What kind of bicycle diplomat (cyclomat?) are you? If you’re an Obama biker, you probably make eye contact with drivers, signal your turns, and yield the right-of-way when appropriate. If you’re a McCain biker, you have a window punch in your left hand, some Halt in the right, and greet drivers with a wry, Cheney-esque smirk that says, “go ahead, punk, make my commute.”
Some days I’m an Obama. Some days I’m assuredly a McCain. But, like most diplomats, I usually I fall somewhere in between, alternately flippin’ the bird and waving. Like most bike commuters, I’ve adopted some techniques to make sure I make it home at night. Here are a few I use and one I’ve heard works well, but am too civilized–read, chicken–to try myself.
Ride like a car:
I cringe every time I see a rider pass a line of stopped cars on the right. Usually it works out for them, but not always. Drivers have a hard enough time seeing you when you’re in front of them, let alone sneaking up from behind. I have seen a couple of people get waxed when someone swings an unsignalled right. If there’s no bike lane, my policy is not to pass.
It can be said that virtually all collisions can be attributed to one thing: unpredictable behavior on the road. Here in Flagstaff, it’s pretty much the norm. Stop signs are a suggestion, signals are for sissies, and that middle turn lane is, in fact, all that’s left of the lawless, wild west. When I first moved here I thought it had something to do with the fact that drivers ed isn’t required in Arizona, but my AZ-born friends say that has nothing to do with it. That said, it is a breath of fresh air to see someone use a signal in this town.
Make eye contact:
In China, people don’t put the same emphasis on privacy and personal space that we do here. If you’re the most interesting thing on, say, an over-stuffed train car, all two-hundred of your fellow passengers will stare directly into your eyes until your western, neuroses-filled brain explodes. Whereas, in this part of the world, unbroken eye contact is a powerful thing, and you can use it to your advantage. If you’re not sure what a driver is going to do, stare directly into their eyes. You will have their attention. Do the two-fingered I’m-watching-you thing, too, if necessary.
Ride with a child trailer:
This is one that I haven’t tried, but see it work all the time. Even if you don’t have a little one,try riding with a child trailer. While most drivers won’t think twice about giving you six inches when they pass, the thought of running over a kid in a trailer makes even the most recklessly distracted driver pay attention. Sure, there’s the danger of creating a kid trailer arms race, wherein everyone will be riding with one and thus negating the advantage, but that’s surely a ways off.
Seriously, get an air horn:
Though I haven’t been using mine lately, because it seems unfair somehow, a handlebar mounted air horn will get you out of a pickle, guaranteed. Here’s how it works. You’re crossing a busy street while on the bike path. You have the walk signal, so proceed into the intersection. Right-turning, oncoming traffic begins to flow between you and the other side because, well, it’s their god-given right. The flow doesn’t stop because the sheeple driving are just being good followers and not thinking, ‘there may be someone trying to cross on the bike path.’ Enter the air horn. One long depression of the trigger and instantly every driver on the road thinks they’re about to be hit by a truck. Do they always stop? No, but they usually *slam* on the brakes. Do they always get a panic stricken look on their face? Yes.
Know your rights and assert them:
When I pull up to a stop sign after a driver has, and they try to wave me through first, I shake my head and stay put until they proceed. That’s what you would expect them to do if you were in a car. Be assertive and force drivers to respect the fact that in the eyes of the law, you are a vehicle with all the same rights and responsibilities as motorists*. [*Your mileage may vary with this one.] I can’t do this subject justice, but Bob Mionske sure can.
What other bits of rider/driver foreign policy work well for you?