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  1. #1
    Member bubber's Avatar
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    Invisible Cycleist Syndrome

    I have had a number of experiences lately that go something like this: I am riding down a street and a car comes up to a stop sign on a cross street intersection (daylight, good visibility). The car waits until I am almost in the intersection and then pulls out right in front of me (I don't have a stop sign in my direction). An emergency braking procedure has been the only thing preventing me from slamming into the cars or being hit by them.

    Well, it happened again yesterday. Really pissed, I chased the driver to his house. The high-speed chase had a strong calming effect on me. I stayed at the end of the driveway, took off my helmet, and motioned for the driver to come over. When he did I introduced myself and we shook hands. I then asked if he saw me when he nearly ran me over at the intersection. He said he had no idea what I was talking about (i.e., he did not see me) but apologized for the incident anyway. I believed him.

    Most of these incidents take place at intersections and I now believe that there is no malice involved -- the drivers (young and old) just don't see me, or rather, I just don't register in their consciousness. Have there been any studies of the physiology of this phenomenon? How does a cyclist go about increasing the chances of being seen? (I already wear a hi-viz green-yellow jersey)

    As a side thought, if I had done the logical thing and beat the snot out of the guy, a great misunderstanding would have been created because he had no idea why I was so perturbed. This makes me think we should assume not automatically assume drivers to be malicious in such situations.
    Leave no one behind -- eat your dead.

  2. #2
    Huachuca Rider webist's Avatar
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    I assume they are coming out unless they react somehow to my wave or nod.
    Just Peddlin' Around

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    Senior Member Keith99's Avatar
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    I don't recall this happening to me on the bike, but there are times I slow more than usual because I sense it coming. But don't think it is only a bike thing. It has happened to me several times in my SUV (Explorer sport, not a land yacht, but big enough in back for my bike or 200 lbs of dogs) at one intersection a block from home. A couple of times they even waited until I was almost in the intersection to start going.

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    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    The problem isn't that you're invisible; the problem is that they are not looking where you are riding.

    The solution is for you to ride where they are looking.

    Any time I am crossing an intersection, I make sure I am riding in the middle of the rightmost through lane. It's habit now. I would feel unsafe doing anything else. I do this on all roads, including roads with bike lanes. As I approach the intersection, I look back over my left shoulder (it takes a little practice to learn to do this without veering left - practice in an empty parking lot with lines you can follow). If it's not clear I use a left hand signal. As soon as it is safe, I move left until I am in the middle of the through lane. I don't move right again until I'm at least half-way across the intersection, and even then I only move right if there is faster traffic behind me.

    Before I started positioning myself according to destination at intersections, I would have people cutting me off all too often. Once I started moving left, it happened less often. Once it became an ingrained habit such that I did it at every intersection, the morons who couldn't see me disappeared altogether.

    If this sounds new or strange to you, check out the links in my signature.
    Last edited by Helmet Head; 09-09-05 at 05:20 PM.

  5. #5
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    I think you touched on the key: you don't register in their consciousness.

    When I see a driver who might do something like you describe I try to make eye contact. I wave at them with a small gesture as if I know them. Not a big flapping hi howareya wave, just little wave and nod. That makes them stop and try to figure out if they know me. Seems to work pretty well.
    ~Diane
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    8.5 mile commute. I like bike lanes.

  6. #6
    genec genec's Avatar
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    I think it comes from "mental filtering." While riding where you are visible and wearing highly visible clothing is important, motorists are not looking for you. You don't fit the "danger filter" they are using.

    Humans are great at spotting patterns, and we use this type of thinking all the time. The motorist that didn't see you, was not looking for you as they were just scanning for things that fit their "vehicle model."

    No large boxy thing coming at them at vehicle speed, so therefore it must be OK to go.

    This is especially bad for right turn on red type intersections, where motorists are just doing quick scans while their vehicle is still actually moving. I assume I am invisible at those locations and either wait for the motorist or yell at them. The yelling only works if the window is down.

    Of course a horn would work too.

    No I don't assume I am invisible all the time... but in situtations like merging traffic, and right on red, and some left turns... I am Casper.

    Looking for eye contact is also a bit overated as someone can look right through you at traffic behind you and appear to be looking right at you... This is especially true where side streets meet busier streets. Motorists looking way down the street can appear to be looking right at you.

