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  1. #1
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    Observations from some real-world "Static-Lane-Positioning" testing

    So it's Saturday night and the stars are coming out. I'd just finished sticking some reflective tape to the rims of my Cannondale loaded-touring bike, and decided heck, I want to ride up Highway 195 to Spangle tonight.



    I grabbed most of my visibility arsenal.
    • Bright-colored jacket with white sleeves
    • ANSI Class III reflective vest
    • Reflective legbands, two of which are LED-illuminated
    • Reflective wristbands
    • Self-illuminating reflective belt
    • BOTH of my NiteRider light systems, the HID and the dual-beam halogen
    • A single Planet Bike SuperFlash on the rack bag (strobing)
    • My NiteRider superblinkie on my chainstay (steady-fire)
    • My new Planet Bike Blinky 5 on my helmet's RocLoc crossband (flashing)
    • And of course the Nova on the rear rack, running quad-flash. w00t!
    • ...plus the bike's fenders are coated with DOT Class 2 Conspicuity Tape like you see on semi trailers, and it has two big DOT rear reflectors, and the new reflective tape on the rims.


    a flash shot by my trusty Canon

    Summary: dork city But whatever, I'm old enough not to care. I also packed a peanut-butter sandwich (creamy) and a Thermos of coffee, because this was a 37mi / 60km ride.



    The Ride, Part 1: Divided Highway
    Highway 195 is a divided highway going up the grade towards Spangle. There are two traffic lanes on each side of the divided highway, plus a full-lane shoulder. It's mostly straightstretches separated by gentle corners, so sight distances are great. Going up the grade, I decided to observe the general reaction to my rather spectacular visibility equipment while riding at the rightmost edge of the full-lane shoulder. Motorists were overtaking me with probably a 50mph / 80kph speed differential. Because of my extreme-right position on the shoulder, a car going up the center of the right lane would be something like 5-6 meters to my left. On this part of the ride, I was probably passed by ~100-150 cars.


    my, Grandmother, what big shoulders you have!

    Results on divided highway
    I didn't keep precise stats, but I'd estimate that over 90% of overtaking motorists changed from the right traffic lane to the left lane well in advance of passing me. That's despite my already being waaaay over at the right edge of a huge shoulder, where some people would say I'd be "irrelevant." For some of the motorists, I counted the approximate seconds between their lane changes and their passing me. Generally they were changing lanes between 15 and 30 seconds back, which would be around 350-700 meters back, but some even further.

    Of the motorists that didn't change lanes, it seemed there were two trends. (1) they had a short line-of-sight to me {I stopped in a corner to see how the reactions might change**, or (2) they were following another motorist who hadn't changed lanes to pass me either. Some were boxed in and couldn't change lanes. Of those that didn't change lanes, most of them did edge over to the lane marker, and a few were observed to move partway over the lane marker.

    Almost none of the motorists seemed to slow down, as best I could judge from engine noise as they came up the grade. One car did slow down to about 35mph AND change lanes; I think it was old folks.

    My off-the-cuff conclusions
    This really shoots holes in the idea that a significant percentage of motorists mentally fail to "compute" stuff on the shoulder (or bike lane) as "relevant" because of it being located on the shoulder; or to put it another way, because it's not definitely in their vehicle's physical path. >90% "confirmed-kill" ratio, as evidenced by them changing lanes to get an additional lane between themselves and something on the furthest edge of the shoulder, pretty much clinches it. The fact that it's an unusually-powerful visibility system is beside the point; they're moving over, despite it NOT being in their vehicle's physical path, and despite it being on the shoulder. Of the remaining ~10% that didn't do an actual lane change, most did move away from me.

    It also underlines what I've been saying around here: particularly in the dark, a good visibility solution can be effective at very long range, waaaay longer than the range at which a motorist can get visual confirmation that yep, it's a bicycle and it's definitely in my own lane. Using center-of-lane positioning would be pretty pointless, because by the time the motorists get to me, they've been in the other lane for 1/4 to 1/2-mile already. To get into their vehicle's path, I'd have to pull into the left lane myself.

    From the fact that the motorists didn't seem to be slowing down, I doubt I was being viewed as a hindrance.



