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Old 12-30-12, 10:11 PM   #1
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So, What Happens When You Start To Worry About Getting Hit?

Ok, I am up in the air about going to a drop bar or staying with a straight bar when I upgrade to another bike this spring. I am concerned about riding position and my visibility while riding along medium to high traffic roadways. It just seems to me that the drop bar might get me in trouble with motorists or other bikers. So, this is on my mind and then I visit Boston College during the holidays. As many of you know, a student lost his life in a horrific accident with a semi-tractor trailer rig on Commonwealth Avenue this fall and the White Bike is now locked to the light post as a memorial.

I know that you run a risk of injury just stepping into the shower every morning (just ask a friend of mine who slipped and broke her leg in the shower), but is there a reasonable way to approach the riding position issue? I realize the benefits of having drop bars, but do you find a more upright position ( I hate to use that term sometimes) helps you keep an eye on traffic? A local dealer told me he feels that his drop bar, single speed bike is best for traffic in the cities and commuter towns.

Anyway, I am just throwing this out for feedback. I'll probably feel better in the morning!

Happy New Year,

Fred
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Old 12-30-12, 10:24 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crankykentucky View Post
Ok, I am up in the air about going to a drop bar or staying with a straight bar when I upgrade to another bike this spring. I am concerned about riding position and my visibility while riding along medium to high traffic roadways. It just seems to me that the drop bar might get me in trouble with motorists or other bikers. So, this is on my mind and then I visit Boston College during the holidays. As many of you know, a student lost his life in a horrific accident with a semi-tractor trailer rig on Commonwealth Avenue this fall and the White Bike is now locked to the light post as a memorial.

I know that you run a risk of injury just stepping into the shower every morning (just ask a friend of mine who slipped and broke her leg in the shower), but is there a reasonable way to approach the riding position issue? I realize the benefits of having drop bars, but do you find a more upright position ( I hate to use that term sometimes) helps you keep an eye on traffic? A local dealer told me he feels that his drop bar, single speed bike is best for traffic in the cities and commuter towns.

Anyway, I am just throwing this out for feedback. I'll probably feel better in the morning!

Happy New Year,

Fred
The type of handlebar makes little difference. Your eyes and ears are far more important. Being aware of your surroundings goes a long ways towards your safety.
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Old 12-30-12, 10:31 PM   #3
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UUUMMMMM... How about looking up while in the drops and if your neck starts to hurt, go to the hoods or flats (<=not actual term, but you get what I mean). There are also drop bar bar ends for straight bars that you can try which look kinda silly, but same concept. I personally have no problem with visibility when in the drops, except this one time when I was looking down because my neck DID hurt, and I didn't see this guy tying his shoes in the middle of the road (-.-), luckily my ninja reflexes kicked in and dodged him.
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Old 12-30-12, 10:53 PM   #4
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Just stick a orange recumbant bike flag in your backpack or wear a cone on your head, lost visibility is now found.
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Old 12-30-12, 11:17 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Crankykentucky View Post
Ok, I am up in the air about going to a drop bar or staying with a straight bar when I upgrade to another bike this spring. I am concerned about riding position and my visibility while riding along medium to high traffic roadways. It just seems to me that the drop bar might get me in trouble with motorists or other bikers.

I realize the benefits of having drop bars, but do you find a more upright position ( I hate to use that term sometimes) helps you keep an eye on traffic? A local dealer told me he feels that his drop bar, single speed bike is best for traffic in the cities and commuter towns.
I'm with cyccommute ... I'm not sure what difference the handlebar would make to ride position. Are you assuming that if you have a drop bar, you're upper body is going to be lower than if you have a straight bar??

If that's your assumption ... you assume incorrectly.

Your upper body could be lower than if you have a straight bar, but you don't have to set it up that way.
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Old 12-31-12, 06:24 AM   #6
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Since you asked, I'm thinking it's something that worries you and no amount of verbal reassurance is going to fix that.

