June 10, 2008

My first near miss on the bike..

Cycled to work today and had my first near miss with a careless motorist. I say careless as i'm 100% certain that I didn't do anything wrong, despite them implying otherwise.

I was cycling round the roundabout over the A46 between Leamington and Kenilworth when a guy in a silver 4x4 decided it'd be a great idea to pull out on me when I was about 5 meters from his drivers side door. I threw on the brakes whilst involuntarily shouting "Whoooooaaaa!!" - and stopped fairly close to his door. I gestured angrily and amusingly he did the same, as if implying that i'd done something wrong. I'm not quite sure exactly how he felt I was to blame as I could clearly see his face the entire time so obviously he just wasn't paying attention. He roared off and I wobbled my way towards Kenilworth feeling rather aggrieved by the whole situation.

I can say one thing for sure. If all the motorists out there who treat cyclists like some lower life form were to just do a week of riding to work, they'd have a whole new perspective on things. I've done about 160 miles on my road bike so far and i've already had the joy of a a puncture miles from home with no spares (though I learned how to replace an innertube this weekend - easy!) and now already been knocked off my bike whilst being made to feel like I was to blame. The sad fact is that the trip from Leamington to Warwick University WOULD be an enjoyable ride if it wasn't for the cars. And yes I realise that is an incredibly hypocritical statement given that I drive to work 98% of the time ;)

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  1. Should have been: “Woooooooooah” crunch “Whoops I appear to have been terribly careless and removed your expensive wing-mirror. Oh dear, shall we ask someone in authority to ascertain who’s to blame?”

    10 Jun 2008, 11:06

  2. Chris May

    Driving turns normal people into dickheads. Fact.

    The best strategy for coping with it, IME, is (a) remember that they can’t help it; the whole design of cars inexorably makes people behave like rude, inconsiderate twats once behind the wheel; and (b) avoid them. Going from Leam. to Uni. via Cubbington and Stoneleigh is a little bit longer, but considerably quieter, more scenic, and safer route than the A452

    10 Jun 2008, 15:18

  3. James Taylor

    On reflection I think his gesturing back was a sort of automatic reaction borne out of a little bit of shock and confusion at having a guy on a bike virtually parked in his car door. He did look a bit stunned when he drove off.

    I really must investigate the Cubbington route.

    10 Jun 2008, 15:28

  4. Steve Rumsby

    I second the recommendation of the Cubbington route. A very pleasant ride, and relatively traffic free.

    I find the best way of dealing with motorists is to (a) assume they will all do stupid things and plan accordingly, and (b) not get too cross when such things happen, because it just spoils the rest of the ride.

    10 Jun 2008, 16:52

  5. Sue

    There seem to be two camps as far as cyclists are concerned, I heard someone say the other day that cyclists think that they can do as they like beacuse they have the moral high ground because their mode of transport is more ecologically sound but I haven’t noticed cyclists behaving in a superior manner. In fact, recently, I was quite humbled when I waited and gave way to a cyclist when it was his right of way and he made a big thing of thanking me as if this wasn’t the usual behaviour he came across when he was on his bike. I was amazed to hear on the news last night that since the congestion charge has been introduced in London, the number of cyclists in the city have gone up 80% and I think road users would all be better off if they got on with each other.

    10 Jun 2008, 21:03

  6. Chris May

    Leamington to uni via cubbington – a bit under 10 miles, mostly quiet country roads, with absolutely no enormo-roundabouts.

    And, as a special summer bonus, The long medium way home – not that long (about 15 miles), and a really nice route – just the thing for these long sunny evenings.

    10 Jun 2008, 22:34

  7. James Taylor

    Thanks for those Chris. I don’t quite have the fitness / energy to tackle the long way home [i]just[/i] yet, but the ‘via Cubbington’ route looks like a nice change from the norm! :)

    Now if only there was a nice alternative to Gibbet Hill Road – you slog all the way up that hill, trying to weave between the stationary traffic and then proceed down the other side with nervous drivers tailing you – i’m always painfully aware that i’m holding up a big queue of cars! :(

    10 Jun 2008, 23:25

  8. James Taylor


    Doh. Not on PhpBB now!! :)

    11 Jun 2008, 09:20

  9. Andrew Maddison

    Turn into the Gibbet Hill campus and go down the path from Gibbet Hill to Main Campus? Depends where in the University you’re aiming for as to whether you save any time I expect!

    12 Jun 2008, 12:26

  10. Hi James,

    You need to learn to practice ‘defensive cycling’. When I cycle I work on an assumption that cars have not seen me at every juntion / roundabout that I approach. A good thing to do is to try to gain eye-contact with the person in the car – if they make eye contact, they have seen you. If they don’t then they are probably fiddling with their mobile / looking the other way / can’t see you through the massive ‘A’ pillar that lots of modern cars seem to come with nowadays. I keep my fingers hovered over the brake levers at such times and am prepared to stop.

