Wednesday, February 10

Rantwick and the “Line of Sweetness”

Rantwick made a very interesting post, here, complete with his best-ever graphic, in which he included a video of a close pass. My own comment supported Rantwick's observation that slipping left in a lane is best done slowly, so as to not surprise any following motorists. In comments, Skyers suggested that the “Line of Sourness” may have been what kept a close pass from becoming something worse. Skyers’s analysis contains an undeniable element of truth, but after careful consideration, I think it misses at a critical element. Here’s why.

The video contains two important elements. First, Rantwick executes a left turn, then, about seven seconds later, he gets passed very closely by a car that is going quite fast. We’ll call the driver “Speedy.” The Line of Sweetness (EXCELLENT GRAPHIC HERE) is certainly one principle involved, but it is complicated by a left turn in front of oncoming traffic, bringing “the Land Rover Rule” into play. In this case, “the Land Rover Rule” says you do not turn into the immediate path of onrushing traffic regardless of whether you are going to ride the line of sweetness, sourness, or even if your intent is to jump the curb and onto the sidewalk. You wouldn’t do it if you were driving the Land Rover, you don’t do it on the bike. If I were an official type like Mighk, I’d call it the “first come, first served” principle (see, I DO know some of the official names of this stuff for when I have to take tests).

Did Rantwick turn too close in front of the speed demon? Well, Rantwick certainly didn’t think so, and, while it is very easy to misjudge such things if one of the cars is going really fast (also true if you are driving), the video shows Rantwick went seven full seconds before Speedy passed him while passing through an intersection. If Speedy was going twice his speed, he may have been two full blocks back when Rantwick finished his turn. This is clearly not a case of Rantwick lunging in front of a responsible driver who has to desperately swerve to avoid killing him. I’m not surprised Rantwick doesn’t recall the car too clearly prior to the turn.

I try to always let my motorists have lots of time to figure out and execute the proper maneuver without requiring thought on their part. In this case, Speedy SHOULD simply move into the left lane a block or two back. It’s what any rational motorist does, regardless of anywhere in the lane Rantwick might happen to be, because motorists all KNOW that cyclists are incorrigible reprobates, prone to doing crazy things without notice. If you think I exaggerate, read the comments section of almost any newspaper when a cycling article appears. Cautious motorists move over TWO lanes if it’s an option and traffic is light. While it is certainly possible that Speedy might have come on and squished a “Line of Sweetness” Rantwick, I’ll guess he saw Rantwick off to the right, saw the SUV to his left, and decided he could split the difference between them and wind up ahead of everyone. The temporary license plate suggests he was probably not driving his own daily car. The true danger of the Line of Sourness is that Speedy might have misjudged the space by ten or twenty centimeters. We read of such incidents daily in the news. Personally, I like reading Monday Rantwick posts and would not want to read of some “terrible accident,” unless the “terrible accident” involves some sort of giant fracas associated with his music career. In such an event, I eagerly look forward to Rantwick's spin on things. Perhaps it might even be as lively as the Rawhide scene in The Blues Brothers.

On the other hand, let’s assume Speedy was just discharged from his anger management class, and decided he was not about to tap on the brakes for some dorky spandex mafioso by ducking behind the van, and then speeding back up after passing Rantwick, and he decided instead to do a drag race with the SUV, followed by a quick left lane change at the last second. In such a scenario, Rantwick may indeed have a better chance of survival in the Line of Sourness, but his chances would be better yet over on the sidewalk. In reality, even angry Speedy will attempt to slow down if it is clear he won’t win the drag race and it will become clear to him earlier the further left Rantwick is riding, because the risk/reward picture will appear bleaker to him. In the worst case, Speedy has to hit the brakes 3.5 Escalade lengths back of Rantwick’s rear wheel if he is going 75kph and Rantwick is going 15kph. I have practiced panic slowing for imaginary cyclists in our Land Rover, and I was surprised at how close I could come behind the imaginary cyclist without experiencing impact. DO NOT try this if there is a car close behind you! DO NOT try this using real cyclists. A convenient following distance table may be found here.