    The Ride, Part 2: two-way highway
    After Highway 195 gets up onto the plateau, it eventually merges into two-way highway with one lane in each direction, plus a somewhat-narrower shoulder varying mostly from 2 to 3 meters wide. I kept riding near the right edge of the shoulder and kept observing motorists.


    two-way highway just outside Spangle

    Results on two-way highway
    After the divided highway merged into two-way highway, almost none of the motorists made a lane change into the oncoming lane in order to pass me. That's despite my being a bit closer to them, due to the shoulder getting a bit narrower. I kept on up the highway past Spangle, then stopped for a snack break.

    My thoughts on these results
    Notice the contrast. Given two lanes in their direction, motorists changed lanes. Given just one lane in each direction, they didn't. Nothing else really changed... same visibility equipment, same overall group of motorists. My conclusion: you can't always judge whether you've been seen by what the motorists do with their cars. I'm sure just as many of them saw the Nova, etc, from just as far away, but almost none of them gave the previous reaction because of the lack of another traffic lane to move into.



    The Ride, Part 3: The Snack Break
    I stopped and took a posed photo of the Good Ship Cannondale, then ate my peanut-butter sandwich and had some coffee before heading back.


    slow-shutter shot with some flashlight illumination to show the reflective tape

    Results of the snack break
    Peanut-butter sandwiches never go out of style. And a full Thermos of coffee can remain sufficiently hot, even after riding for a couple hours at night, that it's NOT a good idea to spill it on your leg!

    My conclusions from the snack break
    Next time, I'm going to bring TWO sandwiches and be a little more cautious with that coffee.


    And then I rode back the way I came, and kept observing the motorists on both the 2-way and divided highway, and rode up the dangerous Hatch Road climb along with the folks heading home from a Saturday night on the town.

    So take that for what you will. It's real-world data that must be accounted for by any hypothesis hoping to graduate to a theory.


    The Cannondale on the chargers after its big adventure. You can see most of its visibility features here. Note the NiteRider superblinkie on the chainstay, I stuck it down there for this ride to give additional vertical "spread" between the lights.

  2. #2
    Senior Member tomcryar's Avatar
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    If the post was just a little bit longer, I would have something to contribute............
    Last edited by tomcryar; 09-24-06 at 03:10 AM.

  3. #3
    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    I have long noted that at night when we're properly "lit up" we seem to get more space then we do during the day in similar circumstances. This is probably because at night a bright "lit up" cyclist is more unusual and more "relevant"... more inherently noticable... than a cyclist during the day.

    If nothing else, because it's dark, there is less visible "noise" out there for us to compete against, so our relatively small size does not work against us nearly as much at night as it does during the day. As such, it may be true that the differences in conspicuity in various lateral positions does not make as big a difference at night (for a "lit up" cyclist) as it seems to during the day.

    Your test confirmed all this. Thanks.

  4. #4
    Conservative Hippie
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    Excellent test and report, Mech.

    I, too, have found that many drivers will move to the left to at least some degree in passing. This is when I'm riding the paved shoulder of a two lane highway, 60 mph speed limit. A few won't. Most will slow to some degree. A few won't. Some don't do either even if there's no on-coming traffic. These are the ones to watch out for. This is a situation where the cyclist has to play to the lowest common denominator and why I ride in the center of the traffic lane to ensure being seen when there are no close vehicles approaching from the rear. However, when being approached from the rear I will extend them the courtesy of shifting to the right to expedite their passing, if it's safe for me to do so.

    It's hard for me to say if they move or slow more at night than during the day, because there are so few cars on the road when I do my morning commute. One morning I got passed by eight motor vehicles, once in a while I get passed by none in an eight mile commute.

    I do think at night I might be given more room, because with the lights I have a much larger visible "footprint". I am noticeable much earlier, from as far away as they can see down the road, with very little ambient light (8 street lights, one convience store and one country club on the 6 mile highway portion of my normal route) any additional lighting cannot, not be seen. In speaking with a co-worker one morning recently, he was able to see my taillights from over a mile away. The first thing that caught his attention was the flashing bank of the Cateye TL-LD1000.

    What I have found riding this route, is that closer passing happens much more often on the 3 mile stretch with paved shoulders, when I'm on the shoulder, than on the 3 mile stretch of two-lane, NOL, 55 mph speed limit when I'm in or to the left of the right tire track.
    Last edited by CommuterRun; 09-24-06 at 05:36 AM.

  5. #5
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    Very nice mech.

    A favorite route takes me over a bridge, I must have ridden over it 100 times in the dark by now and more than 100 during the day.
    I started experimenting with taillights just for this bridge. One lane each way and enough space for a cyclist beside the cars. Speed limit ? It's easy to see there are no cops on this bridge......no one cares.....
    mostly 40 mph ? But it is a good place to speed without getting caught.

