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Prairie Smoke
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356 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,

I worked up the nerve to ride to work again today -- had some harrowing moments and am looking for some pointers on what you all do to overcome your fear of bad drivers. The harrowing moments for me are when drivers get too close -- nothing worse (to me anyhow) than having a big SUV mirror pass within 4 inches of your head...and then there was this one guy in a souped up Civic who got waaay to close for comfort -- he did this twice, because I ended up catching up to him at a light -- I didn't notice he was in the line of cars or I'd have stayed back. And the big diesel pickup -- so loud and I felt the exhaust on my leg. Scary.

Here's what I do so far:
- Wear a bright yellow vest (high viz yellow)
- Have 2 blinky lights on back, one in front
- Read up on vehicular cycling, practice it
- Researched the best route to work and tried different ways
- Ride when traffic is at it's lowest (either around 6 or wait to leave at 9)

Does it just come with time? My husband says that if I feel nervous about something, maybe it is the protective instinct and it's there for a reason and not to do it -- he doesn't ride that much though -- less than me. The thing is, I really like riding and don't want to be a chicken. And when I wasn't scared out of my skin I really enjoyed the trees blooming and the birds singing, plus it is satisfying to get to work under your own power.

My route is only about 7 miles but it's all on pretty busy, narrow roads, with speed limits of 45. I've got a bike "lane" for about 3 miles but it is just a stripe painted about 6 inches from the curb and there's all kinds of junk in the lane, plus the line where the blacktop from the road surface and the concrete from the curb meet, plus people walk in it too as there's no sidewalk (although sign says bike only). Don't have to worry about parked cars. Other bad place is a railroad track crossing. The other bad thing is that I have cross under a highway twice and over a highway another time -- I'm extra cautious at these spots.

Thanks for any and all tips!
Lisa
 

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fat tire rider
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59 Posts
I think that would be scary for anyone.

One of the keys for me continuing to commute has been finding alternate routes on less traveled roads/paths. They are out there, but usually require a little scouting and planning. Usually, these are shortcuts through residential areas that are not time effective in a car, but add little or no time on a bike, add some interesting sights, and some fun turns.

Get a detailed map, think outside the box and you might make the commute safer and more fun.
 

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Premium Member
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21,910 Posts
Good advice.

eric said:
I think that would be scary for anyone.

One of the keys for me continuing to commute has been finding alternate routes on less traveled roads/paths. They are out there, but usually require a little scouting and planning. Usually, these are shortcuts through residential areas that are not time effective in a car, but add little or no time on a bike, add some interesting sights, and some fun turns.

Get a detailed map, think outside the box and you might make the commute safer and more fun.
Plus don't discount sidewalks without a lot of driveways.

Yes you will get used to it but you can also improve your route. One day take a broom along with you and clean the worst of the mess on the bike lane (plus call up the city and ask that it be cleaned).

Another thing to remember is that the faster you go the less cars you encounter.....
 

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Cheese is my copilot
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3,876 Posts
I hesitate to mention this, but on narrow roads one reason drivers sometimes crowd is because you're hugging the shoulder. If there's enough room to squeeze by you without crossing the center line they're going to do it. The solution is often to ride a bit (just a bit -- like 6 inches to a foot) further into the lane than you normally do. Once drivers accept that they've got to cross the center line to get by they usually cross it by enough to give you plenty of space. Again, I hesitate to mention this for obvious reasons. If drivers won't cross the center line then you might be subject to even closer calls.

What I've learned to do over the years, and this will only work if there's not a ton of traffic, is to judge how far a car is behind me by ear. I'll ride a 2-3 feet from the shoulder most of the time, which will generally force a driver to cross the centerline. But when I think the car is close enough that the driver has already committed then I'll move closer to the shoulder to give myself just that little extra bit of space. So far, so good.

Edit: And yes, comfort will come with time. Depending on its speed I don't think a car is too close to me unless it passes within 2-3 feet.
 

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as was said right above takeYOUR space, its yours, you pay taxes too, the road is just as much yours as theirs. if i come to a section of road that im REALLY not comfortable with the shoulder space/condition or a extremely fast descent where ill be going at least the speed limit i will look twice (ussually more), then when its clear move to the center of the lane and hold my line until i feel comfortable moving over (although i rarely do this when riding by myself anymore.)


that said theyres still a lot of cockbags out there that either are not paying attention, dont care, or just dont like you, but dont give up! a good idea would be to ride your route on the weekend when you dont have to get to work (and ussually less traffic) and just ride down streets and any really big parking lots (watch for vicodin moms!!) and see what you can find
 

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I hear ya......

