Not a Sideshow

I’ve been taking the lane more and more. In the beginning I was timid and concerned with being polite. However there are drivers who think- no matter what- bikes should be as far to the right as possible. No matter the door zone, pothole, debris, or gutter situation. They’re always eager to push bikes further off to the margins of the road. There have been many moments like this:

The Sideshow

Which frequently resulted in large vehicles squeezing by me with mere inches to spare. But enough was enough- I got tired of being a sideshow act on the road. I take the full lane and stay safe. Of course that doesn’t stop the honking.

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  • Amy December 28, 2011   Reply →

    Yeah, take it like you own it! :) I don’t get much honking at here. Just drivers running oncoming cars off the road b/c they can’t be bothered to wait 2 seconds for the car to pass. I take the lane just to try and keep cars behind me until it’s safe for them to pass. Like I’m a roving safety patrol or something. :/

  • Seanna Lea December 28, 2011   Reply →

    I have been honked at and sworn at. It wasn’t pleasant, but I got home safe. I really looking forward to seeing how you tackle the winter. I was thinking about doing it this year, but I’m still not very steady on the bike so it is all about taking it slow for me.

  • erik December 28, 2011   Reply →

    I kinda like honks now. When they honk it means they see me! :) I used to wave “hello” when they honked. I stopped doing that because it fueled too much road rage.

  • cycler December 28, 2011   Reply →

    Argh, this kind of thing is so frustrating! It’s really hard to take the lane when someone is being aggressive behind you (= all the time in Boston), even when you know it’s the right thing to do.

    One surprising thing that helps is a super annoyingly bright strobe- like a Superflash, or a Radbot, even during the day- it seems to back people off a bit. I was having a morning of unusually close passes (while taking the lane mind you) and I realized I’d forgotten to turn the thing on.

    • Karl McCracken December 29, 2011  

      I’ve found the same thing. When the light stopped working one evening, and I couldn’t keep up the pace of the traffic around me, it turned into The Scary Ride, where taking the lane just seemed to make things worse! :-(

  • MoBike December 28, 2011   Reply →

    The drivers here either follower super slow, or blow past you and not much in between. Unfortunately in Idaho it is not agaist the law to ride bikes on the sidewalks, therefore everyone thinks that’s where we are supposed to ride. Hang tough, door zones are scary, and I would much rather upset a few ignorant people than eating car door 😀

  • Kelley December 28, 2011   Reply →

    It’s really good that you’re taking the lane. That was some of the sage advice my mechanic gave me about riding downtown. It was certainly intimidating at the start, and I still get peeved when drivers give me a 3 foot buffer. Even worse are the angry folks that can’t understand why you’d ride a bike in traffic, as though you’re out for fun, not commuting home.

    i know that it’s poor etiquette to shout back at them, but there are times that I really, REALLY want to yell back, “F*** you, read the law!”

    I don’t know about Boston, but here in San Antonio bikes and cars are bound by the same laws.

    • David February 8, 2012  

      Same in Boston and the whole state of Massachusetts.

  • Jim December 29, 2011   Reply →

    Whoa! You nailed it with this post! It’s an everyday occurance for me as well, but I’m determined not to let them ruin my ride. I’ve found that taking the lane does minimize the close calls, but you’re correct that it doesn’t help with the honking.

    I love the details in your drawings. The license plate on the truck in this one is just perfect.

  • Henz December 29, 2011   Reply →

    I’ve been honked at, sworn at and was even shunted once, but I much prefer the potential perils of primary position to close passes and the door zone. A wave, a smile and a camera-phone at the next red light usually calms them down a bit.

    Wonderful drawing.

    • MoBike December 29, 2011  

      Shunted? Not familiar with that term. Sounds not fun.

  • cris December 29, 2011   Reply →

    if I have time and plan accordingly, I’ll usually shoulder check and signal (usually by pointing down at the lane that I’m about to take … I have no idea if drivers actually interpret this correctly or not). That usually gives the aggressive jerks a chance to accelerate and pre-empt me to gain their precious 5 additional meters of imaginary progress before they hit the next red light. I’ll let them go and usually the next person is a little more gracious.

    I’m also with cycler in that it certainly helps to have a bright rear-facing light.

  • Stephen Spor December 29, 2011   Reply →

    At the risk of sounding needy, i have a request.

    But first, loving your cartoons, and admire you greatly for commuting.

    So, my quick tale, I live about 7 miles from work, to ride my bike involves a fast early morning descent to sea level, and then back up to 250 feet. In the middle of the that is a gated bridge that is open around 6 AM, and a mile on a side walk traveling opposite traffic. (This is the bike route, the side walk being “extra wide” for bikes). So the first 2 miles I freeze, then sweat to death climbing and then freaking out trying to cross side streets on a bike, on a sidewalk going the wrong way. Here in NY this time of the year it will be 15 degrees in the morning, and 45 in the afternoon.

