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Last weekend, I was driving (yes in a car, something I rarely do) down a fairly steep and very curvy mountain road (thus with very poor sight lines/visibility ahead) when I noticed a cyclist in my rearview mirror. He looked "pro" and in control, but was close enough to me that I was worried that if I braked to slow down for one of these curves, I was going to have cyclist splattered all over the rear of the car.

After longer than either one of us would have liked (two minutes or so), I finally got ahead of him enough to slow down a lot and pull far to the right on a stretch with enough visibility for him to pass me on the left (since he was clearly wanting to go much faster than I was comfortable with on the curves) and I rolled down my window to wave "OK" to him.

As he passed he yelled at me (yelling's understandable in this cases, only have a second) about cars needing to pull aside for cyclists.

I felt terrible if I'd endangered him or caused him to damage his brakes or whatever to slow his speed more than he liked. And I don't even care what the law says if I could do something better to accommodate fast downhill cyclists better in the future, I'm just trying to figure out what I should have done differently.

I think the cyclist wanted me to pull over as soon as I noticed him. In retrospect I guess I could have done that safely by putting on my emergency blinkers to indicate to him I'd seen him and was planning to slow down. In the moment, I was worried about how close he was, how variable my speed was around the tight curves, how narrow the road was, and how scant little I could see ahead of me (i.e. I wasn't going to pull left to let him pass me on my right, since I could kill him if I needed to come back right quickly due to oncoming car.)

Anyone have strong feelings about things I should/shouldn't do?

I'm not worried about my rights - I'm far more often the one on the bicycle - so just help me figure out what I should do better next time to accommodate him if I were in similar situation.

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Here's a segment of the road in question to give you a sense of visibility and width. Downhill grade was at least 5% so cyclist would be building speed quickly the entire time. goo.gl/maps/njDKG –  Jon S Nov 7 '12 at 14:01
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He was probably just annoyed that he spent so much energy going up the hill and then didn't get to enjoy the ride down. I'm pretty sure you didn't endanger him or do any kind of damage to his brakes. You probably just ruined some kind of personal speed record he was trying to set. Unless you are a farm tractor, or going way below the safe speed limit (doesn't seem so in this case) there is no need to move over for cyclists or any other road vehicle. –  Kibbee Nov 7 '12 at 14:35
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@Kibbee - speaking from experience I love tractors! On the flat I can tuck in behind them at 25mph and expend hardly any energy whatsoever. During harvest I can get home in doublequick time ;) –  PeteH Nov 7 '12 at 14:45
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Hes the kind of cyclist that creates problems for the rest of us - just like cars drivers, 99% of riders are let down by the 1% like him. What you experianced was simple, ignorant and unacceptable road rage. Imagine if you were ambivilent towards cyclists before that incident, as many motorists are, His actions can single handedly and successfully reset motorists view of all cyclists. Next time they are less likely to be curtious and polite. –  mattnz Nov 7 '12 at 20:40
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+1 for your consideration –  Lucius Nov 8 '12 at 9:18

9 Answers 9

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Please accept my apologies on behalf of cyclists. Hollerin' something at a motorist who was trying to figure out how to handle an obviously unclear situation was inappropriate. Thanks for doing your best and not killing any cyclists that day!

In general, I agree with the other answers here that you handled this fine and there isn't some magic you could have worked to make the situation go away. Having frequently cycled one of the curviest and steepest highways in the US, I have often been in the position of your cyclist. I also know from a drivers perspective of the same road that there are not a whole lot of obvious moves.

The primarily impetus for any action should probably be on the cyclist. As a motorist being aware helps a lot; but don't try to do anything fancy. Keep it simple. Watch for what kind of move the cyclist wants to make and adapt, but be consistent yourself. He's trying to guess how your car is going to behave -- if you change patterns on him, all bets are off.

The easiest place for a cyclist to pass is usually the place where cars naturally go the slowest. This means curves. Straights are hard because cars speed up (and try to pass each other). While we do have to follow the rules of the road, passing on a double yellow curve is sometimes the safest thing to do on a bike. Inside curves (left turns for US folks) provide the most visibility and a chance to cut a shorter path than the car. The best thing you can do is stay all the way in your lane and take the curve easy. Let the cyclist make the move. You don't have to be in the shoulder or pulled over or anything, just keep your own company and don't wander all over the road yourself.

It's ok to brake. Cyclists have brakes too and there is no physical reason we are forced go fast or follow close. If you want to be extra nice, when you do brake, touch the brakes lightly at first so your brake lights come on early and gradually add pressure to slow the car. In fact, if a cyclist is following you too closely and you are uncomfortable, tap the brakes a couple times to signal you need room to brake. You don't have to actually brake, but the brake lights are the best signal you can give to indicate you want the cyclist to add some distance.

