What Would You Say

Every so often while cycling, I find myself in one of those unclear situations where maybe I should say something. And maybe not. Some of those situations are dangerous or have the potential to be. Others are personal and might be  embarrassing either for me or the other person. Here’s an example of the potentially embarassing kind.

I am riding toward work at about 8:30 a.m. A big, muscular guy rides past, going fast in his fancy riding kit, black helmet, red and black cycling jersey and very bright and very worn red cycling shorts. So worn that I can see his entire butt, just as if it were unclothed. It’s entirely academic  whether to say anything, as he is very quickly well past me. Suppose though that he had stopped for a light and I pulled up beside (or behind!) him. Just what would I say?  “Hi, your shorts are worn very thin and they’re not really covering your butt?” Something more (or less) “polite” than that? If it were me baring my ass to the world, I’d like someone to let me know! I’d be mortified but would make sure to replace those shorts as soon as I could.

Note to self: check  rear view in bike shorts every so often, especially as they get older.

Here’s two of the potentially dangerous sort:

While riding in heavy traffic behind John, he is pedaling next to a large pickup truck. He and the truck start passing the entrance to a shopping center parking lot and the truck’s right turn signal comes on. The driver starts turning right, directly at  John. He’s about to get right hooked. I yell, “Truck turning!” and John looks over, though really there’s little he could do at that point. I think the driver also heard me, because he stopped turning until John safely passed. What else could I have yelled to be more likely to get the driver’s attention?

One other example:

Making my way along a one-way city street, I am about to get hit by a driver who without signaling  pulls away from the right hand curb. I am far enough into the lane to avoid dooring but that’s not going to prevent this SUV from hitting me. I quickly calculate that  my bike’s bell would be unlikely to get the driver’s attention, especially with the windows closed. “Hey!” I yell as loudly as I can. Seems lame,  although it works. This time. What else could I do?

Does it help to yell in these situations? Would both of these drivers have stopped in time without the warning yells?  Could I have called out something more effective? Should I wear a loud whistle? What do you think works best to help avert these unforeseeable collisions?


5 thoughts on “What Would You Say

  1. Hmmm, the guy with the shorts. I’d let him be. He probably already knows what they look like. If he doesn’t, telling him will only temporarily change the situation…until the new pair are similarly worn.

    As for the other situations, they are a constant, which is why, as a cyclist, it is incumbent on the cyclist (unfair, I know, but the weight difference between you and the vehicle offsets this imbalance, IMHO) to be diligent and OBSERVANT to a greater degree than the driver of the vehicle. Again, fair? No. But Virginia, er, Nancy, there are clueless/arrogant/righteous/jerks in the world. So, the idea is to assume, on your part, that the rest of the world, at least while you’re bicycling, is populated by these jerks/fools/etc. and be prepared as best as possible. Running through potential scenarios as I ride, particularly in busy traffic, I assume the worst and act accordingly so that I can stop VERY quickly. For me to slow down, take in the scenario, and assume the worst may cost me several minutes, hell, maybe 10 minutes, but it can save my life. Worth it? I think so. Sometimes, I have actually stopped cycling long enough for a situation to become more comfortable for me to continue to cycle.

    The other, more geeky thing to do is to make yourself more visible. No dark rain jackets, no dark cycling jersey, nothing but BRIGHT colors and maybe a flag on the back of the bicycle that gets a driver’s attention. Ah, the geek factor. Beats the casket factor, again, IMHO. So, when I rode across country with the American flag waving off the back of my bicycle, I only had 4 drivers come close to me, one on purpose, the others because of road condition (no shoulder…so I took the lane, which stopped the other cars from coming too close).

    I know this all sounds like Obama with the re”THUG”licans over the debt issue, but this issue will kill you if you want to make an issue of it with 3000lbs of metal and stupidity. IMHO.