    And now, that awkward question of what are you wearing? I mean, what do you wear morning verse afternoon, and what times are you riding, and how far do you go. In other words, Could you share a few of your technical tips, as appalling as this may be for your blog, some of us are in awe and seek to emulate you.

    Thanks for the cartoons, they are great and anyone that has ever ridding a bicycle knows EXACTLY what each on represents.

    • Bikeyface December 29, 2011  

      I don’t know that I have any technical tips really. It’s my 1st New England winter and I’m still figuring it out- especially since it’s been unusually warm. My route to work is about 4 miles and mostly flat. There hasn’t been much of a temperature difference in the morning vs. evening. My issue is that my office is heated to 80-90 degrees in winter so I go from deep winter to the peak of summer. Because it’s been in the 30-40’s outside so I’ve been wearing a wool sweater, light jacket, and scarf/gloves/hat most days with a dressy t-shirt underneath for work. Only lately have I changed to a normal coat but have found it way too warm most days. The coldest weather I’ve biked in was in the 20’s and I wore silk long underwear which was effective, but I have to take it off once I get to work which is slightly annoying. But they’re small and easy to tuck in a bag vs. heavy wind/rain/snow pants. I don’t know if this will become normal for me as it gets colder. We’ll see.

    • Jeff December 30, 2011  

      I’m still pretty green when it comes to cycling, but the ideal is that your energy expenditure should be static regardless of the terrain. It’s your *speed* that should be variable. If your energy expenditure is static, your temperature concerns should be minimal. The morning/afternoon difference is unavoidable, but that can be handled with a little bit of layering.

    • erik December 30, 2011  

      About the uphill/downhill problem, yes your energy output could be constant, but if your speed’s varying from 5mph to 20mph the cooling from the air passing you is going to go up by a factor of 16! [at least the drag will, and I’m guessing the cooling will too.] Downhill before you’re warmed up, uphill right before your destination is just hard to deal with. I hate stopping, but in this instance it might even be worth stopping and pulling off a hardshell after you’ve warmed up. For me I usually leave a middle layer in my bag for the generally warmer return trip. I keep the accessories similar, headband, facemask, different gloves for different temp ranges. My coldest weather gloves are nice old patagonia winter hiking gloves. In even colder weather I bust out the gauntlet mittens. And ski goggles. Leg layers are key… jeans+longjohns seem to work down to 40 [if no rain] but jeans+pvc rainpants work down lower, or Marmot precip zip-offs if I need to quick-change… but they’re not very waterproof anymore. Both hardshell pants + longjohns for the bitter cold days. Stuff that you can pull or compact while still riding, like a neoprene facemask or goggles or scarf/smartwool neck gaiter help with dealing with warming up underway. And zippers [both main & pit & pocket] in your softshell or hardshell can help too.

    • Mark H. Hendricks January 21, 2012  

      Dress for the warm part of the ride, if you have too much trouble stowing layers. You will not be cold for long and you will get used to it. That being said, clothes that wick, gloves and shoe covers that break the wind help an awful lot. I ride only slightly further, in only slightly less hilly terrain (down one river bluff and up another). Fortunately, trees and such help break the wind a good part of my trip.

    • David February 8, 2012  

      I ride a fully faired machine and in the 10F to 12F degree range I dress as if I was on a conventional exposed bike in the upper 50’s. I carry extra clothes for the cold weather for when I need to stop and get out. My speeds are much faster than a conventional bike also.

  • Charmaine December 29, 2011   Reply →

    These past two weeks, I’ve been riding on a busy road that I normally don’t ride due to the heavy thick traffic and narrow roads. But the traffic has been much lighter, so it’s a LITTLE more do-able. I take the lanes when I can go about the speed of cars (downhill), but when it’s uphill, I get on the sidewalk, since I’m going slower and I would just irritate the drivers going that slow. I certainly don’t want to either be clipped while riding or hit from behind, as people get impatient.

  • Dykonoclast December 29, 2011   Reply →

    My buddies and I have begun working on Bay State Badass Zine #2 and one of my first ideas for a second issue was to include dudes by interviewing two sweet and enlightened bike boys on the homophobic harassment to which they are subject. Which I think is worth exploring because 1. what does a dude riding a bike have to do with him favoring cock? 2. most of the boys who’ve reported such harassment to me are rather straight.

