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Thread: bike flags

  1. #1
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    I live in a rural area of Indiana where it is very hilly (Yes there are hills in Indiana! The whole southwestern part of the state is very hilly.). There is a group of bicyclists that like to ride the hilly curvy roads in my area, which is understandable because it's very scenic. What I don't understand is how they manage to not get hit by cars all the time. These roads are narrow and winding. The crests of the hills are quite sharp. Visibility is very bad. I'm a slow driver, so I've never come close to hitting anyone, but the average driver would have very little time if any to react if they came over the crest of a steep hill or around a sharp curve and there was someone on a bike right in front of them.

    I grew up in a rural part of Michigan and can remember riding a bike when I was a kid. Someone came up with the idea of "bike flags" and my parents got us some. This was back in the 70's. Whatever happened to these? As safety minded as everyone is these days, I can't believe they're not mandatory. I'm thinking about dusting off my old Schwinn touring bike and doing some riding again, but there's no way I would ride a bike in my area without a bike flag! Why doesn't anyone use these anymore? Is it "not cool" or something?
    Last edited by Danny Y; 03-09-01 at 09:37 AM.

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Danny Y,

    Since there are very few legal requirements for cycling, beyond basic traffic rules, a cyclist needs to do whatever
    he/she can to promote safety. Cyclist education is important both for cyclists and motorists alike. Cyclists need
    to know how and where to cycle effectively. Motorists needs to be aware that cyclists may be sharing the road and reduce speeds accordingly and remain alert.

    As for flags, they are still available, and some people use them.

    I hope you will look into cycling again. Maybe your interest in safety, along with adequate research into effective cycling principles and techniques, will help you to become an example to follow.

    Drive alertly and remember to give those cyclists three feet of room when it's safe to pass.

    Thanks for your input!

    Pete Clark

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    I find it interesting that "there are very few legal requirements for cycling, beyond basic traffic rules". Motorists pay a hefty tax every time they buy gas. It's my understanding that this tax is used to build and maintain public roads. Motorists are also required to have insurance. So, bicyclists are using the roads for free. It seems to me there should be more responsibility on the part of the bicyclists in regards to safety. Does it seem unreasonable to require certain standards, such as minimum requirements for reflectors and having flags be mandatory?

    I'm looking at things from both sides of the fence. If I'm on a bike, I feel it's my responsibility to be visible. If I'm in a car, I certainly don't want to hit anyone on a bike. But, what if someone doesn't have enough time to react? Like I said, I'm a slow driver, I drive about 10 to 15 MPH slower than most people, often below the speed limit. But, I don't expect everyone to drive below the speed limit. If someone is driving the speed limit, I can see where they could have a tough time reacting in time to avoid hitting someone on a bike in certain situations. If someone in a car hits someone on a bike, is it automatically the car drivers fault?

    What kind of techniques do experienced bicyclists use to stay alive? For example, I can imagine if one is riding too slow, that would increase the chance of getting hit from behind, so does it help to speed up coming out of a curve or over the top of a hill?

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    There are usually minimum standards regarding rear reflectors and braking ability. Bicycles are regarded as vehicles in most areas, and have to comply with vehicle behaviour.
    I cycle in an area with lots of hilly narrow lanes, and conflicts with cars are not really a problem. Its better to be visible, you give the drivers more reaction time. I find a yellow shirt or windbreaker sufficient.

    John Forester has written some guides to vehicular cycling, which most experienced riders agree is the safest way to ride.
    Getting hit from behind is a very rare type of incident, but its the one most newbies worry about the most. This "perceived danger" is one of the main rationales behind bike lanes. The actual danger ie stuff that can hurt you, lies in wait ahead of you.

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Danny Y,

    Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate your views from a motorists perspective. This is just the type of
    discussion that needs to be engaged in between motorists and cyclists.

    First, I agree with you that cyclists have a responsibility for safety. All the laws that apply to motor vehicles also
    apply to bicycles, except those that by their nature have no application, for example, insurance. Cyclists are not
    required to carry liability insurance because they pose no significant threat to the life or property of other road
    users. Automobiles kill about 40,000 Americans annually and leave many more injured, affecting medical costs
    and inflicting damage to other vehicles. American cyclists simply do not pose that kind of threat, except to themselves.