In case there is any doubt, I do NOT advocate EVER swerving to the left, unless you KNOW there is nothing anywhere behind that can be affected at all. If you have to swerve, swerve RIGHT! Unless, of course, you live somewhere that everyone drives on the left, in which case you've already transposed everything

In my bottom line opinion, I’m with Rantwick. Two blocks/several seconds is long enough for even an impaired driver to execute a full lane change – IF he decides that is what he/she needs to do instead of shooting for a marginal gap. THAT is the true beauty of the Line of Sweetness. Just don’t apply it in isolation. You want lots of space behind you in the RH lane you’re turning into so any overtaking motorists in it get bored looking at you before they make their leisurely lane change. The traffic rules are a body and you want them all. In this case, I might have waited for a bigger traffic gap before I made my left turn, but maybe not. I wasn’t there. This is not a matter of a cyclist exercising rights, or of brazenness. It is rather a defensive matter of not unintentionally enticing a motorist into a dangerous maneuver by creating the impression of space where not enough exists. THAT is the critical element that I think Skyers is missing. When you ride on the street, every action and your very placement on the road communicates things to the motorists around you. On the other hand, had Rantwick been riding in the Line of Sweetness, the world would now be missing a GREAT GRAPHIC and we’d have to wait five days until his next post.

Mighk, as a newly minted T101 graduate, I disagree with the notion that T101 has led me towards the Line of Sourness, even if the notion comes from one rarely given to hyperbole. I didn’t notice Chandra showing sudden enthusiasm for it either. I do not recall being encouraged to ride in the right track, though the brochure art was inferior to what Forester included in his book. Without follow-up rides with experienced traffic riders, I suspect it is relatively ineffective at affecting traffic behavior either way. This could easily be a whole ‘nother post on its own, and I’d like to see Mighk’s analysis, and what I think FBA has up their collective sleeves. Hint Hint!

Aptertome, the Line of Sweetness is not so cut and dried as I make it sound. It is not something that experience alone leads you to. Initially, I think it requires an act of faith to violate everything you’ve ever been told about how to operate your bike on the road without getting killed, even though the principles are very logical and simple. It may SEEM like brazenness, but in reality, you are helping guide your own motorists to making safe choices without conflict. Think of it another way. On my current commute, I encounter well in excess of 10000 motorist passes a year. And those are just the ones I become aware of. How much experience do you think each of those motorists have passing cyclists? In the final analysis, you are not being daring, you are stepping up to the mark of guiding your flock of motorists via yet one more way of communicating with them. While cyclists may seem to be vulnerable, in reality, they are the experts in the daily interchange between motorist and cyclist. Seems a little less brazen, to my mind at least.



Rantwick said...

Hey man, that analysis, in my opinion, was spot on. I saw the temporary plate on one of the cars following, but was unable to distinguish one on "speedy", the small white car.

As for disagreeing with my commenters, carry on. You do it as politely as I would, and if a polite difference of opinion drives people off, so be it. I won't sacrifice any good airing of opinions for popularity's sake.

Apertome said...

Hey, we don't have to all agree, in order to get along. In fact, that'd be quite boring.

But, I should clarify: I'm not advocating riding too far to the right (though "too far" is subjective). I'm fairly comfortable in the right tire track most of the time, but I move left of it when circumstances call for it. For me, it really depends on a lot of conditions.

I am, however, extremely mindful of not riding too far to the right. This is how I had my one accident involving a motor vehicle, and I certainly don't care to relive that experience!

Steve A said...

Apertone, it was clear to me you were not advocating overly right riding. My main point in your case is that lane position probably ought to be considered as visibility and communication rather than some sort of boldness statement. We are the shepherds of our motorists.

I have never had a collision with a car on my bike* and want to keep it that way.

* Unless you count the time one of my bikes fell over onto my Jag in the garage and dented the hood, but I wasn't ON the bike at the time.

Ed W said...

(I'm getting a little hacked off - FireFox will NOT allow me to make posts, so I'm using Opera instead. It's enough to make me consider a permanent switch.)

I once had a motorist 'thread the needle' at high speed between me and a truck. He (or she, I couldn't tell) was well above the speed limit. It was a frightening experience. I looked for that car for days afterward. And it's one instance where an on-board camera would be extremely useful.

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