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View Full Version : I want to be the GOOD cyclist.


Ben_Who
04-13-2015, 07:04 PM
So Spring arrived with a sickening thud the other day (last week, four inches of snow; yesterday, 68 and sunny) and with it, a creeping sense that I should balance my corpulent carcass on the miniscule seat of my three-year-old bicycle and put some miles on it. (Really; I should probably have an escort vehicle with an "oversized load" banner. I look like an elephant riding a mouse.) Best way to do that is to simply ride the infernal machine to work.

Interestingly enough, there are incentives to biking to work this year that will probably be delineated in an extensive MiM post not too far in the future. (We all got an E-mail from our increasingly parsimonious management along the lines of, "Look, about that parking space. They really do cost a lot of money, and...well...do you REALLY need to drive to work?)

On the other paw, I'm well aware of the reputation that cyclists have on busy city streets, and also aware that that reputation isn't entirely undeserved. We do kind of have a habit of coming right outta nowhere. (You'd think the silly hat would make us more noticeable.)

I want to be the good cyclist, the one that doesn't make motorists' morning commutes any more difficult and stressful than it has to be. I looked up the road rules for my community only to discover that there aren't any - helmets aren't required, you can ride on the sidewalk if you want, and traffic laws are more like suggestions. (Blow right through that four-way stop. Ain't no thing.) The phrase "Just do what you think is the safest thing to do in your situation" kept popping up on the websites I was reading.

So the other day I was doing a dry run, wearing my silly hat, pedaling dutifully to the office on a Sunday to see whether it was practical to use my bike to commute. (Answer: yes.) However, I grew up cycling in a very rural community, all dirt roads and distant farms, and yesterday I was sharply aware of every single possible item of note on the path - pedestrians, vehicles, potholes, street litter, all of it. ("Hubcap!") It was kind of a lot to take in for someone determined to be a courteous two-wheeled commuter, especially one in an increasing state of physical fatigue. (What idiot put City Center on top of a HILL?)

So who here cycles to work, and is there anything in particular to keep in mind to stay safe? Also, who here has to deal with cyclists on their way to work, and what do they do that drives you INSANE? I was boggled by the fact that there aren't any hard rules for cyclists in this city, and a bit surprised that more of them don't wind up as hood ornaments. In short, how can I be the good cyclist?

eltf177
04-13-2015, 07:10 PM
My biggest pet peeve: cyclists who think stop signs, red lights and yield signs are optional. Best way to become road pizza.

The second is those that weave back and forth between the sidewalk and street. Pick one and stick with it!:rant:

NecessaryCatharsis
04-13-2015, 08:59 PM
My biggest pet peeve from bicyclists:

I used to live in a town/city that only had one road from west to east (only one bridge over the river), which was a busy 4 lane road and very hilly, which made for slow bicycling. They would be biking in the middle of the right hand lane, which they should, and it would take you forever to get a gap in the left lane to get around them, after which, when you stopped at the next red light they would stop biking in the middle of the lane, stay right around the cars stopped at the light and then proceed on the green in the middle of the right lane again, ahead of you, making you have to take forever to go around them again. Since the whole road was nothing but hills and lights...AHRRG

One bicycle could cause the 10 minute drive across town to take more than 1/2 hour.

EricKei
04-13-2015, 09:46 PM
What eltf said. As you have your safety and that of others in mind (which is awesome :)), your best bet is probably to assume that "If a car has to do it, so do you," AND some other things, besides. Whether it's frequently observed/enforced or not, bikes are supposed to stop at all stop signs/red lights. Remember, many car drivers "won't" see bikes when they wanna get over to the next lane/turn/etc ("Can't or won't?" "It just says 'won't' -- This thing reads like stereo instructions!" -- cookies for the reference ;)). Act accordingly.

Seanette
04-14-2015, 12:20 AM
PLEASE make sure you're very visible, especially if any of your trip occurs in less than broad daylight. A lot of drivers really don't WANT to hit cyclists, but if we can't see you.....

