Could this asshole-motorist repellant actually work?
November 26, 2007 2:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm fed up with nearly getting clipped by passing cars while on my bike. The other day I thought of attaching a key or scribe to a flexible pole mounted on the side of my bike as a deterrent. Is this a good idea?

It would work like pointing your left hand out holding a key, only permanently attached to the frame. I was thinking of using a pole from one of those driveway reflectors that guide plow trucks with a nice sharp tip and an orange flag for visibility.

From a safety perspective I think the flexible pole would prevent the bike from getting knocked out from under me if I got hit. Ohio law requires motorists to give 3 feet of clearance while passing, so from a legal perspective as long as I limited the length to 3ft out it seems as kosher as those devices that will bust a tire if you try and leave a parking lot the wrong way.

Am I on to something or am I just crazy?
posted by waxboy to Technology (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would think that even a flexible pole, if hit, could have the danger of knocking you off balance. It would have to be something very flexible --- a wire, almost --- to not carry a risk of knocking you over.
posted by jayder at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2007

Best answer: This is a very, very bad idea.

A careless driver who accidentally gets too close and gets scratched might get really pissed off and run you over.

You are on a bike. You can get killed easily. Think about it.

And what if YOU get too close to a car and scratch them by accident? As an urban biker for 25 years, I know this can happen once in awhile too.

I don't think the very small possible benefit could possibly, by ANY stretch of the imagination, overshadow the very likely consequences.
posted by luriete at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2007

This sounds like a really, really bad idea. Like, you could get hurt because the vehicle might catch on the pole somehow and knock you down and/or drag you to your death. Or you could get your ass kicked by some pissed off motorist.

If it's the law to give you a certain amount of space, why don't you start taking down license plates of those who clip you and reporting them?
posted by orange swan at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2007

They have coloured flags which are a lot less confrontational.
posted by cardboard at 3:03 PM on November 26, 2007

You'd be in danger of hurting pedestrians and other cyclists. At speed, a pointy-ended flexible cane will do all kinds of damage. Like my own dear mother used to say - You could have someone's eye out!

I'd suggest wearing a high-vis vest, if you don't already.
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:05 PM on November 26, 2007

I ride in the city of Boston every day, and I have been struck several times, and have been "bumped" a couple times, and I get put very close to cars every single day. After a while I just stopped noticing. I second jayder, unless they hit the pole just right they are going to knock you over, or at least knock you off course, which is going to be more dangerous for you than it will be painful for them.

If you really want to do something to discourage cars from getting close to you I would suggest some very bright blinking lights.

As much as I hate cars, (and I do hate them soooo much), if you key one they are just going to run you over. What will that solve. I say you get a couple of your buddies and ride in a large pack. More bikers = less cars on the road.
posted by stilgar at 3:05 PM on November 26, 2007

I met someone who did this. Except she used a carbide-tipped drill bit, didn't have a flag on it, and it only stuck out slightly wider than her shoulder.

The pole will do nothing to mitigate any injury to you or the bike if you do get hit; in fact, if it's not very flexible, it'll be more likely to throw you off balance if someone does graze you, and could be a hazard to you if you wind up under it.

Legally, regardless of width, you're probably on shaky ground (IANAL, RTFM, BVD). Your state's vehicle code probably has some language relating to dangerous protuberances on vehicles. Parking-ot STDs are on private property and are clearly marked.
posted by adamrice at 3:07 PM on November 26, 2007

Best answer: I'm a daily rider; I agree that this is a bad idea, for the reasons people have already mentioned. Also - selfishly - I don't want you to do this because you're going to piss people off, and those people hate me because I'm another asshole cyclist like the one who keyed their car.

Counterintuitively, you might try riding closer to the center of the lane (as conditions permit.) This can help prevent drivers from thinking "oh yeah, I can just squeeze past without... oops."
posted by buxtonbluecat at 3:12 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bad idea, in my opinion. The pole is not likely to be flexible enough to prevent some of the car's impact from transferring to the bike and it takes little movement to throw you into the row of parked cars, as I'm sure you know. If you find a very flexible material, maybe.

