What cyclists wish drivers knew about bikes
This post is written by a cyclist who also drives a car.
In the years I’ve been riding a bike, driver awareness has improved enormously. Most car drivers show a level of awareness and courtesy towards cyclists that was often unimaginable. That said, there are drivers, and cyclists, who are simply arseholes, and who are dangerous to all other road users. The trouble with an article called what I wish drivers knew about bikes is that it can be a long whinge about these dangerous people. That’s not what I’m about here. I’m writing to drivers who’d like to be better, and to drivers who are puzzled or even annoyed about the behaviour of cyclists. Sometimes, looking at a situation from the perspective of the rider can help those of us who drive understand things a little better. Here’s a list:
Why did that cyclist scream at/abuse me?
I hope you’ve never had this happen to you, but imagine someone going for you with a knife or pointing a gun at you. One of my colleagues was bailed up with a rifle once, and he told me, “After that, I just sort of fell apart for a while.” He meant years. If we’re in the car and we cut in front of someone when we do a left turn, or cut across them when we turning right, or maybe even clip them with our rear view mirror—that happens to cyclists more often than you’d imagine, then we can feel embarrassed, shocked or horrified, and may even stop to apologise. But for the cyclist, it’s far worse than the shock we’ve just had. We’ve done the equivalent of pointing our rifle at them, maybe even taken a pot shot. When I’m screaming at you, I’m not hating you; I’m in shock. Your tonne and a half vehicle just nearly killed me. If we make this mistake, and I get it, it’s easy to miss seeing someone, it’s time to take the consequences. There is no excuse, really. We just got bloody close to killing someone.
As a cyclist, and as a motorist, perhaps the most scary thing on the roads is the driver who pulls off precision turns and overtakes that look great in an action movie, but which leave no room for error. For the motorist this can mean a badly busted up car, and maybe an injury. But for the cyclist it’s about a badly busted up body, and maybe being dead.
The bloke who did this timed his quick right turn through a gap in the traffic to perfection. He just didn't see me in the inside lane, and I hit him at 40kph. The bloke I then bounced into said, "I knew I'd been hit by a bike because I saw it snap off my aerial as it went over my roof and bonnet. I just couldn't work out where the cyclist was." Answer: lying on the road behind him, very lucky to be alive.
If we sit on the horn and make a close pass and then get yelled at or worse at the next set of lights, or find a cop waiting for us at the next town… we deserve it. That sort of behaviour can send someone into us, or under the car behind us.
Where is the left hand side of my car?
Most drivers are conscientious and wish no harm to cyclists. But every time I am on the road there are are a few folk who pass way too close. I really think most of them have no idea where the left hand side of the car is! Do you want to have a cyclist think you are a good person, and maybe even give you a wave? Use the whole road. Take a tip from country drivers who more often than not overtake us cyclists by pulling out into the other lane. No room because of the oncoming traffic? There’s a law about that. It says that we wait until it’s safe to overtake. It doesn’t say we try to squeeze through. The best advice I ever heard was from Sgt. Paul Freund at SAPOL: Even if you have to wait a few seconds, you won’t go backwards. He might have added that if you hit that cyclist you’ll waste a lot more time in the courts, and maybe in a psychologist's office!
How long is my car and caravan?
Have you thought about how much longer you are when you are towing a trailer or a caravan? It seems obvious, but a lot of folk seem to forget that their van or trailer is wider than the car. Or they pull in once the car has passed the cyclist, forgetting that the van is still there. That’s when you send me off the road, and maybe unwittingly commit the offence of a hit and run.
If you’ve hired a Brit Camper or even just a 4WD, this is a real issue. You are wider than your normal car, so drive accordingly.
Did you know you have a bow wave?
When we are driving, our vehicles create a blast of air. We can sometimes feel this even when someone walks past us. The higher, wider, and longer our vehicle, the more pronounced this is. It is magnified by a caravan, and some of them seem to create a much bigger wave than others. Depending on the wind direction and our direction of travel the effect of the wave can be much greater; trucks and semis are worse again. These waves often push cyclists off towards the edge of the road, and then suck them back towards our vehicle as we are passing. Even if we are passing at the regulation 1.5 metres on a highway, we can create a pretty severe disturbance for folk and blow them off the road, or God help us all, suck them into the path of the vehicle behind us. It really wouldn’t hurt us if we pulled out into the oncoming lane for a couple of hundred metres, or even do as many country drivers do, especially farmers, and just let our speed wash off as we approach a bike. I might add that although trucks and semis can be very intimidating for beginner cyclists, as a cyclist who does in excess of 10,000km a year, I find that us car drivers are the ones who really scare me!
How fast are they going?
Sometimes us drivers wonder how fast a cyclist is travelling, or how long they can keep going at what seems quite a high speed. So we pull alongside and match their speed, or sit behind then for a while. If we do this, we need to understand how it feels for the cyclist. Firstly, it’s intimidating. The cyclist wonders, is the car just clocking our speed, or do they have malicious intent? Enough drivers, or their passengers, do have malicious intent for cyclists to instantly be on alert. This is especially so if the cyclist is a woman. You will be experienced as sexually harassing them if you sit behind them unnecessarily. Don’t do it. (A note for male cyclists: When you draft women on the road, or on a bike path, spare a thought for how it feels. Either pass them, or drop back a hundred metres.)
