Bike commuting - how to be and feel safer?
April 29, 2010 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Bike commuting filter - how to stay safe and not worry too much?

I've been commuting by bike for about 2.5 years, 5 miles per way, 2-3 times per week except when it is very cold.

Lately, though, I've been worrying more about safety more than I did before. Somehow, with the weather warming up, it seems less safe out there. People are driving more crazy and there are more bikes to worry about too. There are way more potential "dooring" hazards as people are jumping in and out of cars for bars and restaurants and such. Also - there are more aggressive people on bikes out there and I tend to get more aggressive in my riding style when people around me are doing the same; not smart, I know.

Today, I went over my handlebars -- it was completely my fault. I was coming up along a line of stopped cars at a light and I was all the way to the right in the bike lane. There was a car at the very front of the line with a right signal on that was blocking my way forward. I should have stayed behind him, but instead I hopped the curb, went around him on the sidewalk, and then tried to hop down. I went right over the handlebars into the street. Somehow, I don't have a scratch on me -- I picked up the bike and rode away feeling like an idiot.

Anyway -- that experience, and a general worry about safety that has been growing, is making me really start to worry about whether this whole bike commuting this is just too dangerous, particularly for someone with kids and all that. I am sure part of it is that I am not doing my best to ride safely and cautiously, but I'm not sure that I can trust myself to do that every day -- it's fun to go real fast!

I suppose what I'm looking for is this:

1. What do you do to stay safe and feel safe while riding on city streets?

2. Do you have any strategies for having a little patience and waiting an extra minute or whatever behind a slow car, rather than trying to dodge around it or something else risky or stupid? I find that most of my "close calls" come from situations where I should have just stopped and waited a minute for a car or a light or whatever -- but I'm so into the "groove" of flying down the street that I really hate to stop and wait.

Thanks
posted by Mid to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hate to say it, but stay off the sidewalk in all circumstances. Intersections are usually the most dangerous places, and you can help by making yourself more visible. I like to take the lane and just let traffic go ahead of me at a stop light. It sucks to sit there, knowing you can sneak up the side and go around all those cars, but you've experienced the downside of doing that. Don't do it again, you may not be so lucky next time.

I also don't like feeling like a dork, but I commuted 10k each way all winter, and I wore a big bright high-vis coat the entire time (I did get it for free and that was a big factor in my choice) but every little bit helps.

I also found that my commute generally took between 25 and 30 minutes, regardless of how fast I went or how many reds I was stuck at. After a while, I just accepted the fact that I wouldn't make every light and that I was still coming out ahead over driving. I don't mind sitting outside on my bike at a light, it's nicer than being cooped up in a car. I really hate driving in town, so I was almost always happier on my bike and I cherish the time on it. Learn to love the ride more.

My biggest two rules for riding safe are: Ride like no one can see you, and don't trust anyone with a steering wheel in their hands.
posted by glip at 7:01 PM on April 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


Just to clarify about taking the lane at lights. If there are a few cars in front me, I move into the centre of the lane like I was a car. It's the best way I've found to avoid right-hooks. I do filter to the front in grid-locked situations though, but I do so very carefully and never on the sidewalk.
posted by glip at 7:04 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find I'm safest when I'm confident and assertive, but sans aggression. Timidity won't do you any good; only make you less visible and at greater risk. Don't make reckless, aggressive moves because someone in front of you is waiting to turn, but don't be a shrinking violet and hug the curb either.

City riding is a great way to practice track stands. I found that once I was at the point where I could catch every red on a half-hour ride and never have my foot touch the ground, it didn't really feel as much like stop and go, because I was still working to balance the bike at all times. This will also have the side effect of making you a safer cyclist, because you will have way more control at low speeds, and just better balance and control in general.

Also, hearing is overrated. For some reason, only cyclists are expected to rely on an unencumbered ear while on the road. People in cars have less visibility and are free to rage along to talk radio in their isolation bubble. Put some relaxing music on and take it easy.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:07 PM on April 29, 2010


1. I have a vast VAST library of behaviors that avoid accidents. Starting with these ten.

2. Yes. Like you, my nature is to push envelopes, I'm competitive, etc. Bad combo for cycle commuting.
What I did was move the goalposts of the game, to channel those motivations into achieving and refining astounding levels of safety amidst peril, instead of shaving seconds (which don't matter) off a commute.