But seriously, skip the sharpened tip. It's retaliatory, at best -- you're not going to teach anyone about improved bike-car safety with it, unless you commute next to the same three cars every day. More than that, you're just going to piss people off, especially if they figure out that the big scratch on their car is because of your sharpened key and pointy stick. You're on a bike. You'll lose the ensuing altercation.

Brighter lights, brighter clothing, perhaps be MORE aggressive in taking over the lane space that you're entitled to, assuming you're moving within 5-10 miles of the average speed of traffic.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 3:17 PM on November 26, 2007

You would likely have your ass beat in no time flat. If that's worth it to you to make some kind of point, then go for it.
posted by xmutex at 3:18 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wear a blonde wig instead. Drivers give lots of room to blondes on bikes, helmet wearers get less, a guy in England did a study. I like your idea though.
posted by hortense at 3:19 PM on November 26, 2007

Seconding buxtonbluecat: take the lane. I've found that drivers will change lanes to go around me when I take the lane. When I ride all the way to the right of the lane they'll more often try to squeeze by.

I'm defining taking the lane by riding the path that would normally be traveled by a car's left wheels.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:21 PM on November 26, 2007

Bad idea, agreed, as above. Love the wig idea.

What I do is stick my arm straight out implying I need that space. Of course it looks like I want to turn as well, so I would then have a few people's attention. A lot of them move aside. My idea may also be a bad one too, though.
posted by Listener at 3:23 PM on November 26, 2007

Get all Rube Goldberg and fashion a lever to spray,..oh I don't know maybe.......paint on the side of the car. Be your little secret as the paint dries of course. Just a big smile on your face as the driver sees you in t he mirror and thinks he spooked YOU?

Runny orange is always a good choice most seasons.


Be safe.
posted by Freedomboy at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2007

Seconding giving yourself lots of space on the curbside - drivers tend to think you need an equal amount of space either side of you (when in fact of course they being several tons of moving metal need to be further away from you than the curb is).
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2007

Not to pile on, but...well, I'll pile on. That has to be, in all honesty, the worst idea I've heard in a long time. Not only do you run the risk of getting killed/maimed, you set back the cause of rider's rights immeasurably.

As a daily bike commuter, I fight for respect from cars with my actions as I ride; the last thing I need is an actual physical fight because I've had one (completely understandable, mind you) moment of assholity.

If you're concerned about making cars notice you, make them notice you for the right reasons - when possible, take the lane, as mentioned, and ride as defensively as possible at all times. It sucks being a cyclist on urban streets sometimes, but because this society is so biased towards the car, the onus unfortunately seems to be on cyclists to prove they belong, instead of on motorists to prove they can share. It's not right, but it is the way of things these days.

Mind you, if someone cuts you off or does something stupid, there's nothing wrong with screaming obscenities at them.
posted by pdb at 3:33 PM on November 26, 2007

Best answer: Since you are knowingly creating a substantial risk of physical harm to the property of others, you are committing criminal damage.

from a legal perspective as long as I limited the length to 3ft out it seems as kosher as those devices that will bust a tire if you try and leave a parking lot the wrong way.

Tell it to the judge.
posted by grouse at 3:34 PM on November 26, 2007

I'm a former daily bike commuter and current daily car commuter (going to get on the bike soon - taking a month off for back reasons).

The best thing you can do is take the lane - ride in the center of it, rather than off to the side.

If you live in a community where this is impossible or unsafe (like in a town where the major roads are all 40mph highways), then either ride on the sidewalk (where legal) or ride on side roads.

There's almost always an alternate route with slower traffic or less traffic.

My own choice, based on my level of fitness, is to ride in traffic but to seize the lane at lights and stop signs. I also ride far enough out from the gutter so I won't get caught on opening car doors.