Turn signals are confusing, but usually a right from you means you are going to pull over and a left means you can see the road is clear to pass. However, these are not set and stone and the cyclist still needs to make a judgement call. Hazard lights are even more confusing: I would save them for indicating true hazards.

To make a long story short, drive normally and safely yourself, and let the cyclist take care of the passing.

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Most concrete set of suggestions about what I could have done to help him out I've seen in any of these responses - very thoughtful, thanks! –  Jon S Nov 12 '12 at 4:07
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I've never heard of using the left turn signal to indicate that the road ahead is clear... is that a regional thing? If I'm behind a car and see his left turn signal on, I assume he's going to be turning left, possibly making a U-Turn, I'd never assume he was telling me to pass. If I'm driving and want to signal a vehicle behind me that it's ok to pass, I put on my right turn signal and move to the right. –  Johnny May 6 '13 at 16:16
    
@Johnny I've seen the left turn signal used that way in at least several (western) US states plus Turkey. When somebody is ridding a cars tail clearly looking for an oportunity to pass, a temporary left blinker seems to be pretty universally understood as an all-clear. As a cyclist I've had quite a number of cars and truckers give me this signal. Usually one or two blinks seems to be the most unambiguous way. If the blinker gets left on I start looking for where they plan on turning. –  Caleb May 6 '13 at 16:29
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In the UK I have seen the opposite - the left turn signal is often used to suggest the road ahead is clear (as we drive on the left) but in any case I wouldn't trust the signal, as car drivers usually aren't as aware of risks to cyclists as I would hope. –  Rory Alsop May 7 '13 at 10:33
    
@RoryAlsop I have on occasion seen the opposite as well, and I think I made it clear that it still needs to be the cyclists judgement call. The point is the driver is signalling something, and if a little bit of guess work can surmise what that is, it at least is one more factor to consider. –  Caleb May 7 '13 at 11:36

To be honest, I think you handled the situation pretty well as it was.

You've got to get yourself to the bottom of the mountain safely and even in locales which have laws about deliberately impeding following road users you will have to allow people to pass in a manner safe for you, this isn't necessarily going to be immediately.

Seems to me that this particular cyclist was just a little too impatient - he'd almost certain have yelled something at you if you'd pulled straight over the moment you'd seen him.

Your responsibility is to get home safe, not to jeopardise that just so some hot-head can beat his Strava segment performance.

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Agreed. As a cyclist, one is expected to be a part of traffic flow. He should have followed at a safe distance and been thankful for car drivers who exhibit caution when driving on twisty and steep roads (even though it is a rarity). Certainly he shouldn't have yelled anything at you-that was just outright rude. –  WTHarper Nov 7 '12 at 14:09
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Agreed. I think you did everything right. If he wishes to travel so close behind you, its his responsibility to make sure it is safe to do so. If he wishes to overtake you, its his responsibility to make sure it is safe to do so. Just as if he were driving a car. And terrain is irrelevant. As a cyclist I am lucky to have have had very few instances of road rage against me, but I do know they have wound me up something rotten. I hope all these responses and comments go some way to reassuring you that you did nothing wrong. –  PeteH Nov 7 '12 at 14:32
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I think "a little too impatient" might be giving this cyclist a little too much credit. If he were the one going slower than traffic, I'd expect him to have done the same thing - pulling over only when safe, if at all. It sounds like this guy's version of "share the road" is skewed towards cyclists. We cyclists don't own the road any more than drivers do, and it's a bit arrogant to think that drivers should bend over backwards to satisfy us. –  Jefromi Nov 7 '12 at 15:33
    
Yes l agree the with action taken, its what l would have done. All road users should have respect and patience with each other. From what was described, l am deeply disappointed with the cyclist in queston. Personally l see this "me first" attitude from far too many road users, cyclists and drivers alike. We SHARE the road, we do not own it. –  BobF Nov 8 '12 at 8:14

I don't think this should be viewed from a strictly legal or normative point of view, so I'll give my impressions as a former driver and as someone with some experiences of overtaking cars downhill by bike, either on-road and off-road (unpaved roads).

First of all, if you drove like you were alone (hypothetically speaking), by no means you would endanger a cyclist. A biker coming down a steep road can sometimes be way faster than the car, but the rider still can choose whether or not to overtake a car, it's an option and it's the rider's responsibility. In the other hand, following a slower vehicle is not dangerous per se, just an annoyance, and if no overtaking is possible the rider should stop the bike and wait for a gap to open.