LillFilly
04-14-2015, 01:54 AM
I recommend wearing a reflective vest at all times, maybe have reflective/glowing strips on the bike too; that way nobody has the excuse that 'they didn't/couldn't see you due to weather/lighting. I don't know where you live but the state may have a law to have a certain strength headlight/rear light on the bike. There are lights that charge as you peddle and are super bright! Wear a helmet too; it might be goofy, but it could save your life someday. Obey the traffic rules. In some states cars must pass a minimum of 3-4 feet from you. I might even recommend video recording sunglasses (found them for 40$ at Gander Mt.) in case you do get in an argument with someone or in an accident, you will have some hard evidence of who was at fault. Unfortunately, it can go 50/50 is seems with who will be believed; the cyclist or the driver.

You can't win them all. My housemate does everything I listed above (hasn't gotten a camera yet though I've encouraged him) and STILL gets jackhole Drivers giving him a hard time and sometimes outright committing vehicular assault. It's amazing how some people just get angry when they see a bicycle.

Be safe!

Jay 2K Winger
04-14-2015, 01:58 AM
Wear a helmet too; it might be goofy, but it could save your life someday.

When/if I ever have kids, I will insist they wear a helmet, no matter how much they protest.

A bike helmet saved my life when I was a kid and I had an accident. I was damn lucky that I didn't break my arm or separate my shoulder in that crash, but if I hadn't been wearing that helmet, I would have died. The top of my head hit a rock when I went over the handlebars.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of wearing a helmet.

MoonCat
04-14-2015, 02:04 AM
DON'T weave in and out of traffic. I'm not a driver, but where I live the number one complaint against bicyclists is that many of them constantly dart in and out between cars, trucks and buses.

Seanette
04-14-2015, 02:12 AM
That's a huge problem where I live. Bike riders seem to think they have NO responsibility for traffic safety, it's all on the drivers.

They also have an annoying tendency to force pedestrians off the sideWALK as if someone on foot has no business being there.

MoonCat
04-14-2015, 03:37 AM
Oh, yes, one more thing! If you do ride on the sidewalk, please let people walking ahead of you know that you're riding behind them and about to pass them! I've nearly been run down many, many times by people who don't bother to shout, ring a bell or anything. Even though I'm usually not wearing headphones, I don't always hear them coming up behind me due to the noise of passing traffic in the street.

KellyHabersham
04-14-2015, 06:43 AM
Oh, yes, one more thing! If you do ride on the sidewalk, please let people walking ahead of you know that you're riding behind them and about to pass them! I've nearly been run down many, many times by people who don't bother to shout, ring a bell or anything. Even though I'm usually not wearing headphones, I don't always hear them coming up behind me due to the noise of passing traffic in the street.

I'll second this......it's be my pet peeve about cyclists in this area, because so many of them do this. (Although to be fair, most of the cyclists whom I've encountered DO let me know they are coming up behind me)

Gizmo
04-14-2015, 07:40 AM
Oh, yes, one more thing! If you do ride on the sidewalk, please let people walking ahead of you know that you're riding behind them and about to pass them! I've nearly been run down many, many times by people who don't bother to shout, ring a bell or anything. Even though I'm usually not wearing headphones, I don't always hear them coming up behind me due to the noise of passing traffic in the street.

This - and strangely they always seem to need to pass me *just* at the point that something on the pavement like a street light means I have to step out a bit to avoid it.... :rolleyes:

BPFH
04-14-2015, 01:35 PM
My biggest pet peeve: cyclists who think stop signs, red lights and yield signs are optional. Best way to become road pizza.

Definitely mine, as well. I can't speak for the OP's jurisdiction, but where I live, a bicycle is legally a vehicle, and a cyclist is therefore obligated to follow the laws regarding operating a vehicle, including stopping at lights or signs, signaling, etc.--basically, anything except things that just don't apply to bikes because of their nature. (Technically this does mean that cyclists around here shouldn't be riding on sidewalks, except when the sidewalks are designated as a bike route.)