For example, pushing your awareness further and further out into the future, learning to juggle an ever-larger nexus of possibilities and probabilities. You often don't need to stop for cars or lights if you predict far enough in advance the times and places the situations might arise, and then (for example) just take it a bit easier on the pedals for a bit so that by the time you get there, the need to stop (assuming it eventuated) has passed. Take satisfaction that instead of dealing with a situation sensibly, you ensured you weren't even around when the situation occurred - and that this wasn't an accident.

Find satisfaction and exhilaration in being ten moves ahead of the traffic and people that surround you, instead of in being ten seconds faster than yesterday (which is quite the non-achievement in comparison - fast is easy, just take dumber risks. Any moron can do that. Safety though, safety is a worthy challenge).
posted by -harlequin- at 7:15 PM on April 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


Was gonna post same link that Harlequin did. Totally agree with his points, after commuting on my bike for nearly 20 years.
posted by randomstriker at 7:41 PM on April 29, 2010


I'm a daily cycle commuter, and find that I apply a lot of what I learnt at our compulsory motorbike safety courses (and from riding a motorbike for a number of years).

Generally speaking, this comes down to three main factors:

1. Anticipation - continually scan ahead for possible threats (eg people in parked cars who might pop open their doors, cars entering from driveways or intersections). One response is to slow down to a reasonable speed, and/or...

2. Make space for yourself - position yourself on the road so that there is maximum possible space between you and a threat (eg a car threatening to nose out from a blind intersection: move across in your lane so you are as far as you can be from where they're about to be). This also helps with...

3. Visibility - on either motorbikes or pushbikes, perhaps your greatest threat is that drivers just don't see you. Bright clothing & flashing lights can help, but positioning yourself on the road - as appropriate - so that you're more out in open visibility is a big help. This also means avoiding drivers' blind spots, as well as positioning yourself so that you can see what's going on around you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:45 PM on April 29, 2010


there are more aggressive people on bikes out there and I tend to get more aggressive in my riding style when people around me are doing the same

Regarding no. 2- I'm the exact same way, whether I'm riding or (this is bad) driving. It's like I can't turn the competitiveness off even when it's trivial and dangerous, everything feels like some sort or race.

What works for me is leaving 10-20 minutes earlier than I need to and having a stop between home and the office. It's like a psychological bleeder valve- I'm not riding to the office, I'm riding to the pond to read for a few minutes, the coffee shop for a drink, or pulling over to make a call, whatever, then getting to work. It takes the whole edge off of commuting for me by making the ride much more casual and relaxing.
posted by nowoutside at 7:58 PM on April 29, 2010


Answer to #1: Read a resource like John S. Allen's Bicycling Street Smarts to learn how to most effectively cycle along with motorized traffic. Once you've mastered Allen's booklet you might move on to John Forrester's Effective Cycling. Forrester is a blunt, irascible fellow, and his antipathy to bike lanes and other separated cycling facilities can be irritating, but his advice on how to cycle in traffic safely is worth its weight in gold.

Beyond that, there are two things I do that make me feel better in traffic. First, I have an eyeglasses-mounted mirror that shows me what's behind me. Second, much of the time I wear a high-visibility reflective vest or belt, and I usually run generator-powered lights during the day as well as at night.

Answer to #2: When I commute to work (3 miles each way, plus some days when I have 2-5 miles of errands in town), I wear wool trousers, a dress shirt, a sportcoat, and sometimes a tie. My goal is to get to work without breaking a sweat. That helps me keep going at a sedate pace and not get too uptight about having to wait at a traffic light. Now granted, I pass only one traffic light in three miles...but the general principle is that I treat my commute as a commute that happens to be on a bicycle. It's a different category from my spandex-clad 2-10 hour rides on my road bike.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:59 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I need to tell myself to slow down or chill out, I think about commuters in Scandinavian countries where lots and lots of people (businesspeople, old people, moms, teenagers) commute via bicycle, and how they tend to go at a pretty steady pace and remain calm. And I think "yeah, that's the kind of biking world I want to live in," and so I should act like I want the world to be--where bike commuting is a safe, enjoyable alternative to driving rather than a crazy speedy contest. It's just a thought exercise, but it helps me to take a step back and slow down when I start getting antsy and wanting to go through stop signs or speed ahead of cars.
posted by ethorson at 8:41 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just started commuting by bike a few weeks ago, and my observation so far has been that the pedestrians are 50x more scary than the motorists.

For starters, a car is big, visible, and mostly easy to avoid. Also, if you have the misfortune of hitting it, only one person gets injured.

