The Lowest Common Denominator

Bikes and cars don't always get along this well.
Bikes and cars don’t always get along this well.

Stupidity is a powerful force never to be underestimated. Geese are a good example; a more stupid vertebrate one would be most challenged to come across yet should you wander into a flock of them pecking about peacefully in a field, one is likely to erupt from its grazing to grab a billful of your ass and commence beating you savagely with its wing. I witnessed such an event in Minneapolis, where a goose goosed a friend of mine. To our collective dismay, he showed off his buttockian bruise proudly for many weeks.

I’m not immune my own stupidity, which is unfortunate because if you already have to deal with other people’s stupidity, you should at least be free of dealing with your own. Tragically, the opposite appears to be true. In point of fact, a dominant portion of my life is spent recovering from my own acts of idiocy. For example, I recently rode an Imperial century on Whidbey Island in scorching heat. To combat dehydration, I carefully prepared my usual two bidons – one with electrolyte and one with plain water as is my custom – and proceeded to leave them in the car rather than place them on the bike. I was gleefully unaware of this oversight until I was well over an hour into the ride and I reached down for a drink in my usual Casually Deliberate style and found the cages mockingly empty.

Stupidity is also why I believe the iPhone has always been designed to be a one-handed device, to allow its user to send messages with one hand while driving, leaving the other hand free to drink coffee or wave the bird at other drivers. This leaves plenty of bandwidth for the vehicle to swerve off the road and stack up bicyclists on its hood.

There is no courage without fear, and no intelligence without idiocy. The problem with the latter in both cases is that they are much easier than the former and it feels a lot like easy win on the push with most of the population. Which means that in the majority of cases, we are dealing with idiotic cowards which is not an encouraging scenario, especially when taking your own stupidity into account.

Last year, the New York Times published an essay on the mentality of motorists when it comes to Cyclists. Its a terrifying read, the sort of writing that makes you question whether its smart to keep riding on the road. My personal conclusion is that the road is where I find my soul; to stop riding would be its own kind of death. Nevertheless, it is frightening thought that not only are many motorists inattentive, but some feel bicycles don’t belong on the road in the first place, and that should they be struck and killed, it is somehow their own fault. A truck driver in Seattle recently killed a female Cyclist who was commuting downtown. The local news celebrated the driver’s integrity for not leaving the scene of the accident.

Which raises the question of how one is to stay safe while riding. Personally, I’ve found myself riding ever more defensively aggressive when I’m on the road. I’m riding farther out from the side on narrow roads to keep cars passing at dangerous points and I’m avoiding the highest-trafficked roads whenever possible. In the rain, I’m even riding The Reflective Bike of Authority. (I draw the line at donning a YJA; we’re not a savages.)

These are easy things to do, but the fact is we are still at the mercy of our peers on the road who may not be watching for us, or – worse – not care if they hit is or – worst of all – feel it is somehow our own fault by being on the road in the first place. Changing this begins with us, the Cyclists, through the idea that we are ambassadors for our sport. With that, I felt it an appropriate time to remind us of our Urban Riding tips and update them a bit.

  1. Lead by example. Always obey traffic laws, taking special care to avoid violating hot-button laws like running stop signs. Every time we break a law, we send the message that the rules of the road don’t apply to us.
  2. Don’t escalate. You will invariably be placed into a dangerous situation by a driver who is either ignorant of the danger they caused you or is simply an ass. In both of these cases, screaming obscenities at them will only serve to put them on the defensive and make them hate cyclists even more than they already do. If you absolutely must say something, do your best to let them know why what they did was dangerous; if you’re polite and assertive, the message is much more likely to find it’s way home.
  3. Be gracious. If a car does the right thing, wave at them in thanks. If you know you are holding them up because you’re obstructing their path, move the side as soon as it’s safe and gesture your appreciation of their patience.
  4. Avoid telepathy. Always signal your intent and try to make eye contact with drivers whenever you’re not sure if they see you or not, especially in scenarios when you’ll be crossing their lane of traffic.
  5. Pay attention to the cars around you. Take note of the subtle signals the drivers are sending you. Are they overly fond of the brake pedal? Are they speeding? Are they swerving, texting, or otherwise distracted? Or do they drive predictably and use their turn signals properly? These things will tell you a lot about how safe you’ll be when they’re close to you.
  6. Ride predictably. When out training in town, consider yourself to be riding in the bunch, except the other riders are cars that can kill you. Just like riding in a group, when in traffic, hold your line, signal when there’s a hazard or when turning, and generally ride as predictably possible.
  7. Ride towards the side of the street. If there is a shoulder, ride in it, but if not, stay as far to the side as you safely are able to. Don’t ride so far to the side that it means you’re riding in debris that might cause a flat or might cause you to move erratically; there’s nothing safe about suddenly flying out into traffic while trying to avoid an object. Never ride through a puddle you can’t see the bottom of; it could be a much deeper hole than you think.
  8. Ride aggressively defensive. If there’s a narrow section of road coming up where it will be dangerous for a car to pass, signal to the cars behind and swing out into the middle of the lane until it’s safe for them to pass.
  9. It’s helpful to be able to accelerate quickly to move with traffic if necessary. In the event that you’re riding in a lane in order to discourage cars from passing, it’s good to move as close to the speed of traffic as possible.
  10. Avoid overly dangerous routes. Ride on the roads you need to in order to train properly, but also avoid unnecessarily dangerous areas or only ride them when traffic is at it’s lightest. Roads with good shoulders are preferable and, counter-intuitively, bike paths are not always safer places to ride; these are often filled with people of a variety of skill levels who may not be paying attention.

