Tuesday, September 1

Speed, Is It What We Need?

One thing about a long commute is there is lots of time to think about bike commuting blog posts. Thanks to Rantwick, you get THIS one tonight instead of a couple of others I was considering.

It's often been said that vehicular cycling requires speed. That's nonsense, but how to get the reasons across to people? I'd been struggling with that for months, even coming up with ways people can experimentally demonstrate it to themselves. I did five drafts of a post at Cycle*Dallas before deleting it for good. Rantwick's post today, gave me the basis for a simple logic trail. "You are as safe or more safe on a bike than you are in a car."

Well, why should a bike be safer than a car? You've got no airbags or seatbelts, you can't stop as well, and you're not gonna just fall over in a car. The reason for the safety is pretty simple, actually - you're going a lot slower on a bike.

Now throw vehicular cycling (and vehicular driving) into the mix. If you're going REALLY REALLY slow, at pedestrian speeds, VC or not doesn't matter very much. Ride down the sidewalk the wrong way at 4mph and you're not at a big risk, though you're still not as safe as a REAL pedestrian since you can't jump aside. Ditto if you drive around real slow - even if you're going down the street the wrong way. Either way, you're bog simple for faster traffic to avoid - and they'll probably get out and offer to help push if you're in your car. I don't, however, recommend you try to drive your car real slow on a sidewalk. The police will not understand.

Now, ramp it up to 12mph. Things are happening three times as fast, and any impact imparts NINE times the energy. Suddenly, not following rules makes it MUCH more likely that you're gonna collide with something and it'll hurt a lot more. That's true whether you're riding a bike or driving a car. Suddenly, following rules has a much bigger payoff. That payoff comes because you are less able to avoid hazards and you're now more difficult for faster traffic to avoid if you're NOT predictable.

Now, ramp it up to 40mph. You'd be INSANE to ride (probably with the help of a hill) or drive at these speeds without following predictable (vehicular) rules. Conclusion: it's not that you need to ride fast to ride vehicularly, but if you ARE going to ride fast, the consequences of NOT riding vehicularly get really ugly. The FASTER you go, the less viable any other approach becomes. Doubt it? Read the cycling accident reports - they're filled with people shooting across crosswalks and getting hit or shooting up to the right of trucks and getting hit or ---

Hence the basis for the nonsensical notion that VC requires speed. Really, it's speed that requires VC. If you're just going to stay perfectly still, VC is completely irrelevant. There I said it. Putting it another way, if operating vehicularly required speed, wouldn't all roads (not just a few freeways) have minimum posted speeds instead of maximum speeds?

PS: I LOVE that Rantwick salute picture!

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Force must be strong today. Go here or here to see a video of someone operating in a non vehicular fashion at 20mph, along with the guy's frame of mind. I kept waiting for the splat.


Rantwick said...

That was really well thought out and delivered, Steve. It is rare for something to make such perfect, simple sense to me, because I am easily confused and distracted, particularly by such flattering images of myself posted somehwere other than on my blog.

"Really, it's speed that requires VC". Way to boil it down, man. I agree.

Keri said...

Well said, Steve! I've attempted to explain this a few times, too. VC is essential for higher speed cycling, and yet it works just fine for slow cycling, too. It's hard to get both of those points across. You did good!

MamaVee said...

This slow cyclist thanks you!

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