    Having said that, in the last year I’ve had two crashes with cars – one was someone reversing out of a parking space, the other reversing out of their drive, both times without looking. And about five ‘near misses’ where I’ve had to slam my brakes on hard – once on a roundabout, four times at road junctions. Sadly, it seems to be part of the landscape of cycling. Gesticularing and shouting in my experience doesn’t help.

    The other thing that might help is to buy a high-vis jacket, although given my recent record, my girl-friend has taken to calling the jacket my ‘car magnet’.

    12 Jun 2008, 13:14

  11. I'd cycle if I could balance

    As one of the ‘nervous drivers’ (saw a cyclist hit by another car once, have no intention of having a repeat viewing in close-up), I would be genuinely interested to know what method of overtaking would make cylists feel most comfortable.

    I certainly don’t want to come roaring past only a hair’s breadth away from your handlebars, but as you say the alternative is tailing behind for a few minutes, inadvertently making the cyclist feel bad. It doesn’t bother me, but I know it can annoy the more impatient drivers.

    I know you guys probably only remember the bad drivers (what with them trying to kill you and all…) but some of us are on your side :-)

    12 Jun 2008, 15:50

  12. Steve Rumsby

    My personal opinion is that having a suitable distance between the passing car and me is more important than the speed of the car. I’d much rather you roar past 3 feet away than creep past 6 inches away. And I’m quite happy for you to wait behind me until there is room for that, although preferably not 6 inches from my back wheel!

    To even things up a bit, my policy is to not weave through traffic stopped at junctions, but to keep my place in the queue. That way I don’t end up passing traffic that has passed me once already, and then expect them to hold back and wait for room to pass a second time. That doesn’t seem fair to me, so I don’t do it.

    Peaceful co-existence on the roads needs understandng and give-and-take from both sides.

    12 Jun 2008, 16:05

  13. Robert O'Toole

    You need to learn to practice ‘defensive cycling’.

    Having said that, in the last year I’ve had two crashes with cars

    The other thing that might help is to buy a high-vis jacket

    although given my recent record, my girl-friend has taken to calling the jacket my ‘car magnet’.

    12 Jun 2008, 16:22

  14. Robert O'Toole

    The power of eye contact is, unfortunately a myth. A quite dangerous myth (even more so for motorcyclists).

    The ‘research’ (i read this in an article last year, I think it might be some work done at Loughborough) demonstrates the problem. Car drivers don’t actually see small vehicles. The driver might seem to be looking straight at you, and yet will not actually register your existence. Most car drivers only notice other cars and large vehicles.

    Having a really loud horn is the best solution.

    It could be a learned behavioural problem. But there’s a strong likelihood that it is actually something deeper – an aspect of the way in which the human brain works. An evolutionary artefact even. Why expend energy and perceptual focus on identifying a small object that can’t harm you when there are much bigger and more dangerous beasts on the road?

    12 Jun 2008, 16:33

  15. Steve Rumsby

    You need to learn to practice ‘defensive cycling’.

    Having said that, in the last year I’ve had two crashes with cars

    Funnily enough, I was going to comment on the same thing. I think James is not the only one who needs to practise defensive cycling:-) Of course that might not be fair comment given we don’t know the circumstances of the two incidents. Some incidents are genuine accidents where no one is to blame.

    12 Jun 2008, 16:34

  16. Steve Rumsby

    The power of eye contact is, unfortunately a myth.

    Why expend energy and perceptual focus on identifying a small object that can’t harm you when there are much bigger and more dangerous beasts on the road?

    That does make sense. I do try to make eye contact with drivers at junctions on the basis that if they don’t look in my direction at all they certainly haven’t seen me. But having made apparent eye contact, I still watch for movement of the vehicle (look at the wheels, not the body – rotational movement of the wheels is easier to spot) and move out into the middle of the lane anyway to give me more room, just in case.

    Assume stupidity and you won’t be surprised when it happens!

    Not that all drivers are stupid, by any means. The vast majority are not. But you can’t tell which are which until it is too late, so it is best to assume the worst case!

    The other thing that might help is to buy a high-vis jacket

    My experience with those is mixed. I’ve had people pull out on me while I’ve been wearing them, so they aren’t a guarantee. I also seem to be generally visible when not wearing hi-vis. I have a yellow rain jacket, on the basis that when general visibility is reduced by the weather, it can’t hurt to make yourself more conspicuous. In normal conditions, though, I don’t find they help.