The best rides are those you come home from; always ride to proactively avoid placing yourself in dangerous situations and have a plan if you find yourself needing to take a risk. Stay safe and always remember we’re all brothers and sisters on the road. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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122 Replies to “The Lowest Common Denominator”

  1. @wiscot

     

    I’m so old I remember handlebar-mounted bottle cages. Most bikes had no brazed-on bosses. They sucked unless you activated the spring clip that squeezed the bottle! Again, you hit a bump and your bottle went a-flyin’! They were chrome-plated steel which always worked well when brought into contact with liquids.

    You kids today, you just don’t know how good you have it, now get orf my lawn.

    This could get like the Monty Python clip.  You only *remember* one of these……

     

  2. @Mikael Liddy Nice look, but why are you messing about with black jersey and white arm warmers? You need a pink long sleeve pro team jersey. If you haven’t tried them, do it, they are absolutely superb. The arms are not as warm as the classic arm warmers though.

    @Chris My take on the whole thing is that bright colours are necessary on the road in anything other than really good visibility, and especially so when mixing it with traffic. I interpret the term ‘YJA’ as applying to the sort of baggy mountain bike ‘commuter’ jacket usually sported by people who ride bikes, in which it is impossible to Look Fantastic. It doesn’t have to be yellow, it can be red, orange, blue or any colour you like, it still looks shit. Proper race spec kit from the likes of Rapha, Castelli, et al will fit properly and enable one to maintain acceptable sartorial standards in any colour one likes. As for Rapha, I’ve bought a load of their stuff over the years; it’s not cheap, but I’ve never been disappointed with any of it.

  3. @Teocalli

    @wiscot

    I’m so old I remember handlebar-mounted bottle cages. Most bikes had no brazed-on bosses. They sucked unless you activated the spring clip that squeezed the bottle! Again, you hit a bump and your bottle went a-flyin’! They were chrome-plated steel which always worked well when brought into contact with liquids.

    You kids today, you just don’t know how good you have it, now get orf my lawn.

    This could get like the Monty Python clip. You only *remember* one of these……

    Ahhh, but mine had a spring clip to hold the bottle, not like your fancy-schmancy one! The bottle also had a wee cap to cover the drinking spout that was attached to the bottle by a collar-thingy.It was made of plastic at least . . . .

    By the way, what’s that black thing it’s sitting on? I ain’t never seen one of them afore . . .

  4. @Frank Hey, I’d hate to disappoint. I don’t use the word often, but when I do I mean it.

    BTW, I can sort of post. It’s definitely an IP address thing – can’t post from home, only from work, or when I’m on my UK VPN.

    So I was meditating further on this general subject this morning as I rode home, especially after Harminator’s posts yesterday about Cairo.

    In Dubai nobody cares that I skip some red lights – there are other bits where I have to cross six lanes of traffic moving at 90km/h. This is a city where they are used to seeing workers on old steel sit-up bikes (Flying Pigeons are popular) riding in the gutter the wrong way against traffic.

    Nobody sees me as a threat. I’m not in their way, I’m not blocking their lane and I’m not going faster than them, so they don’t give a toss if I skip a light to get ahead and avoid being in their way when the light goes green.

    And this is where I think Frank and other people who say we should obey the rules are wrong. By doing that we reinforce the message that we are the same as cars, we just happen to be powered differently. This was the official position of the British cycle groups in the post-war road development environment. They took a firm stance that bikes had every right to be on the roads and should be treated as any vehicle, and that view is the one that largely holds sway in the English-speaking world.

    On the Continent however they took the view that bikes are not the same as cars. They are more vulnerable, slower and have different requirements, and therefore different rights and obligations. And they developed an infrastructure to fit that and the mentality to follow.

    So now, who has better cycling rates, fewer deaths and injuries?

    By not obeying the laws of the road, meant for cars, I am saying that I am not just a human-powered car. If it pisses off motorists that I don’t follow the same rules then maybe they should stop to think whether we are really the same in the first place.

  5. @ChrisO

    BTW, I can sort of post. It’s definitely an IP address thing – can’t post from home, only from work, or when I’m on my UK VPN.

    I do check the SPAM periodically for your name because I know you are having issues and I found one post from Saturday and one from today (actually from Sept 18 which is the future for us here in the Pacific time zone) but you’re the only one who has barked loud enough to make it known there’s an issue and a scan of the SPAM queue (about 19,000 posts) is an impossible task if the goal if finding others whose posts are being locked up.

    Hopefully you’re unkonwingly sharing an IP host with a terrahist and that’s why and you’re the only one who’s getting bogged down.

