Saturday, September 25, 2010

Upgrade Your Bicycle Mind

What I've learned so far

If you saw the earlier post on this topic, please consider this the condensed version. I wanted to boil it down to create a quick, one-click reference for future use. I realize that number 4 covers a lot of ground, but what it conceals in brevity it makes up for in wide applicability, since traffic laws relevant to cycling still vary significantly from place to place. 

However, based on frequency of occurrence as well as high rank in the United States as contributing causes of bicycle - motor vehicle accidents, I nearly replaced number 4 with "Don't run stop signals, merge properly, and always watch for crossing traffic in every instance." I have two reasons for not going with that currently: it omits other important, possibly locale-specific, traffic laws that ought to be observed by cyclists, and also is a statement that just feels to me a little above my current skill or knowledge level about cycling on the streets and roads in traffic.  Number 2, then is up for review since the current number 4 would appear to cover it, but riding against traffic seems like such an ingrained and wrong concept that I feel it deserves its own place on the list. It seems to me like the most egregious manifestation of Forester's "cyclist inferiority superstition" (CIS)* that I want to call it out separately.

This attempt has been humbling for me: I know more what I don't know, now. Sometimes, attempting to boil your thoughts down has the effect of highlighting room for learning and personal growth. So this should be considered a beta version, 0.9, open for future revision as I learn new practical lessons, or gain additional insight with the coming release of the 7th edition of Effective Cycling by John Forester. I enjoyed reading the 6th so much that I plan to also purchase the 7th, assuming that John Schubert is correct when he states that it will be coming out later this year. I am most curious about what subjects will be updated, as well as what will be added. Will he change or update his recommendations on bicycle lubrication using SAE 90 gear oil? I haven't tried that, because I cringe to imagine what my chain would look like after one mile's worth of canal dust. Yikes. But if he sticks with that recommendation (get it?), I will give it a shot. A persnickety, anti-trendy part of me urgently wishes to pull out an old fashioned oil can loaded with Forester's lube recipe at a group ride just to see the reactions. Although I'm not sure if SAE 90 gear oil is safe for carbon fiber. John? Thoughts? Get up. Go ride.

*EDIT: John, I actually prefer your original formulation, "Cyclist Inferiority Superstition", to your latter revision to "Cyclist Inferiority Phobia". Supersitition is something palpably wrong but supposed to be true, but not based on specific experience or memory. Phobias are often results of actual past situations, and surface as visceral aversion to repetition of that situation. Subscribers to and promulgators of the concept of cyclist inferiority are unlikely to have ever seen the concept proven, and are further unlikely to place themselves into a situation represented by the superstition. Phobiacs likely have an actual, and possibly understandable, experience that they could point to which could represent the origin of their phobia--falling from a high place, frightened by a creepy clown, falling into deep water, etc. But cyclist inferiority subscribers won't have much to go on except the supposition itself. Unless they do. Which would make them an actual phobiac. For example, I could understand if James Cracknell now has some deep-seated concerns about cyclists being struck from behind, based on his recent terrible accident, even though the statistical occurrence level of such events is quite low compared to other causes for bicycle - motor vehicle accidents. But rest, reflection, and counseling may possibly, with time, put it into perspective for him. Which brings up the ultimate difference: phobias need professional psychological counseling to overcome, and seem unlikely to be ever overcome by reason alone, while superstitions can be argued away eventually. A non-psychologist can't talk people scared of clowns out of their fears. But I think it is possible to reason with people who think cyclists occupy an inherently inferior position in the vehicular pecking order.


  1. Forester is a top cycling transportation engineer, but he's not much as a psychology pioneer. I'll buy the upcoming edition, and I expect it will be excellent in describing how and why you deal with various situations on the road.

  2. Hey! where's the part about the pain and suffering?
    That's what No. 7 should be: Pain and Suffering is fun!
    That image should be made into a giant poster and affixed to the front and back of every LBS door.
    I don't think I feel inferior, or have a phobia for that matter. I think I'll call it an awareness.
    An awareness that road biking, in it's present state is inherently dangerous and could result in injury or death.

