Types of Bicycle Riders
I would divide bike
riders traveling in traffic into three broad types: Type I: those who act
like pedestrians, that is, cycle on the sidewalk and cross streets on the
crosswalk. Type III: those who act like motorists, get out in the middle
of the lane and not surrender it to anyone, and Type II those who try to
compromise, riding in the road but yielding to faster traffic. Most cyclists
are Type II, which the law also seems to support, but there is considerable
variations in their behavior. We can roughly divide Type II into these
subsections: Those who a) ride on the wrong side and ignore the traffic
and signals, b) ride on the correct side but ignore the traffic and signals,
c) ride on the correct side, ignore the traffic, but obey the lights, and
d) ride on the correct side and ride with the traffic as much as possible
and obey the lights at all time. Bike riders and cyclists are not consistent
in their behavior but vary according to the amount or speed of the traffic.
For example, on a pleasant country road, even the sidewalk cyclists are
likely to forget their inhibitions. And, on the other hand, who's going
to ride down the middle of a lane on a freeway? Other causes for the variety
in behavior are the local practice of the cyclists, the behavior of motorists,
and local laws and regulations.
Now if I was going
to rant and rave about anything, this would be it, as I believe that other
people's cycling behavior affects my safety. And I also believe that our
behavior affects our future right to use the road. However, ranting and
raving won't accomplish anything. If I can convince people, I will, and
if I can't, I won't start getting angry.
Although many bike
riders feel that the safest way to act is to try to hide from the cars,
I believe the safest behavior is to mix with them. You need to see them,
and they need to see you. Thus I would consider Type I behavior to be the
most dangerous. Even though the bike is completely off the street, every
time the sidewalk cyclist crosses an intersection or entrance, he/she faces
the danger of a suddenly turning car that he/she can't see. Of course,
there are also the hazards of the sidewalk, which is mainly why the rider
doesn't notice the passing cars. At the same time, the driver is watching
for pedestrians but is not expecting a bicycle moving twice to five times
Type IIa behavior,
riding the wrong way, should be even more dangerous, since the rider is
running all the traffic signals and coming from a direction that no one
expects, except this rider is acutely aware of how dangerous it is. Nonetheless,
with the number of intersections and entranceways that must be passed backwards,
this has got to be an easy way to die. Skydiving would be far safer. By
the way, this is how I nearly bagged a bike rider when operating a motor vehicle.
However, it's interesting to
note that a sidewalk cyclist moving the wrong way is at greater risk than
this guy. See Wrong Way Cycling.
Type IIb behavior,
ignoring the traffic and signals, has been defended within this newsgroup.
I have seen large numbers of these cyclists who act as if the law was made
simply for the cars alone. Outside of the fact that they are breaking the
law (along with type I and type IIa bike riders), there are some consequences
to their behavior. One is that sooner or later they don't see something
fast enough and get hurt or killed, the other is that the motorists become
outraged at all cyclists. I can't help noticing how much less careful urban
motorists have become over the last dozen years, and I wonder how much
such lawless behavior has affected their manners. If you aren't considerate
of other people, they won't be considerate of you, tit for tat. Note that
I am not saying that cyclists are responsible for motorists breaking the
law; I am talking about sharing the road.
Type IIc behavior,
when the cyclists simply ignore the motorists but obey the signal, is also
quite dangerous. I just sent an answer about that problem under "Biking
is statistically safer than motoring" to Wilco de Brouwer. According to
statistics in her newspaper in Holland, this behavior is actually more
dangerous than Type IIb behavior because at least those people are
aware that they're taking major risks. And, as Joel reported, it also raises
some resentment. I saw this first-hand in New Jersey, although half of
the cyclists were ignoring the signals too. People justify type IIb and
IIc behavior because they say it's much safer on a bike than in a car,
but they are forgetting that bicycles also lack seat belts and other protections
that come with a car. Besides, what's wrong with being a little
safer than necessary?
