December 05, 2006

Being assertive and visible on the road – roadcraft for motorcyclists and cyclists

Follow-up to Cross in 3 seconds or you're dead – cycling to Warwick University from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Recently I mentioned my approach to travelling on the roads:

“I am certainly capable of dominating the road and controlling the drivers”

This is easily misunderstood. It isn’t aggresive at all, it’s about being assertive and visible, but polite.

I follow roadcraft, the police motorcycling system. I have done training in the system, and spend a couple of hours every month practising. It works well. I’ve spent most of my time on two motorised wheels. The system has kept me confidently safe for 100,000 miles (apart from the occasional unavoidable collision with motorway debris). The important point is that it isn’t about aggresion, it is very controlled and considered. It relies on constant information given to other road users, with lots of thank you waves. It is all about being assertive and visible in order to counter the mind–dulling driver psychology that is such a danger to other road users.

Here’s an example: consider the turn into Westwood (the second turn towards Coventry). Can you spot something really dangerous about that junction? The pedestrian refuge just before the junction is placed too close to the junction. This means that if you are turning into Westwood, and have to stop mid turn (due to a pedestrian or some other obstacle), the car behind you will have no where to go. As most motorists do not leave a sufficient gap, there’s a good chance you will get shunted. Most car drivers are surprised by the fact that a motorcycle goes around such a corner significantly slower than a car (for various reasons). So the problem is even worse for motorcyclists. Rear end shunts represent a growing percentage of all bike accidents.

And the answer: control the following cars before you get to the junction. Firstly, get your brake light on early. Then gently slow until the following car is closer, the following car will then be travelling at the same speed. You can then control the speed of the following car so that you can enter the turn at a safe speed without any chance of being shunted. I can give you hundreds of other examples. It’s how you take a potentially dangerous method of transport like motorcycling and make it safer than any other form of transport.

I think many of these principles transfer to cycling. Obviously a cycle has less presence on the road, but the system remains the same:

  1. Take information.
  2. Use information (that means think and plan, something that most motorists fail to do).
  3. Give information (make sure it has been seen and acknowledged – eye contact!).
  4. Position (getting the required space around you on the road, this is the assertive and confident bit).
  5. Speed (not so easy on a bike, unless you are Chris May).
  6. Gear (not so relevant on a bike).
  7. Accelerate and manouvre.

And say thank you if appropriate.

To get started, read the roadcraft manual There is also a version for car drivers. I wonder if there is an equivalent for cyclists?

And then get trained. You can get advanced motorcycle training from RoSPA, the IAM, and the local police (Bike Safe Training). They all use the police method.

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  1. Steve Rumsby

    To get started, read the roadcraft manual There is also a version for car drivers. I wonder if there is an equivalent for cyclists?

    Oddly enough, there’s a book called Cyclecraft. As you might expect it suggests many of the same techniques.

    For anybody looking to cycle safely on the roads, Cyclecraft is pretty much required reading. Much of it is common sense. It is just common sense you don’t think of until you’ve read it…

    There’s even a copy in the Modern Records Centre of the Library (for reference only, sadly), so you don’t have to fork out any money to read it:-)

    05 Dec 2006, 22:03

  2. sportcrazy

    I’m delighted to say that the cyclists answer to this post is pretty much identical – we should always be influencing traffic around us, if not quite “controlling” it.

    05 Dec 2006, 23:42

  3. Good post. I always recommend advanced riding courses, and you MUST read roadcraft! I even use the “vanishing point” thing when in a car + all the hazard spotting stuff. I like the fact it’s not about going slower, it’s about making safe progress (i.e. hooning down the fosse way!).
    Getting trained could save your life, so if you’re on two wheels and don’t know jack about roadcraft – ask for this book for christmas!

    06 Dec 2006, 00:20

  4. Robert O'Toole

    I wonder what the car version of roadcraft says about communicating with other road users?

    If you are used to riding, and you then drive a car (something I hate doing), you realise that the biggest drawback of coffins (wot bikers call cars) is that they depersonalise and limit one’s relationship with other road users. On a bike I can make clear hand signals and gestures, in a car it is much more difficult. Flashed lights and horns can be misinterpreted. In fact most drivers consider the use of the horn to be an offensive statement of complaint, whereas roadcraft recommends that it be used when a motorist is not paying attention to the presence of a bike, and therefore may endanger it.

    The best part of biking is the personal communication – the nod of the head between two passing bikers.

    06 Dec 2006, 16:34

  5. a) I call “Coffins” cage riders.. similar!
    b) why can I not comment on your latest entries? =(

    08 Dec 2006, 00:12

  6. Robert O'Toole

    Sorry, the comment properties were wrong, I had it set to “just me”. I am restricting commenting to staff (that includes PhD students) and friends. Too many stupid or off-topic comments!

    08 Dec 2006, 00:50

  7. Hi I have followed this from the advanced biking post.. I would also add that after riding a scooter, when I went out on a pushbike I adopted a similar confident road position to that I had used on the scooter i.e. right in the middle of traffic lanes and confidently hand signalling right in front of the cars I wanted to pull in front of.

    It was massively effective especially on roundabouts, and I had less of the aggressive ‘punishment’ horn use.

    I think what frustrates drivers the most is wobbling in and out of a dominant position that suggests and tempts overtaking then whips away the option, this suggests that you are buggering them about. Being solidly in the way (and sitting more upright when you do so.. fact fans psychology helps!) lets them relax because you have said ‘be patient, I am in control and predictable’

    08 Dec 2006, 09:25

  8. Robert O'Toole

    “this suggests that you are buggering them about”

    Things that help with this:

    1. look serious, proper equipment, bright jacket etc;
    2. give clear information before making a move. Be firm and precise with signals, and if possible get eye contact (although you might strain your neck muscles.

    It is much harder on an unpowered bike, as you have no ability to accelerate into spaces.

    08 Dec 2006, 09:45

  9. Speak for yourself! I use a thighmaster!

    08 Dec 2006, 12:14

  10. Robert O'Toole

    Ok, I have no ability to accelerate into spaces. Othes cyclists are somewhat more fit.

    08 Dec 2006, 16:19

  11. Robert O'Toole

    As Nathan reminds us, lets not forget that motorcycling is still exciting despite all this – i.e. “hooning down the fosse way”.

    08 Dec 2006, 16:37

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