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This research seems to show car drivers give you more space if they think you are more likely to do something unpredictable.

It claims that where a cycle helmet often results in drivers giving you less space.

So how I make a driver think I am not a safe cyclist without being unsafe.

Is this the reason why the cyclists I always saw in Cambridge without lights never seem to get knocked of their bikes, but “safe” cyclists I knew with good lights and reflective jackets etc did sometimes (not often) get knocked of their bikes?


Direct link to research and a blog post by the researcher.

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My first thought was, "As a driver, I hate you." Then I remembered all of the times idiot drivers have almost hit me :-( –  Drew Stephens Sep 10 '10 at 18:38
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One thing to consider with this: In my experience, drivers tend to go where their eyes are looking. If you make a driver concentrate on you, they are concentrating less on the road, and may end up plowing into you. –  Jack M. Sep 13 '10 at 14:35
    
@Jack M. that is a very good point... –  studiohack Sep 14 '10 at 1:59
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@Jack M., @studiohack: I'm very much on the side of safer cycling in this, but there's very little in the way of firm data on either side of this. I'd very much like to see some proper studies with this startling finding. –  Neil Fein Sep 14 '10 at 2:52
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@neilfein That study was from a few years ago and, if you read the actual paper, probably counts as "proper study", the researcher had been kitted out with proximity sensors and was based on hundreds of interactions with vehicles. He was interviewed recently on the BBC Radio 4 programme, More or Less (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/more_or_less/8949827.stm) where he did admit that there were flaws, but that it was pretty much the state of the art at the moment. –  Unsliced Sep 14 '10 at 14:51

11 Answers 11

up vote 19 down vote accepted

In the city, it's best to "take the lane" and behave like traffic.

However, on country roads, I prefer to do the following. When you hear/notice a car approaching, weave out about a meter into the road, then weave back. Repeat this a couple times, until the car is very close, then just hold your line on the edge of the road. The car will worry that you might weave again, and give you ample room.

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+1 for the country suggestion, love it! :P –  studiohack Sep 14 '10 at 2:03
    
Well said. I do the same, and I think it works. –  Scott Langham Sep 20 '10 at 22:14
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It's disturbing that this question has so many upvotes. –  Neil Fein Sep 22 '10 at 1:35
    
It's better to just ride a bit further in than you normally would, so that you can give up space when a car comes along. The flipside of this situation is that if you force a car way out into the other lane, there's a better chance of it getting in a head-on collision, or of the oncoming driver barrelling into you in an effort to avoid one. –  intuited Oct 18 '10 at 23:30
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+1, don't forget that while this may keep YOU safe, you can't take up all of the driver's attention or he could kill someone else. Also, an alternate to weaving in and out is to just look back a few times as the vehicle approaches. This serves two purposes: it tells the driver that you're worried about the space you have and it also keeps you informed. –  Shawn Sep 8 '11 at 19:20

Try not hugging the edge of the road, drivers will be more tempted to squeeze past through smaller gaps if you're right at the edge. Instead ride about 1/4 of the way across the lane, it might p*** off a few drivers, but it will make them think twice about squeezing past with overtaking traffic / parked cars / etc.

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would it be better to "waive" you way along say between 1/6 cross the lane and 1/3 across the line? –  Ian Sep 10 '10 at 13:55
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Possibly good advice, but this really doesn't answer the question. –  Neil Fein Sep 10 '10 at 14:16
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This is also a good way to avoid riding in the door zone. –  Dan Monego Sep 10 '10 at 15:05
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@Ian @neilfein I think that this answer is much better than the prison movie logic of convincing everyone you share the road with that you're crazy. There are a lot of drivers on the road, and it's better to focus on clearly claiming your space than putting on a performance for each of them. –  Dan Monego Sep 10 '10 at 20:39

Something for you to consider is whether or not looking unsafe is indeed a good goal. Part of the reason drivers don't know how to react to cyclists is that there are many who behave like idiots; riding the wrong way, swerving all over the road, ninja cycling, and so on. Part of safe cycling is riding in a predictable manner.

The passing-closer-without-a-helmet thing is not particularly convincing. I've seen two articles about it, and both involved informal or anecdotal data. The linked article's "US data"... well, I haven't see it, so I'm somewhat skeptical. On the other hand, cars do give me more room when I'm pulling my bright yellow cargo trailer.

Perhaps the solution here is to simply increase your visibility and your apparent width (although pulling a trailer all the time seems like a problem). A trunk bag or panniers with a bright yellow cover might do the trick, or a safety vest, or even a safety triangle on the back of your bike.