On the other hand, pedestrians seem glad to hurl themselves in front of cyclists, despite the fact that none of them would be remotely dumb enough to step out in front of a bus or a car moving at the same speed.
posted by schmod at 9:33 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find I'm safest when I'm confident and assertive, but sans aggression. Timidity won't do you any good; only make you less visible and at greater risk. Don't make reckless, aggressive moves because someone in front of you is waiting to turn, but don't be a shrinking violet and hug the curb either.

this. and-

I use a front light, rear light, and a mirror. always.

At stop signs I take my rightful turn. I STAND UP on the pedals to make myself more visible. I don't know why, but it seems to work. I won't run a red light if there is any other traffic in the intersection, from any direction.

Knowing the common ways to get hit, as harlequin posted, I anticipate similar actions by drivers and try to avoid putting myself in such positions.

I try to be predictable and ride my bike like a car.

I follow cars through intersections and use them as shields from crossing/turning traffic

I take my fair share of the roadway when I need it.
posted by TDIpod at 9:43 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


1. What do you do to stay safe and feel safe while riding on city streets?

For one thing, I don't ride up a line of stopped cars on the right in the bike lane. Even if it's legal, it's annoying to the drivers and unsafe for the cyclist -- not only do you run the risk of getting right-hooked, you could also get doored. Just get in line. It's boring, it's not cool, but it's the safest option. It also sends a clear signal to the drivers around you that you're just waiting your turn like everyone else. And that way they don't have to pass you twice.

As for feeling safer, I've stopped wearing tights and jerseys. As an ungraceful overweight dude, I think I look slightly less ridiculous in "normal"-looking clothes (e.g. breathable hiking shorts and shirts from REI or Columbia) than I do in black tights and a bright jersey. I ride more now than I ever did when I thought I needed the "uniform" but I've been harrassed much less frequently.

2. Do you have any strategies for having a little patience and waiting an extra minute or whatever behind a slow car, rather than trying to dodge around it or something else risky or stupid?

Really, it's just about consideration and putting yourself in the other's position, which is what you should be doing whether you're driving, biking, walking, or otherwise sharing the road with others.
posted by scatter gather at 9:54 PM on April 29, 2010


- Wrap your bike in reflective tape.
- Put a reflective marker at the back of your bike.
- Install front and back lights.
- Wear a helmet.
- Don't be afraid to yell at jaywalking pedestrians, before they walk in front of you.
- Own your legally granted space on the road, whether that involves being in the left side of the bike lane, or taking up at least three feet of a lane-less road.

You do not have to ride in the shoulder with the gravel and broken glass. You have the right not to be doored. You have the right to be visible. Staying visible is staying alive. Being visible may inconvenience drivers. It may be tough to assert your space initially. It gets easier. Forcing drivers to slow down to pass you safely, when that is required, will also save your life.

Above all else, relax and allow your eye to wander as trouble spots come up: cars that may slow down suddenly, cars with a dumb driver about ready to open her door into you, etc. Bike defensively around these hazardous situations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:28 PM on April 29, 2010


Also, hearing is overrated. For some reason, only cyclists are expected to rely on an unencumbered ear while on the road. People in cars have less visibility and are free to rage along to talk radio in their isolation bubble.

I assume this is in response to question #2, but the poster also asked about how to stay safe.

If anything, the cyclist's sense of hearing is underrated and underused as a warning system. The fact that drivers are able to play their stereos at unsafe volumes does not justify hobbling the second-best tool (after vision) for situational awareness that most cyclists possess.

Don't ride with earbuds. It's not safe for you or others. And I bet it sucks when you hit a pothole and the buds come out and the wires get tangled up in your chain.
posted by scatter gather at 10:39 PM on April 29, 2010


I love my handlebar mirror.

I have good lights.

I particularly commend harlequin and Ubu's advice and share their approach.

Another angle -- you drive a car, right? Think about all the times some crazy dude on a bike has surprised or annoyed you. Then don't be that dude. When you act like a respectful, responsible road user, you're doing great PR for yourself but also for every other cyclist.

So in particular in answer to number 2, I think to myself "would this reflect badly on cyclists if I was a motorist or pedestrian? Am I letting the side down?" And that helps me resist doing things like pootle the wrong way down an empty one way street.

