Sunday, September 18

Cycling Savvy On the Road

CS Instructors Talk Students Through Their Next Traffic Situation
On Sunday afternoon, our Cycling Savvy class went out on the road. I’m not entirely sure if the parking lot drills readied us for this, or merely gave us an opportunity to forget some of Friday night’s lecture, but either way, the road session was an experience that should not be missed by anyone contemplating taking a Cycling Savvy course. It differs substantively from the road session in the LAB Traffic 101 course. What’s more, in retrospect, it seems obvious to me that the LAB road curriculum would be easy to fix (with added road time), without any major changes in basic direction. To illustrate the difference, I’ll describe the LAB Traffic 101 road session and compare the Cycling Savvy equivalent.

In LAB Traffic 101, after completing parking lot drills that are very like those in Cycling Savvy, the class is taken out on local roads to give them first-hand experience with cycling on low stress roads. This sounds sensible, and I’ll state that when I took Traffic 101, it seemed appropriate to me for inexperienced cyclists. Anyway, in T101, the road experience guidance is merely that the streets are typically 35mph or less. Cycling Savvy is quite different.

Richard Wharton Signals For a Left Turn
Cycling Savvy uses a dramatically more structured approach to the student road experience. It is NOT just, or even primarily, a ride to experience real streets. In truth, in Cycling Savvy, you ride real streets to get to “situations.” As I realized about half way into the session, CS’s tour consists of a series of specific street situations that it expects students to be exposed to, and succeed with. For example, we got situations structured so we’d realized we should sometimes simply remain in the left lane and then make a left turn, or deal with lanes that appeared or disappeared. We had other situations where we went over a freeway overpass and then merged into a situation where we’d make a “jug handle” turn instead of dealing with complex and heavy traffic. Some, reading this, will not understand all of the specific terms I’m using, but that is less important than understanding that Cycling Savvy has a list of traffic situations they expect that cyclists will face and you WILL be exposed, deliberately, to each and every one of them. There is no pressure to do something the student is not ready to do, but it is a much more deliberate and structured situation than I saw in my Traffic 101 course, or even in my LCI Seminar. In truth, the situations were much more like what Preston Tyree put us through in our LCI Seminar than the Traffic 101 course, except that in CS, they are not attempting to teach the student how to teach others. I actually encountered situations in CS that were NOT part of our LCI road time. In our LCI, we didn’t do freeway overpasses or stretches on high speed roads. I had to learn that by myself. CS does all that, and more. If you haven't done this, you'll have to trust me that it is not hard to do, though it can be a bit scary if you have to learn it on your own as I did. Cycling Savvy takes care of the learning so you don't have to "do it yourself."

Lots of Police on 9/11
What’s more, the situations that CS creates are not all oriented towards simply safe operating principles. There is emphasis on understanding what and how the motorists are going to operate, and how you can use this knowledge to create harmonious co-existence with them. In short, CS partly teaches how a cyclist creates what I often refer to on this blog as “my motorists.” I do not recall material in either Traffic 101 or LCI that explains how to reduce on-road conflict explicitly. Certainly the principles are there; jug handle turns and such, but CS put these into clear, real world context.

If you are reading this, but are not FULLY confident in traffic, I can assure you that Cycling Savvy will not push you to do anything dangerous. In our situations, I saw none that I do not deal with on at least an occasional basis in my own cycling. On the other hand, knowing you CAN do these maneuvers is critical to a cyclist ready to ride confidently, safely, and assertively, and that appreciate less conflict with motorists.

Chalk Diagrams Helped Students Understand the More Complex Traffic Situations
Still, there are thorns amongst the Cycling Savvy roses. Our session included at least one cyclist that had enough experience cycling to be able to “connect the dots” and I think she is likely to experience positive and permanent positive changes in her ability to ride more comfortably in any situation she might encounter. I do not think this would have occurred for her from a LAB Traffic 101 course. However, there was another cyclist that was overwhelmed by it all. IMO, a cyclist new to bikes would be better advised to take a Traffic 101 course, get more comfortable riding on “low threat” streets, and THEN take Cycling Savvy. Personally, I don’t think most adults, hopping on to a bike for the first time since childhood are going to get the most out of the course. Perhaps others exposed to CS have seen other results. The instructors were fully aware of the situation, but only so much can be done with a class situation.

Keri Caffrey Explains Just How Far that Truck Door Will Swing Out
If I use an analogy with learning to swim, it seems to me that Cycling Savvy assumes the student knows how to breathe in the water and hasn’t been taught to believe that there are sharks in the swimming pool, but neither is that student a returning swim team member or someone ready for a Red Cross “Water Safety Instructor” certificate. For a student just starting again after childhood, I think Traffic 101 is still a better bet, followed by some daily riding, and THEN Cycling Savvy. Exposure to sound principles is not enough for some beginners, but it probably is for others. Maybe that is one reason that Cycling Savvy is currently an “adults only” course. I didn’t query the instructors about that element of CS.