I haven't been bumped in three years of day, night, and rain riding. Your mileage may vary.
posted by zippy at 3:58 PM on November 26, 2007

don't try this in rural oregon. you don't know who's in that truck. there could be more than one of them. they might be armed, even if not, if they become consciously aware that you extended some sort of weapon out into their path, they will quite possibly beat you to a bloody pulp.

this is a very ugly question. it evokes the sort of thuggish aggression i've picked up in the past from some critical mass people. you should consider emailing the mods asking them to nuke it, otherwise it will remain in cyberspace as a monument to the thinking of a subset of the rider's rights people.
posted by bruce at 3:59 PM on November 26, 2007

Best answer: Of course it is a horrible idea. However, I think you would be fine if you made it smaller (one foot or so) and had no tip on it, so the point is only to increase your visibility. For example, go here. See also here.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:01 PM on November 26, 2007

I suggest a flag like this because it sticks out to the side.
posted by bitteroldman at 4:04 PM on November 26, 2007

Too slow! :)
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:06 PM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I had a feeling it was a bad idea but had no idea everyone would think so. I guess I'll stick to taking the lane and swerving a bit when I see traffic approaching and let the assholes off easy with the bird.

And grouse, thanks for the research! At least I can take comfort in the fact that if I did use such a contraption and got into a legal battle I'd face a 2nd degree misdemeanor for endangering property while the motorist would likely face a 1st degree misdemeanor for endangering my person. If only the drug laws were so reasonable!
posted by waxboy at 4:07 PM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: I was thinking the same thing PercussivePaul, only breakaway and with some stars and bars to show people I'm not some damn libral hippie.
posted by waxboy at 4:11 PM on November 26, 2007

No, no, don't swerve. Move predictably in a straight line such that 1. you have adequate clearance from the curb and parked cars, and 2. cars will not be tempted to try and squeak past you without changing lanes. Swerving is dangerous!
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:11 PM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: I find that by behaving erratically drivers tend to give me more room, at least when they've been watching me do it as they approach. Not a good idea in traffic, but quite effective when you see someone in your mirror who seems too lazy to bother changing lanes.
posted by waxboy at 4:20 PM on November 26, 2007

Yikes. Well. Two wrongs don't make a right. If you misjudge the speed of the approaching car you could endanger yourself. You also make it very difficult for a passing motorist to know how much room to give you and when it is safe to pass since all they see is an erratic cyclist who could swerve right across the roadway at any time. I mean it probably works for you but it's sort of like slamming on the brakes to piss off someone who's tailgating you -- it breaks the implicit contract that all users of the road move in straight lines in predictablte ways and clearly signal their intentions.

I don't know what the cycling climate is like in Ohio, I imagine it is a lot worse than what I'm used to. I did find an Ohio "Bicycling Street Smarts" page where they repeat this recommendation: "It's much safer to ride in a predictable, straight line, where everyone can see you. Motorists don't mind slowing down for a predictable, visible bicyclist nearly as much as they mind a bicyclist who swerves out in front of them." Take it for what it's worth.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:33 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

The objective when you're biking in a city is not to teach those dastardly drivers a lesson. It is to get where you're going alive.

You seem to have taken a lot of the good advice upthread, which is good. To reiterate: don't put yourself at more risk just to retaliate. Also realize that it's not only bad drivers who drive close to you - it's also people who aren't being given room to move over by other drivers. Trying to cause property damage is the worst possible response to people driving too close to you.
posted by Dasein at 4:40 PM on November 26, 2007

Best answer: Write on your bike:

"Ex-wife got car"

You will get instant sympathy.
posted by gmarceau at 4:50 PM on November 26, 2007 [4 favorites]

As someone who drives around many many bikers on a university, I tend to give wide berth to bikers who follow the law. You're a car, so follow the same rules as the car and all will be okay.