    You must make sure you actually have their attention, that their head turns with your movement, that they acknowledge you in some way (nod... etc) or you catch their attention... yell, honk...

  7. #7
    Member bubber's Avatar
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    As a clarification, in all instances I was "taking the lane" and was where a car would have been.
    Leave no one behind -- eat your dead.

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    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Everything Gene said sounds reasonable, but I find it mostly untrue or unnecessary.

    I find that even on days where I'm not wearing bright clothes, motorists waiting to turn right will see me if I'm riding where they are looking, period. The theory that they are looking for a box and I'm not a box, is interesting, but it just doesn't pan out in my experience, because they do see me. Now, I might wave, stand up, weave around, buy a horn, etc., if they ever did not do something that indicated they see me, but that just never happens.

    Here's one recent example:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=torrey...9510&t=h&hl=en

    The other moring I was traveling north-east on Torrey Pines Road, down the hill after going through the signalled intersection at Prospect Place.

    There is a bike lane, but I was in the middle of the right lane because there was no traffic behind me at the time. When I was about 1/4 of the way to the intersection with Torrey Lane (not light or stop for me, they have a stop), I noticed traffic behind me starting to come through the intersection at Prospect, but they were not close yet; I held my position and continued, probably about 25 mph (it is downhill).

    At some point where I was getting pretty close to the Torrey Lane intersection I noticed the traffic behind me was almost close enough for it to be time to move aside into the bike lane to let them pass, but I also noticed at that point a pickup truck had just stopped at Torrey Lane, obviously about to turn right. I can virtually guarantee that had I been in the bike lane he would have pulled out right in front of me (there was still enough of a gap to the car traffic approaching), and I would have had to brake hard to avoid hitting him. As it was, with my bold positioning out in the middle of the lane, he couldn't help but see me, and waited. As soon as I passed him I moved into the bike lane and the cars behind me passed me soon thereafter.

    That's just one example, but I hope it helps illustrate the importance of lane position to avoid being cut-off like this.

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    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bubber
    As a clarification, in all instances I was "taking the lane" and was where a car would have been.
    Wow. Then, frankly, I can't explain why I never had this problem, and you do.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Keith99's Avatar
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    I think this is the problem:

    The car waits until I am almost in the intersection and then pulls out right in front of me (I don't have a stop sign in my direction).

    That is the same situation at the intersection near home where I have had it happen several times while driving. The driver ASSUMES there is a 4 way stop and assumes you will stop for the stop sign (that you do not have). Either in a car or on a bike you are screwed no matter what you do, but if you slow first at least you have a better chance to avoid an accident.

  11. #11
    hill hater nova's Avatar
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    For me its not being invisable thats the problem. I get road hogging motorists here who seem to think its not only their right but their duty to harras bike riders. Im going to get me a heap disposable camera and start taking pics and get thier plates and post them online and potentialy turn them over to the cops. I got one guy here who loves to pull along side then speed off after he gets realy close to me say foot or less. Im going to get him on camera then file assult charges.

  12. #12
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    I usually have the opposite problem. I have a stop sign, the driver does not, but stops for me anyway. I either go ahead or get involved in one of those pointless arguments about who is more polite. I think the reason for this is that so many cyclists blow through stop signs that some cagers just assume this is what will happen. (I admit that I blow through most stop signs, but never when traffic is present.)

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    I usually have no problem, but today I had an interesting one. There's a side street that is near an expressway onramp, with a gas station a few hundred feet down that street. Eastbound onramp is across from and 50 feet or so to the left from the point of view of people stopped at that stop sign.

    Today I was approaching that intersection, stopped traffic ahead of me and to the left, expressway onramp to the right. No other traffic was on my street, and I had no stop sign. A large pickup towing a large 5th wheel camper pulled up to the stop sign, and sat there for a good 30 seconds as I approached the intersection. He waited until I was almost to the intersection, then pulled out heading in my direction. I moved to the shoulder, and kept alongside his passenger window as he drove the few feet to the onramp, then he had to stop, blocking both lanes with his long trailer, for me to pass on his right, so he could turn into the onramp. While he was sitting there, a gravel truck came over the overpass and had to stop quickly to not take out his trailer.