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+1 I've been intentionally run off the road 3 times in my life (driver looking backward over his shoulder at me to make sure he does a 'good' job of it), and shoved on the shoulder once. All of those times, I was riding carefully, not obstructing their ability to pass. I'm not sure antagonizing these folks any more is wise. –  Jay Sep 19 '10 at 19:58
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@Jay - If someone's on the fence about running you off the road, they might hesitate if you have safety gear and are riding legally -- i.e., that makes them clearly in the wrong. –  Neil Fein Sep 19 '10 at 20:24
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Exactly, hence the +1. Good visibility and competent riding are best. In my cases, it clearly didn't matter, because they were all just future felons (imho). –  Jay Sep 20 '10 at 6:05

First of all for anything to work you must be visible. I have a few reflective straps on my backpack and I turn the lights on when it's darkish. I don't believe it can hurt you. Lights are much more effective safety measure than a helmet. The biggest cause of bike accidents are cars not giving way and running over the cyclist from behind. Bikers cause less than a half of the biker-involved accidents, primary biker death cause in Poland last year are not giving way either on intersections or crossings -- over 70%, another 7% is inappropriate lighting.

For the cars in front of me: I wear a hat with a big Jolly Roger. I guess the producer was targeting Emo children, but it fits perfectly and I even get away with driving in the left lane (everybody thinks I'm crazy). As mentioned, eye contact is very important. If in doubt I always aim at the rear of the car and just get back into the traffic behind it. Predict and be ready for the worst case.

For the cars behind you just don't keep so close to the curb and only get closer when you hear a car approaching. This buys me enough space.

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As today (Sept. 19) is Talk Like a Pirate Day the Jolly Roger seems especially appropriate: talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html –  Jay Sep 19 '10 at 19:56
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are you saying you ride on the wrong side of the road? If so, that's quite illegal in most areas. –  Neil Fein Sep 22 '10 at 1:34
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I have read that the car overtaking the cyclist constitutes only 0.2% of bicycle accidents. I can't find the source for this, but it was a reputable bike safety website. In general, one hears that doors and intersections are dangerous. Do you have a source for your claim about the largest cause of accidents? –  David M. Sep 22 '10 at 4:14
    
@neilfein maybe I'm overrating the Jolly Roger hat effect, but it seems like drivers don't get so angry, when there is no danger, the space is abundant and I'm clearly marked as pirate, when doing something illegal. –  dhill Oct 7 '10 at 9:42
    
@David M. The source I thought I was using is Polish police yearly road accidents report, but looking again I'm not sure. What stands is: bikers cause less than a half of the biker-involved accidents, primary death causes last year are not giving way either on intersections or crossings (over 70%). The causes for 10% can be overtaking related (but only 2-3% could justify "from behind"). Another 7% is attributed to inappropriate lighting anyway. I think a death rate is a better measure of danger than accident rate. –  dhill Oct 7 '10 at 10:22

I think your best bet is to play it safe and protect yourself. It is always a good idea to wear a helmet and clothing that allows you to be seen. The cars are the issue here and until motorist become more aware of the danger that they put cyclist in when getting too close, we cyclist have to do our best to avoid danger. We can do this by wearing a helmet, reflective or bright clothing, having a decent front and rear light, obeying traffic law, and signaling.

Stay safe and happy biking.

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Long blonde wig? Perhaps a short grey wig.

(Anecdotally [not data, not evidence] I find that wearing reflective gear makes it much more common for drivers to nudge past where there isn't space.)

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By my behaviour, I try to send the message "Warning, I am about to do something unsafe or unpredictable" to car drivers. This may take the form of:

  • having a trajectory which gives no clue to car driver other than it may cross his own trajectory
  • establishing eye contact, somehow like: "I know that you are there and you know that I am here: don't try to commit homicid and then pretend that you didn't see me"
  • keeping my behaviour within the limits of the laws, and not giving car drivers the opportunity to break laws (sometimes they may be tempted to ignore cyclists)

All of this is possible only after having anticipated as much as possible what may happen. If I don't feel safe enough, I prefer to reach a situation where I am and look safe (stop and wait for better conditions for example). Also, I don't try to struggle with angry car drivers.

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A couple of cheap flags on little plastic sticks sticking out to the sides a foot or two (horizontally - perhaps from above the rear tyre, if you've got a rack there to tie them to).

They won't damage the car, but the driver won't want to hit them anyway, giving you a nice buffer (plus, you'll look unsafe, in many senses of the word).

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Take the whole lane in the city. Ride past stopped cars at lights and get "first in line".

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-1, Getting first in line at a stop sign or a light will antagonize drivers. Taking the lane (where sharing the lane is dangerous or impossible) is a safe way to cycle. –  Neil Fein Sep 19 '10 at 20:32
    
yea, I might run you over if you skip directly in front of me at a stop light. –  dotjoe Sep 21 '10 at 15:51

I honestly don't think that looking unsafe is a good solution to avoid collisions with motor vehicles. Mainly because I think that making the effort to look unsafe would distract a rider's attention from actually using safe riding practices.

Here is a link to Ken Kifer's Bike Pages with an excellent article on How to Avoid Traffic Accidents. In his analysis of bike/car collisions he offers tips and practices on how to avoid the common types of accidents. Not one of his solutions for avoidance involves looking unsafe.

The info on Ken Kifer's site is based on A Crash-Type Manual for Bicyclists by Carol Tan.

Two more links from Ken Kifer's site:

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Giant Tolkien-dwarf style Axe strapped to your back?

An assault rifle slung over one arm?

Waving a sword around your head ?

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You took the words right off my keyboard!lol –  Bo Quelland Sep 10 '12 at 6:02

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