    Almost all the time I get more space when a car is passing at night. More often than not at night, drivers will slow down and move over before they get to me. During the day most drivers do not slow down or move over. I can see what the drivers are doing in my helmet mirror way behind me day and night.

    My experience from driving over the bridge at night and approaching a cyclist with a good taillight is much higher than a hundred times. Compared to seeing a bike during the day it is much easier. One can not really tell how wide this "thing" in the road is, if you're not a cyclist it's not clear what it is at first. It might be workers on the bridge, an accident, a cop, who knows? The only thing you can do to be safe is slow down and move way over. Also at night there is not a steady stream of cars coming the other way, so it is easier to move over.

    I can never be 100% sure why I get more room at night, but I am much less likely to be passed too close or sideswiped at night. I am 100% positive there is more contrast and it is easier to see me at night.

    Also a flash photo of one of my bikes with the lights turned off.
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  6. #6
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helmet Head
    ... at night a bright "lit up" cyclist is more unusual and more "relevant"... more inherently noticable... than a cyclist during the day. ...
    Bicycle illumination technology has come a LONG way in 35 years, but even back in my humble German generator - American reflective tape - French strap-on arm and leg light days, and even on well-lighted Los Angeles streets, people commented that I was more "visible" (noticed?) at night than by day.

    So much for the "never ride at night" safety admonition. Having said that, I have equipped only the mountain bike and the Peugeot UO-8 beater with lights, because I feel a bit safer and more in control on wider tires, should I fail to notice a pothole or other road hazard in the dark. I suppose a lighting system which intensely illuminates the roadway itself would address this concern.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
    Capo [dschaw'-poe]: 1959 Modell Campagnolo, S/N 40324; 1960 Sieger, S/N 42624
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  7. #7
    Can't ride enough! Da Tinker's Avatar
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    Cool test. I do wonder how much of the drivers standing way off on the divided highway was a 'what the heck is THAT' deal?

    But when night riding, I really don't care if motorists know what I am, as long as they know I'm there.
    Happiness begins with facing life with a smile & a wink.

  8. #8
    ♋ ☮♂ ☭ ☯ -=(8)=-'s Avatar
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    Wow....I just lost a bet.
    I bet I would never find ANYTHING useful in A&S !!


    Really though...great stuff !
    I have found cars give me more room in the fall when Im all
    lit up too....When one is approaching from front or back I weave
    a little and find they slow down out of curiosity not knowing what is
    attached to the wiggly light until they get closer.....
    Of course you risk getting 3000 watt, hi-beam scorched too,
    -ADVOCACY-☜ Radical VC = Car people on bikes. Just say "NO"

  9. #9
    Weapons grade stupidity wneumann's Avatar
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    I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to reject these findings out of hand due to your use of creamy peanut butter for the sandwich. If you managed to do that, goodness know what other terrible mistakes you may have made during your experiment.

    Heh. Good stuff, but next time, use crunchy.

  10. #10
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    *mechBgon talking to himself (in photo) *

    OK..OK this is perfect...

    I know I can get this light on my bike before they come back..yeah..perfect....
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  11. #11
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    Thanks, mech. This is really helpful.

  12. #12
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wneumann
    I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to reject these findings out of hand due to your use of creamy peanut butter for the sandwich. If you managed to do that, goodness know what other terrible mistakes you may have made during your experiment.

    Heh. Good stuff, but next time, use crunchy.
    Creamy peanut butter is good for something. It works great as bait for mouse traps.

    Mech: Your incompetent use of the wrong P-B indicates you are in need of further training by those who are expert in the subject. Other than that faux pas, good posting!

    BTW aren't time exposures fun?
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    Senior Member serpico7's Avatar
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    Thanks for the test and report Mech! I probably wouldn't have tried that on a Saturday night - your extreme visibility may not save you from a drunken motorist.

  14. #14
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wneumann
    I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to reject these findings out of hand due to your use of creamy peanut butter for the sandwich. If you managed to do that, goodness know what other terrible mistakes you may have made during your experiment.

    Heh. Good stuff, but next time, use crunchy.
    D'oh! There goes the Scientific American article deal

    Creamy peanut butter is good for something. It works great as bait for mouse traps.

