Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Almost Like a Car

Many people who begin commuting by bicycle have either been off a bike for a long time or have ridden primarily for recreation, maybe on protected trails. In my case I'd been off the bike for about 20 years.

I live in Fort Worth, Texas, which is the 17th largest city in the U.S. So there is a lot of traffic to deal with and there isn't always a protected trail to ride where I want to go. I went through an evolution in my cycling style, and I'm still evolving. I started out on sidewalks (which resulted in the only accident I've had since I started riding again), then progressed to gutter bunny, and now I'm becoming more of a vehicular cyclist.

Some of the best conversations I've recently had on the blogs (such as this one and this one) have been about vehicular cycling, which is essentially driving your bike like a car on the road. There are debates as to how safe it is to be out there among speeding motor vehicles, but the consensus among those who have tried VC seems to be that there an increase in safety, largely due to the effect that VC has on giving the cyclist more control over his situation.

I didn't really want to do a whole post on vehicular cycling, except to lead in to some information I wanted to highlight. If you're new to commuting, you, like I was in the beginning, may be scared to death of getting squished by a car and try to avoid them at all costs. Vehicular cycling isn't for everyone, but it is worth knowing about. It is a tool you should have in your cycling toolbox. I recently discovered an article entitled Smart Moves: You Lead the Dance, written by Keri of CommuteOrlando Blog, which serves as an excellent introduction to the basics of vehicular cycling. And while I'm at it, I'm going to add CommuteOrlando to the blog list here at BBC.

Thanks to CommuteOrlando for "The Confident Cyclist" illustration


Steve A said...

I'd rather see the title of this post as "Like a grossly underpowered and asthmatic motorcycle - but having one heck of a good time all the same."

Of course, that title was a lot longer and would not have been nearly as catchy as the one Doohickie chose - so I withdraw my complaint.

Chicago Schwinns rule!

RANTWICK said...

Doohickie - I read that piece of Keri's for the first time a couple of days ago... it's very good and to the point, isn't it? Commute Orlando is indeed a great resource, I've had them linked almost as long as I've had my blog.

ChipSeal said...

In my opinion, (Which is probably worth double of what you have paid for it!) Commute Orlando blog is the finest, most informative and thoughtful bicycle blog on the web.

I applaud your decision to help promote it!

Doohickie said...

While I agree with you regarding the resources it provides, I was a little hesitant to include it. In addition to the fine rider resources, there is also a lot of discussion about bicycle policy, and I want to keep this blog as politically neutral as possible.

Still, the resources and the way they are presented are excellent, especially in the way cycling techniques are explained and illustrated for riders who are not as familiar with concepts such as vehicular cycling. I always learn a lot when I poke around on that site.

Lovely Bicycle! said...

I like that you keep things politically neutral; wish more blogs would adapt the same approach.

What surprised me the most about my own experience with vehicular cycling, is how calm and unafraid I feel on the road. I had expected to be terrified; instead I feel safer than ever. I find that the more predictable and communicative I am about my actions, the more courteous cars are towards me, despite my slow speed and obvious non-carness.

Principled Pragmatist said...

I'm not sure whether I agree with the statement that "Vehicular cycling is not for everyone". Bicycling for transportation might not be for everyone, but anyone who is capable of traveling a significant distance by bike, should be able to learn and use vehicular cycling skills, techniques and habits. After all, vehicular cycling ultimately comes down to following the rules, and paying attention for those who aren't...

Doohickie said...

While I appreciate your opinion, even sympathize with it, I don't totally agree with it. I think maybe a better way to put it is that VC is not for everyone, at least not all at once.

Like I said I think it's an important part of the toolkit, but I evolved into it; I didn't take to it instantly. It is counter intuitive to what many of us learned as kids, and for some people it takes a while to realize there might be a better way. If you force VC on them, it might scare them right off the bike.

Keri said...

Thanks for the link, Doohickie.

I understand your point about "forcing" VC on people. But I wonder if we could reframe that to encouraging people to take a cycling course which would empower them and increase their confidence, access, range, etc. In a sense, the motorcycle industry has done that for years. Motorcycle safety classes are such a part of the culture that even people who don't ride motorcycles know about them. Imagine if traffic cycling classes had the same image... all the social mythologies we think are so "normal" probably would not exist.

The truth is, a cyclist who learns the simple skills we teach is safer in traffic than a motorcyclist... precisely because we are slow and 95% of crashes happen in front of us ;-)

CarFree Stupidity said...

Thanks for the good links.

First time I've been to this site, very nice.

Great piece on acting more like a car. I've found that vehicles seem to give you a little more respect if you act more like them. For some people it can be really intimidating to try and ride like that, but I find it very easy, and so far I have had no problems merging in and out of lanes, even with cars going ~35 mph