How to cycle around cars, and how to drive around cyclists
It’s been a while since I’ve done any kind of “how to” article, but over the last few days while riding around I’ve had a few of these ideas running through my head. They’ll be other situations I’ll cover in future, but, without any further ado, here’s a few tips to consider when you next find yourself on the road, whether it’s on two wheels or four. Let us know if you have any additional tips that might apply to these situations.
Mind the gap
This is one of the most common types of collision between cyclists and motorists. A study of cyclist/motorist collisions in Adelaide found that nearly 40% of all collisions were of this type.
Cyclists: Approaching a gap in the traffic banked-up along side you that happens to coincide with a side street on the other side of you. Consider this to be a trap. Firstly, slow down and be prepared to brake. If you can’t see what’s in the gap, whatever may be coming through that gap won’t see you. Your speed should match your visibility of what is on the other side of the first car facing the gap. A small, low car that you can see over will give you about 10-12 feet of warning, versus a bus or a large truck which will give you 1-2 feet. You need to consider that pedestrians might be making the dash as well, and you should anticipate the possibility of this happening wherever there is a crossing point of any description. Who has right of way in these circumstances is irrelevant – this should raise red flags all over the place and to continue through at speed is to take a knowing chance that you will end up flying over the bonnet of a car or collecting a pedestrian on the way down.
Drivers: Just because the car in front of you leaves a gap, or waves you through, or gives you a quick dab of the brights, that doesn’t mean that it’s safe to proceed. Trust what you can see, and assume that there could be something moving along the inside of the road and into the gap in front of you. Aside from that, all of the above applies.
You shouldn’t have to bob and weave to avoid that left-hook
Cyclists: Watch the speed of the car next to you. Is it slowing? Stay behind it and ready to brake. Is it beside you? If you’re not sure, stop pedalling and be ready to brake. Keep an eye on the front-left tyre and indicator and, you guessed it, be ready to brake if it starts to turn. If the vehicle does start to turn and it’s beside you, be ready for the possibility of turning with it to decrease the chances, or severity of, getting hit.
Drivers: First of all, be aware of your surroundings. If you pass a cyclist, assume that they are still behind you, because often enough, they are. Drivers often underestimate how quickly cyclists catch them up again when they start to slow down. If you are within any reasonable distance from your turn, just wait. Nearly every single time a car speeds up to go past me to quickly pull a left turn, I have to slow down to wait for them to complete the maneuver. We’re talking seconds here, if that much. If you happen to find yourself in that slightly awkward spot where you are not going much faster than the cyclist but you are slightly in front and want to turn, you should do one of two things: either slow down a pinch and turn once they go by, or signal your intention to turn early. If the cyclist has any sense, they will see what your intentions are and give you room (and possibly signal to you) to turn. Slight compromises on both parts will ensure that everybody wins. The big tip: use your indicator and use it early.
Roundabouts: This one should be really, really simple. Here it is. Are you ready? Ok, it’s this: slow down. How much? Well, enough to safely determine whether there is someone approaching from your right, and if there is, with enough time to stop without needing to slam on the brakes. I’m talking about cyclists as much as motorists. Roundabouts are designed to keep traffic flowing, not ensure that nobody has to slow down at all. Here’s another hot tip that shouldn’t be a hot tip at all: use your indicator, or don’t, but only if you are going straight ahead.
For cyclists, the indicating bit is a little more difficult, depending on speed (again, it’s not a race) and the style of bike (some handle better than others). Yes, it’s easy to signal your intentions before you reach the roundabout, so at least make sure you are doing that, but less so while you are making your turn. Many roundabouts have things in the middle of them which obscure the vision of the oncoming vehicles and so they may not be aware you are turning across them until you are actually turning across them, and unless you are comfortable negotiating a right turn with one hand on less-than-perfect roads, just do what you can. If you cannot signal as you go around, even for a second, then just make eye-contact with the driver and remain aware.
Park n’ ride
Drivers: This one is really, really easy, but seems to be quite difficult to do – just look. Move your open eyeballs to the area just behind you and then focus them slightly further away. If you can see a cyclist, then they are close enough that you opening your door will cause unnecessary problems. Open your door only after checking behind you, and open it with your left hand so you physically turn a little in that direction, which should help you look. Definitely never throw your door open like it’s some terrible creature that is trying to attack you. Please, do not just sit there with your door open, and if you are not climbing in or out of your vehicle, keep your door shut.