    Mech: Your incompetent use of the wrong P-B indicates you are in need of further training by those who are expert in the subject. Other than that faux pas, good posting!
    Maybe the creamy peanut butter is why the motorists didn't change lanes on the 2-way section of the highway? That, and I had no coffee creamer either!

    BTW aren't time exposures fun?
    Nice!

    Thanks for the test and report Mech! I probably wouldn't have tried that on a Saturday night - your extreme visibility may not save you from a drunken motorist.
    Near the far end of the excursion, I did see a pretty close shave... two cars were overtaking me, and one pulled out to pass, head-on at an oncoming car coming towards us. The oncoming car had to pull onto the opposite shoulder to avoid getting hit. Yikes. But if you think this ride was dangerous, envision the same highway at 28°F in the evening rush hour in winter, with a 4-inch snowfall in progress. That's when it gets fun


    no, I'm serious.

    I have long noted that at night when we're properly "lit up" we seem to get more space then we do during the day in similar circumstances. This is probably because at night a bright "lit up" cyclist is more unusual and more "relevant"... more inherently noticable... than a cyclist during the day.

    If nothing else, because it's dark, there is less visible "noise" out there for us to compete against, so our relatively small size does not work against us nearly as much at night as it does during the day. As such, it may be true that the differences in conspicuity in various lateral positions does not make as big a difference at night (for a "lit up" cyclist) as it seems to during the day.
    Actually I often get the same result in daylight up there, particularly from pro truckers: lane changes from very long range on the divided highway, despite my riding on the shoulder as I've done on that highway since the late '80s.

    Anyway, it's good to see you don't believe that being on the opposite side of a white line arbitrarily makes cyclists irrelevant. Some people around here seem to think it does.

    Quote Originally Posted by 2manybikes
    *mechBgon talking to himself (in photo) *

    OK..OK this is perfect...

    I know I can get this light on my bike before they come back..yeah..perfect....
    Aaack, The Voices are ratting on me!

  15. #15
    Desert tortise lsits's Avatar
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    Don't let the crunchy peanut butter nazis get to you. Creamy peanut butter is the way to go. Goes good by itself in a sandwich, with concord grape jelly in a sandwigh, on Ritz crackers, on celery, and with bananas. Lets see crunchy do all that.
    Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then. - Bob Seger

  16. #16
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    I vote for creamy too--useful as emergency chain lube, while crunchy gets stuck in the bushings.

    Great report mech!


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  17. #17
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody
    I vote for creamy too--useful as emergency chain lube, while crunchy gets stuck in the bushings.

    Great report mech!


    Just watch out for the squirrels trying to get the chain !
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  18. #18
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2manybikes
    Just watch out for the squirrels trying to get the chain !
    Actually, squirrels prefer the chunky.


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  19. #19
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lsits
    Don't let the crunchy peanut butter nazis get to you. Creamy peanut butter is the way to go. Goes good by itself in a sandwich, with concord grape jelly in a sandwigh, on Ritz crackers, on celery, and with bananas. Lets see crunchy do all that.
    Between the Crunchy-Peanut-Butter nazis and the Genuine Maple Syrup nazis, I live in constant fear

  20. #20
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody
    Actually, squirrels prefer the chunky.



    Quote Originally Posted by mechBgon
    Between the Crunchy-Peanut-Butter nazis and the Genuine Maple Syrup nazis, I live in constant fear

    Food? What Food? Where? You got FOOD !? where is it ?
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  21. #21
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    Food? What Food? Where? You got FOOD !? where is it ?
    I shipped it more than a week ago, Bailey, honest! Try using that tracking number, it was sent pawprint-on-delivery.

  22. #22
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mechBgon
    I shipped it more than a week ago, Bailey, honest! Try using that tracking number, it was sent pawprint-on-delivery.


    ---------------------------------------

    You wouldn't lie to me, would you? You know I can sense fear, right?
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  23. #23
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    Awwww, cute doggie...

  24. #24
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lsits
    Don't let the crunchy peanut butter nazis get to you. Creamy peanut butter is the way to go. Goes good by itself in a sandwich, with concord grape jelly in a sandwigh, on Ritz crackers, on celery, and with bananas. Lets see crunchy do all that.
    Don't tell me, you aren't one of those spandex heathen who buys/steals Peter Pan Brand or some other weasel preferred P-B? Real men eat only Skippy.

  25. #25
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mechBgon
    Awwww, cute doggie...

    slurp,slurp ...woof.....
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

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