My advice would be to take the lane as suggested above (but don't swerve around... that causes Fear and Uncertainty, which could lead to retaliation).
posted by yellowbkpk at 4:52 PM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: it's not only bad drivers who drive close to you - it's also people who aren't being given room to move over by other drivers

The good ones have enough sense to slow down in that situation, the bad ones try and squeeze by anyway.
posted by waxboy at 4:52 PM on November 26, 2007

...which is why you ride in the middle of the lane when you think they might try a squeeze. So that the only way they can squeeze is by moving into the other lane. No need to swerve. They might be angry but if you in the middle of the lane makes them angry, you swerving probably makes them more angry, and the end result is the same (they change lanes to pass you).
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:05 PM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, PercussivePaul. I'd like to clarify that when I use the swerve it's only slight, more of a hint that I might jump out in front of traffic, but I see where you're coming from. I think I'm going to buy a yardstick, chop it down, and use it as shown in that link with the phrase "EX-WIFE GOT CAR" written on it. Less anger and retaliation, more laughs and consideration.
posted by waxboy at 5:18 PM on November 26, 2007

You know the yardstick was a joke, right? Riding with a rigid three-foot stick is dangerous. "ex-wife got car" on the stick kind of sends a mixed message, too ("I'm one of you, but get the hell away from me I need room"). I recommend a flag plus bumper-sticker combo. Anyway good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:24 PM on November 26, 2007

I thought this one was good (albeit a smidgen confrontational).
posted by miss lynnster at 6:06 PM on November 26, 2007

A rear view mirror clipped to the helmet is the epitome of dorkiness, but works wonders for situational awareness. You want to be one step ahead of everyone else on the road, and directing them with liberal use of hand signals delivered with an aggressive posture. Don't swerve, feint where you are going and gauge reactions before committing to anything.

As others have said, when there is any question of safe coexistence, you explicitly take possession of the entire lane by signaling, feinting, and then moving out to the center. You do this anytime you are looking at a potential squeeze, or if you pass a parked car with someone inside (who may fling their door open at the last second) or an alley with any potential of a sudden car exiting.
posted by Manjusri at 6:07 PM on November 26, 2007

I second PercussivePaul (and Manjusri)... If you're in any situation where you are moving at a close speed to the flow of traffic and there's a chance of people buzzing you too close, OWN the lane. If they act like they don't see you, stand up on the pedals, like you're trying to scare a bear. Don't be intimidated by a honk or a yell, but if someone gets up in your hip pocket, it's best to move out of the way, as to not get hit, with a "FUCK YOU!" for good measure (you might want to let them pass first).

It's annoying to other drivers, but they will pass you when they get their chance, and they'll quickly get over their frustration. The road is yours, too.
posted by jstef at 6:20 PM on November 26, 2007

What about mounting a camera?
posted by delmoi at 6:28 PM on November 26, 2007

Please please please consider the fact that some drivers may be new to city driving with bicycles. Tonight, we (who are very careful drivers) were driving out and someone on a bike whizzed up by the passenger side while we were trying to get into another lane. I felt horrible for nearly clipping the guy, but we certainly didn't do it on purpose.
posted by santojulieta at 6:28 PM on November 26, 2007

As a driver, I suggest:

1. Be consistent. If you own the lane, own it; if you're off to the side, stay there, and if you know you need to swing out to avoid an obstacle, for goodness' sake look over your shoulder first;

2. Make it obvious that you're paying attention to cars approaching. If you don't have a mirror, get one, then when you see a car coming glance back so the observant ones know you're aware of them -- it makes drivers less nervous about you potentially swinging out.

As a bicyclist:

1. There's very little you can do to stop assholes, other that do your best not to attract their attention in a negative way, and hold your line and leave some room to dodge if they try to buzz you.

2. There's a lot you can do to get the attention of drivers who aren't paying attention, like flags and other suggestions mentioned above.

