Claim Your Lane! Part 2
Part One of "Claim Your Lane!" had some points about us as vehicles. We share the road with bigger, faster vehicles driven by people who may or may not pay attention. I ask people what their biggest fear is while riding on the road and by far the answer is "being struck from behind." It is a harsh reality that when we are struck from behind we are powerless and "naked." The bigger reality, however, is that we have more likelihood to hit something ahead of us than being struck from behind. Since the topic of this article is Claiming Your Lane, here are some things I have observed over my lifetime of riding bikes. As in all my articles, these ideas are observations and opinions that I feel are valid and while you may not agree with me, maybe it will foster thoughts and discussions on why and how you ride a bicycle.
Road Cycling Visibility, Positioning, and Traffic
When riding on the road one needs to be in a position that allows them to be seen from behind as well as provide navigating room in front. I know what it feels like to have cars WHOOSH by a little too close for comfort. I have pondered what my riding would be like if I took evasive action every time I saw a car in my mirror. First, I used a mirror on my helmet for a time. Second I tried one on the handlebars. I don't use one now. This is my perspective on mirrors: providing one has good hearing and is aware of the conditions in front, I say a mirror can hurt more than it helps. Here is my logic: A mirror is a device that allows one to focus on things behind us without turning our heads. The problem with this statement is "focus" on things behind us. I have found it is very difficult to focus on traffic approaching from the rear and maintain the appropriate focus on what is in front. I am not saying it is impossible; I compare it to focusing on adjusting the radio in the car and reading station information while driving. The road can still be seen ahead, but is it really in focus?
This controversial stance needs clarification: I think we need to be aware of our surroundings, simultaneously looking around, listening, having a backup navigation plan, etc. I know that so much information is coming at us from the front that our real ability to avoid a car approaching from the rear and discriminate between a "real" threat or a "perceived" threat while looking backwards in a mirror is very difficult to do. I believe that we don't see much of what is ahead while focusing constantly on what is behind. That said, I propose that we claim our lane and press on with awareness, confidence and competence.
I had stated that my favorite place on the road was the right hand tire track which is about 3-4 feet from the white line. This is the cleanest part of the road, usually the smoothest and is a place where one is much more visible than a little further to the right. The next logical question would be, "why?" and I have to reference a study I saw in college, but can't find today. Here is the Reader's Digest version: An experiment was conducted that showed how people see while driving a car. Rather than scan smoothly, apparently people will focus on a point, then another, then another. The researchers were able to then record these scan points while subjects were driving and came up with a shocking discovery. The scan points were overwhelmingly either straight ahead or to the left! Only 5% of the scan points were to the right.
This explains why we all have missed speed limit signs and other things to the right. We really didn't see them. Traffic engineers now paint signs on the road knowing that they are more likely to be seen than a sign on the right. The situation as I see it is as follows: If I ride far to the right at all times to stay off the lane I am in a position of minimal maneuverability. If a pothole or trash or gravel is in my path, I have nowhere to go but in the ditch or into the lane and darting into a lane with traffic, which is not a good thing. Not only this, I have the least chance of being seen. To make matters worse, the cars don't perceive me as a "threat" when off to the right and won't slow down. This is why I Claim the Lane!
Road Bicyclists Claiming Their Lanes
Since I am spending so much time in Dallas at the Cooper Aerobics Center doing bike fittings, I am riding a lot in the city streets. I have found that even though Bicycling Magazine stated that Dallas is the least bike friendly city in the country, that I have fewer problems in Dallas than in San Antonio. I feel that the greater numbers of riders combined with the fact that people ride two abreast in the lanes taking the whole lane, causes cars to avoid them and cut them more slack than in San Antonio. I find that many more riders in San Antonio do not claim the lane and believe that we train drivers of cars to expect that we will either dive for the ditch when they pass or that we should ride so far off to the right as to allow them to pass without slowing or giving way.
In closing, I know that we all have to make value judgments every time we get on a bike, get in a car, or get out of bed. Life is risky and fun at the same time. Don't take unnecessary risks and learn to assess the risks you encounter in a way that you have the best chance of making it to the next ride! Next time I will discuss strategies that will help you place yourself in the best possible position to ride safely and some things to watch out for while Claiming the Lane!