Also you mention "waiting an extra minute or whatever behind a slow car, rather than trying to dodge around it ". Many times those slow cars are the ones that unexpectedly weave, stop, open a door, or cut you off. They are precisely the cars you do not want to dodge around. Remember that.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:16 PM on April 29, 2010


If you ride in the gutter, you're going to get run into at some point: you need to be where other road users expect to see potential hazards.

All the fluorescent clothing in the world won't help if you're not where people look before they enter a space on the road. Riding on the (sidewalk|uk pavement) is especially dangerous (even ignoring the risk of collision with pedestrians) because when you drop back onto the road you're going to be in a position that no other road user is going to expect a hazard to suddenly emerge from.

Be quietly assertive in your riding, clear in signalling your movements to traffic behind you & you should find that everything goes much more smoothly. If you ask around locally, you might be able to track down some cycle training: it can be surprisingly helpful, even if you've been cycling for years you may have been re-enforcing bad habits rather than improving over time.

Oh, and have fun: It's great to have the wind in your hair on the way to work!
posted by pharm at 12:02 AM on April 30, 2010


I cycle in a medium-sized UK city that is full of confused tourists trying to find non-existent parking and angry locals trying to get past the tourists to get to work. I decided to change my commute so that the majority of it is along a car-free bike and pedestrian path along the river, even though this adds about 15 minutes each way. I am much calmer and it's great to watch spring springing a little more each day instead of inhaling bus exhaust. You may not have a river to ride along, but maybe you can change your route to include quieter streets?
posted by Wroksie at 12:12 AM on April 30, 2010


I agree with trying the quieter streets. I cycle to work in central London and have found that adding a third of the distance through quieter streets on the way in makes for a much happier journey. I do the main road route on the way home because I'm all adrenalized from work and better able to negotiate the traffic, but in the mornings I'm pretty dreamy and distracted (especially in this stunning Spring!) so it feels much safer to be out of the way.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:11 AM on April 30, 2010


I was also going to chip in and recommend refining your route- find quieter back streets, avoid major intersections, take a more scenic route. i live in a very bike friendly city laced with well maintained and all frequented bike paths- maybe there might be more in yours than you realise? Even if it adds some time to the journey, it becomes a relaxing ride and you get to clear your mind instead of pedaling the whole way in tense anticipation of an out of the blue accident.

Take the scenic route, and take your time.
posted by Philby at 3:29 AM on April 30, 2010


another vote for the scenic route -- I do a 19k one way commute every day, not super heavy traffic but some lights on the way. Not all in a city obviously, only the last 8k or so.
I found that taking the scenic route which is 5k extra but mostly bike lanes and byroads only takes about 6-7 minutes longer because there are no traffic lights. I only do the short one when it's raining.

also, pedestrians are a real danger indeed. car drivers' IQs = their shoe size, that's a given and something we can deal with. Pedestrians just stepping into the road without even looking if something might hit them (at 20+ mph!)... Crazy! Practically, count on them to stop walking as soon as they see you, i.e. don't veer right in anticipation of them continuing to cross and you zooming by behind them. They will freeze in their tracks even if that locks them right in your path. If braking to a full stop is not an option, my gamble is usually to veer left and pass in front of the wayward biped.
posted by gijsvs at 4:40 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


on the subject of pedestrians, always assume they are wearing headphones & listening to their ipods, and therefore unable to hear your bell. in 90% of cases, this will be true.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:52 AM on April 30, 2010


Two basics:
1) Never, ever, ever ride your bike on the sidewalk. If you do enough research, you'll find out why this is really dangerous, but mostly revolves around you being where cars aren't expecting you.
2) Never, ever, ever ride your bike the wrong way down a street, be it one way or two ways. For the same reason, it puts you in places where cars aren't expecting you. Which equals: splat.


That, and riding far enough to the left to avoid car doors will help tremendously.

Also huge is knowing how to look over your shoulder to see traffic behind you while still steering in a straight line. Not exactly easy and something you can practice in a parking lot (the empty section thereof).
posted by sully75 at 6:02 AM on April 30, 2010


This is a fascinating post to read as I dry off from my morning bike commute. Nice to get a sense of everyone else's ride (mine's 2.5 mi each way, from a hilly neighborhood, through a kind of run-down netherworld, up to a university campus on a hill. Several hills and about 6 traffic lights on the way).

What makes me feel confident and safe is knowing that I'm am probably the least distracted of anyone out there. I have to repeat glip's rules, just for emphasis:
Ride like no one can see you, and don't trust anyone with a steering wheel in their hands.