    Why he sat there for 30 seconds waiting for me to get to the intersection, I have no idea.

  14. #14
    Senior Member
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    I had another cyclist coming in the opposite direction make a left turn in front of me. I made a big swerve and yelled "hey". He replied ... "Sorry .. I didn't see you.". Cool! I was invisible!

    d.tipton

  15. #15
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    Everything Gene said sounds reasonable, but I find it mostly untrue or unnecessary.

    I find that even on days where I'm not wearing bright clothes, motorists waiting to turn right will see me if I'm riding where they are looking, period. The theory that they are looking for a box and I'm not a box, is interesting, but it just doesn't pan out in my experience, because they do see me. Now, I might wave, stand up, weave around, buy a horn, etc., if they ever did not do something that indicated they see me, but that just never happens.
    Another example of Serge living in a special Serge world. I get the glazed eyes looking at me and not seeing me all the time. If I wave like I know the person the glazed veil falls and I see them acknowledge my presence. I do it all the time, especially when I'm just going along and a car suddenly appears on my right ready to pull out of a shopping center, off ramp or side street.
    ~Diane
    Recumbents: Lightning Thunderbolt, '06 Catrike Pocket. Upright: Trek Mountain Bike.
    8.5 mile commute. I like bike lanes.

  16. #16
    Now with racer-boy font! Moonshot's Avatar
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    FWIW, I had an interesting experience riding an upright english 3 speed to work one day.

    I cannot recall having a car pull directly in front of me at an intersection causing me to have to brake to avoid hitting the car while riding my road bike and wearing my helmet. This particular day I rode my wife's 3 speed upright english bike and forgot my helmet. I should have gone back for it, but I didn't.

    While on the english 3 speed w/o a helmet I had two cars at different times pull directly in front of me. At least on one occasion the driver seemed to wait until I was nearly in their path before they roared in front of me. I was not hugging the shoulder. I was in the middle of the lane each time.

    I guess I'd need to ride the english 3 speed for a week or two and observe whether I continue to be road bait, but I just don't have the patience to do that.

    Draw your own conclusions if any from this.

  17. #17
    Now with racer-boy font! Moonshot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes
    Another example of Serge living in a special Serge world. I get the glazed eyes looking at me and not seeing me all the time. If I wave like I know the person the glazed veil falls and I see them acknowledge my presence. I do it all the time, especially when I'm just going along and a car suddenly appears on my right ready to pull out of a shopping center, off ramp or side street.
    Excellent idea, Diane.

    A smart cyclist plays mind games with cars. Sometimes, if I'm out in the country by myself and away from anything and I hear a car or truck approaching from the rear I may look to my right like I see someone in the field. Hopefully, if the driver had malice in mind they'll think twice if someone is out in the field watching me. Paranoid? Maybe. Being hit twice from the rear by cars can have such an effect on you.

  18. #18
    Senior Member
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    Not being seen is a common thing and not just on bicycles. Years ago back in my motorcycle days I would be cut off all of the time by cars. I was riding a big bike at the time, (Honda 750/4) with the headlamp on and still cars would not see me. It has made me very carefull on my bicycle!

  19. #19
    Senior Member kb0tnv's Avatar
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    I tried my Air Horn but the guy in the truck still proceded to backup onto the road. I ended up hitting the breaks. They guy backed all the way out and I stayed where I was. I asked him if he heard my horn and he said, "no" and then "I'm sorry". I just told him "no biggie" and we parted ways. I wanted to tell him that he should pay more attention to cyclists...however I didn't think it was necessary since there are a whole new load of "Share the Road" type signs with Bikes painted on them. I have found most motorists when confronted to be "okay" they don't get mad or angry at me.. Just be prepared for the worst and don't assume they see or hear you.

    Keep Cycling,

    Jeff
    "Work to Eat, Eat to Live, Live to Bike, Bike to Work"

  20. #20
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by genec
    I think it comes from "mental filtering." While riding where you are visible and wearing highly visible clothing is important, motorists are not looking for you. You don't fit the "danger filter" they are using.
    There's a phenomenon known as "change blindness." In very simple terms, I think it suggests that people narrowly focused on looking for a particular object (cars) may fail to see other objects (bicycles). In one experiment, people instructed to concentrate on the movements of basketball players failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walking across the court. You can read more about change blindness in this interesting article.