Also, usually it's "common sense" for the bolder cyclists not to count on driver's cooperation in such situations. What myself and a lot of friends of mine expect from drivers is that they "do nothing, let us bikers handle this" (we even adivised this explicitly to a driver who went first on a steep offroad section once, and it worked great). Cyclists, thus, would expect the driver to just go on its way, and wait for a good oportunity without counting on driver's cooperation. That applies specially to very bold ways of going downhill roads by bike, most of them not agreed-upon by the rules of this site.

Even having considered all of this, if the rider couldn't pass because of the road, and the driver would like to help the rider someway, I think the best thing for the driver to do is to wait for a curve in the opposite direction (to the left in coutries with right-lane-driving), and decrease speed slowly and steadily so that the rider can jump ahead safely and go on. No need to get out of the road or to stop the car, but a blinking light, a short horn and/or a hand wave would be perfect. I think it is important not to do anything of these suddenly, but instead very smoothly so as not to scare or unbalance the rider.

From the driver's point of view, this stragety (slowing down until the rider overtakes) is safer than hurrying to try to open a gap from the rider, because in such roads bikes can be very fast with relative safety, while with cars safety levels quickly drop with speed increases.

Hope this helps!

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Great, great answer - thanks! esp. the "slowly and steadily" and signaling the rider some way (e.g. blinking light), and I definitely felt less maneuverable (not just slower) than the cyclist on this particular road - bikes just corner a heck of a lot better than an SUV. Just want to help out a fellow cyclist who is perhaps being more aggressive than he "should" but is understandably looking for a little help to continue with an enjoyable ride and these are some great strategies. –  Jon S Nov 7 '12 at 17:08
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Very true. If you are cycling a lot, you learn to think for the car drivers around you because you can never rely on that they are thinking of you. –  Benedikt Bauer Nov 7 '12 at 17:29
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Personally, at least when I'm riding in the city, I try to imagine that everyone one in a car is actively trying to kill me. Not true, of course, but it forces you not to get complacent :) –  naught101 Nov 8 '12 at 10:55
    
@heltonbiker "so it deliberate to the cyclist to go faster than the car" - I would edit for clarity, but I'm not sure what you mean. –  James Bradbury Nov 8 '12 at 21:34
    
@JamesBradbury Thanks, I changed the phrasing, I was meaning that the biker can be faster, but he is not obliged to overtake due to "lack of brakes" or anything (which was the OP concern), but instead he has the choice and the responsibility for the act of overtaking. –  heltonbiker Nov 9 '12 at 13:36

My opinion is that no one should be forced to either drive faster than they feel comfortable by any following vehicle. It's a principle of safety that everyone must feel in control of their vehicle. Likewise, I think no one should be forced to pull over by an impatient following vehicle.

When you chose to pull over and let the cyclist through, you did so out of politeness and consideration, the same way many farm vehicles here in the UK do when a half-mile queue has built up behind them. I don't think the cyclist had any right to expect you to do so.

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Many moons ago, the first time I drove in the Highlands of Scotland, which is characterised by many narrow roads where you'd not find a suitable overtaking place for miles, I was told that Scotland had specific laws about not pulling over in a timely way and deliberately impeding following vehicles, although I've just failed to find a citation for anything resembling this. Mostly it is, as you say, a matter of courtesy and common sense and would be a tough law to enforce and prosecute. –  Unsliced Nov 7 '12 at 14:19
    
Unfortunately it's also tough to enforce laws about keeping to safe stopping distances (which the cyclist in the question apparently did not do). As a result both become the subject of my grumbling. :-) –  James Bradbury Nov 7 '12 at 14:25
    
In California of the United States, if 5 vehicles are following close behind you on a windy mountain road (i.e. where passing is not safe/easy, and people vary their speed much more than other places) you are required to pull over and let them pass by law. –  NOTjust -- user4304 Sep 5 '13 at 18:33
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@unsliced, they were probably thinking of sections 155&169 of the Highway Code, which say to pull over if you're causing a traffic queue (in a passing place if on a single track road). This is all over the UK, but is more of an issue in the Highlands where single track roads are common. Neither of these is a law (there's no 'MUST...' in the rule), they're just about being polite; but you can be prosecuted & fined for inconsiderate driving: highland-news.co.uk/News/… –  bazzargh Apr 16 at 21:43

Cyclists in the road are subject to the same rules as cars. This includes speed limits, passing safely, signaling, all of it. He has no more right to "expect" you to pull aside for him than he does if he's driving his car. It's nice that you let him pass, but you were under absolutely no obligation to do so, unless you were going markedly slower than the posted speed limit.

