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Old 04-13-05, 08:44 PM   #1
Laika
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I have a hard time looking over my shoulder

I mean, I do it...I always try to check over my shoulder whe I move laterally...my problem is that, when I'm on the bike, I have a hard time interpreting what I see. When I drive, I can look in the mirrors or check my blind spots and understand immediately what I see. On the bike, 90% of the time, what I see whe I look over my shoulder is a blur. Any suggestions on how to see better when I look OTS?
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Old 04-13-05, 08:48 PM   #2
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I have the same problem myself, especially at night when I can't distinguish the cars headlamps for my wife headlight.
I've been thinking about getting a mirror, but can't overcome the total dork feeling.
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Old 04-13-05, 08:54 PM   #3
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A helmet or glasses mounted mirror works very well for seeing behind you. There is at least one manufacturer of a very tiny mirror designed to stick onto the inside corner of your sunglasses. I've never used one of these, but if it works would be quite stealthy in the dork department.
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Old 04-13-05, 09:04 PM   #4
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Helmet mirror. I'd rather be a safe and dorky than dead and cool.
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Old 04-13-05, 09:59 PM   #5
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Push your chin down into your shoulder when you look back. It makes it easier to look without swerving. Make sure you take a good look forward to take stock of any obstacles before you do so, and then you can look over a little longer, possibly.
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Old 04-14-05, 04:06 AM   #6
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I pretty much do what Hawkear does for looking back. I also have a big honkin' bar end mounted mirror, but I'm at an age where I have the luxury of not caring about the dork status.

One thing I've found out is cagers don't see you looking in the mirror. However, looking back over your should seems to say, "HEY, watch now, I might be moving over."
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Old 04-14-05, 04:09 AM   #7
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what I find that helps is if you put one hand on your hip when looking behind it gives you much more balance and you can look behind for a bit longer, which may help you.
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Old 04-14-05, 04:39 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by supcom
A helmet or glasses mounted mirror works very well for seeing behind you. There is at least one manufacturer of a very tiny mirror designed to stick onto the inside corner of your sunglasses. I've never used one of these, but if it works would be quite stealthy in the dork department.
I have this very mirror, it's called a "Viewpoint" mirror and works rather well so long as your glasses permit it, you have to get glasses that do not wrap around but sort of pertrude to the side with a small flange.
No one even knows I have a mirror on these and they do not interfere when you are wearing the glasses sans bike.
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Old 04-14-05, 04:51 AM   #9
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I got a helmet mirror a month or so ago and love it. As to looking back, practice in a parking lot or on a little-used road or bike path. Try to practice near a pavement line, so you can test your ability to ride in a straight line while looking back. Good luck.
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Old 04-14-05, 04:53 AM   #10
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Mirrors can be useful, but it's still a good idea to tackle the real problem - that of control.

Get some chalk.
Go find a big empty parking lot or similar.
Draw two parallel lines
Ride along it while trying to look clearly behind you, and stay within the lines.
Practice, practice, practice.

I know it seems like an awful waste of time, but it'll help not just with looking behind you, but also to enhance your sense of control.

We did that when I was a child during cycling lessons. If it worked then, it should work fine for you.

Have a few cold beers at hand to reward yourself after such a tedious exercise. Enjoy.
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Old 04-14-05, 08:36 AM   #11
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thanks all for the suggestions & advice. very much appreciated.
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Old 04-14-05, 10:08 AM   #12
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Been riding my road bike lately, which does not have a mirror... and I have to agree that the act of turning and looking back felt ackward at first... After practicing it for a bit, I it is now quite comfortable and indeed does tend to signal that "I am looking to move."

I find that shifting my hand to the upper part of the drop bars, just inside the brake handles offers me the best control... you have to practice a bit to ensure that you don't swerve. But the whole action is a lot like simply twisting at the waist.

You do have to be firmly in the saddle... and the right side of your body rather "locks" the bike into the direction you were going.

Of course, before actually doing this, make sure there are no obstructions on the road ahead... very important!