I started commuting into work on my bike in December, when the transit workers went out on strike in NYC and I had no alternative (God that was cool!). Since then, I've been commuting into work as much as I can/dare. I love it, but its nerve racking and I can see that the more I do it, the more likely I'll run into a problem eventually. I know it makes my wife and my mom both nervous, and frankly it makes me nervous also, but I have so little time for riding that it seems like a tragedy to spend an hour or so on the subway every day. I've already had a few close calls with trucks and cars, not to mention the idiots who yell or beep their horns at me simply for being on my bike in front of them.

With that said, there are a few ways to minimize the danger. It sounds like you've got all the basic safety gear (which puts you ahead of me, since I don't have a front light (yet) or a really bright reflective jacket (again, yet)). As others have said, study your route carefully and go out of your way to avoid traffic. Try out your available alternatives, preferably a few times, and time your rides to see what the effects of detours are. For me, I don't have that much of a choice, since I have to go over the Brooklyn Bridge or swim the East River (especially unpleasant in February).

The other thing is to just keep using extra-generous doses of common sense. Keep a very level head, always remember that your safety is paramount to everything, including getting into work on time, and be relaxed enough to take the safe choice (i.e. stopping) rather than gunning it and hoping for the best. If you have to ride through city streets like me, there's just no way you'll be able to wait around for every light. I don't, but I do make a point of stopping at all the big intersections, catching my breath, and waiting for the light even if I can see its all clear. Keep an itchy finger on your brakes -- any loud noise or movement in your peripheral vision should trigger an immediate slowdown or total stop. It only takes once, right?

I plan on commuting as much as I possibly can in the future, but I'm not going to do it if/when I don't feel safe. I took the past two days off and rode the subway because we had a slight dusting of snow and I didn't want to tangle with any hidden ice, even though I've got big fat two inch MTB knobbies on my beater fixie that I use for commuting. I'm very glad I did, judging by the post here from a guy who took a spill and busted his finger. I type for a living, and I have two kids under 8, so I just simply don't have the time for even a minor accident like that.

All in all, I think being a bit scared/nervous on your commute is a good thing. It means you'll be paying close attention to your surroundings, and not underestimating the dangers that are present. If you keep that up and ride very, very defensively, you should be OK. Good luck......
 

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Prairie Smoke
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356 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Weekends, route, and more

I've ridden the route on weekends twice and it was fine then -- it's just when there's traffic.
This is the best way -- other alternatives are way worse -- I had several souting missions already. :)

I was averaging 17 mph this morning so that should help a little.

I guess I'm just going to have to ride further over from the curb. Gulp! Send some courage my way...

Thanks you guys,
Lisa
 

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I found a few books online which are supposed to be about commuting. Does anyone know if either of them are any good?

  • Bicycle Commuting --> Bicycling Magazine Editors (Editor)
  • Bicycling Magazine's Bicycle Commuting Made Easy --> Bicycling Magazine
  • The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street --> Robert Hurst, Foreword by Marla Streb
  • The Bicycle: A Commuting Alternative --> F. L. Wolfe
  • The Essential Bicycle Commuter --> Trudy E. Bell
  • Bicycle Transportation --> John Forester
  • Complete Bicycle Commuter: The Sierra Club Guide to Wheeling to Work --> Hal Zina Bennett
  • Bicycle Commuting Book: Using the Bicycle for Utility and Transportation --> Rob Van der Plas

I hate to admit it, but I'm getting cold feet about my commute - as I'm nearing deployment date, I find myself getting more & more fearful of the ride. It's only ~18 miles (depending on my route) and a nice 9 mile stretch is "bike lane".

I just put another 21 miles on my Cross-Check today (w/commuter tires) - it's almost ready & I'm almost used to it. I've checked all my lights - fine. I can't commute on Mondays, but I really need some motivation also - just do it.

The first and last segments of this trip are the worst - narrow, fast two lane roads. I used to ride on the roads all the time without ever raising any fear. What happened to me?
 

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drive your proposed route

And look for things that might require more attention then others. Also look for other routes to the same destination.

Other then that, ride defensively, use hand signals, and be aware.......
 

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Call me a Fred
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16,999 Posts
Don't worry about the drivers who are coming up behind you. They can see you and know you are there. They don't want to hit you. They know that if they do, there will be those awkward questions from the police, they may scratch the paint or dent the metal of their expensive machine, there insurance may really go up and you may sue their asses. Remember that you can easily keep your bike straight within a few inches and don't worry about the idiots who want to get close. Watch forward.

The ones to worry about are the drivers who are turning in front of you. They quite often don't notice the cyclist who is coming toward them. Watch side streets and cars coming toward you who may suddenly turn into you, that is where the true danger lies.
 