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The speed limit is a maximum, not a target, and no-one cedes priority by driving slower if the conditions warrant it –  Useless Nov 8 '12 at 12:32
    
@Useless - If you are driving slower than the speed limit (And thanks for pointing out it was a maximum, I'm sure I wasn't aware of that), you can be cited for impeding traffic. Rare, but it does happen. –  JohnP Nov 8 '12 at 18:09
    
I'm pretty certain this is jurisdiction-specific. In the UK, unless you're deliberately blocking progress, you can't be charged just for going more slowly than someone else likes (otherwise farm vehicles wouldn't be able to get anywhere). The rules are likely different for motorways, though. –  Useless Nov 9 '12 at 10:49
    
@Useless - True. In the states, farm and slow moving vehicles (Such as Amish buggies in the Northeast) are required to display a reflective triangle to traverse certain roads. –  JohnP Nov 9 '12 at 14:43

I've been the cyclist in this situation a couple of times and I think you handled it well. One big problem is that the cyclist can't really tell if the driver is 1) aware of the cyclist, and 2) attempting to cooperate, and the driver in turn can't tell if the cyclist is even willing to consider passing the car in less than ideal circumstances.

So you as driver need to do two things: 1) Watch for the cyclist to "make his move" and don't make any sudden actions that would conflict with that, and 2) look for an opportunity to produce an OBVIOUS (and obviously safe) passing situation by pulling off on the shoulder or otherwise making the driving lane largely clear.

Unfortunately, if you simply slow down and pull over a little it may simply irritate the bike rider who's not prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

(And, no, there are no hand signals for this.)

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Quite right: I'm certain I wasn't aware of him for at least many seconds (due to watching the turns in the road) because the first glance I got of him was when he was about 8 feet off my rear bumper. And you're very right that - as a cyclist - even if a car is attempting to cooperate with me, I never leave it up to them to make sure I survive, so I err on the side of assuming they'll make a slightly bad judgement at the moment I'm negotiating a tight spot with them. –  Jon S Nov 7 '12 at 19:14

Maintain driving position and speed dictated by road and weather conditions. Be aware of cyclist but do not feel rushed to pull over if you want to let them pass, it is up to the cyclist to wait for a safe stretch of road to overtake.

Liken it to as you would when driving behind a tractor (or any slower moving vehicle), you should (and likely do) wait patiently for the tractor to find a suitable place to pull over and relieve trailing traffic or for a clear stretch of road to execute a safe overtake.

The cyclist was arrogant and rude so for that, as a cyclist, I apologise on behalf of the rest of us.

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Agreed, well put. –  BobF Nov 8 '12 at 8:15

The cyclist doesn't know what you're thinking, so doesn't know if you'll follow the rule of law, some method agreed on here as the preferred approach, or if you're a reckless driver (though based on what you say here clearly you're not reckless, but very considerate). As a result I'd say the following rules of thumb are the ones to go by.

  • Ensure your safety - i.e. don't do anything which would cause undue risk for yourself just to let someone overtake.
  • Don't do anything which is clearly wrong - this goes without saying but included for completeness. By this I simply mean don't try to cause problems for the cyclist (some drivers would attempt to antagonise the cyclist to indicate that they didn't want someone overtaking them).
  • Indicate / communicate your intentions. As stated above the cyclist knows nothing about you or your driving style. If you indicate what you're intending clearly they get a warning before you take action and can then think about what they'll do given your intended action.
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Sharing my point of view. I am pretty much an aggressive rider anywhere: commute, uphill, downhill and tours. Drivers in my nation have a lot of pride on what they drive and think cycling is one of low classed activities (applies to all type of people). So I hardly receive a co-operative response anywhere on the road.

As sad as it may sound, it always depends on me to maneuver to safety. Here is what I do to overtake the vehicle.

  • First of all, I try to find enough space for me pass through without a problem .
  • If I can't, or the driver is not caring about me (or too much concentrated on driving), I look at the view mirrors to find out the his driving side (generally, right in my country)

    • Then I try to draft with the vehicle until the driver notices me and does something about it
    • Or, I draft with the vehicle because as soon as I find an opening I can slingshot pass him.
    • and sometimes, I try to knock the vehicle with hand and signal to assist me. Or wave my hand to get his attention
  • Yelling also helps sometimes

On my commutes, local bus are really a threat to me because they will force a cyclist out of way if they have to. On such conditions, overtaking/riding in your own way, being safe depends on you and your skills to tackle such situation.

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