At night it is tough... but so is using a mirror.

On my commuter I have a Mirrycle handle bar mirror, and it offers a pretty good view. I never have liked the helmet or glasses mirrors... but that is my choice.
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Old 04-14-05, 10:40 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laika
I mean, I do it...I always try to check over my shoulder whe I move laterally...my problem is that, when I'm on the bike, I have a hard time interpreting what I see. When I drive, I can look in the mirrors or check my blind spots and understand immediately what I see. On the bike, 90% of the time, what I see whe I look over my shoulder is a blur. Any suggestions on how to see better when I look OTS?
Just give it some time, Laika. It is a skill worth learning.

Remember when you were learning to ride a bike? You probably had a hard time at first.

Suggestions?
Take a good, long look. If the look over your shoulder is too brief, is it because you are swerving?
If you are swerving, try sitting up before you look over your shoulder.
If you look over your left shoulder, take your left hand off the bars so you can turn your whole torso insteard of just your head. Some say that pointing behind you with your left hand helps minimize the swerve, but that's the same thing.
Have patience - you can do it!
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Old 04-14-05, 11:11 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laika
I mean, I do it...I always try to check over my shoulder whe I move laterally...my problem is that, when I'm on the bike, I have a hard time interpreting what I see. When I drive, I can look in the mirrors or check my blind spots and understand immediately what I see. On the bike, 90% of the time, what I see whe I look over my shoulder is a blur. Any suggestions on how to see better when I look OTS?
I would get a rear view mirror--i think helmet mounted is best, but there are many pros and cons-- and then i wouldn't ""LOOK"" over my shoulder any more. You might "glance" very quickly over your shoulder from time to time, but the problem with turning your head is it takes your eyes off the most important part of the road (the road in front of you!) at the very time you need it the most. Nor, as you say, is the view all that clear.

I have a complete view of the road and (almost) total understanding with my rear view mirror; i rarely look back unless I want to move left into a lane, and I wouldn't do that unless a car was far enough back i could monitor them in my rear view mirror anyway.

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Old 04-15-05, 02:31 AM   #15
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I think we missed a step in the looking-back process. Roughstuff is right to point out the problem that you can't look forward when looking back. The solution is to make sure you carefully scan the road ahead before looking back. (This is a point that Hurst repeatedly makes in The Art of Urban Cycling.)

Mirrors can eliminate the need to look back just to see what's approaching. But I think it's good to look back before lane position because it signals drivers that you are thinking about moving.

I practice the look back when I am on the path or the road by myself. I just position my ride over the dotted line and do it over and over and over again. You'd think it would be easy, but it's hard to look back without swerving. Good luck.
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Old 04-15-05, 02:50 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genec
...and I have to agree that the act of turning and looking back felt ackward at first... After practicing it for a bit, I it is now quite comfortable and indeed does tend to signal that "I am looking to move."
Congratulations, Gene, this is an important skill that's absolutely required to be able to cycle vehicularly. The power of the communication effect of a good look back over the shoulder is very cool to experience, isn't it?

Vehicular cycling gives the cyclist a sense of control, freedom and satisfaction in traffic that is simply not possible with traditional "keep to the right/BL" cycling. Messenger-style cycling achieves this as well, perhaps even to a greater degree, but with compromises in safety and legal status that I find unacceptable.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Daily Commute
The solution is to make sure you carefully scan the road ahead before looking back.
Absolutely. A very good point. I just reviewed Forester's section on "Looking Behind" in EC (p. 197), and he does not stress this point. He does start the section by pointing out that, "It is easy to look ahead and see whether the road is empty of slower-moving traffic or stationary objects, but it is harder to look behind you to see that no faster vehicles are so close that you will dangerously interfere with their movement". Then he describes how to do it, claiming that 50% of adult American cyclists do not do it, and that it can be learned with about 10 minutes of practice.

Sadly, in the typical Forester style, after urging you to learn to look back, he refers to those who have not yet learned as idiots, thus implying that you (who presumably also had to learn to look back) too are an idiot: "So once you have learned, watch out for the idiots who haven't".