Golden Phoenix
04-14-2015, 01:37 PM
As an occasional cyclist (in britain) I go with the following:

Obey rules of the road as if I was in a car. I figure the rules are there to keep everyone safe.

Wear something bright. (It doesn't guarantee you'll be seen though, I was making a turn across the road wearing a bright red thigh length coat and almost got wiped out by some impatient driver who looked stunned to find me almost under the wheels of his vehicle)

I always signal as if I was in a car. Arm signals are a cyclists friend in my opinion but I see so few people actually using them. Then again, I was signalling while making that turn and it didn't help so.... Sudden maneuvers without warning are dangerous, but try telling that to the drivers in this area...*sigh* Anyone else ever nearly been run down by a car making a turn without signalling? Drives me batty! (Sorry, rant over)

If on the footpath when approaching someone walking with their back to me i say/yell "on your Left/Right!" with plenty of time to spare, they usually glance round at the yell and can step aside a little, I always thank them as I pass.

If I'm in a narrow or very high traffic area where vehicles may not be able to pass, i check behind me every now and then, if I have a car or multiple cars that have gotten stuck behind me, I will "pull over" (assuming it is safe to do so) so they can pass. I'd rather stop for a second than have someone get impatient and swing by me too close for comfort.

I use bike lanes when they are available. (Although there are none here at all)

Chromatix
04-14-2015, 03:43 PM
One last important tip: don't overtake a stopped van or articulated lorry, on *either* side, unless you're absolutely certain it isn't going to start moving (eg. the engine is off). If it starts turning towards you, you could get squashed if you're beside it - and the reason it's stopped might be to wait for a gap in traffic to perform such a manoeuvre. So stay fully behind it, and if possible slightly to the side so that the driver can see you.

Ben_Who
04-14-2015, 05:31 PM
Thanks to everyone for all the responses. This is going to be harder than I thought. I'm going to parse some of that dry run ride for context.

1) Long stretches of the ride to work are along "multi-use paths" built for cyclists and pedestrians, including two miles of the Eastern Trail and the Barrier Lane on the Bay Bridge. They're a welcome respite from traffic.

2) Regarding the on-the-sidewalk, off-the-sidewalk thing, Portland has gone to a lot of effort to advertise themselves as a pedestrian-friendly city, which means that for a cyclist, it's impossible to tell whether you'd be safer in the travel lane or on the sidewalk. It is literally a moment-by-moment assessment. The sidewalks are huge and cycling is allowed, but then you see what looks like the entire cast of "Friends" walking towards you abreast, all of them seeing you very clearly yet not one of them deviating their pace in the slightest, and you're going back into that travel lane - whereupon a parked car opens its drivers' side door at you. (Fortunately there was no one in the travel lane.)

3) The "On your left/on your right" thing only works if other people are listening. I was crossing the Bay Bridge and this guy was ambling along without a care in the world, and without a warning my bike was going to be invading his personal space. However, despite saying "On your right," a couple of times, he just continued ambling, until I was trailing along behind him at about 2 MPH. "Hey!"

I heard the buzzing of another cyclist behind me, and heard, "On your right," no louder than I'd said it. For some reason, the guy not only noticed that one, it seemed to startle the hell out of him. He jumped as if stung and flung himself against the suicide fence, staring at me as if he'd seen a ghost while the other cyclist cruised past.

This cycling thing is going to take a certain degree of cooperation. I can't ever remember a time when, as a pedestrian, I stood my ground and glared defiantly at an approaching cyclist as if to say "No, YOU move," but if you're under thirty and live in Portland, this is clearly the hot new game to play.

Downtown looks like the only place where there's any question about where to put the bike. Broadway is usually pretty traffic heavy, but they have breakdown space and hardly-used sidewalks, and everything else is bike path. I think I apologized to more people on that one-mile stretch of Congress than anywhere else.

pudddykat
04-14-2015, 06:29 PM
The other day I had a green light going straight and some nincompoop on a bike turned (what be left for him) racing straight across the intersection. SERIOUSLY?! I watch out for bikes and I am careful around them but for the love of Pete don't actively try to become a street pizza. I concur with what the others said as well.