    The scenario Bubber mentioned in the original posts seems to happen to me a lot, too (except for the high speed chase part).

  21. #21
    Senior Member va_cyclist's Avatar
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    Sometimes if I see this situation developing I'll raise a hand and point at the driver, as if to say, "don't do it." This seems to work about as well as the wave, because either they get what I'm saying, or they wonder what I'm pointing at. Either way they notice. I haven't had anyone misinterpret this as a "you go first" signal yet, but I suppose that could happen too.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by bubber
    As a side thought, if I had done the logical thing and beat the snot out of the guy, a great misunderstanding would have been created because he had no idea why I was so perturbed.
    Cars are designed to isolate people from their environment, this property is extolled in car ads in case you've never paid close attention to the things. SUV drivers routinely hit people and drag them for hundreds of feet completely unaware that they're doing so. They hit their own kids all the time just backing out of their driveways for goodness' sake!

    This is what you get when you have a whole society based on me-first and "coccooning". Car that muffles the outside world, bigscreen TV at home so you don't have to go to the movie theatre and have to interact with other people, etc.

    Car drivers will typically notice what's dangerous to them - when I rode motorcycles a good trick was to wear a helmet that looked like a cop's helmet and put a white fairing on your bike. On a bicycle it's hard to look dangerous to cars, though.

  23. #23
    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    A smart cyclist plays mind games with cars.
    I must not be a smart cyclist.
    I do play mind games with car drivers.

  24. #24
    PatronSaintOfDiscBrakes dynaryder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by genec
    I think it comes from "mental filtering." While riding where you are visible and wearing highly visible clothing is important, motorists are not looking for you. You don't fit the "danger filter" they are using. Looking for eye contact is also a bit overated as someone can look right through you at traffic behind you and appear to be looking right at you... This is especially true where side streets meet busier streets. Motorists looking way down the street can appear to be looking right at you.
    Quote Originally Posted by p8rider
    Not being seen is a common thing and not just on bicycles. Years ago back in my motorcycle days I would be cut off all of the time by cars. I was riding a big bike at the time, (Honda 750/4) with the headlamp on and still cars would not see me. It has made me very carefull on my bicycle!
    I've dealt with this for 20 yrs on my motorcycles. Not only am I larger and noisier than a bicycle,with a much larger headlight,but my full-face helmet is BRIGHT orange. Like AlertShirt orange. But I've had people look at me,make actual eye contact,and then pull. Car drivers just don't worry about things they don't think can hurt them.

    C'dale BBU('05 and '09)/Super Six/Hooligan8and 3,Kona Dew Deluxe,Novara Buzz/Safari,Surly Big Dummy,Marin Pt Reyes,Giant Defy 1,Schwinn DBX SuperSport/Qualifier,Dahon Speed Pro TT,Brompton S6L

  25. #25
    PatronSaintOfDiscBrakes dynaryder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes
    Another example of Serge living in a special Serge world.
    Agreed. Hey HH,just curious;if the OP is having these probs because he's not riding VC,then how do you explain my same experiences for the past 20 years on a motorcycle? Trust me,I ride my motorcycles vehicularly. I have a large front headlight(that I couldn't turn off if I wanted to) plus amber front running lights,I'm traveling at vehicular speeds,I've got a nice bright helmet with reflective material,and I'm following the rules(except perhaps the speed limit ),but I get pulled out on all the time.

    So what am I doing wrong on my motorcycle? Maybe after you find someone to teach me to cycle VC,you can get me someone to teach me to ride my Harley?

    To everyone else out there:if you're on/in anything smaller than a car,you're invisible. Expect the worst and don't think they'll see you. I've been riding for 2 decades like this and have yet to have a physical exchange with a car.

    C'dale BBU('05 and '09)/Super Six/Hooligan8and 3,Kona Dew Deluxe,Novara Buzz/Safari,Surly Big Dummy,Marin Pt Reyes,Giant Defy 1,Schwinn DBX SuperSport/Qualifier,Dahon Speed Pro TT,Brompton S6L

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