Quote:
Mirrors can eliminate the need to look back just to see what's approaching. But I think it's good to look back before lane position because it signals drivers that you are thinking about moving.
Absolutely. This cannot be emphasized enough. A mirror check never give you as good a view as an actual shoulder check, and, as you point out, a mirror check does not communicate what a shoulder check does. A mirror check should never substitute for an actual shoulder check look back.

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Old 04-15-05, 03:11 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Helmet Head
A mirror check should never substitute for an actual shoulder check look back.
This is true for any vehicle IMO. I learned to drive in a car that had no side mirrors and as a result I ALWAYS turned my head to look, even in other cars. It's this practice that I'm trying to carryover into cycling, and I've mastered the mechanics of turning to look...my problem, really, is in assessing the information gained by the look back. Aside from the enthusiastic mirror advocacy, the most useful thing I've seen here so far from all the kind and thoughtful suggestions has been to increase the length of time I spend looking. I'm going to try to work on that.

As for the benefits of being seen as you turn your head, I agree, and yet have to say the head turn is the least noticable thing I do in traffic to communicate my intentions. I''ve largely abandoned traditional hand/arm signals in favor of big, broad, unambiguous hand/arm signals, namely a noticable wave to the motorist and then an emphatic pointing motion at the space I'm going to occupy once I move. I've gotten good results in Brooklyn & downtown Manhattan this way...most cars will back off a little, even.

Thanks again for all the advice, folks.
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Old 04-15-05, 03:14 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Helmet Head
Congratulations, Gene, this is an important skill that's absolutely required to be able to cycle vehicularly. The power of the communication effect of a good look back over the shoulder is very cool to experience, isn't it?

Vehicular cycling gives the cyclist a sense of control, freedom and satisfaction in traffic that is simply not possible with traditional "keep to the right/BL" cycling. Messenger-style cycling achieves this as well, perhaps even to a greater degree, but with compromises in safety and legal status that I find unacceptable.

Serge
Good advice on the over the shoulder look, though I don't think it can be emphasized enough how important it is to hold your line during this manuever. I saw a few posts mention trying not to swerve, but I see many cyclists doing more of a slow drift as they look behind, rather than an out and out swerve, and this could be just as dangerous.

And not to hijack this thread, but how would you define messenger-style cycling, and what portions would you define as unsafe and illegal?
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Old 04-15-05, 03:30 PM   #19
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And not to hijack this thread, but how would you define messenger-style cycling, and what portions would you define as unsafe and illegal?
Probably the style advocated by Hurst in The Art of Urban Cycling and Bicyclesafe.com.
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Old 04-15-05, 04:38 PM   #20
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Maybe "messenger-style cycling" was not the best choice of words. What I was picturing was the style depicted in this video:

http://www.digave.com/videos/red-web.mpg

I can't speak for the style advocated by Hurst in The Art, for I have yet to read it. I certainly was not talking about bicyclesafe.com, which is very close to VC, and does not advocate anythingthat I would consider to be unacceptable compromises in safety and legal status.
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Old 04-15-05, 05:12 PM   #21
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Further, I don't think the bicyclesafe.com style qualifies as giving "the cyclist a sense of control, freedom and satisfaction in traffic that is simply not possible with traditional 'keep to the right/BL' cycling", not the way VC does.
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Old 04-15-05, 05:56 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Helmet Head
Maybe "messenger-style cycling" was not the best choice of words. What I was picturing was the style depicted in this video:

http://www.digave.com/videos/red-web.mpg

I can't speak for the style advocated by Hurst in The Art, for I have yet to read it. I certainly was not talking about bicyclesafe.com, which is very close to VC, and does not advocate anythingthat I would consider to be unacceptable compromises in safety and legal status.
Aw come on. It's quite obvious that video isn't the poster boy for advocating safety.

