Seeing Things

I was waiting for an appointment the other day when I struck up a conversation with another woman in the lobby. She noticed my bike helmet and the conversation quickly turned to a discussion of cars versus cyclists.

It was just on of those casual conversations you have with a stranger in passing. After voicing the usual complaint about cyclists never stopping for red lights she added that she just “was not looking for cyclists.”

I started thinking about the word “looking.” Do drivers only see what they are looking for? And are they only looking for other cars? Which would mean, to a driver, a city intersection looks like this:

Seeing Things: Driver's POV

But when I bike through an intersection I am not looking for anything. I am seeing everything. If I were to travel through same intersection at the same moment I might see something like this:

Seeing Things: Cyclist's POV

But I probably see every street like this because I have to compensate for what the drivers are not looking for.

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  • Invisible Visible Man February 24, 2012   Reply →

    I got knocked off my bike in London three years ago by a motorist who came from behind me in the lane outside, on a clear road on a sunny day, turned left across my path and knocked me into the road. As I mentioned above, I’m six foot five and weigh 240 pounds. I cycle a big touring bike, with panniers with reflective patches and a silver helmet. I should be fairly unmissable.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out my number one theory about how the driver missed me because the charming Metropolitan Police told me they could check his ‘phone records only in cases of “life-changing injuries”. In other words, he didn’t hit me hard enough.

    When I got up off the road and told him I was calling the police, he got upset with me because he said he’d lose his job. I pointed out that, given he’d just knocked me off my bike into the road, my sympathy was limited.

    Motorists really do seem blind to cyclists except when they’re sitting ahead of them in traffic – in which case they take on the proportions of a lumbering, impossible-to-pass elephant that needs to be treated with regular horn-hoots and abuse.

    More on this at


  • Erica February 26, 2012   Reply →

    I honestly think that if you really see everything on the road… there’s no way you can drive. Because when I’m in a car I see everything too (even more so after I started cycling), except for the stuff that’s in my blind spots, and let me tell you, I have major anxiety about the stuff that might be in my blind spots. Also I can never, ever forget that I’m basically piloting a giant weapon (again, this hit home even more after cycling). Of course, people say similar things about cycling, but at least there’s no blind spots and I can be reasonably sure I won’t kill anyone. I think as I’ve become a better cyclist I’ve become a worse driver because I’m a billion times more cautious now (over-caution can be almost as bad as under-caution), good thing I only drive like every two months.

  • Richard Masoner February 27, 2012   Reply →

    Anyone who believes drivers even notice the other cars around are giving them too much credit. Last night I’m driving on the highway in the right lane at about the speed limit, merge left to the middle lane to pass somebody. Dude in a BMW going about 80 MPH moves right to get around me (and no, I didn’t cut him off, and he had plenty room in the left lane to pass) and nearly rear-ends the car that I’m just then passing. Ditto for the near sighted magoos who make jack rabbit starts at the traffic light, when it’s obvious the next light a hundred yards up is turning red.

  • Lee Hollenbeck February 28, 2012   Reply →

    Day time blinkie lights, front and rear.

  • Pingback: Cyclelicious » Do you see what I see? February 28, 2012   Reply →
  • Invisible Visible Man February 29, 2012   Reply →

    Meanwhile, Bikeyface, I would love to see your take on motorists’ perception of the space cyclists take up (only a minuscule amount is required when motorists are overtaking cyclists, while cyclists take up vast tracts of space when they’re in front). I’ve just posted a blog on the subject here:

  • Pingback: Do you see what I see? | Bicycle News February 29, 2012   Reply →
  • Brian February 29, 2012   Reply →

    Try bicycling in Bangkok sometime (seriously, come visit). There are so many other things on the road besides cars (motorcycles, dogs, buses, peds, tuk-tuks, people pushing carts of smoking pork, etc.) that drivers are used to watching for everything.

    I’d be interested in reading bicycle bloggers like yourself comment on biking here vs. at home.

    Great post as usual!

  • Jon Webb February 29, 2012   Reply →

    Any motorcyclist will tell you, drivers are not looking. There is a campaign here in PA to draw driver’s attention to motorcyclists — road signs and messages on state publications like registration renewal envelopes. Don’t know how effective it has been; I doubt it has made much difference. And if drivers aren’t looking for motorcyclists, they definitely aren’t looking for bicyclists. I always assume I am completely invisible to drivers and instead gauge how much time it would take them to run me down starting, say, from a stand at a stop sign, leaving enough distance so I can avoid them should they decide to do that.

  • Anna R. March 1, 2012   Reply →

    flying saucer! :) love it. That, and cupcake shop. That’s what I look for on my bike!!

  • m sweeney March 1, 2012   Reply →

    You probably don’t here this enough, love your blog, puts a smile on my face.

  • gorgopanta March 2, 2012   Reply →

    The main problem is that for the drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are only hindrances.

  • Pingback: Biking duds | Pedal Clips March 9, 2012   Reply →
  • Lisa Keen March 11, 2012   Reply →

    I agree that you can look at the same intersection and see a lot of other things when you’re not really looking for something. It’s sad that busy drivers can’t really appreciate the beauty around them but I think it’s for their own safety and others’ safety, too.

  • Mabel March 16, 2012   Reply →

    Hey I just started to read your blog… you do a fastantic job, btw! Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I just read a post where you talked about wearing helmets and such and I wanted to share this… my cousin, who was five at the time, was riding her bike (with parents watching) on her not busy street… someone came flying through going too fast for her to move and he hit her, and the helmet was completely smashed, but she was ok. Well, she was in the hospital for a while, but if not for her helmet, she would have died.

  • Phylos March 21, 2012   Reply →

    Drivers would become remarkably more attentive if our laws about crashes were simpler: he (or she) with the heavier vehicle is assumed to be at fault. Period. Ultimately child pedestrians could never be at fault in this scheme, and it’s quite likely that automobile drivers would tend to be extraordinarily cautious since a vast multitude of events outside of their control could land them in jail. Neither are bad outcomes.

  • jzara May 1, 2012   Reply →

    This is a great Tv ad (I think from England) that touches on this very thing. “It’s easy to miss what you are not looking for.”

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