I can't count the number of times I pass a person on a phone, texting, lighting a cigarette, drinking coffee, yelling at their kids, messing with the stereo when I drive, and those are just the visibly distracted.

As much as I love my iPod, and usually ignore claims that headphones should not be worn "out in the world" (while running, for example), I really feel that headphones and cycling are a bad combination. Just because everyone else on the road is distracted, doesn't mean you deserve a little bit too. As an underdog out there, you need as much help as you can get. Even if you're listening to Tony Robbins tapes, I can't imagine being more confident with only 4/5 of your senses. You need to be aware of things before they happen, and you're missing out on everything approaching you from behind with no ears.
posted by activitystory at 6:07 AM on April 30, 2010


It's fun to go fast, yes, but unless you get a thrill from mixing it up with motor traffic specifically, and have made your peace with the risks that involves (if you had, then you probably wouldn't have asked this question), then find a different venue for going fast.

The bikesafe link has good advice on specific scenarios and how not to get hurt in them, and I'm, also a proponent of John Forester's Effective Cycling.

My mindset when commuting is A) conduct myself in traffic pretty much the same as a car, particularly near intersections, B) ask myself how much time I would actually save by executing whatever bonehead maneuver might have just crossed my mind (this goes double when I'm driving a car).
posted by adamrice at 7:29 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. I'm a bike commuter that listens to my ipod as I bike (8 miles each way) to work. BUT...I only listen to it once I am off the city streets and on what we in Chicago call the Lakeshore path (a biking/jogging path that hugs the lake the length of the city). And even then, I NEVER have it on so loud that I can't hear another biker calling out "on your left!" as they go to pass me.

And the moment you hit a city street, I think it's time to turn that iPod off.

2. Never underestimate pedestrians' desire to walk into your path. It's not the dedicated joggers so much as it's the people just wandering around. This is an especially bad time of the year as people want to be out enjoying the newly warm weather. Another reason, beyond getting doored, to stay out of the gutter/door's width away from parked cars is that if a jaywalker emerges from between cars in front of you they WILL freeze. If you're to the left of them that gives you and them some leeway to not collide.
posted by Windigo at 8:23 AM on April 30, 2010


Never, ever, ever ride your bike the wrong way down a street, be it one way or two ways.

THIS.

Cyclist often underestimate the difference that going the wrong way makes. Let's look at this in a typical, lightly congested urban environment:

Case A: car going 50 km/h and a bike going 20 km/h in the same direction -- separating distance closes at a rate of 30 km/h.

Case B: car going 50 km/h and a bike approaching head-on at 20 km/h -- separating distance closes at a rate of 70 km/h!!!

Cars probably can't see more than 5 car lengths ahead, i.e. at most 25m. That gives the driver in Case A about 3.02 seconds to react, and the driver in Case B only about 1.03 seconds to react!! Not to mention that an impact of more than 2x the difference in velocities involves 4x the kinetic energy...you know whose gonna come out the winner of that contest?
posted by randomstriker at 9:26 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another daily cycle commuter here. Nice to be among friends. :)

As far as staying safe: be predictable, be visible, and be aware. Of those three, the third is most important because no matter how visible and predictable you are, someone's going to try to hit you anyway. So it's less like "ride like nobody sees you", and more like "ride like you have a big target on your back and the first person to hit you wins $1000". Because at some point you're going to have someone look straight at you and pull out anyway, or something.

As far patience goes--this is actually pretty easy. The problem here is you're getting bored with stopping. I know! Fast is fun! But there's a few things you can do that work for me and I think they'd be good for you:

First, when you do get to move, go full throttle. All. The. Time. This gets you closer to traffic speeds (less relative speed difference is safer). It also lets you welcome traffic lights as an opportunity to rest before the next sprint.

Second, you need to be more aware of everything. I find that one reason I love riding in traffic is that I *have* to keep track of *everything*--no room for thinking about anything else. I have to keep track of 30 cars around me (or as many as possible), prioritized by relative threat. If I do something mildly risky you better believe I've made a conscious decision to do so and my full attention is fixated on those aspects of the situation that would make it a Very Bad Day for me if they were to go bad. Also you need to have "exit strategies".

For your particular scenario, I can't hop for beans. I would ride around the left side of the car if my (helmet/glasses mount) mirror told me it was free. I would have been monitoring traffic anyway, partially because I saw the car looking like it was going to turn half a block away, and partially because I'm always looking at that mirror whenever there's a situation like an intersection that entices cars to right-hook me.