  6. @davidlhill

    @Mikael Liddy

    You’re a brave, brave man, Mikael. I salute you.

    I mean, photographic evidence of a Rule #50 transgression. Your name may start with an M but doesn’t end ‘arco’.

    David (in jest, of course…..)

    I love that the first response had nothing to do with the kit…well played.

    For the record that’s about a week’s worth of stubble, it’s just that my face seems not to grow any hair outside that area!

  7. Some really good advice there. I generally ride defensive aggressive, more as a means of leaving myself some wriggle room when things get a little tight. Being gracious has also worked well for me. A waved thank you goes a long way with most drivers and will hopefully encourage them to give way more often. I am considering some brighter gear for this autumn/ winter as I get more aware of my own mortality as I get older. Not sure that head to toe black conforms, but not sure if I’m ballsy enough to go flo pink either. Chapeau @Mikael Liddy

  8. Awesome work, Frank. Lately I too have been going to new lengths to avoid getting run over. Taking the lane, even more eye contact, riding at off-off peak times, taking the lowest volume routes. I feel much safer all the time, but I won’t let that slip into inattention. I think I used to ride Defensively Aggressive, but tried too hard to not piss off drivers along the lines of moving all the way over, even when it made me less safe. Now I ride well off the shoulder stripe and if people don’t like that, sorry dude. I want to force the cars to use the other lane to pass.

    The tape idea is great, gotta get on that.

    If you live anywhere with cycling advocacy, get INVOLVED! Entire states are removing “Share the Road” signs (they don’t work as intended) and replacing them with “Bicyclists Make Take Full Lane.” I know KS and DE have done it, your state could be next, so get invovled!

    Also, I run a light on the back of my helmet in fall winter. Planet Bike just came out with a new awesome Micro Super Flash. Super light since it is USB and thus no batteries. I just put a Velcro strap through the rear of all my helmets and move the light depending on which I’m using.

    Super Flash Turbo on seatstay, Serfas Thunderbolt on seat pillar, Super Flash Mini on helmet, three levels of lights. I dig all of them, if anyone is in the market for new lights. The full sized Super Flash also now comes in USB-rechargeable. Nice.

    Keep ridin’ Defensively Aggressive, Followers!

  9. @wiscot

    Oh, and by the way, your “winter” attire is spring, fall, and occasionally summer attire here in Wisconsin! I wore basically the same set up on Saturday morning.

    Just for shits & giggles, here’s what I got away with this morning leaving at 5.15am (pre-dawn, 24 days in to spring)…

    Think I’ve said it before, but riding in Adelaide doesn’t suck.

  10. @Mikael Liddy

    @wiscot

    Oh, and by the way, your “winter” attire is spring, fall, and occasionally summer attire here in Wisconsin! I wore basically the same set up on Saturday morning.

    Just for shits & giggles, here’s what I got away with this morning leaving at 5.15am (pre-dawn, 24 days in to spring)…

    Think I’ve said it before, but riding in Adelaide doesn’t suck.

    Sydney is hosting some glorious weather over the next little bit. Lucky for me I am on holidays so will get plenty of time to develop the tan lines.

  11. @gilly

    Some really good advice there. I generally ride defensive aggressive, more as a means of leaving myself some wriggle room when things get a little tight. Being gracious has also worked well for me. A waved thank you goes a long way with most drivers and will hopefully encourage them to give way more often. I am considering some brighter gear for this autumn/ winter as I get more aware of my own mortality as I get older. Not sure that head to toe black conforms, but not sure if I’m ballsy enough to go flo pink either. Chapeau @Mikael Liddy

    Capo does a range of black jerseys and jackets that are reflective when a light shines on them. Haven’t tried them myself, but they look good (pics with & without flash, from Pez).

  12. @The Grande Fondue

    @gilly

    Hm. The site seems to strip frames out of Gifs? Here’s a link: http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/capo-hivisjacket-anim.gif, and I’ll try embedding it:

  13. How’s this quote from an ABC television presenter here in Oz at the end of an article bemoaning car congestion in Melbourne:

    “…and that’s without even mentioning all the bicycles that dangerously infest our roads these days.”

    Think he was looking for a reaction, but comes across as a fucktard.

  14. @Brianold55

    How’s this quote from an ABC television presenter here in Oz at the end of an article bemoaning car congestion in Melbourne:

    “…and that’s without even mentioning all the bicycles that dangerously infest our roads these days.”

    Think he was looking for a reaction, but comes across as a fucktard.

    So does he want them replaced by cars?  As you say – halfwit at best.

  15. @Teocalli

    @Brianold55

    How’s this quote from an ABC television presenter here in Oz at the end of an article bemoaning car congestion in Melbourne:

    “…and that’s without even mentioning all the bicycles that dangerously infest our roads these days.”

    Think he was looking for a reaction, but comes across as a fucktard.

    So does he want them replaced by cars? As you say – halfwit at best.

    “Infest”? What are we, fucking locusts? That moron should be forced to commute to work for a week by bike. That would change their tune.

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