  3. Steve let's camp out at the MIT bookstore to be first in line to get the new edition.

    limom I know local conditions vary, which is what motivated #5 in the list. If the roads where you ride are in a state of vehicular "anything goes" chaos, no amount of study or practice by cyclists is going to make much difference. I have ridden in a truck barreling down back roads in China at night with the lights turned off because replacement bulbs were scarce and expensive. Madness. But, at least on paper anyway, it looks like the bike laws in Hawaii are pretty much the same as Arizona. So, keeping in mind that getting "Cracknelled" (hit from behind by a truck while cycling) is statistically an unlikely occurrence, then, if the lane is wide enough to split with a motor vehicle, and keeping in mind that the gutter pan is not part of the lane measurement, split the lane, else take it decisively so that drivers coming up behind you can understand your intention and pass you legally. That's my approach, anyway. I would like to hear your thoughts on why road biking in Hawaii is inherently dangerous, though.

  4. For the most part, my route in particular, it's okay. There are places with no bike lane and diminishing shoulders were it does get tricky.
    The danger is in the mind of the motorist however, as the trend seems to be "if you are in the lane, I'll treat you like a car and pass accordingly" meaning close.
    There have been some cycling deaths here, mostly at night, but the latest one happened in full daylight on a fairly wide street not far from where I work.
    The ghost bike is still there.
    In some cases, I have seen cars deny a cyclist the lane(cyclist wanting to change direction coming from the shoulder) so that it was safer for the cyclist to just cross at the crosswalk.
    Once I was waiting to make a left at a light, resting my foot on the median when a car just came up to on my right, cutting me off!
    No aloha, as they say here.
    Isolated incidents I'm sure, but incidents like those stick in the back of your mind.
    While I think assertiveness and intent works, I drive that way, I don't believe it always works while on my bike.
    One of the reasons I ride a mountain hybrid is so that I can bail off the road if needed.
    I have ridden with those who take the lane as needed without incident so maybe it's just me.

  5. limom I have noticed here that often when I ride up to a left turn signal I end up being the first one waiting. Probably because cars in front of me gun it to get through the yellow arrow so they don't have to wait. Without hesitation I place myself in the center of the left turn lane because it's very narrow and there's no way I could simul-turn with a pickup. That's also where the most sensitive detection loop is at the lights I hit. I am fairly certain some drivers who come up to the light are irritated by varying degrees to be waiting at a left turn BEHIND a cyclist--OH THE INDIGNITY OF IT ALL!! Most drivers are very cool in that situation btw and I am most often surprised on the good side when they see me and are over-generous in the distance they leave behind me. Anyway, I do run into jerks out there and as I am sitting there listening to them gunning their engine behind me as I gaze at the red arrow, I ponder: yeah but what are you gonna do, my fellow sharer of the road, since I am waiting in the middle of the lane? An extremely high pct of the time the answer will be: nothing. All show, no go. And if they do use their vehicles as rams and physically touch me or my bike, that's a police matter which would cause me to dial 911 in about two seconds flat. It's never happened to me but I expect there are roads and neighborhoods out there where it's more likely. That's a long-winded answer to describe what's in my mind when I am choosing lane position: if I would feel unsafe in a lane if a pickup tried to squeeze by me within that lane, particularly in turning or crossing situations, I communicate my rightful concern with my own safety by placing myself such that drivers coming up behind me can understand that I am not inviting them to split the lane with me. Since AZ has a three foot safe passing law, I use that as part of my width assessment, and I think it's a fair measurement even in places without the law: if a vehicle couldn't split the lane with you safely with a margin of three feet from its widest part (usually its mirror), then the lane is not wide enough to split. And while it may not FEEL entirely safe to be sitting there exposed like this, I tell myself that every driver knows what the laws, common traffic practice, and reason require them to do when they come up to a red left arrow behind someone in the lane signaling a left turn, and most of the do it. OTOH if they come up to a red left arrow and find a bicyclist doing something novel or improvisational from a legal, standard traffic practice, or reasonableness perspective, then the driver will also need to improvise, and that's a setting where things tend to get hinkey.


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