One thing that really keeps the commute exciting for me is this constant...flow. Not only the flow of the traffic, but the flow of my consciousness as I constantly assess what cars are going to be doing, and my reaction. The idea is to never be surprised. There is very little that can hurt an aware cyclist; I believe many accidents that would not be legally my fault are nonetheless avoidable.

What I'm saying is that you may not have to stop as often as you think. I'd obey all traffic laws of course, but I can do things like make a right/u-turn/right combo completely safely, with full stops, in less than half the time the pedestrian crossing light is holding things up. This gets me going faster, and keeps me more out of traffic.

Also, aside from all the other good reasons to stay off the sidewalk, you're faster on the road. If you want speed and excitement, stay on the road and become one with the traffic.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:59 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm about to swap the flat bar on my commuter to a North Road-style bar to force myself to sit more upright and therefore slow down to "townie" speed instead of "bike messenger" speed.
posted by mendel at 11:38 AM on April 30, 2010


It sounds like more than anything, you need to almost retrain your brain and look at cycling from a brand new perspective. You sound a touch reckless. You know that you can get aggressive, so try to be aware of what brings that out in you and choose not to be aggressive. Today you went over your handlebars, and it was your fault, which - good for you - you admit. You always have a choice whether or not to do x, y or z (or a, b, c even) so go for the safest and think of your kids.

Cycling requires a lot of cognitive skills and awareness of all the things that are around you. You have to be really good at anticipating everyone's behaviour - is that car going to pull in front of you, is the passenger or driver going to open their door, is that car going to try to go through that intersection; is that pedestrian crossing going to see me, etc. It also requires a lot of self-awareness - can I bike fast enough to run that yellow light before a car runs over me, should I let that cyclist go ahead of me instead of trying to race him, etc. When you are cycling, you make small decisions at almost every moment, just like when you decided to hop the curb today. I find that you have to communicate much more when cycling than when driving or walking. When driving, all the rules and roads were made for you. When walking, you can be totally spaced out and walking on the sidewalk, and just stop when the sidewalk ends at an intersection. When cycling, it's a constant negotiation for space; cyclists have various skills (some go faster or slower; some trackstand, some signal, some don't, some negotiate lane changes better than others) and various understandings of the rules, and follow/break them in their own ways.

What I suggest is: take a cycling skills course (if offered in your area), and/or for a while just go back to basics (it takes 21 days to form a habit). You already know you are not doing your best to ride safely, and you can't trust yourself to do that, so you really have to train your brain to do that. Stop at every stop and red. Go only when the light is green. Wait for cars to turn in front of you. I know that all sounds boring, but you want to change, right? To avoid doors, take the lane when you can. Let the aggression from other cyclists/drivers just roll off you. Last week a totally aggro cyclist (young white guy, I'm an asian female) yelled at me and I was like, "huh?" I didn't even know what I did but I just let it go. I have zero road rage anyway. People can yell at me all they want but I know it will just make things worse if I escalate it, putting me in danger (and I don't have kids) and it won't accomplish anything.

To answer your questions:
1. I watch and anticipate. I've developed a really good sense of how traffic moves and what my abilities are. I'm also really good at anticipating doors opening, and the actions of cars, pedestrians and cyclists. Always assume that doors are going to open, but not to the point of paralyzing yourself (which has almost happened to me!).

2. You just have to make a choice. You can do something you know is risky or stupid, or you can do something safer, which is wait. I know what you mean about being in the groove (conservation of momentum!), but it really is simply about making a choice. The more you do it, the more you get used to it; you just develop that habit. Take up a hobby that involves "good" risky behaviour, like skydiving or something to get it out of your system.
posted by foxjacket at 9:47 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Local Bike to Work Week coordinator speaking. In general, everything above is pretty sensible (except the suggestion that you should listen to music). But for you:

You had an accident. You're a bit shaken. That happens.

I know people for whom one crash is the end of their cycling career -- or at least on anything but a segregated path. I had a bad crash last year -- albeit with an inanimate object in the dark -- and haven't slowed down. I didn't want to slow down, and in a sense I couldn't because I'm doing this for my health (I'm diabetic).

Some of what you're saying doesn't really make a lot of sense. Are people really going to more restaurants than ever? Probably not (especially in a recession). Are more cyclists aggressive (or more accurately, probably, assertive)? Yes. Is it good to be assertive? Absolutely yes.