    12 Jun 2008, 16:53

  17. Chris May

    I read an interesting insight into car/bike interfaces recently, here . In summary, the author suggests that there are two forces that come into play when a driver encounters a cyclist; the “rational” response (Here’s a bike, I need to pass it with plenty of space; have I got room to get round it without cutting back in too soon, etc…) and a set of “conditioned” reactions “I should never get caught behind a cyclist”. In the split-second that the driver has to make the decision, the conditioned response gets priority because it doesn’t require actual thinking time, just a reaction. So the driver makes the wrong decision.

    He uses an interesting analogy; Imagine you’re stood at a friend’s house with a cup of coffee in your hand, when you spot a toddler who’s managed to open the stairgate and is even now teetering at the very top stair. The right reaction is to drop the coffee cup and dive up the stairs to catch him, but what you’ll actually do is waste seconds putting the cup down carefully, because you’re conditioned not to damage other people’s carpets.

    12 Jun 2008, 16:58

  18. Steve Rumsby

    “I should never get caught behind a cyclist”

    It is surprising how often that seems to be the only explanation for certain manoeuvres. And not just by drivers. Cyclists are susceptible to it too. Why else go through red lights, or overtake on the inside, for example – “I’m on a bike, I shouldn’t get held up by anything”. That’s a common outlook for cyclists, it seems.

    12 Jun 2008, 17:32

  19. nick

    The ‘conditioned response’ is an interesting one. Why is it that some drivers exhibit this sort of behaviour? And why do the same drivers then slow down, wait patiently for a large gap in the traffic and then leave a massive gap between themselves and horse riders? Is the life of a horse / horse rider ‘worth’ more than that of a cyclist?

    12 Jun 2008, 21:16

  20. Steve Rumsby

    Horses are bigger. That makes a surprising difference. My experience as a cyclist is that making myself appear bigger results in motorists giving me more room when they overtake. Even simple things like cycling further out from the kerb have an effect. This effect is called the Theory of BIG

    Also I think most people realise horses have minds of their own and are likely to get spooked if you pass too close. Bicycles don’t get spooked.

    12 Jun 2008, 22:38

  21. Robert O'Toole

    Even simple things like cycling further out from the kerb have an effect.

    My bike weighs 270KG, is 1.165 metres tall, has 500cc of aircooled pushrod boxer sticking out each side, an exhaust that sounds like an angry Tuareg war camel amplified 1000 times, and spends most of its time positioned just to the left of the centre of the road.

    That still doesn’t stop retards in cars from driving within an inch of my back wheel and doing near impossible and quite lethal overtakes, failing to take me into consideration at all.

    Given that many car drivers fail to make the rational choice when faced with one of the loudest scariest vehicles on the road getting in their way, I personally don’t trust them to even notice me on a bicycle.

    17 Jun 2008, 15:53

  22. Robert O'Toole

    On precisely this topic, a news report from the BBC. The cyclist being interviewed talks about the appaling way in which car drivers treat her. She also derides the behaviour of some cyclists. But watch out for what she does when turning right on a mini-roundabout. Yes, she is actually trying to overtake a car as it goes around the circle! In the cars blind-spot, while the driver is doing a manoeuvre, and with the assumption that the driver is going to take the far right exit (if it went all the way round she would be splatted).


    19 Jun 2008, 11:57

  23. Steve Rumsby

    There are two roundabouts in that clip. Which are you talking about?

    In the first, she approaches a roundabout and pulls alongside a dark-coloured Saab which is indicating right. Clearly pulling alongside that car is silly.

    In the second, she pulls alongside a red Peugeot. I think this is the one you are referring to? We can’t see from the clip if the car is indicating left or not. If it is, I think it is reasonable to assume it isn’t turning right, especially as it is on the left of the lane. There might actually be two lanes there – it is hard to tell. If there are, and the car is in the left left, again it is reasonable to assume it isn’t turning right. In both cases, though, you need to be aware of what the car does and be prepared for something stupid. Make sure you have an escape route. The exit lane of the roundabout is wide enough for car and bike if the unexpected does happen. For long enough, anyway, to avoid a collision.

    If there’s just a single lane, and the car isn’t indicating, I wouldn’t pull alongside it.

    Just my thoughts…

    19 Jun 2008, 12:16

  24. Hurray for Bristol. Boo for the scary cyclist woman.
    I don’t know when that was filmed, but the plans to turn the Bristol-Bath cycle way into a bus lane was scrapped a few weeks back. Possibly because everyone said “wwwwwwwwwwhat teh feck?!” and made angry noises. Still, it’s a nice place to get jumped on and beaten up by chavs.

    I drive over that roundabout where she was overtaking a right turner. Generally it’s quite hard if you’re coming from the direction she is. And I’ve never seen anyone do a U-turn there. Suicide at rushhour.

    20 Jun 2008, 00:40

  25. Steve Smith

    Unfortunately I narrowly miss being side swiped all to often on the way past the Tesco’s entrance at Cannon Park. Drivers just don’t pay enough attention most of the time.

    27 Jun 2008, 15:51

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