What’s the best way to promote safe bicycling in traffic?
Apparently the answer is: Make people afraid of bicycling around cars.
My issue of the MoBikeFed newsletter, The Hub, arrived today. One of the articles gives bicyclists 13 tips for gaining the “respect” of motorists. Most of them are fine as far as it goes (e.g. stop at stop signs). But two of them are pure mythology based upon fear.
7. Riding single file. It’s true — Missouri law allows cyclists to ride two abreast on roads, but it’s safer to ride in a single file especially in traffic and/or on curvy roads.
Uh, sez who? Show me the statistics.
This is fear-based nonsense. The choice to ride single file or two abreast should be made based upon traffic conditions and road conditions at the moment, not on some unsupportable generalization. Don’t let fear do your thinking for you.
3. Warn other cyclists of motorists. When riding with another rider or a group, keep an eye on that mirror (a real safety device) and yell out “Car Back!” or Car Up!” When you hear the warning, immediately get into a single file formation so that the motorist can safely pass.
If bicyclists are properly positioned in the lane, such warnings are rarely necessary. Further, check the statistics (and the relative risk of bicycling): Hit from behind is the rarest form of bicycle-car collision (associated mostly with rural roads in darkness).
And what about the idea that bicyclists must be in single file for motorists to safely pass? Pure poppycock. Again, road/traffic conditions dictate these things. On a 4-lane suburban arterial, for example, two bicyclists may drive their bicycles quite comfortably and safely commanding the right lane. Drivers of cars can pass safely in the left lane. Since such roads rarely have sharable lane widths (14 ft.+), getting into single file in such a situation actually encourages car drivers to pass you in the same lane — not at all safe!
Here’s something that has me stumped. Let’s say a dozen bicyclists are riding on a rural road two abreast. A car approaches from the rear. What happens when a dozen riders all of a sudden try to get into single file? What challenge does that maneuver present for the car driver?
If I’m driving a rural road in a car and come upon a dozen bicyclists, I hope they stay two abreast. I’ll be able to see them sooner. I’ll have a shorter passing window when it is safe to pass.
Watch the following video, and you’ll see that, while riding in a group, scrambling out of the way of cars just isn’t necessary:
That’s a group of students taking the CyclingSavvy road tour course in St. Louis in April. As the video clearly shows, no one had to yell “car back.” No one was run down. The group included a variety of skill levels.
Much of the advice in the article from The Hub is perfectly sound. But the tone springs from the premise that bicycling in traffic is dangerous. The two items quoted above spring from fear and the unstated premise that the drivers of cars are more equal than the drivers of bicycles.
As further proof, watch the following video: