Saturday, October 15

Sometimes, Speed is a Savior

Speed Can be Your FRIEND - From Wikipedia
However, THIS Guy Needs No Help for Others to Know His Speed
There is a perception that you have to ride fast to operate on the road amongst the motorized traffic. Certainly, it is easier for an overtaking car to run you down and squish you like a squirrel if you are riding at 10mph than if you are riding at 20mph. Still, considering that on a straight road a motorist will see you at least a block or two away, they don't have to have the reaction times of test pilots to miss even the slowest cyclist. From the stories in newspapers that I read, the common reason cyclists get hit from behind is they are riding on a shoulder, or maybe even standing on the sidewalk, and some dweeb simply runs off the road and smacks them. Yes, I know, our driver licensing system seems to be a little less than perfect, but that is not the point today.

How Close Can a Car Get Before Reacting and Still Not Run You Down?
Remember, They Could Get MUCH Closer and Still Miss You With a Simple Lane Change
Cyclists benefit, when being overtaken, by the mistaken notion almost all motorists have that the cyclists are going much slower than they are, regardless of whether they ride fast or slow. "Those cyclists are SO slow!" I will never forget the sworn testimony of a police officer (a trained observer) at the ChipSeal trial that Chip was going about 8mph. In fact, Chip was going closer to 20 at that moment in the video. Had I had less self control, I'd have gotten thrown out of the courtroom for contempt after rolling around on the floor in hysterical laughter. Even the normally expressive Chip looked dumbfounded and actually disappointed, which made keeping my mouth shut even harder. Cycling advocates, such as here, note that the notion you need to ride quickly to be safe is mistaken, and they are right. While a lot of cyclists feel bad about taking the lane while doing 10mph when motorists occasionally exceed the posted limit, one wonders if their attitude might brighten a bit if they realized the motorists really figured that the obnoxious cyclist was hogging the road while going about 4mph. What's more, they'll claim that regardless of where the cyclist rides on the actual road surface. I don't know why this is so - in college I changed majors from psychology to engineering. Go ask someone else if you want to know the basis for motorist judgment errors. All I know is that's what they think. OUR task is to use that knowledge to our advantage.

Why, then, you might ask, did I choose the title I did for this post? Well, it is very simple. As in most road conflict, THE MAIN DANGER IS AHEAD. What this means is that overtaking motorists make their moves early to pass the poky cyclist. Those making turns and such up ahead often misjudge how quickly I am coming on. And those, up ahead, represent the MAIN DANGER.

Of course, riding even faster compared to what a motorist expects usually only makes things worse. Really, the only real benefit of cycling in a vehicular manner is that the increased dangers when you are going fast are much less than behaving in a manner that other traffic does not expect. In other words, the penalties of riding fast are less if you move as others expect a vehicle to move. That is a lot of the secret to low Dutch and Danish cycling fatalities - people simply mostly ride slower compared to the US. If you doubt it, ride at 20mph on a street with traffic versus try to ride at 20mph against traffic on a crowded sidewalk. Actually, simply take my word for it. I don't want to be hauled into court by some grieving survivor.

Sometimes, however, speed doesn't kill, but helps. I was reminded of this on Thursday when I got honked at by a motorist. Getting honked at is pretty unusual in itself for me, but this one might have been even stranger. What is more, speed might well have avoided the encounter completely. Actually, I'm being slightly misleading because it wasn't really speed that was needed as much as an "impression" of speed. A motorist up ahead that OVERESTIMATES my speed gives me an extra margin. During daylight, this is a tough thing to achieve. BUT, sometimes, the darkness can be a cyclist's friend.

I was Headed Southwest in the Dark, Down the Hill, Toward the Camera, About Where the Driver of the Silver Car Was
On Thursday, Perhaps a Sign Saying "Caution - Motorists Blowing Stop Signs"
Would Have Been Most Appropriate
It was dark out as I headed southwest on Bedford-Euless Road on Thursday morning. This is a sweet, five lane road I ride every morning on the way to work. Off to the right, within 50 feet of the now departed sign in the photo, a motorist, seeing my Mighty P7 Headlight on the "low" setting (about as bright as most better bike lights in the high setting), the guy decided to blow the stop sign until he realized the (inappropriate word omitted) cyclist was a LOT faster than he expected. I typically hit about 25-30mph on that slight downhill stretch. Well, to make a short story even shorter, instead of either following the law or hitting the accelerator to attempt a clean getaway, he stopped with the nose of his car right about in the middle of my lane. Then, to my surprise, the scofflaw decided to honk at me. Maybe he was trying to drive as if invisible and wondered if I might not have noticed the 4000lb missile violating my right of way. Duh - being a suburban road, such events catch my notice. Well, no actual evasive action was needed, other than to avoid mindless swerving as I laughed after passing the honker and tried to imagine the reasons for the honk. If this post was about lane position instead of speed, it might have illustrated the benefits of riding in "the line of sweetness."

Light Level on Thursday - Motorist Blows Stop Sign and Honks
Light Level on Friday - Another Boring Ride - Sidestreet Motorists Behaved Themselves
Bike Light at Left, Wimpy VW High Beams at Right. Those Lights at Left are COMING FAST!
Friday, I made corrective action. Hereafter, in the dark, I ride with my headlight on the "bright" setting. To any traffic up ahead, the light looks like an oncoming Harley and all motorists know THOSE bad boys are usually doing at LEAST 60. Those motorists, up ahead in the dark, deciding whether or not to blow those stop signs will probably hesitate, which will be all the time I need before the motorist realizes it was only a poky cyclist that just swept by on THEIR arterial. Speed is a savior. Well, maybe the impression of speed. Or maybe it is merely the GINORMOUS OPTICAL POWER of the Mighty P7, AKA "the Flamethrower."

Is that Marlon Brando on a Harley in the Dark?
Those Durn, Sneaky (Inappropriate Term Deleted) Cyclists!
PS: It might also be the first real legitimate reason I have ever run across to add a front reflector to the front of a bike. It also suggests a loudspeaker to play the sounds of a loud motorcycle might pay off compared to the more conventional "high vis." How DOES one create the impression of an attack aircraft beginning a strafing run?

Motorists Would be RELUCTANT to Blow a Stop Sign With One of THESE Bearing Down!
I Think I'd Need Speakers Because These Bad Boys Don't Use Lights When They Come...

13 comments:

Paul said...

People aren't stopping at stop signs anymore. They may jack on their brakes once, maybe twice, but as far as a legitimate honest to goodness stop, they're as rare as hen's teeth.

limom said...

The cow bicycle!

Steve A said...

Sadly, Paul speaks truth. I often get passed AT stop signs by motorists. Somehow, I consider that a positive, whereas a cyclist blowing by at the same stop sign would be offensive to me.

Much of the stop sign scofflawry is really due to their proliferation around places where a yield sign would be far more appropriate. If stop signs were rare, they'd be taken seriously.

RANTWICK said...

That freakishly bright light puts my small blinky light to shame. Candle Power, baby. Maybe someday I'll get me some.

[goatets]

Khal said...

Nice pic of an ME-109.

veesee said...

Or just get a horn of your own to honk back? I'm thinking about it.

John Romeo Alpha said...

A freakishly bright bicycle light is a great psychological tool on the road. I have found all advantages so far, with no disadvantages. I always wanted a super-loud horn on any vehicle, but never acquired one, always stuck with the pitiful little "meep-meep" horn they equip with these days. Recently a pickup with something like a train horn honked at me, I think trying to scare me, but instead I was awe-struck, and inspired: with one of those, and a P7 light, mounted on your bicycle, engineering would triumph psychology once and for all. Streetlights would dim at your approach, and the hills would resound with echos of your mighty sound.

Steve A said...

The horn bears consideration. However, unlike the light, a horn requires a decision to use it. When I see a danger ahead, I focus on that, and fear I lack the ability to also honk at the perp. Certainly my record of being able to remember license numbers is poor. This is not all bad since I have never had a crash into a car, which might not be the case if I had things like horns along.

Most often, cars that honk are following and have lots of time to ponder things before the honk. Either that or, as in this post, the honks are some sort of primeval, instinctive impulse. I lack that when on my bike. Kermit is more amusing than useful.

KD5NRH said...

One of the Airzound's nicest features is that you can yank it off the mount really quickly, so you can point it right in the face of the guy leaning out the passenger window to yell.

SiouxGeonz said...

I have found myself able to use a horn, tho' mostly proactively... but I'm not going 25 mph into an intersection, so I have more time from that p;oint where you know the motorist is DOing the Scofflaw Thing. (I also rather like it for its surprise effect on those rare Attempted Right Hooks, etc.) My problem with them is they last but a year in our weather before the plastic gets brittle and they don't honk. Would that Stoic or somebody would come up with a Real Air HOrn.

I have to wonder though, if things might have gone without the adrenaline rush if you had, in fact, been riding more slowly, "as expected." My commuting bike weighs a mortal ton, so 12 mph is typical speed.When for whatever reason I'm tootling through town on my faster bike, I have many more closer interactions. (However, my commuting bike is conspicuous enough that yes, an awful lot of people and bus drivers *know* it.)

SiouxGeonz said...

Oh, and I *hate* being blinded by bicycle headlights.

Steve A said...

When my light is on "high," I dip it down to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. As for the speed; already riding below the legal limit down a hill, AND getting passed by motorists making a lane change to my left, it seems to me that slowing down is likely to raise more conflict than simply continuing on. Even in the situation noted in the post, the main notable event was a motorist violating the law about stopping at stop signs and honking about it. Had the guy continued on, my post might have been a lot more spectacular due to the fireball from the lane to my left. Actually, I might not have even needed a flash! Regardless, if someone thinks that causing traffic ahead to underestimate my speed is a good idea, I'd like to hear why.

Trevor said...

That is some nice bright light you have there....one day I must get myself one like that...
Very interesting post by the way...!

-Tevor

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