That video is simply amazing. Of course all you VC do-gooders will splash the hate on it. No one in their right mind would watch it and go. HEY LOOK, THATS HOW WE SHOULD BIKE EVERYDAY!
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Old 04-15-05, 06:07 PM   #23
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Of course all you VC do-gooders will splash the hate on it. No one in their right mind would watch it and go. HEY LOOK, THATS HOW WE SHOULD BIKE EVERYDAY!
You're reading into what I said. I never said anything that should be construed as hate, nor did I say or imply that anyone was recommending it. I love that film.

All I said what that the type of cycling depicted in that video, like VC, is consistent with having "a sense of control, freedom and satisfaction in traffic that is simply not possible with traditional 'keep to the right/BL' cycling."

But the difference is that VC can give you the same sense of control, freedom and satisfaction in traffic depicted in the film, without the unacceptable compromises in safety and legal status.
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Old 04-15-05, 06:32 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Helmet Head
Congratulations, Gene, this is an important skill that's absolutely required to be able to cycle vehicularly. The power of the communication effect of a good look back over the shoulder is very cool to experience, isn't it?

Vehicular cycling gives the cyclist a sense of control, freedom and satisfaction in traffic that is simply not possible with traditional "keep to the right/BL" cycling. Messenger-style cycling achieves this as well, perhaps even to a greater degree, but with compromises in safety and legal status that I find unacceptable.
Frankly this is a skill I had a long time ago, as well as looking under my arms (upside down) behind me. But when I transitioned from drop bars to flat bars (for regular commuting), and a mirror, I began to look back more as motorist would... Good look in the mirror, and just a glance back.

Since my flat bar bike needs some work, I am back to the drop bars (clean bike, with no racks, mirrors or anything) and initially I really missed that mirror... I laughed at how many times I looked for it. (hey, there's nothing there... )

It took a few days to re-aquire the right move to twist my upper body to give a good look back.

Yes indeed, the drivers do notice, and actually I had one lady almost come to a complete stop while I was just checking the traffic... she was ready to let me in right then and there.

Now in reality I will not ride that drop bar bike in regular commuting... my position is too far down and tucked (it is still a blast to ride though...) and it is somewhat difficult to really keep track of heavy traffic. The "full body look back" depends on a good forward look first... and in heavy traffic, one does not have the guarantee that the forward traffic situation will remain static for that long.

I find that the flat bar bike with the mirror gives me a far better look at traffic, in heavy traffic. But from this I have learned (or relearned) that I have to make really big gestures for the motorists. That darn arm signal is just not enough...

So when I get my commuting "truck" back on the road, I will try to remember to do more than just a "motorists' glance back."
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Old 04-15-05, 06:44 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laika
This is true for any vehicle IMO. I learned to drive in a car that had no side mirrors and as a result I ALWAYS turned my head to look, even in other cars. It's this practice that I'm trying to carryover into cycling, and I've mastered the mechanics of turning to look...my problem, really, is in assessing the information gained by the look back. Aside from the enthusiastic mirror advocacy, the most useful thing I've seen here so far from all the kind and thoughtful suggestions has been to increase the length of time I spend looking. I'm going to try to work on that.

As for the benefits of being seen as you turn your head, I agree, and yet have to say the head turn is the least noticable thing I do in traffic to communicate my intentions. I''ve largely abandoned traditional hand/arm signals in favor of big, broad, unambiguous hand/arm signals, namely a noticable wave to the motorist and then an emphatic pointing motion at the space I'm going to occupy once I move. I've gotten good results in Brooklyn & downtown Manhattan this way...most cars will back off a little, even.

Thanks again for all the advice, folks.

The head look back does not communicate nearly as well as a full body look back... I too always look back... after thinking I have the situation in my mind from the mirror... I then look to confirm it. I call this the "motorists' glance back."

The "full upper body look back" though tends to show more of a "I am looking for a place to merge..." it takes a bit more time, as you now have to assess the whole scene in that look... not just verify what you saw in the mirror... needless to say... you better know what is in front of you first... and hold your line as you look back.
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