If we are on a country road and it’s a fast descent down Sedan Hill, or even Norton Summit, don’t pull alongside to clock a cyclist’s speed. They need room to deal with pot holes, gusts of wind and… believe it or not, snakes. I was once hurtling down a hill after a long climb and some car thought, “Wow, how fast is he going?” and pulled along side. They stayed well away from me, but when I had less than two seconds to avoid a big brown snake that decided to do a dash the road, there was nowhere to go! I had time to move far too close to the car for comfort, but the snake still had time to take a strike at me.
Why won’t they ride closer to the edge of the road?
Cyclists have 1.4 metres of road space, by law. They are not obliged to pull close to the edge of the bitumen just because we are behind them. Nor are they obliged to ride across the edge lane in the verge, which is in fact, technically illegal1. In fact, it benefits us as drivers if they don’t sit on the edge, or in the gutter. We often don’t see people on the edge of the road, but if they are directly in front of us, we see them much more consistently.
When you move your head and eyes to scan a scene, your eyes are incapable of moving smoothly across it and seeing everything. Instead, you see in the image in a series of very quick jumps (called saccades) with very short pauses (called fixations) and it is only during the pauses that an image is processed…. Your brain fills in the gaps with a combination of peripheral vision and an assumption that what is in the gaps must be the same as what you see during the pauses. This might sound crazy, but your brain actually blocks the image that is being received while your eyes are moving. ...The smaller the vehicle, the greater the chance it will fall within a saccade...This isn’t really a case of a careless driver, it’s more of a human incapacity to see anything during a saccade. Hence the reason for so many “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you” excuses. From https://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/raf-pilot-teach-cyclists/ And more detail is here in this PDF file: RAF Pilots helpiing cyclists!
A cyclist sitting out in front of us does us a favour; it helps us to see them. Cyclists are also allowed to ride in closer to the middle of the lane when conditions closer to the edge are unsafe. This might include potholes, gravel, glass, and the fact that from behind, the cyclist can’t tell if we are one of those dills who is going to try to sneak past and overtake through a roundabout and send the cyclist into the kerb. If we do that, there is a fair chance the cyclist will bounce back off under us or the car behind us. Again, they are doing us a favour. Our job is to wait until it is safe to overtake.
The most dangerous cyclist, in my opinion, is ‘old mate’ riding along in the gutter, always at risk of bouncing off it and under our car. Thank them when they’re further out.
Why aren’t they in the bike lane?
Read the paragraphs above. Sometimes it’s not safe for either cyclist or motorist.
Why have they got that flashing light?
So we can see them. Maybe we could politely point out that their light has shaken to point up a little higher than necessary. And maybe we could not leave our lights on high, or flash at them, which blinds cyclists and other drivers, and is illegal and dangerous.
Why do they have to wear all that fancy clothing?
It’s cooler. It dries better. If they are sensible, it is also bright and helps us not end up in court for hitting another road user.
Why do they clunk about my coffee shop in those stupid shoes?
Cleats on shoes keep feet on pedals. Add a pothole or gravel, or a too close pass by the car in front of us, to the mix of traffic, and those clunky cleats can be what stops a cyclist falling off under our car.
They slow down the traffic.
Do they? There are up to 10,000 cyclists ride into Adelaide on a daily basis. Most of them are not on the main roads. What if they all were? Well, 5000 cars spaced at 20 meters per car is 100 kilometres of vehicle that we mostly don’t get to pass. We get to pass most of the cyclists most of the time. They do us a favour, and they help the parking situation enormously. See: https://adelaideaz.com/cycling
Why don’t they wave back?
I like to wave or nod to cars on country roads. But wearing sunglasses, and with the sun in the wrong place, I can’t see you when you are driving, especially if you have a tinted windscreen. And sometimes I’m concentrating on the car behind, or the one behind you and need to keep both hands on the steering. Thank you for waving.
Why should cyclists be allowed to use the road for their entertainment? Why does government spend all my tax money on bike trails?
The first question is always asked by folk who drive to their holiday shack, or to the theatre, or out to tea, or take a trip up to the wineries. There are a lot more car drivers doing entertainment than cyclists. And that includes folk trying out their driving skills at high speed in the Gorge, and on other Hills roads.
When it comes to the bike trails, consider this example. A bike group I know camps overnight at, say, Melrose Caravan Park. How much does that bring into the town? Then they take the new bike trail to Booleroo and have lunch at the bakery. Say 15 bikes, and you have 15 x $6 for coffee, 15 pasties at $4.00, add the same for a muffin each. Maybe $4.50 each for a bottle of Gatorade. And probably more. That’s close on $280.00. They are going to do the same when they stop at Jamestown or, if they stop there for the night, spend a whole lot more in the camp-ground and the local pub. Cyclists are good for business.
Don’t look at me in your rear-vision mirror.
Seriously. The one time I nearly got run over from behind, I was out riding on a country road with my daughter. A driver, too interested in this slip of a girl miles from anywhere, continued to watch her in the rear vision mirror, and didn’t see me at all. They missed me by millimetres. Which begs the question of how much they were paying attention before they passed my daughter; I was only 30 metres in front of her.
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1. See https://www.mylicence.sa.gov.au/road-rules/the-drivers-handbook/lanes and look for "Edge Lines."