What's wrong with sticking with a flat bar bike? Minimizing the things that bother you, when you can, is good.
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Old 12-31-12, 07:34 AM   #7
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I have a flat bar (with bar ends) touring bike and a drop bar road bike and ride both quite a bit. I can see the OPs point but I don't think it's a significant safety issue. From the hoods or the flats I can sit up just as much as I can with the flat bar if I need to see over a car or other obstacle. In heavy traffic I don't ride the drops. Visibility (being seen) can be enhanced with choice of helmet and clothing but I too am with Cyccommute in that the most important piece of safety equipment is between your ears.
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Old 12-31-12, 07:53 AM   #8
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So, What Happens When You Start To Worry About Getting Hit?

I was hit bt a car from behind on a relatively wide, lightly traveled road in A Boston suburb, as a year-round commuter from downtown Boston (Kenmore Square), so my concern is certainly heightened by that event. Even before the accident, my two, left and right, eyeglass mounted mirrors gave me so much more confidence than when I was without them. I'm surprised that my post is the first to suggest that. BTW, I rode both road and mountain bikes on my commute, and I felt similarly safe on both. I agree with Cycocommute:

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The type of handlebar makes little difference. Your eyes and ears are far more important. Being aware of your surroundings [especially with a rearview mirror] goes a long ways towards your safety.
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Old 12-31-12, 09:21 AM   #9
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I'm with cyccommute ... I'm not sure what difference the handlebar would make to ride position. Are you assuming that if you have a drop bar, you're upper body is going to be lower than if you have a straight bar??

If that's your assumption ... you assume incorrectly.

Your upper body could be lower than if you have a straight bar, but you don't have to set it up that way.
Aside from Cycommute's point-- which I think is really the bottom line here-- Machka's point about setup is most important as well: you have the option to create an upright drop bar setup, or a low, aggressive flat bar setup. To illustrate his point, my personal preference is for aggressively low flat bars with bar ends for my DR (daily rider)/ute bike:



The other question the OP raises about riding position and visibility, well, yes, I suppose the lower someone is on the bike, the less visible, but I think the typical range of rider positions (speaking of commuter cyclists here, not, say, track racers) is equally visible, and one would have to be in a very low, very aggressive position to degrade visibility in a meaningful way.

Additionally, a bright colored helmet (the highest thing up) and daytime lights are another, simple, easy way to boost visibility.

So, my advice would be to get whichever style of bar you prefer (for whatever reasons) and make sure your most comfortable position allows you to cover your brakes and shifters, so that when you're in close quarters with cars and pedestrians, you're ready for anything road conditions may throw at you.
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Old 12-31-12, 03:13 PM   #10
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Your hips are already getting towards the top range of motorists' headlights, and are as high as the top of some sports cars. I wouldn't worry about a few inches difference in the height of your shoulders as far as being visible.

Riding skill and awareness are far more important.

For example, don't pass to the right of right-turning vehicles, or of large vehicles that could be turning right. Witness reports made that Commonwealth Ave accident sound like a classic suicide slot maneuver -- the truck was turning right when the cyclist attempted to pass on its right. The bike lane may have encouraged the rider to think this was safe, but any time you pass to the right of a motorist, you should evaluate whether that motorist might be turning right. Especially if it's a large vehicle with lousy side visibility.

The height of that rider's shoulders wouldn't have made a bit of difference; probably an SUV making the same move would still have been hit.

I'd say take some of the money you were going to spend on upgrades and put it towards a road cycling skills class, CyclingSavvy or LAB. You'll be both safer and faster if you learn good defensive traffic cycling skills.
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Old 12-31-12, 03:30 PM   #11
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Your hips are already getting towards the top range of motorists' headlights, and are as high as the top of some sports cars.
Which brings up a good point. Reflective gear should be plastered across your butt. We tend to wear reflective and bright vests in dim or dark situations, but they don't really do much good because we're leaning forward on the bicycle and headlights aren't going to light them up very much.