Andrew says that
there ought to be some advantages to riding a bike. There are. Rather that
follow the broad path that leadeth to destruction, I take the back streets
where the big cars are uncomfortable. It's true I hit more stop signs,
but they don't slow me very much as they do cars, and I don't have to wait
in long lines at traffic lights. Of course, your city might be designed
so that this is impossible, but look around. In New Jersey, on my second
trip, I found plenty of back streets that took me to the same place.
I have seen type
III behavior defended in Bicycling magazine by a lawyer. He said, ride
three feet or more from the edge of the highway wherever you go, no matter
the speed of the vehicles. Even if safer, my cooperative personality does not
allow me to do that. However, in a few cases on dangerous roads,
I have done exactly that. If the motorists aren't going to let me proceed safety, then
they are going to have to stop and wait to pass me; I can be just a stubborn
as the next guy.
However, my more
normal policy is type IId. To me, this is the all around, most cooperative
and safest behavior. It is also a bit of a kluge, sort of an acceptance
that all vehicles are equal but some are more equal than others. I base
my policy on our relative speed, and I can divide the situation into four
speeds. The following suggestions are all based on moderate traffic.
When I am traveling
at the same speed as the traffic, I stay in line and not near the right
edge. This protects me from right-turning vehicles and allows me to turn
left if I need to (I sometimes make left turns where there are no streets).
It also gives me the greatest visibility and allows following traffic to
see my hand signals. Because I am a fairly strong rider, I can often stay
in the traffic lane at speeds of 25 mph. However, on some hills, my speed
may drop below that of the cars, and my behavior changes.
When I am traveling
at 5 to 15 mph below the speed of the vehicles, I move over to the edge
of the road. Even if there is a paved shoulder, I don't move onto it. I
want the motorists to be aware of me, so I don't move entirely out of their
way. At these speeds, we are quite comfortable sharing a 12 foot wide lane.
I am prepared to join in with the traffic if it should slow down or to
move out if it should speed up.
When there is a
20 to 30 mph difference between my speed and that of the traffic, I move
to the outside of the white line, if that area is paved.
When there is a
35 to 45 mph difference between my speed and that of the traffic, I move
solidly onto the shoulder. However, even then, I don't move as far away
from the cars as I could, as I still want to see them and want them to
Most of my riding
is done on roads in Alabama that have no shoulders. Therefore, I must stay
away from moderate to heavy traffic that is traveling at greater than 35
miles an hour. However, there are many highways in Alabama with light traffic,
so travel is not as difficult as it would seem.
In traveling across
country, I have to make an on-the-spot quick analysis of the road conditions,
and I often change my route because of traffic. However, I normally can
find good options.
There are good
statistics available on how people die when biking. These statistics favor
being a part of the traffic. However, you can do your own thinking and
watching of your own behavior. If your behavior is causing you to have
close calls, you better change it rapidly. Always assume that the situation
is more dangerous than it looks, always watch the other vehicles, including
parked vehicles that could suddenly spring forward or whose passengers
could open a door, always take the safest road and follow the safest course,
and wear bright colors and use lights and reflectors at night. To those
who have little cycling experience, I would suggest gradually acquiring
it; they shouldn't ride in anything except light traffic until they have
a year or more of riding experience on the road.
In all cases, it
is a judgment call, the speed of the traffic, the behavior of the motorists,
the width of the road and shoulder are all constantly changing. My behavior
is different on days when I am feeling bad from those when I feel cheerful
(I am less assertive and have more difficulties on the bad days). While
I have chopped everything up into pieces, in real life it's almost an unconscious
process in my mind.
As I have also
said, there are times when I do not obey the law because I consider it
dangerous. At that point, I get off my bike and become a pedestrian and
follow the pedestrian law. Remember that being safe is more important than
riding the bike. Everyone has heard the term so much that it doesn't have
meaning any more, but "safety first" means exactly that: safety before
any other consideration.