    It's true that we motorists pay many forms of taxes to build and maintain the roads. But since most cyclists are also motorists, shouldn't they be allowed to use the road for cycling? In addition, the trucking industry pays for them as well, and with good reason: cars and trucks cause the most deterioration of our highways. Bicycles don't have the necessary weight to cause any more road damage than pedestrians (the combined weight of me and my bike is almost exactly the same as I weighed alone before I started cycling: 170 lbs.).

    I think you'll find that cyclists are not a real threat to motorists, but that motorists are a threat to each other, to
    cyclists and to pedestrians.

    Remember you said you could't understand how those cyclists managed not to get hit by motorists? Well, it's because they are probably using those cycling techniques we discussed. They really do keep us alive, as long as
    motorists do their part in obeying posted speed limits, as the law requires (and remember the "three foot rule", it's also the law).

    Thank you for your courtesy,

    Pete Clark
    Last edited by LittleBigMan; 03-09-01 at 12:20 PM.

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    Thanks for your input. With the rising cost of gas and the difficulty with keeping my weight under control as I get older (my Dad always used to say "it's no disgrace to get old, but it sure is inconvenient!'), I'd like to get some use out my old Schwinn. Were can I read what John Forester wrote about "some guides to vehicular cycling"? Was this a posting on this forum, in a book, or what? Riding a bike is a very fun thing, but the fun goes away if I'm always worried about getting hurt.

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Danny,

    You are welcome, friend. John Forester's website is at www.johnforester.com

    Pete

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    In the UK two cyclists were found guilty of "Dangerous Cycling" and fined £400 after killing a pedestrian on a dark country lane. They were cycling downhill, fast with no lights, and struck an old man.

    The cycling press is treating them with no sympathy, the consensus being that we expect motorists to be dealt with more harshly than they currently are for killing people, then we cyclists have a duty of care towards other road users.

    Cyclists have just as much need for 3rd party insurance as anyone else.

    The other news for UK cyclists is that a highly contagious farmyard animal disease (foot and mouth) has meant that large areas of the countryside are closed to traffic. Many cycle paths that run close to farms have been closed.

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    That is true. Cycling can be dangerous if caution is thrown to the wind. I stand corrected in that many people do not realize that a speeding bicycle can kill a pedestrian or another cyclist. This is another good reason to learn how and where to ride a bicycle. There have been deaths from head-on cyclist against cyclist crashes in which one of the cyclists was travelling in the wrong direction, at night, with no lights. This is also why sidewalk cycling and mixing cyclists with
    pedestrians is not wise.

    It is also difficult to understand why those cyclists that killed that gentleman got away with a simple fine. Speeding, at night, with no lights, downhill? Just unbelievable. But that's the way it is all the time with motorist/pedestrian and motorist/cyclist accidents here in the USA: motorists are treated perhaps too lightly. Maybe we cyclists need to be held to a greater accountability, as Michael and Danny have pointed out.

    Thanks, Michael W.!

    Pete Clark
    Last edited by LittleBigMan; 03-10-01 at 09:12 AM.

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    I have read all of your replies with great interest. Thanks for the input. Obviously, bike flags wouldn't have helped the old man walking along the country road, but they would make it safer for cyclist. So, I'm still wondering about the answer to the question "Why don't cyclists use bike flags?"

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Danny Y,

    I do not know why cyclists choose not to use flags. Perhaps they are not convinced they are necessary. But that should not stop you from using one. Some do. There are many things cyclists do to increase their safety which are not required by law, some of which are what Michael W. suggested, including learning Effective
    Cycling principles and wearing brightly colored clothing.

    I am encouraged by your interest in bicycle safety and wish you well in your personal research to improve it.
    I for one never assume that everything that can be done, has been done. That's how we move forward.

    Pete Clark

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    I've mostly seen the bike flags used with child trainers, and a few on kid's bikes but very few on "serious" bikes.
    "...perhaps the world needs a little more Canada" - Jean Chretian, 2003.