Then you describe something that made you feel dumb. Well, it was dumb. You attempted to sneak your way through a situation instead of handling it as an adult bicyclist with knowledge of your rights and responsibilities as an equal partner sharing the road. Really, and I don't intend this to be mean but a bit of an eye-opener, it serves you right. Don't do that again.

It almost sounds like your inner J. Alfred Prufrock guided both your accident and your reaction to it. C'mon, eat the damn peach. Get out there and make sure that drivers see you next time and make sure that you both know you can take the lane and aren't afraid to do it when necessary. Taking the lane is safer because you can be seen. You are acting like a predictable vehicle on the road, not some curb-hugger sneak who might jump on and off a curb at any second.

Please. Take a deep breath. Recover from your incident by becoming a better cyclist, not by retreating.
posted by dhartung at 11:29 PM on April 30, 2010


Thanks, good advice all. Just to follow-up and to correct some apparent misimpressions I must have caused in my post:

1. I'm an experienced rider, I don't hug the curb, I take the lane, etc. As others basically said, my problem is that I'm experienced enough to be a little bored, but not expert enough to be pulling crazy messenger-style stunts (maybe nobody should be doing that).

2. The people who say "be predictable" I think are exactly right. That's the key -- let everyone know where you are going, don't dart unexpectedly anywhere. I had been violating that rule pretty seriously and am now going to try to observe it better.

3. Having thought about it this some more, my #1 danger spot -- where almost all of my "near-misses" have happened -- is when approaching a long line of cars stopped at a light. I ride almost 100% in bike lanes, so I have a semi-clear path to the front of the intersection. I am in Chicago and there is heavy traffic often, so the line of cars can be very long (like a quarter mile), so just pulling into line and waiting isn't a reasonable option -- you'll be waiting 10 minutes and there is a nice bike lane just to your right. So, you cruise up the bike path, but, very often you will encounter either (a) an unsignaled right turn from someone toward the top of the line; or (b) someone making a left toward the top of the line, which causes everyone else to drift into the bike lane without looking. Add a CTA bus stop at the top of the intersection and it's pretty hazardous. My old policy had been to fight my way up to the top of the intersection by hook or by crook (including the sidewalk, breaking out into the oncoming lane, zig-zagging, whatever) and then waiting at the light in an imaginary "bike box" somewhere ahead of the painted white line. It took a lot of work, and involved some dangerous moves, but it seemed "worth it" from a safety point of view because I ended up free-and-clear in the front of the line, plainly visible to every car around me. My new policy, after falling on my ass (or head), is to fight my way up to near the top of the intersection, but then, about 3 or 4 cars from the top (where the right hooks are), I tuck in behind someone who seems like they are going straight-through, and position myself more toward the center of the lane. That way, I get through the light, maintain visibility, but I avoid the most dangerous part of the intersection -- namely, trying to pass the "forward-most" cars on the right hand side.

4. FWIW, I do listen to music when I ride, but I use only one ear bud (on the right) and cut off or tie-up the left bud. I recognize that it would be safer not to do this. But, to anyone using two ear buds, I recommend trying just one -- you still get the music, but you maintain more awareness.

5. I think the advice about changing my route is really good. I have the option of going out to the Chicago lake path, but have avoided it because it adds 10-15 minutes to my ride and also the wind can be worse out there. But I am going to start mixing the lake path in more.

6. I hopped on my bike the day after my lame "crash," so no worried about giving up the bike.

Thanks again, all.
posted by Mid at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2010


"no worries"
posted by Mid at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2010


So, you cruise up the bike path, but, very often you will encounter either (a) an unsignaled right turn from someone toward the top of the line; or (b) someone making a left toward the top of the line, which causes everyone else to drift into the bike lane without looking.

That's actually how I had my only bike accident so far - flying at about 20mph down an empty bus lane past about 20-30 cars queued up at the lights, a cab driver pulled into the lane about 3m in front of me (unsignalled, of course) & I went over my handlebars trying to brake hard enough to avoid smashing into the back of him. Got a few nicely broken ribs.

Anyway...the tip I learned from a scooter rider (apart from not going so fast past a line of cars) was to watch the front wheels of the cars - if they're going to pull into your lane, the wheels obviously have to point that way first. Same goes for parked cars pulling out.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:27 PM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Quotes from Mid's response)


my problem is that I'm experienced enough to be a little bored, but not expert enough to be pulling crazy messenger-style stunts (maybe nobody should be doing that).