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I assume...

that you have a good mirror. That is what helped me get over my "fear" of the rear-ender. In moderate to heavy traffic, you just can't look over the shoulder for every car.

Also, riding in the center of the lane on the bad roads should reduce the number of buzzings.

:D
 

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My 2 phennings

Having commuted in NVA/DC for a couple of years before moving to Europe I can tell you that car fear is a critical survival instinct. I'd have to second the opinions encouraging you to take your place in the lane. Not to far out, but enough to make the driver has move around you, most people don't know how wide their cars/trucks are. Bright clothing is key, so you're certain that the drivers coming from behind can see you. You will have people routinely pull out in front of you. Main thing to remember is that you need to ride like everybody on the road is trying to kill you. It's a helpful mindset. Commuting is fun, exciting and challenging, if you wanted that safe feeling you'd ride to work in your 2 ton car. (not that the car is safer mind you, but everybody feels like it is.)
As far as the books go, I've read the art of urban cycling, it's a bit more agressive perhaps in the authors stance on riding in traffic.
 

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Headwinds seem to find me
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One More Suggestion...Alter the Time of your commute

One other thing that I found effective was to alter the time of day for my commute.

I started off last spring leaving my house around 7:00 AM and gradually moved the time back to 6:00 AM. I get to the office an hour earlier -- which gives me the flexibility to leave earlier if I want -- but more importantly it greatly reduces the number of cars that I pass in the morning. I typically see fewer than 5 cars on my route at 6:00 AM.

In the afternoon I take a completely different route home in order to avoid the worst of the traffic, and use the extra hour I earned in the morning to double the length of my ride home.
 

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NeoRetroGrouch
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wooglin said:
I hesitate to mention this, but on narrow roads one reason drivers sometimes crowd is because you're hugging the shoulder. If there's enough room to squeeze by you without crossing the center line they're going to do it. The solution is often to ride a bit (just a bit -- like 6 inches to a foot) further into the lane than you normally do. Once drivers accept that they've got to cross the center line to get by they usually cross it by enough to give you plenty of space. Again, I hesitate to mention this for obvious reasons. If drivers won't cross the center line then you might be subject to even closer calls.

What I've learned to do over the years, and this will only work if there's not a ton of traffic, is to judge how far a car is behind me by ear. I'll ride a 2-3 feet from the shoulder most of the time, which will generally force a driver to cross the centerline. But when I think the car is close enough that the driver has already committed then I'll move closer to the shoulder to give myself just that little extra bit of space. So far, so good.

Edit: And yes, comfort will come with time. Depending on its speed I don't think a car is too close to me unless it passes within 2-3 feet.
DO NOT RIDE "BY EAR" - use a mirror. Guessing what is behind you is insane. I recommend a Take-A-Look either glasses or helmet mounted. - TF
 

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Arrogant roadie.....
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4,232 Posts
If you can't use alternative side streets, maybe you can try this:

I used to have a 5' long fiberglas driveway marker pole zip-tied to my saddle rails. The pole was bright orange, with reflective tape near the end. I cold either keep it centered, or reach around to slide it so that it sat about 4' out into the lane.

I also added a sharp nail to the end, held on with yellow electrical tape as an incentive for drivers to not buzz past me so close. Any driver who tried to side-swipe me could see that he was going to get a good gouge on his paintjob, and leave a sample behind that I could show the cops.

I later improved this design with a short section of flexible plastic piping of 1/4" ID pipe permantly attached to the seat rails, which made inserting and removing my "trafficator" pole much easier. Never got sideswiped after I started using it, either.
 

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Can we all buy you a term insurance policy and split the proceeds?

Sounds a little too crazy on your roads... Most of the roads here are extra wide with car parking - and I ride about almost a car doors length away, and everyone crosses the center line to pass, but these are residential streets and not major highways.

Is there a way to make it a 10 mile trip that is safer?

Good luck
brian



lspangle said:
Hi all,

I worked up the nerve to ride to work again today -- had some harrowing moments and am looking for some pointers on what you all do to overcome your fear of bad drivers. The harrowing moments for me are when drivers get too close -- nothing worse (to me anyhow) than having a big SUV mirror pass within 4 inches of your head...and then there was this one guy in a souped up Civic who got waaay to close for comfort -- he did this twice, because I ended up catching up to him at a light -- I didn't notice he was in the line of cars or I'd have stayed back. And the big diesel pickup -- so loud and I felt the exhaust on my leg. Scary.

