I hate complaining (I’m generally too much of a wimp to whine and moan about stuff). And, at the same time, I also hate listening to other people complain. Sure, it might make their day a little better to get something off their chest, but does it help me? Nope.
Now and again though there’s something that annoys me so much that I have to complain about it. So I’m sorry dear reader because today IS that day and you now have to listen to me rant.
Here’s the scenario: I’m just back from a morning cycle. It’s a 30-mile round trip on the road bike that includes some quieter country lanes and some busier urban streets. I measure the enjoyability of this kind of bike ride on a single factor. It’s not the lack of a headwind (although that’s always nice), or that my legs felt like they could keep spinning the pedals around forever today, or even the quality of the midway coffee ‘n’ cake stop.
No, I measure how good a bike ride is by the number of car drivers who’ve tried to kill me during the cycle. The fewer there’ve been, the more enjoyable the bike ride was.
“I measure how good a bike ride is by the number of car drivers who’ve tried to kill me during the cycle”
Who’s doing it?
It’s car drivers that I find are usually the problem. Not ‘career drivers’, such as truck drivers, cab drivers or bus drivers. They, in my experience, tend to be courteous and give me as much room as they can and pass my slowly.
No, it’s car drivers. The ones who are rushing to the office. Or they’re rushing to drop the kids off at school. Or they’re unwilling to lose 10 seconds of their own lives to wait till they’re on the other side of the blind bend before they overtake me. This morning I had the situation where, on a narrow stretch of road, a car overtook me whilst another car was passing me on the other side of the road. If I hadn’t breathed in and tucked my elbows up tight to my chest, I would have been in trouble.
What car drivers don’t realize is that when they drive past a cyclist at speed the car creates suction that pulls the cyclist sideways towards the car. The closer the car passes and the faster they’re traveling, the stronger this pull is. Too close and too fast and the cyclist will be unbalanced and fall under the wheels of the car. They’re unlikely to survive a fall like this.
And it’s not just cars that are overtaking you that cause this effect. On a narrow country road, when a car is traveling towards a cyclist from in front, and goes past them, they also create the same pull. When a car is coming up to overtake you, you can only hear the roar of the engine, at least you can’t see them. But, when a car is hurtling towards you, I’m always struck (thankfully not literally…yet) that one split second’s lapse in concentration by either the cyclist or the driver and the narrow gap between the bike and car would disappear. At a combined speed of say 75 mph (15 for the cyclist and 60 for the car), there’s no way that the cyclist would escape without serious injury. If they lived at all.
My plea to car drivers
I’m a car driver, as well as a cyclist, so I get that it’s frustrating to be stuck behind a cyclist. You might not have even realized that this suction effect can be created when you pass someone on a bike. What I’m hoping though is that you can do a couple easy things that will make cycling safer and reduce the risk of causing injury, or death, to a cyclist. In reality both of these asks are unlikely to add more than a few seconds onto your journey time.
Here they are:
1. Ease up on the gas pedal when passing
When you’re going past a cyclist (whether overtaking or going the opposite direction), ease up on the gas pedal a little. You don’t have to crawl past but, if you just cut your speed by 50% for the 5 seconds that you’re going past, it will make a massive difference to the pull that the cyclist experiences. 5 seconds at 50% of your average speed won’t make a dent in your journey time.
2. Give the maximum space that you can
When you actually go past the cyclist, please give them as much room as the lane or road will allow. Obviously don’t go so far to the other side of the road that you’re in danger of hitting anything on that side (vehicles, pedestrians, or buildings). But the more room you can give the cyclist the more the suction is reduced. I haven’t got figures on this but I suspect that there’s an exponential relationship here i.e. a little extra room gives a huge reduction in the turbulence.
Do just one of these and the difference will be significant. Do both and they’ll combine together to reduce or even eliminate that ‘suction’ effect on the cyclist.
Cyclists: we need to do our bit too
As cyclists on the road we also have our part to play in this and aren’t exactly blameless. Too often I see cyclists on really busy stretches of road, with a line of scowling car drivers behind them. Pull over, let them pass. Hop off and walk on the sidewalk till you get to a quieter stretch of road. Or take a less busy (and more enjoyable) route.
We can do everything to ensure that car drivers see us as far ahead as possible. That means wear bright colors (a jacket like the Mandarin Cloudburst from Showers Pass is a great help here). It means have reflective elements on you and the bike. Bike lights are critical and I’d recommend using them in the daylight hours as well as in gloomier conditions and at night.
We also need to cycle in a way that makes our actions predictable by car drivers. Yes, I know that weaving in and out of stationary traffic gets the adrenalin flowing. Trouble is, it makes it difficult for car drivers to see you, know what you’re going to do next and what route you’re going to follow. A trick I’ve found works well on my bike rides is to make eye contact with car drivers coming towards me. On my regular route, I’ve even gone to the extent of giving a friendly wave to some of the car drivers that I see day in day out. I figure that the more folk that I’m on ‘waving terms’ with, the fewer people that are out there who will try to kill me on my next trip out. I’m not dead yet, so it might just be working.
Like a 5-year old kid at their birthday party who’s just been given an ‘educational’ toy, when what they actually wanted was a new iPhone, and has taken out their frustrations on a piñata to unleash a torrent of candy over the back yard, I feel much calmer now. Thank you for sticking with me on this rant. It’s been quite cathartic. Car drivers, please give cyclists a little more room and pass them a little slower. Cyclists, be predictable, be noticeable, and be courteous.