Well, depends what you mean by that. But personally, I won't run lights/stoplights except under very specific circumstances (absolutely no observers, anywhere) and when I do so my awareness is kicked up to "I'm crossing a freeway on foot" levels. So, generally, never unless it's 3AM.

The people who say "be predictable" I think are exactly right. That's the key -- let everyone know where you are going, don't dart unexpectedly anywhere. I had been violating that rule pretty seriously and am now going to try to observe it better.

Well, from what I understand your accident was a loss of control and wasn't caused by your unpredictability, but that's just because you were lucky. Being predictable makes the cars that you *don't* see ('cause you can't see them *all*) able to avoid you--provided they see you of course. You shouldn't rely on cars seeing you, but you should certainly use every trick in the book to help people not hit you.




My new policy, after falling on my ass (or head), is to fight my way up to near the top of the intersection, but then, about 3 or 4 cars from the top (where the right hooks are), I tuck in behind someone who seems like they are going straight-through, and position myself more toward the center of the lane. That way, I get through the light, maintain visibility, but I avoid the most dangerous part of the intersection -- namely, trying to pass the "forward-most" cars on the right hand side.


That sounds like a very good idea. I might sometimes slip around the left of a car that is obviously turning right (not just signaling, but tires cranked, etc.)--but even then I do so with the full knowledge that that car might suddenly change its mind and go straight/left. Believe me, that's on my mind.

FWIW, I do listen to music when I ride, but I use only one ear bud (on the right) and cut off or tie-up the left bud. I recognize that it would be safer not to do this. But, to anyone using two ear buds, I recommend trying just one -- you still get the music, but you maintain more awareness.

I do this too (generally with both earbuds). I've noticed a couple of things. It doesn't really make a difference to my perception if I have one bud in or two. The wind noise at speed is loud enough to overpower the headphones anyway. The real problem for me is that I subsequently don't have all my attention on the road anymore. I haven't yet gotten into trouble yet but I definitely notice that I'm not *quite* as perceptive with that in. It's not an issue so much of simply hearing things as it is the cognitive load.

I think the advice about changing my route is really good. I have the option of going out to the Chicago lake path, but have avoided it because it adds 10-15 minutes to my ride and also the wind can be worse out there. But I am going to start mixing the lake path in more.

Another great idea. It's fun to mix it up, even if you don't do that every time.

Finally, going back again:

Having thought about it this some more, my #1 danger spot -- where almost all of my "near-misses" have happened -- is when approaching a long line of cars stopped at a light.


When you're lane splitting you've really got to be hyper-aware. There's nothing illegal about it in my neck of the woods, but you have to realize that there is of course a higher risk associated with the activity. When you're doing something like that, you've got to (in my opinion) be ignoring practically everything except the likelihood of a door opening or a car moving onto you or your path. More hyperawareness. There's where I get some of the thrill, I think. I know it's a risky activity--if that door, there, opens (say), I am going to the hospital. Granted, the likelihood that someone in a line of cars is going to open a door is pretty low, but it does happen. Also, the likelihood of someone in that scenario that decides to open a door actually considering the possibility a bike is coming is so ludicrously low as to be ignorable.

Of course the day I start being lax on this awareness is the day I get hurt, surely. If I don't think I'm going to be able to keep up that level of awareness (I keep forgetting), then I have to stop doing that. It does mean I'm going to "waste" a lot of mental effort preparing a reaction that doesn't actually happen, but I'd rather be accident free as a result of my actions and not as a result of "I do some riskier stuff but luckily a car hasn't done something unexpected yet". I get to control more of my fate.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2010


As someone who's ridden with music and without, I have to say that I would never ever ride through the city with earbuds. Seriously. It is a bad idea. But if you absolutely must have music (and I know plenty of otherwise intelligent people who do commute with Slayer or techno or whatever), please tuck the earbuds cord into your shirt or under the strap of your bookbag, so that if one or both ear pieces come out, the cord just won't go flying.

My own approach is to achieve the right blend of aggression and caution, and that's after some 16 years of commuting in Manhattan. You don't want to be too cautious, because the drivers will sense that and won't give you an inch, much less a lane. And you don't want to be too aggressive, because that'll get you hurt.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:01 PM on May 7, 2010


You might find Cyclecraft useful.
posted by scruss at 11:21 AM on August 22, 2010


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