Thursday, July 31, 2014

Taking the Lane: How Predictable!

First order of business, today is the last day to log your miles for the National Bike Challenge for the month of July. So if you have not already log those miles. Further, if by chance you have not signed up yet, it is not to late to be a part of this movement.

If you look on the National Bike Challenge website, you will notice that there is tab you can click on about bike safety. One the points made is the importance of being a predictable cyclist. What this means is biking in way such that your intentions are clear to the cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists around you. It is a really easy way to keep yourself safer and to not annoy those around you. (Think about how much love that pedestrian who suddenly walks into the middle of the bike path.)

It is something most of us could always get a little better at, myself included. For me, I can get lazy about signaling and such when I am tired or stressed. So here are a few tips on being predictable.

Hand Signals

Motorists (should always) use turn signals and break lights to communicate with divers around them. This always for smoother traffic flow and reduces accidents and when used consistently. It is also something that we have all come to expect. (Think about how annoying it is when someone forgets a turn signal.) Bikers have their method of communicating their intentions in the form of hand signals. A diagram of the signals can be found bellow. Most of us who have been cycling for awhile are very familiar with the hand signals, but I will admit that I did not know what they were until I was about four month into commuting. A few notes about hand signals, most people expect you to signal by pointing to the direction you are turning. The left handed right turn signal is not as commonly used. I have also seen people indicate that they are stopping by putting a hand up. This is technically not correct, but look out for it. Also, if you are cycling in heavy bike traffic (awesome) take care not to be so exuberant with your signally that you hit the person next to you.

Also, one further note, it is up to those of us who have been cycling for longer to make sure the newer cyclists and newer drivers are informed on hand signal meaning and usage.
Hand Signals
(image from

Look Ahead

Remember when you where learning how to drive and you were interacted to always look ahead and anticipate the actions of others on the road and keep an eye out for obstacles? Same idea applies on the bike. Roads these days seem to be strewn with a series of obstacles. So far in my own commute, I have had to avoid pot holes, broken glass, ceiling tiles, banana peels, hammers, knives, plywood among other things. I promise you that I am not commuting in the suburbs of London not a video game. Sudden swerving is sometimes unavoidable, but if you know there is an obstacle coming there are a few things you can do to give the motorists plenty of time to react to you moving into the center of the lane.
What my commute sometimes feels like
Let me give you the following scenario. You are lucky enough to have bike lane to travel on for your commute and up ahead you see that some cars have parked in your lane and you will need to move into the center of the road. Do you wait to merge until you have almost approached the park vehicles or do you merge earlier? The correct answer is to merge well before the obstacle and as soon as you see a gap in the traffic. To do this, signal that you will be entering traffic. Check to make sure the path is clear, and gently guide your bike to the center of the lane, ensuring you are far enough away from the parked car to avoid getting doored. This has also given the drivers behind you plenty of time to respond to having a slower vehicle in the center of the lane. I use the same technique for entering the center of the lane when I know that a section of road will be littered with potholes. However, this only works if you have either noticed the obstacles well in advance or are familiar enough with this stretch of road to know that they are there. Which leads me to stress the importance of looking ahead and anticipating the unexpected. This keeps everyone safer.Another time to consider moving closer to the center of the lane, is if you see a car about to turn onto your road from a side road. It has been my experience that these drivers often pull further forward than they should and this could keep you from suddenly swerving into the middle of the lane.

Traffic Weaving

Traffic weaving is practiced by both cyclists and motorbikes alike. This is when a two wheeled vehicle does things like weaving in and around a line of slow moving traffic, or making a third lane when none exists. The legalities on this practice vary from state to state and country to country. It is not a safe practice and is not recommended even when legal. Drivers will not know how to anticipate your next action if you are weaving around cars. It is better to wait in traffic than to jump unexpectedly in and out of it. Along those lines, it is neither legal or safe to weave on and off the sidewalks to get around slow moving traffic. Just do not do it.

Quick Thinking

There are times when you are cycling that the unexpected will happen and you will have to react. There could be a sudden obstacle in your path or you encounter unpredictable behavior from someone you are sharing the road or path with. In this case, do a quick check, if you have time, before you swerve to avoid. If you have cyclists behind you and you need to do a quick break, try to let them know verbally, if you do have time to signal.  It is important to realize that this does not count as being an unpredictable cyclist in these cases.

So there you have it, a few tips on being predictable on the roads.

Is there anything I missed about being a predictable cyclist? Feel free to leave it in the comments below.

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