Vehicular Cycling

Today was another spectacular day to velo-commute. However, an interesting thing happened to me on the way home tonight. Let’s start with a little background.

I leave my house by 6:45 am. At that time there is little traffic. Still, as a commuter I follow the rules of the road. That said, I do take a few liberties when needed.

For example, I know the cycle of the lights pretty well. I know that if I’m at a light and there is no traffic moving in my direction at the light then it’s not going to change to let me through. So if I’m there through at least one cycle and still no traffic I’ll sneak through on someone else’s green light but only when it’s safe and when I know I won’t impede traffic or disrupt the flow of the intersection.

I will sometimes roll slowly through a stop sign after a car has passed and no one is waiting to get through.

However, during the afternoon commute, when there is much more traffic to contend with, I follow the rules implicitly. I stop at stop lights, behind traffic as if I am also a vehicle. I stop at stop signs and wait until it’s my turn, just like any other car.

So now I get to the interesting part of my story. I’m at an intersection where there are about 10 cars waiting to go through. It’s the less busy way through the intersection so the light isn’t as long as it is for cross traffic.

At this point I have two choices. 1.) Ride up along side of traffic to the light so I move in front of everyone or 2.) stay behind the last car and wait as a car would do. I chose the latter because it’s the right thing to do.

As the traffic in my lane starts to flow I get on and pedal easy, though I move to the right as I’m trained to do on a bike. Herein lies my mistake.

The car behind me sees an opportunity to move up past me, even though we are both moving slowly to the next light cycle. I really couldn’t believe this was happening though I shouldn’t have been surprised.

So as she slowed (yes, it was a woman) I kept moving and pulled in front of her and centered myself in the lane so she couldn’t do that again.

Here I was trying to do the right thing, acting as a vehicle, and she was going to crowd me out for it. Sheesh!

I know it seems like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth with the two scenarios for vehicular cycling. But they are indeed very different. If I thought that I could move through the intersections normally, as a car would, on my commute to work I absolutely would. With the lack of traffic it would be almost impossible to arrive at work within a reasonable time.

So what would you do in both of these situations? Do you encounter these same issues on your commute, or on your training rides when getting through intersections?

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2 responses to “Vehicular Cycling

  1. I had a similar experience, as I waited for a light to change, a car cut in front of me and made a right turn. It startled the bejeezus out of me as I thought I was out far enough in the lane so that would not happen.

  2. Hi, Dana! Welcome to the BCM board! I don’t know if we’ve met yet, as I was not at the July board meeting due to being on vacation.

    I agree with your strategy of stopping for lights in the middle of the lane; I do it myself. I generally do not move back to the right until I’m through the intersection. In fact, I will sometimes move more into the left half of the lane once traffic starts moving again, to prevent right hooks such as Don experienced, if the volume of right-turners is high or I suspect the person behind me is intending to. I hope it actually makes it a little easier for right-turners behind me to make their right turn, since I’m less in their way further left than I would be in the middle or in the right half of the lane. It depends a little on how many right-turners there are, and if there is another through lane on the left or other space for through motorists behind me to pass. The more I ride, the more I appreciate how subtle lane positioning can be and the harder it gets to describe succinctly.

    When I am first at the light, I often stop in the left part of the lane as well, to facilitate right-turners behind me taking a right on red, which sometimes happens, and the drivers are often appreciative of it. All this is completely legal, as the “As Far Right as Practicable” law allows for avoiding potential right-turning vehicles.

    It sounds like you were in a situation where it took more than one green light to get through, and the overtaking car passed you as the traffic was creeping forward between reds, is that right? That can be a little tricky depending on how many cars, the speeds, etc. Generally I would have just stayed in the center of the lane. I think motorists often interpret a bicyclist moving to the right as implicit permission to pass, or at least as a chance to! (Give ’em an inch, and they’ll take it!) Usually you’re not going that much slower than the cars in the situation that you describe, if I understand it correctly, although of course I wasn’t there. In any case, even if you are going slower, the only thing they are gaining is a chance to overtake you sooner rather than later, no real net gain.

    In the occasional long traffic jam, where it looks like it could be 2 or more green lights to get through, I will sometimes allow myself to filter up on the right. I usually feel a little guilty doing it, and I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but sometimes I just can’t resist. It’s actually allowed by law, but at the cyclist’s own risk. If I do so, I always try to merge back into line at what looks to be the last red light before I’ll get through, at the point where my speed and that of the cars next to me match. Most motorists seem okay with letting me in at that point; I always make sure they are letting me, and give them a friendly wave. I’m sure most of them would do the same if they could! 😉

    Thank you for being a vehicular cyclist! I really have found it to be the best combination of safety and efficiency for bicycle transportation.

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