NecessaryCatharsis
04-14-2015, 09:08 PM
This seemed apropos.

http://www.lamebook.com/no-thanks-2/no-thanks-2/

Ironclad Alibi
04-14-2015, 10:35 PM
Her is a short video by Bruno Bozzetto (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbnjGiGFxG8) about how to drive safely. Bicycles appear at 1:26.

Be prepared to spend a few hours if you watch his other videos.

Irving Patrick Freleigh
04-15-2015, 01:23 AM
Watch this video, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQgAMkMmsfg) and try not to contemplate how many hits of acid went into its production.

wolfie
04-15-2015, 02:14 AM
The other day I had a green light going straight and some nincompoop on a bike turned (what be left for him) racing straight across the intersection.

Roughly a year ago I had a green light coming out of a shipper in NYC, and a cyclist on the cross street was TICKED OFF that I didn't stop for him. Excuse me? I had both the right of way (green light) and right of weigh (18 wheeler with 40,000 pounds of cargo vs. bicycle). There's stupid, and then there's asking for a Darwin award.

dalesys
04-15-2015, 03:39 PM
Just don't be a GOOD cyclist of the good indian style....

Seshat
04-17-2015, 01:07 PM
Ride as predictably as possible. If people can accurately guess what you're about to do, they can (but sadly, not 'will') avoid you.

Be as visible as possible.
- high flag attached to the bike; in reflective safety orange.
- reflective spoke clips on both front and back wheels.
- reflectors on both front and back mudflaps (or as close as possible if no flaps).
- BOTH battery and dynamo lights: the battery lights make you visible when you're stopped (eg for red lights), the dynamo lights are much brighter.
- reflective safety orange leg cuffs to keep your pants out of your chain.
- reflective safety orange vest, if only a set of straps in an 'X' pattern in summer.
- can't hurt to put safety orange reflective tape on your helmet, either.

If your luggage obscures the visibility of any of these, put the lights behind the luggage carrier; and put tape on your luggage.

Get a GOOD bike mirror; and use it.

Have a good bell that's easy to trigger. When you absolutely need it, you don't want it to fail.

Have your bike store help you learn the daily and weekly maintenance tasks for your bike, and the signs that it's time to bring it in for a full service. (Or learn to do a full service yourself.)
Some of the chores that keep your bike in good working condition are VERY important for safety; you don't want to skimp on replacing the brake pads, for instance.

Tama
04-17-2015, 06:36 PM
I didn't know the flag served a purpose. I always thought that it was something kids did purely for decoration.

HawaiianShirts
04-17-2015, 07:33 PM
As a bike commuter myself (8 miles daily, roundtrip), I can say that there's plenty of good advice given already in this thread, so I'll just summarize my comments:
- Be predictable, like Seshat said.
- Behave like a car when possible; drivers will have to do less thinking about how to react to your presence.
- Be as visible as possible, then assume that you are completely invisible. Might be surprised at how much more responsive to potential dangers you are when in this mindset.
- When what you're about to do may affect a driver (like at a four-way stop when you want to go straight and they want to turn), make eye-contact. Most will either take that as their cue to move first or acknowledge your presence and wave to you to go first.
- Obey the street signs as if you were driving. You may not be required to by law, but it really is much safer that way.
- Wear sunglasses or some kind of safety glasses. I can't tell you how many times my laboratory safety specs (from my microbiology job a few years back) have saved my eyes from tire-flung rocks, windblown debris, and bugs.

...Portland has gone to a lot of effort to advertise themselves as a pedestrian-friendly city...

I'm going to assume you don't mean Portland, Oregon. I've found it to be both pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, but any advertising would be heavily in favor of bikes.

notalwaysright
04-17-2015, 09:46 PM
Get a GOOD bike mirror; and use it.


My dad cycled for years, and he told me this was very important.

I know I can easily tell the cyclists who are trying to be safe and those who are trying to make a point. Many drivers and pedestrians and cyclists are firmly in the "I'm not going to move, because I'm right" category, so I guess just watch out for them.