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    Hi, Danny Y, I remember those bike flags...we used to have them on our bikes when we were kids, but I think the one we got was from McDonalds'. I don't know if any of you remember that, but that was the cheap way to get one. I don't see to many people using them, but it's rare. It doesn't matter, you should use a bike flag if it makes you feel more comfortable.

    I was afraid to ride my bike to work or to the gym, because I was afraid that I would get hurt. However, I decided it was good to just face my fear, and try it out. I'm glad I did, because I really enjoy riding. I'm very careful on the road, and check to make sure that drivers can see me--I usually wave to them. Just be careful, be really aware of others around you (as always), and enjoy yourself!

    --technogirl
    (a.k.a. no-so-much-afraid fraidy cat!)
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    "Hard work often pays off after time, but craziness pays off now."
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    A week or two ago I was reading Neil Gunton's journals of his Trans America tour at
    crazyguyonabike.com
    I recall at least one picture of a tourist's bike with a flag. I commute 20 miles/day RT. I have and use just about all the other accoutrements of bike safety - helmet, glasses, headlight, multiple blinkies, horn, reflective vest, etc. I do not have a flag, but I have been thinking about getting one and maybe even attaching yet another blinky to the flagstick. If I ever get to do any touring or regular riding on country roads, I will definitely get a flag.
    Regards,
    Raymond

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    I'm new but am familiar with southern IN riding and the best way to avoid the sharp curve or hill is to use your mirror, be aware of what is behind you and how far.

    I think a flag would be a good idea because mostly kids use them now and this would make more motorists give more space and slow down more.

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    Here in New York bicycles are required to have reflectors on the front and rear, as well as on the pedals, and wheels. If you're riding at night, you also must have front and rear lights. I've seen plenty of disabled people who use flags on their wheelchairs when they ride in traffic but it's rare to see flags on bikes.

    Personally, I think lights are far more effective than flags. They only downside is that you have to change the batteries once in a while.

    Stacy

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    Badger Biker ctyler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny Y
    Motorists pay a hefty tax every time they buy gas. It's my understanding that this tax is used to build and maintain public roads. Motorists are also required to have insurance. So, bicyclists are using the roads for free.
    Hold on there. I ride a bike but I also own and drive a car. So how am I, when on my bicycle, using the road for free? The gas tax is not the only means of funding road construction.

    It's my right to ride my bike on the road. If I don't take responsibility for my saftey, then that's my fault.

    But drivers have the responsibility to keep their car under control and to be able to avoid road hazards. But most driver are irresponsible. Sun in their eyes, just go! Fog, just go. Dropped something, reach down on the floor for it. Kids fussing in the back seat, turn around and yell at them. It seems getting behind the wheel of a car gives people the right to do what they want to. Kill someone? "Oh, it was an accident. I didn't see them. I looked down to change the radio station and there they were." Or "The sun was in my eyes."

    Having a flag is not going to help with drivers like that.

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    Another online guide about safety that you might want to check out is http://bicyclesafe.com/ ("How to Not Get Hit by Cars", Michael Bluejay). Be advised that there are some "politics" and controversy between John Forester's website/info/book and this one. I lean more towards the advice in bicyclesafe.com because it is a more practical guide (e.g. assumes that cars are going to break the law) but there is plenty in EC that is, well, "effective" too -- neither one should be discounted as a means to promote safe riding.

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    Senior Member ajay677's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny Y
    I find it interesting that "there are very few legal requirements for cycling, beyond basic traffic rules". Motorists pay a hefty tax every time they buy gas. It's my understanding that this tax is used to build and maintain public roads. Motorists are also required to have insurance. So, bicyclists are using the roads for free.
    Cyclists do not use the roads for free. The majority of cyclist own one or more motor vehicles, paying a "hefty tax" when they buy gas. Further, gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees only provide a part of the funding for road construction and maintenance. In most U.S. states and Canadian provinces, a portion of general sales tax revenues are used for this purpose. In addition, most people pay property taxes, either directly because they are property owners or indirectly as renters. Property taxes are used to construct and maintain local roads. As far as insurance goes, anyone with homeowner or tenant insurance will usually have personal liability coverage. This liability coverage may extend to cycling activities (ask your insurance company). So, bicyclists are NOT using the roads for free.