Here's what I do so far:
- Wear a bright yellow vest (high viz yellow)
- Have 2 blinky lights on back, one in front
- Read up on vehicular cycling, practice it
- Researched the best route to work and tried different ways
- Ride when traffic is at it's lowest (either around 6 or wait to leave at 9)

Does it just come with time? My husband says that if I feel nervous about something, maybe it is the protective instinct and it's there for a reason and not to do it -- he doesn't ride that much though -- less than me. The thing is, I really like riding and don't want to be a chicken. And when I wasn't scared out of my skin I really enjoyed the trees blooming and the birds singing, plus it is satisfying to get to work under your own power.

My route is only about 7 miles but it's all on pretty busy, narrow roads, with speed limits of 45. I've got a bike "lane" for about 3 miles but it is just a stripe painted about 6 inches from the curb and there's all kinds of junk in the lane, plus the line where the blacktop from the road surface and the concrete from the curb meet, plus people walk in it too as there's no sidewalk (although sign says bike only). Don't have to worry about parked cars. Other bad place is a railroad track crossing. The other bad thing is that I have cross under a highway twice and over a highway another time -- I'm extra cautious at these spots.

Thanks for any and all tips!
Lisa
 

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Lizzie will ride free
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Well as I read this I keep wondering how bad are the roads? In other words, and some on the site will banish me for saying this, there are some routes that just stink too bad to put up with. I can't tell from the description if you are riding on a route that would make the most hard-core folk divert. Do you think the route is something that a seasoned commuter would shy away from?
 

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Fear can be a good thing. You never want to get so relaxed that you forget how stupid most drivers can be. For me, I try to treat every car like they are going to do something stupid. I slow down, and let cars past me whenever I feel they are going to get to close. Also, I try to stay as far away from cars as possible, to the point where I ride thru glass and junk a bunch. My armadillos get a workout. Get a good mirror, learn how to judge the speed and distance of cars behind you. I use a Cat-eye mirror.

I have a female co-worker who commutes, and she gets more crap from male drivers to the point that it's dangerous. She is a hard core roadie (shorts and jersey), which makes it worst. For some reason road bikes, bike shorts, and jersey brings out the worst in drivers. Except for wearing a helmet, I look like a person you see everyday riding a bike.

jplatzner said:
Well as I read this I keep wondering how bad are the roads? In other words, and some on the site will banish me for saying this, there are some routes that just stink too bad to put up with. I can't tell from the description if you are riding on a route that would make the most hard-core folk divert. Do you think the route is something that a seasoned commuter would shy away from?
 

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Premium Member
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Time and place

I don't think that one ever should overcome one's fear of drivers. When I am on my bike and in my car, I see drivers do stupid things all of the time. The difference between one's being in a car-to-car accident as opposed to a car-to-bike accident is that what could be a fairly insignificant injury in a car-to-car accident could be major in a car-to-bike accident. You should assume that the car that is easing out of a driveway or side street is not going to stop for you. You should assume that the car up ahead that has its left turn signal on might just cut you off. In other words, you should assume that you are invisible to drivers that may cross your path.

There are things that you can do to minimize your risk when commuting.

Try to avoid rush hour. Drivers who are driving to and from work often are distracted, anxious to get to work or home quickly and often thinking about things that have nothing to do with their driving. The number of people that I see trying to drive and eat breakfast in the morning (or put on makeup) astounds me. Most of my close calls and my only car-to-bike accident occurred when I was riding in rush hour traffic.

Try to avoid dangerous road conditions. I don't worry about drivers in heavy traffic as much as I worry about drivers where road conditions are not good. For example, one of my possible commuting routes is full of potholes -- it is impossible to keep a straight line for long without bunnyhopping.

Drive your route. I often drive the same route that I take on the bike. There are parts of the route where visibility and/or conditions from a driver's perspective are not good. I know that I need to be extra careful at certain points because of what the driver sees from his or her perspective.
 

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here's my commute:
http://forums.roadbikereview.com/showthread.php?t=36913

about once a month or so I still (9 or 10 years on) get really scared - near panic scared - during my rides - I don't know if it's a sixth sense - but it takes alot for me not to pull over straight away and walk home crying - this is never related to a near miss or *something* happening - I chalk it up to a realisation of vulnerability

so much of what we do in life (not just in riding) is dependant upon assuming the other guy is going to do what he should, or more importantly, what you think he should - assuming and being reminded of invisibility is a novel way to approach the world - I reckon working outside of a social contract plays with your mind - I also reckon that's one of the reasons there are such strong bonds between cyclists

also it may be an anti-complacency reaction linked to riding the same route for so long - it's so easy to do a commute route passively cause you know it so well
 
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