Wednesday, 06 September, 2006
Bicycle commuting: lessons learned
Over the past two months of almost daily bicycle commuting I've made a few observations about the reactions of drivers to bicyclists, and also learned a few things to watch out for. Fortunately, none of those lessons have involved me hitting the pavement.
- Most drivers are friendly enough and will go out of their way to make room for me: letting me pass in front of a turn lane, and moving far to the left side of the lane when they pass. I don't let that lull me into a false sense of security, though. I'm careful to make eye contact and telegraph my intentions before putting myself in front of a moving car. It only takes one mistake to become road pizza.
- In general, drivers are much more courteous during the morning commute than they are in the evenings. The worst time to be cycling on the road is between about 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm. Drivers seem to be in a very big hurry to get home, and they'll do stupid things like cut me off in a turn lane just to save a second or two. Friday evenings are especially bad.
- There's one exception to the above rule. Drivers get more anxious and much less indulgent as they get closer to their destinations. My route to work takes me by a large office complex into which many cars turn each morning. Because it's near the bottom of a pretty good hill, I'm usually moving at a pretty good clip--30 MPH or so--when I go through that intersection. I position myself at the left edge of the right turn lane rather than on the shoulder so that I don't get hit with a right hook (scroll down to tip #4) by somebody making a right turn. That's all well and good until some idiot whips past me at 40 MPH, swerves into the turn lane, and then slams on his brakes to slow down for the right turn. I pass by on the left two seconds later, thinking not-nice thoughts about the driver. Next time I'm going to rap on the window of the car as I go whizzing by.
- Although it's fun to zip along on the shoulder at 20 MPH, passing a miles-long line of cars stuck in traffic, it can be dangerous. Not having to worry about an inattentive driver plowing into me from behind, it's tempting to let my guard down and crank away unaware. This morning that almost cost me. I looked up and saw a car making a right turn into traffic--right in front of me. Traffic on the road had stopped to let this guy in, but he hadn't seen me barreling toward him. I'm glad I have good brakes.
- Briefly stated, The Law of Gross Tonnage says, "thou shalt not argue with anybody whose vehicle outmasses your own." In nautical circles it's a matter of physics: a larger craft is much less maneuverable than a smaller craft. When applied to the world of cars and bicycles, it's more a matter of common sense. I'm not about to try to insist that a driver yield to me. Although many would yield, it only takes one inattentive or malicious driver to ruin my day.
We can complain all we want about drivers being clueless or even discourteous, but that's not going to change. As much as I wish that drivers would pay closer attention and look out for bicycles, it just doesn't happen. If you're on your bicycle sharing the road with cars, it's in your best interest to assume that the drivers don't see you, to always make eye contact before putting yourself in harm's way, and always leave yourself an out.