    One says that when male motorists drive aggro and/or call him faggot/queer/homo when he’s taking the lane, he blows them kisses 😀

  • jonawebb December 30, 2011   Reply →

    I very rarely take the lane, only in situations where I really feel it to be necessary and not put me at greater risk. On my commute there is a section where a two-lane road widens to three lanes and cars are speeding up to get on the highway ahead. There, I take the lane because it is relatively easy for cars to go around me, and if I do not take it there’s a temptation for cars to squeeze by me at fairly high speeds.
    I also feel comfortable taking the lane in heavy traffic situations, like that depicted in your drawing. It seems somewhat safer than riding at the side of the lane and creating a temptation for drivers to squeeze by so they can get closer to the stoplight.
    All of which is obviously unfair, but my primary concern is to keep from getting hurt or killed — and lane-taking has a certain amount of risk associated with it. I don’t think it should be done lightly, and certainly not routinely.
    What would be nice, BTW, is the passage of a three-foot passing rule.

    • John January 17, 2012  

      Are you saying it’s unfair for you to take the lane for your own safety? I very much disagree. All impeding is not illegal and unfair. Motorists impede other motorists all the time, such waiting behind a left turner on a two-lane road who is stopped waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, or stopped for a stopped school bus ahead. Red lights impede motorist more than anything else. Is any of this unfair? No, it’s just part of driving in traffic. So is dealing with a bicyclist in the lane, especially when there is no other safe place for the bicyclist to be.

      I think the safety “problem” of controlling the lane is overstated. Motorists are more likely to get annoyed at you than hit you, and even the ones who get so annoyed as to express it to you are in the minority. But many cyclists are uncomfortable controlling the lane, and justifying not doing it because it’s dangerous is an easy and understandable rationalization for not doing it. It’s definitely the sort of thing most people won’t believe until they try it.

  • Karen December 30, 2011   Reply →

    I’m not adverse to taking the lane, especially when I’m narrow downtown streets. We’ll just have to share the road because I’m not going to be squeezed against a parked car. Most of the time, I find downtown motorists very cooperative and patient; afterall, one doesn’t drive downtown and reasonably expect to be able to speed down streets lined with parked vehicles and pedestrians. On the wider roads, I’m willing to accomodate cars a bit more but expect some give and take on their part as well. The bottom line for me is that I make my biking decision based on the quality of the road and the quality of the drivers around me since I can only control my choices.

  • Pingback: Not a Sideshow | Bikeyface « In The Spin December 31, 2011   Reply →
  • John January 14, 2012   Reply →

    One thing I’ve noticed about taking the lane: While you do still get some amount of honking and yelling, those who are doing it are almost entirely doing so while waiting behind you or passing completely in the next lane, NOT buzzing you. Given the choice between buzz passing with honking and yelling, versus safe passing with honking and yelling, the choice is clear.

    Keri Caffrey at calls such motorist behavior “territorial honking” or just “incivility”. Sometimes it’s not even from people who’ve been inconvenienced by you at all, or not for very long, they just need to express their opinion of your brazen flaunting of the speed imperative.

    I almost always control a lane on any road that has multiple same-direction lanes. On those roads, it’s generally easier for overtakers to change lanes than on two-lane (one each way) roads, and the lanes are almost always too narrow to share side by side. Also those roads tend to have lots of right turn opportunities, so even if there is a shoulder, it’s probably not the best place to be to make yourself relevant to other traffic.

  • John January 14, 2012   Reply →

    How controlling the lane in a multi-lane situation actually HELPS motorists understand your expectation of them, and makes traffic flow more smoothly than cycling close to the edge. (They see you and change lanes sooner, while they have more opportunity.)

  • Eli Damon January 15, 2012   Reply →

    Bikeyface: It is great to hear about your discovery. I am a cycling instructor. Taking a sufficiently assertive lane position is very important, and I find that the effects of lane position are very poorly understood. Here is a piece you might appreciate.

  • steve magas January 16, 2012   Reply →

    I’ve kicked around, with tongue in cheek, a product to help motorists detect a safe passing distance around a commuting cyclist – it would be a thin, whippy titanium rod which would be neon-HiViz-Reflective coated and would stick out to the rider’s left from the back of the bike. The key feature would be a sharpened carbide tip that would produce a visual cue on the side of the passing vehicle if the motorist failed to pass at a safe distance…

    In all seriousness, your drawing describes a scenario that virtually ALL cyclists who ride on the road encounter… it takes some guts to hold your line, endure the slings and arrows of those who yell at you and NOT try to go after every oaf who says something you don’t like.

    We learned pretty much everything we need to know about this in kindergarten – Ride predictably, obey the laws, DON’T run stop signs or lights, wait your turn, and ride courteously…

    Steve Magas
    The Bike Lawyer

    • Phil February 9, 2012  

      I’m in. I’ve often envisioned a very similar product. Or, if I’m in a lousy mood, equipped with a Patriot missile…..