Here’s a pet peeve of mine that I will never be able to understand. Someone walks out to their vehicle that is parked on the road, and when they see you approaching in the bike lane, they just squeeze a little closer to the car, and, rather than waiting the 1-3 seconds for you to pass so they can open the door fully and get in like a normal person, they choose to open their door as little as possible and then contort their way awkwardly into their car, taking twice as long as it would if they had just waited to get in normally after you had passed. Plus, the cyclist still has to move as far out as they would normally, so really, you’ve just made the whole situation as awkward as humanly possible for everyone. If this is you, think about this next time you are in this position. It’s ridiculous.
Cyclists: Don’t ride in the door zone. All of the above circumstances can be avoided if you ride just outside of the reach of a car door. As for parked cars in your way, spot them early, and move as far over as is required to escape the door zone. Do not ride in the gutter and then pop out at the last second to get around the parked vehicle. This makes it harder to the traffic around you as well as the potential person in the parked car to spot you and avoid opening their door into you. As soon as you notice a car in your way on the horizon, shoulder check, assess what is behind you, then signal your intention to move into the lane.
It helps here to be a bit demanding. This is easier the lower the speed differential is between you and the traffic, but if you signal confidently as if to say, “I’m coming in here” rather than, “please may I come in here?”, and add some eye contact with the drivers, you’ll usually get the space you need. If there are small gaps in between parked cars, resist the temptation to weave back in and out again. I know we may feel like every driver around us is swearing at us through gritted teeth when we stay in their lane for more than a few seconds, but ultimately it’s about smooth traffic flow for everyone and keeping things as predictable as possible. Something that can be difficult to determine is how much of a gap between parked cars is enough to warrant heading back to the kerb? Just use your judgement. Multiple lanes available to traffic? Then stay out longer if drivers can simply change lanes and go around you.
Those bloody cyclists riding two abreast!
Contentious issue alert!!! Just calm down. It’s really not that big of a deal once you think rationally about it for a second.
This may simplify things a bit – if the lane is wide enough to accommodate a cyclist and a car (properly), then single-file is probably best. You’re safe, and the vehicle can pass you unimpeded – everybody wins. If you want to ride two abreast in this situation, just use your judgement and consider going back to single-file as traffic levels increase. Do you need to do it? If not, is it going to piss off or inconvenience the traffic around you? Then maybe don’t. Just as you like to remind drivers that they are no more important than you, this can be one of those take-a-good-look-in-the-mirror situations.
If the lane is not wide enough to accommodate a cyclist and a car (properly), then two abreast is the best thing you can do. Here’s why: in order for a vehicle to pass you safely, they have to move into the next lane. That’s what every drivers handbook says. If they move into the next lane, that means that they are, at the very least, partially in the oncoming traffic lane. So, if they already have to move into the next lane, then there is absolutely no benefit to them if you are single-file. If you are riding single file, the car passing you has to remain in the oncoming lane for twice as long as when passing people riding two abreast. The fewer people to pass, the safer and easier it is for the driver. Cyclists are also more visible riding two abreast, so there is a greater chance of seeing them if the driver isn’t really paying attention. Finally, riding two abreast in a lane that is not wide enough to comfortably accommodate a cyclist and a car will send a message to the driver that they cannot simply squeeze by you in-lane. They have to move over, and if they are going to move over a little, then they usually end up moving over a little more, meaning that you end up with more room between you and the car.
In these circumstances, riding two abreast is most definitely a win-win (but check with your local laws just in case they’re not interested in that…). Special note for drivers: we all know that some cyclists, just like everyone else, can make a nuisance of themselves, but unless they are spread all out across the road, just know that seeing two cyclists neatly riding two abreast means that they have made your life easier, whether they intended to or not. Know also that (we) have good reasons for doing so, and just because you may pass cyclists with due care, many other people don’t. I get that it can look like they just want to be in the way, and even sometimes are, but I can guarantee you that this is not the root cause of why cyclists do this.
Bonus tip: This works equally as well when riding on your own. Ride in the gutter, and many drivers will take that as an invitation to pass you without moving over at all. Ride only slightly further out from the kerb, maybe only a foot, and you’ll be amazed at how much more room most drivers give you. I totally understand the compulsion to ride as far away from heavy vehicles as possible and feel that by riding in the gutter you are making yourself safer, but just consider all of the implications of both situations and then make your judgement.
That should do for today. Your homework for this week is to go ride your bike. Or if you ride a car, to do that while keeping in mind all of the above. Actually, the best way to drive better around cyclists is to ride a bike in traffic and see for yourself what it’s like. Anyway, let us know if you have any insights or comments about anything you may have experienced with any of the above in the comments below.
Header image: source, all other images: The Sticky Bidon unless otherwise noted