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    Senior Member Dchiefransom's Avatar
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    People don't put flags on their bikes because of the large amount of drag it creates. When you're trying to maintain 25mph for a long period, it doesn't help to have something else draggin you back. Just what we need, another law requiring the victims of cehicular accidents to do something, instead of holding the drivers responsible.

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    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Besides the drag required to "flap" a flag and make it visible from behind, another reason behind their lack of popularity among experienced cyclists is that there is no evidence that they would reduce collisions.

    I have looked at police reports for lots of car-bike collisions in North Carolina. The overtaking type of collision, the type most feared by novice cyclists who believe that flags would help, is very rare, and most of the overtaking collisions are drivers who see the cyclist but pass too closely. The only drivers who reported to not see the cyclist they were overtaking had collisions in darkness, and the cyclists did not have rear reflectors or lights. The remaining handful of serious overtaking collisions were drunk drivers or reckless drivers who lost control of their vehicles.

    I think a flag may help visibility for short vehicles such as recumbents and bike trailers. I have one on my son's Burley trailer. But a bright jersey and a bright rear reflector/light combination are far more effective.

    When riding on roads with lots of hills and curves, I ride farther into the lane on approach to a blind curve or hill, in order to maximize my visibility and induce caution in following drivers. As I enter the area where I might be concealed from following drivers despite my position farther into the lane, I move to the right again, to give errant drivers somewhere to go. For example, when entering a sharp curve I ride near the center of the lane, then I merge right as I get about 2/3 through it.

    Steve Goodridge
    http://humantransport.org/bicycledriving

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    I have two flags on my trike....one is a tall one that is usually used on Mopeds, in fact I think that Moped drivers here in Iowa are required to have one on their machine. And then I also use a 'Flash Flag' that I ordered from a fellow that I found on the net....it is mounted on a spring and dances around in the wind. It is highly visible to both the cars behind me and the ones coming at me from the front. I have rigged the flash flag so that it sticks out to the left side. I don't care what other cyclists do, I want to be seen, to have a chance of the cars seeing me in plenty of time to avoid hitting me.
    "Oh Yeah?"

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    Quite frankly, I am not sure that a high bike flag would be useful on the average bike... at the very least on most highways. On most relatively straight roads I ride, the cyclist is seen (if the driver looks in the right direction), and on the curvy, winding roads I ride, trees and curves would prevent the flag from being seen too. I think a reflective vest is more effective on a shady day, in the forest, on a cloudy overcast day or on a winding road, than would be a tiny flag.

    By the way, a cyclist is higher on the road than a car, and probably higher than many SUVs (except monstruous ones), so the head of a cyclist should show sooner than a car on the other side of a hill crest.

    The flag is more useful for low verhicles (those that are lower than a typical car) such as children trailers, cargo trailers, recumbent bikes or even trailercycles.

    There also are hazards and problems related to the use of a flag, and I have myself experienced a few of these when I used one on a trailercycle and on a child trailer.

    1. On many trailercycles, the flag is attached to a bracket that goes around the wheel axle. Great... except wind-induced vibrations may loosen the wheel (it happened to me). I modified the bracket to attach it behind the rear rack, but that wasn't an easy feat to do. IOW, many people would simply discard the flag and bracket right away.

    2. The traditional flag attachment interferes with a rear rack and panniers. Same conclusion as above.

    3. The flag is often at the proper height... to be visible in the cyclist's rear view mirror. That meant I had a lesser vision of traffic behind me.

    4. The flag mast may break in the wind.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

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    I have seen flags that project sideways from the rack or seatstay. An test in Denmark showed that with these flags passing cars gave the bicycle an extra 2 ft of space on average.

  25. #25
    Geosynchronous Falconeer recursive's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny Y
    I find it interesting that "there are very few legal requirements for cycling, beyond basic traffic rules". Motorists pay a hefty tax every time they buy gas. It's my understanding that this tax is used to build and maintain public roads. Motorists are also required to have insurance. So, bicyclists are using the roads for free.
    ...
    If that's the problem you're having, look at it this way: the motorists are paying for the damage they are doing to the road. Why do roads have to be re-paved every 20 years? When was the last time a road wore out due to excess biking?

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