Repetition is also necessary, and that cannot be fully offered by Cycling Savvy in a single riding session with many different experiences to cover. Some items will stick with the student, but other points will be forgotten. That could change, but today, the Traffic 101 course leaves the student with written reference material (even if it isn’t ideally organized for that purpose and the diagrams are less than ideal) that can be reviewed and practiced after the course. Cycling Savvy will, I hope, someday leave each student with a flash drive to help their independent repetition of sound principles, seeing themselves actually DOING it once again. Paper is SO 20th Century! I’m not sure the state of practice is to that point, but it is getting close. For sure, it would add teaching burden so maybe things are better the way they are, but I know if I was learning a lot, I’d really like to be able to review things at my leisure afterwards.

The bottom line: I hope that I’ve not painted either an unrealistically rosy or pessimistic portrait about what Cycling Savvy either is or is not. Soul searching about Bicycle Education is long overdue, and Cycling Savvy is an admirable advance. Simply eliminating the mechanical elements that many students do not want or need and dumping the test that adds no value to the student would give it an advantage, but it went beyond that and reduced instructor lecture preparation load, as well as adding useful structure to the on-street session.

Our Class and Teachers


Warren said...

How many students, and how many instructors? What ratio is needed to make this work effectively?

How much time were you on the road?

I assume that parking lot drills take about the same as TS101 -- 1.5 hours??

Did you do a night riding segment?


Steve A said...

Six students and two instructors. Gail can say how many were on Saturday. The ratio seemed about right and they split the lecture into separate Saturday and Sunday classes to keep the ratio. We had about 3 hours of parking lot drills and nearly 4 hours on the road. The extra road time especially makes a lot of difference; combined with the extra structure. The T101 courses I've been involved with all had about the same parking lot time as CS, but much less road time. Even LCI was much less structured on the road.

The only night riding was going home from the Friday lecture. There was no instruction on night operation.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Great information Steve. I wonder how we can get more road users of all types and ages to gain more of this knowledge though. For example, I have been asking random friends and family members to take this bicycle quiz, and the results have not been pretty, regardless of preferred mode of locomotion. I think if the paper tabulated results, the scores would be less than the typical geography or history quiz.

Steve A said...

In some states, D is also a correct answer to #4.

In the Cycling Savvy classroom session, quite a few passes over double yellow were made by cars in videos. I have not found any basis for legally doing this in Texas, unless you consider passing a bike to constitute A situation where "an obstruction necessitates moving the vehicle left of the center of the roadway." Elsewhere, in Texas statutes, the only allowed exception to the "no passing zone" is to make a left turn. Which matches Azbikelaw. Would YOU cross a yellow line to pass a bike cop as was advised in Cycling Savvy? Me neither.

Keri said...

Warren, Max class size for on-bike sessions is 10. All on-bike classes are taught by 2 instructors. We originally had 17 sign-ups for the Dallas weekend, but after several last-minute cancellations, ended up with 8 on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. And I think we had 16 or 17 in the classroom on Friday. Waco and I were very pleased with the turnout.

The bike handling session is 3 hours and the on-road session is 3.5 hours. That and other information about the course sessions can be gotten from our website:

We have had pure novices go through the course, put all the pieces together and leave completely empowered. One thing you find through teaching A LOT is that there are many styles of learning and many personality types. There are people who are physically challenged and have difficulty learning motor skills, but have the will of lions and succeed. And there are people whose only obstacles are the ones they throw in their own paths. You teach enough classes, you'll meet them all. Some will inspire you and others will test your patience.

Another thing about learning is that it isn't always instantaneous. Sometimes teaching is like planting a garden. You cultivate and fertilize and sew and then you let nature take its course. We have students who have an epiphany at 9PM on Friday night. Some have it at 3 PM on Saturday. Still others have it a month later. The goal of CyclingSavvy is to impart the formula for the epiphany and let the student do the rest. (This is yet another reason why a test is irrelevant and ineffective.)

And one more thing:
"Would YOU cross a yellow line to pass a bike cop as was advised in Cycling Savvy?"
That statement is misleading. It refers to a joke I made while playing a video of Ofc. Bill Edgar controlling a lane next to onstreet parking. I made a casual joke that no one was changing lanes to pass him because he had a gun. Passing on the double yellow line was not the point of that video. The point of the video was to show where to ride when there is onstreet parking and an effective lane that is not wide enough to share.

Steve A said...

Warren and Keri,

I would not disagree with anything Keri said in her comment, except I recall no mention of a gun in conjunction with the bike officer. I do recall Keri noting it and it was, indeed, humorous.

The law is, as far as I have been able to determine (and I have checked as recently as earlier today), more restrictive in Texas than in Florida. Motorist behavior in both places is much the same - they just are at more risk of a ticket in Texas. Either in Florida or Texas, the cyclist is at least as likely to be charged as a motorist crossing the double yellow. Just my own opinion that I hope I never prove.

All that mutes the humor somewhat. By my count, I have experienced as many as 50 illegal passes in a single commute. All safe, and all far preferable to some dweeb trying to pass without crossing the line since they'd have to pass on the right to avoid a straddle pass and that'd be tough with a cyclist in the left center lane position.

Steve A said...

I notice double yellow passes a lot. Regardless of the intent of a teaching video. It is a situatiion I see every day and which is not addressed in either Cycling Savvy OR anywhere in the LAB courses. I'd hoped that "Control and Release" might help, but such situations are rare in Dallas, but common out in north Tarrant County. If/when we teach Cycling Savvy out my way, you can bet this will be one of the situations.

Khal said...

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No Need for Non-Robot proof here!