If it makes you feel any better (I don't know if you ever drive) even when I drive I'm often annoyed or fearful of other drivers misbehaving; it's not just a bike thing. However, obviously the stakes are a LOT higher for a bicyclist.

Happy Cycling!
posted by davejay at 6:33 PM on November 26, 2007

Oh right, because making fun of the cultural stereotype of the wife suing her all-deserving husband for everything, including his motorized transport, is the solution to a bicyclist wanting more road. That and the solution to 'wear a long blonde wig' makes threads like this full of all sorts of assumptions; all cyclists wanting more road are men, the crazy drivers are somehow in a "club" who will be sympathetic to either men or ditzy blondes.

Learn how to commute on a bike. That doesn't include swerving to look crazy. Take more road, wear a huge vest, take other roads if possible. Sure it's not going to prevent all crazies, but that's the nature of bike commuting in urban, suburban and semi-rural places, in the US at least. There are tons of other threads on safe bike commuting on here. Please don't resort to blatant sexist (couched in humor) signs for cyclists. It gives all of us a bad name.
posted by barnone at 6:47 PM on November 26, 2007 [5 favorites]

You know barnone, I just got through scanning the giant metatalk threads on this topic. I think they have significantly opened my eyes. Reading this thread again, I am kind of appalled that I didn't register the implicit sexism until you pointed it out. For what it's worth I agree with you.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:03 PM on November 26, 2007

okay, I'm on both sides of this argument. swerving *really* makes me as a car driver want to get around you because you look like someone about to fall or otherwise somehow get under my car tires.

as an urban cyclist, I really resent it when other people cook crap like this up. it just makes other drivers hate me even more. total guilt by association.
posted by patricking at 8:09 PM on November 26, 2007

Too many comments actually to read. I'll just add that each and every one of us (cyclists) has had the same fantasy, so if anyone says you're nuts, at least you're in good company.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:44 PM on November 26, 2007

After a recent accident I had the same idea, but with a more targeted approach, so I could key them if I could catch up.

Obviously, this is a bad idea if not for causing damage, for the fact you might die if they notice you.

I have been thinking a bit more about carrying some bumper stickers or something, which you could slap on the assholes, either informing the world of their bad driving, or less confrontationally, pointing them to a website explaing about car/bike safety.
posted by scodger at 9:41 PM on November 26, 2007

If you have rack, consider riding with panniers on? When I've been on my bike with a couple of empty panniers, it affords me a little more room on both sides from drivers.
posted by perpetualstroll at 11:50 PM on November 26, 2007

Seconding the idea of riding with panniers on (or a single pannier on the appropriate side). If you don't normally use panniers, it might even be worth getting hold of an old one of the type that has webbing on the outside, padding it out with something light (scrunched up newspaper?) then sticking an old helmet in the webbing to make it stick out even more. I'm very sympathetic to your situation, as drivers that pass too close are by far the most common danger on my commute. Ride well away from the curb, be visible, make sure that drivers overtake when you've decided it's safe. I'm a big advocate of looking over your shoulder regularly - I think the movement makes you more conspicuous, and reminds drivers behind that you might be about to move into the center of the road.
posted by primer_dimer at 4:16 AM on November 27, 2007

That and the solution to 'wear a long blonde wig' makes threads like this full of all sorts of assumptions;

barnone: no assumptions on the blond wig suggestion; hortense's link pointed to a study done in England:

" Dr Walker donned a long wig to see whether there was any difference in passing distance when drivers thought they were overtaking what appeared to be a female cyclist.

While wearing the wig, drivers gave him an average of 14cm more space when passing. "

No one here is talking smack or making assumptions about "ditzy blondes". Possibly the drivers in the study, but that's not really what's being discussed.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:10 AM on November 27, 2007

What about attaching a baby seat to the back of your bike?
posted by hooray at 1:01 PM on November 27, 2007

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