who were not saved by shoulder riding:

There's not a whole lot you can do to prevent strike-from-behind ("motorist overtaking") collisions -- beyond making yourself visible and predictable, of course, particularly at night (which is when they tend to happen) -- but fortunately they're quite rare. 1.3% of crashes, according to research by the North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center:

On the other hand, left cross, right hook, and sideswipe collisions are relatively common, and they're totally preventable. If you take the lane, they won't happen to you.

But if you try to share the lane with a dump truck, they almost certainly will! A dump truck is very wide and has some wicked blind spots along its sides. That's exactly the situation where you do not want to be passed closely. Make the truck move over a full lane to pass you, just like any other slow vehicle. You're from rural PA, so you know that people deal with slow vehicles just fine -- tractors, backhoes, even Amish buggies. Bikes are no different. Sure, you should pull over to let them pass you if A) there's a totally safe place to do so, and B) you'll be able to get back into the travel lane quickly, without swerving in front of a line of traffic. But you need to be the one to decide when those conditions are met.

Some people do find it scary to take the lane at first -- but I assure you that if you tried to ride at the edge of the lane in any place with significant traffic (like, say, the Orlando roads in that video) you'd have a much scarier time than somebody riding VC style. You might be able to get away with your riding style where you live because you simply don't have to deal with very many cars, but that doesn't mean that it's any safer to ride that way there than in FL or anywhere else. (By the way, I'm pretty sure that in PA, like all the other states, it's legal to use a bike on all roads that aren't limited-access freeways. None of the roads in the video are limited-access freeways.)

Like you say yourself, "in a fight, the car always wins." That's why you should try to avoid fights -- by following the same rules everyone else is following, including the rule that only one vehicle can occupy a lane at a time.

Be safe, Libby! Have a great ride!