  • David January 16, 2012   Reply →

    What gets me is when I’m taking the lane, motorists will still pass me approaching the crest of a hill or a blind curve or even crazier, pulling out into on coming traffic on a strait away, forcing other vehicles off the road. These things happen all to often. I ride a Velomobile, a fully faired human powered vehicle and am even passed when I’m doing the speed limit or even exceeding the limit myself, they have to pass.

    What idiot gave these idiots a license to drive?

    • John January 17, 2012  

      David, I’m not sure how you do this in a velomobile, but on a regular upright bike, I frequently communicate to those behind me when they should not pass.

      It depends on the road geometry, of course, but I’m talking about two-lane roads where curves and hill crests are the biggest problems, and the lanes are too narrow to pass without crossing the centerline. If I’m approaching one of these blind spots, I check behind to see if there is traffic about to overtake. If no traffic at all, easy, just move to the middle of the lane until I’m past the blind spot. If traffic is too close behind me to react and I’m not already in the middle, I slow down to try to get them past me before we get too close to the blind spot. Worst case, I sometimes just pull over and let the pack pass before I resume my approach.

      If there is traffic behind me but it’s sufficiently far back to react and slow down, I’ll move to the center and give them a stop/slow signal (left arm bend down). Sometimes I’ll also do this if I’m already in a controlling position when I notice them approaching me. It can also be good to move your hand back and forth in a kind of “stay back” motion. Over 90% of time, the motorist understands and respects me. Only occasionally will a jerk will accelerate and pass quickly before the blind spot, usually honking as he does. Yes, it can be hard to keep your cool in that situation.

      After we get past the blind spot, if there is traffic slowed behind me AND there is clearly no oncoming traffic, I’ll move back to the right and give them a friendly wave. Sometimes I’ll actually wave them past, but I hesitate to do this too much, because it really should be their decision to pass when it’s safe, not just because I said so. But even if it’s just a wave, I feel it’s an important gesture in keeping good relations with motorists. You’re acknowledging that you delayed them a little, and it’s important to let them know you appreciate that and weren’t just being a jerk.

    • John January 17, 2012  

      By the way, I employ exactly the same strategy where there is a line of oncoming cars approaching in the opposing lane, because I know overtakers behind me will not be able to cross the centerline to pass. If I can control the lane until the oncoming traffic passes, I do, then I move to the right again after they are past. Cycling Savvy calls this technique “control and release”. Works just as well as the blind spot scenario, maybe better, because a line of oncoming cars is an even more obvious impediment to overtakers crossing the center line than a blind spot.

      Of course, since you mention you’re in a velomobile and can sometimes cruise at the speed limit, I should state that all this assumes that you’re slower than prevailing traffic to begin with.

    • David January 17, 2012  


      I have lost count of the motor vehicles that have passed me when I’m in control of the lane, doing the speed limit and so, their behavior forces on coming traffic onto the shoulder.

      This has happened in double yellow line marked, no passing zones.

      I’ve had public transportation buses greatly exceed the speed limit just to get around me.

    • David January 17, 2012  

      John. All of the roads here are two lane and with the aerodynamics of a Velomobile I can easily hit 40 + mph on the slightest descent and bounce a 30′ hill in excess of 25 to 30 mph depending on the approach.

      I take the lane at all times on our narrow two lane roads and as mentioned before I will still get passed in a rather dangerous manner even when doing the speed limit.

      I can’t turn my head around to see to the rear but I do have two rear view mirrors along with a tail light, brake light, a 400 lumen flasher about 3′ above ground level and turn signals.

      On longer climbs where I loose momentum, I will pull over to let a line of motor vehicles pass but I’ve only had to do that twice in the past.

      Massachusetts where I live requires motor vehicle when passing bicycles, to completely move out of the travel lane and not move back into it until completely passing the cyclists. It also calls for motorists to “wait” if it isn’t safe to pass a cyclist but as we all know, few motorists know the laws in the jurisdictions that they live in.

    • Ben February 13, 2012  

      This happens to me as well, but what amazes me more is that the oncoming traffic rarely honks, and sometimes oncoming cars will even slow down, pull over, and yield to the unsafely passing traffic!

    • David February 13, 2012  

      Great observation Ben. I hadn’t really noticed that but now that you mention it, it really is bizarre. The motoring mentality reigns supreme. Just yesterday I was on a flat stretch of road traveling along between 28 to 30 mph in a 25 mph zone and I was still passed by at least a dozen high speed cars. Some of which ran on coming traffic onto the shoulder. Guess who was getting honked at by a number of motorists? Me.

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