Monday, February 13, 2012


OK, I’m going to complain a little bit. It’s raining, so here I sit a little grumpy. Sorry ahead of time.

Yesterday’s bike ride was incredible. One of the better rides of the year so far. My legs felt great, I was able to push hard all day. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I caught, passed, and demolished a pack of 15 riders, leaving only 2 that could keep up with me by the time we hit Gilroy, and my turn off. Even my flat tire at the beginning of the ride rewarded me with a quick trip over to Concept Cyclery in Morgan Hill for the use of their floor pump to top off, which gave me time to drool over new fun bikes and bike parts. Geek. Yes.

Yet, despite all of that, one little thing can throw off all my good juju. Cars passing too close and unsafely, or simply not understanding how to act and drive safely around cyclists or other slower moving vehicles.

Seriously. Is it really that hard? It seems like some folks out there are so self-centered, so caught up in the own heads, that they can’t be inconvenienced to budge even the tiniest bit, and that putting someone else’s life in danger is a better option that simply moving over the tiniest bit to pass, or waiting until it is safe to do so.

So, for anyone out there that may not realize how dangerous it can be, here are some tips:

1. Hearing: Some cyclists actually like it when you honk as you come up behind them. Even though it may seem like a rude thing to do, it can save a life. Here’s why: Get going 20 miles per hour in your car and stick your head out the window. Now tell me if you can hear the car behind you. Or your passenger 3 feet away, for that matter. That’s how loud wind noise can be.

So yeah, a lot of the time we actually don’t hear you, and when a car suddenly appears next to us going 20-40 mph faster, it can be frightening. Yes, I can hear your Harley, and I can usually hear larger trucks. But smaller cars, Hybrids especially, are silent as they approach me. Yet another reason cyclists should NEVER wear ear phones. (See previous blog post)

2. Passing: When passing a cyclist, or pedestrian, equestrian, skateboarder, rollerblader, or any other “slow moving vehicle”, give them some room. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to cross all the way over into oncoming traffic. The vast majority of the time, simply feeling the Botts’ Dots under you left tires is more than enough, especially for drivers of smaller cars.

In the Sate of California, according to Chapter 11 of the Local Assistance Procedures Manual, which “describes the various procedures required to process Federal and State funded local transportation projects”, the minimum lane width is 10 feet on low traffic country and city roads, and 12 feet on higher traffic versions. That means if I am on the white line, and you put your left tires on the Botts’ Dots, or better yet onto the center stripe, there is more than enough room for both of us, and everyone is happy! And if there isn’t enough room for me to safely ride to right of, or even on, the white line and I have to take part of the lane, it is your job to move over enough to safely pass.

For example: My car, a 1993 Ford Ranger pickup, is slightly over 6 feet wide at it’s widest point, mirror to mirror. (6’3”) That means if I ride the Bott’s Dots to pass a cyclist on the white line, there is slightly under 4 feet of leeway. Plenty of room. If I don’t, if I drive down the center of the road, there is under 3 feet, or even less. That just isn’t safe enough to justify. It’s really not that hard to move over that 1-2 feet, so why do so many drivers insist on not doing so?

3. When NOT to pass: I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out on a country road, and a car or truck coming up behind me decides to NOT wait for oncoming traffic to pass by before overtaking me. That makes a three-wide scenario on a two lane road. Now, granted, if both cars in this scenario are small (say, Prius sized) it can work. But I have had several experiences where BOTH vehicles are pickup trucks or larger, which means with 10 foot wide lanes, there is less than a foot from a multi ton vehicle traveling at twice my speed to my elbow.

Now, imagine this: How much time would you realistically loose if you were to slow down just a bit, let the oncoming car pass, and then proceed by the cyclist safely? A few seconds? 10-20 at the most?

4. 3 foot rule: Some states have initiated a “3 foot rule”, meaning it is illegal to pass any slower moving vehicle if you cannot give a minimum of 3 feet of space between you and them. Cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians, motorized bikes, slower cars, everything. If you can’t give them 3 feet, you have to wait until you can. California tried to pass this, but it was defeated for a questionable reason. Hopefully some day it will pass, but for now, I’ll follow it anyway, and I ask that others do so as well. It’s not hard, and does not inconvenience you in the slightest, especially compared to the safety and lives of other road users.

5. Sight: Cyclists (and all those slow moving vehicles) can see things better than a motorist can. So as you pull up to that cyclist that is not to the right of the white line, or is making strange movements, there might be reasons for those that you cannot see. Yes, that cyclist could also be new, or drunk, or just dumb. Or, they could be seeing things in the road that you cannot see. Things like glass, rocks, debris, piles of dirt, plants growing over the bike lane, potholes or cracks in the road, some assholes trash, trashcans, roadkill, live animals ranging from cute little squirrels that could dart out and get sucked up in to your front tire sending you over the bars to Oh-crap-a-mountain-lion, road construction signs in the middle of the bike lane, bike lane signs in the middle of the bike lane (seriously...), idiots in general, or a plethora of other things. You might be surprised at the things I’ve seen in bike lanes over the years.

There is a reason many cyclists call the bike lane the danger zone, or door zone. It takes a very small amount of trust to say, “That cyclist is not in the bike lane, maybe there’s a reason for that I can’t see. I should try to be safe while passing”.

6. Where cyclists must actually ride: I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I need to be riding at all times “to the right of the white line” or “in the bike lane” or “on the sidewalk”. All of these are incorrect. The California Vehicle Code Section 21654 clearly states:

“any vehicle proceeding upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall be driven in the right-hand lane for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.”

“…as close as practicable”. All those things I mentioned seeing in the bike lane? They make that lane not “practicable”. Which means if we are not to the right of the white line there’s a reason for it. Many times the motorist cannot see or be made aware of that reason. So, please, for the safety of all of us out on the roads, just trust that we are riding where we are for a reason.

Yes, a lot of times cyclists are acting like they own the road by riding multiple wide, taking the full lane when they don’t need to, or simply riding like jerks and not allowing cars to pass. I really do wish cops would ticket unsafe cyclists more often. After all, we follow the same rules and regulations set forth for motorists. That would be the California Vehicle Code.

But not all of us are those jerks. Some of us are actually very adamant about safe riding. So PLEASE, in the future, for all of our safety and sanity, don’t treat every cyclist like the jerks you have seen in the past, and in turn we cyclists will not treat you like the motorist jerks we have all experienced in the past.