  2. Pat,
    All points well taken. I practice defensive cycling and am always on the watch for the unexpected from pedestrians, drivers and other cyclists. I’m with you, I can afford the 5-10 extra minutes it might take.

    My question is when despite all that care, you find yourself witnessing or in the midst of a near collision, is there something you can quickly shout out, or do, that will help? Maybe, maybe not. As to the worn through shorts, I think it’s easy enough to be unaware. Though as you say he may know but not care-that occurred to me!

  3. Hi Nancy,

    I realized later that I had not really answered your questions, but rather gave thoughts about how to avoid those situations/scenarios.

    In all seriousness, I doubt there is much to do to avoid the unavoidable other than practicing what we all do, hopefully well enough, which is defensive cycling. I use a helmet mirror and, when in heavy traffic, look ahead and behind me to see what’s up, gauge what I think a driver MAY do, and take defensive action even if the driver doesn’t do what I thought. Sometimes, particularly with regular routes that I ride, I wave to drivers coming up behind me and to those coming towards me…so now they wave back or toot their horn acknowledging me, which translates to: they acknowledge that I’m another person, which is good. Another action to take is to find a less crowded street…cities, not just the ones we work or live in, have side streets that parallel main streets and are frequently lower in traffic….so I take those streets even if it makes my route longer. Avoiding the casket for as long as I can is a personal goal.

    Now, a pet peeve that I have is how many illegal maneuvers I see other cyclists do that, as a driver, would, and does, seriously piss me off. They run stop signs, red lights, don’t signal turns or stops, ride on the wrong side of the road, they act like they own the road or they ride in a group blocking drivers….all the things that make drivers (me) angry and, like me, they DON’T forget and to them, you and I are just like the assholes that pissed them off…we’re on two wheels and on the road they drive on. I know that cyclists claim it’s the drivers who do this, but, again IMHO and experience, locally, state wide and across country, it is the CYCLIST who is doing the illegal maneuver. That’s what I’ve seen all over this country. Not an excuse for drivers to run me over, but it’s a place where we, as cyclists, can start…one, by talking to other cyclists to, yes, stop at that stop sign even though there is not a car for 50miles around. It’s the law and, if you were in a car, you would not even THINK of running that stop sign, would you?… but, on a bicycle, we seem to think, oh, what the hell…who is going to see this or be pissed off about this? It is the right/legal thing to do. Example: yesterday, in Silver City, I was driving down one of the streets and a guy, about 21yrs. old, was skateboarding down the middle of my lane. PISSED ME RIGHT THE FUCK OFF…and now I think that about all of those assholes. Right thinking? No. But that’s what this dumbfuck created in several drivers’ minds.

    Until we are all good bicyclists out there, it will be rough and dangerous and, sometimes, even if we’re all good, those unavoidable moments will occur and the best we can do is what we think to do at the time. What we think of afterwards doesn’t mean squat. Billy Joel…”Get it right the first time.” Still true today.

  4. Well, I eschew high visibility and disdain helmet mirrors. But I ride super defensively and haven’t been hit by a car for years and years.
    When drivers do dumb stuff, I’m actually mainly dumbstruck. My girlfriend uses the shriek as defense technique and describes it as very effective. I just swerve.
    I have issues with verbal communications when it comes to acknowledging other cyclists. I understand we’re a crew, a species, a sub culture, but there’s just soma y of us! Do I really have to say hi??

  5. @URT I’ve wondered too about greeting other cyclists in DC. There are too many to make greeting very one practical. A good thing really. But when I’m stopped right next to another cyclist at a light, it seems a good time to at least acknowledge each other and sort of odd not to. I mean we aren’t in cars. Why act as if we are cut off from one another? Then again, any of us might like to be alone with our thoughts. I take my cue from the other cyclist. Sometimes someone rides along with me for a while and we talk. I’ve enjoyed that. I hope one day to bump into some of the DC cyclists I’ve met on Twitter. That would be fun!

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