Instead, shorts, jersey, and jacket manufacturers should start putting a wide reflective strip across their shorts, and across the bottom of the jersey or jacket, so that the reflective strips could light up in headlights.

I've got a couple little reflective strips on the front of my shorts, and I suppose a vehicle coming toward me might pick those up, but the reflective strips should really be down the back of each leg.

We're not runners, we're cyclists, and it is our butts and hips that are sticking out there for all the world to see.
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Old 12-31-12, 04:10 PM   #12
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Whether using drops of flats, you can adjust a bike to fit your viewing needs and to enhance its safety. As far as accidents go, you have to put it all in the proper perspective; just one accident itself doesn't mean much. Any more info on the person that was hit and killed near Boston College? Was this person drunk? riding at night with no lights while wearing dark clothing? Is the area they were hit at considered risky (narrow & busy street, lots of bars/drunk drivers, etc), and are alternative routes available? Also, how many bicycle-related accidents are there in the area around Boston College, and the greater Boston area, and are those accident rates any higher than other similar areas? If this is just one person
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Old 12-31-12, 07:48 PM   #13
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The type of handlebar makes little difference. Your eyes and ears are far more important. Being aware of your surroundings goes a long ways towards your safety.
cyccommute, thanks for the reply. I talked to a dealer today that told me he takes measurements to fit a person to a bike, but then adjusts those settings over time to improve your ride as you grow into a new bike. So, he said that even with drop bars he can tailor the rider position to meet my needs and field of view. I think that some of the bikes I have tried out have been fitted only by frame size and seat height before test ride. The dealer I talked to today said there is much more to fitting a bike than those two dimensions, so I might work with him a little more.

Thanks again!
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Old 12-31-12, 07:55 PM   #14
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I use a mirror and scan it every 3-6 seconds.
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Old 12-31-12, 08:09 PM   #15
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Just stick a orange recumbant bike flag in your backpack or wear a cone on your head, lost visibility is now found.
This is a good idea. Actually, Carhartt makes a bright orange knit hat and you can get orange gloves like the cops use for directing traffic! My wife would vote for the traffic cone on my head and the recumbent flag...
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Old 12-31-12, 08:18 PM   #16
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So, What Happens When You Start To Worry About Getting Hit?

I was hit bt a car from behind on a relatively wide, lightly traveled road in A Boston suburb, as a year-round commuter from downtown Boston (Kenmore Square), so my concern is certainly heightened by that event. Even before the accident, my two, left and right, eyeglass mounted mirrors gave me so much more confidence than when I was without them. I'm surprised that my post is the first to suggest that. BTW, I rode both road and mountain bikes on my commute, and I felt similarly safe on both. I agree with Cycocommute:
Jim, this is interesting that you use two mirrors. I have to try that out. I really felt like I was doing a good job looking around and trying to anticipate any possible threat in traffic until I heard of the Commonwealth Avenue accident. Since you are more familiar with biking in Boston, maybe you know if it had gotten safer over the years or if there are still issues facing cyclists.

The Boston accident really shook up the people who work in that neighborhood. I know some of the people who commute by bike and work for a non-profit on the street where the student died. One guy stopped riding his bike for a week and then decided to just leave earlier in the morning for work in an attempt to avoid traffic. As you know, the accident between the truck and the cyclist occurred during the day. It's still not clear how fast the student was going or if he saw the truck attempting the turn.

I admire people who commute to work in Boston by bike. I think I will stick to the suburbs for a while.

Thanks again for taking time to reply to this post.

Last edited by Crankykentucky; 12-31-12 at 08:19 PM. Reason: My big thumbs
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Old 12-31-12, 08:29 PM   #17
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It's really important not to be scared around cars. It's like walking on a roof or dealing with hostile dogs -- fear will cause problems.

I have no problems with cars passing close by at high speed but 10 years ago, I suddenly started worrying about highway traffic after a friend was killed. I quit riding for 2 months but eventually got my head screwed back on.

All you can do is be visible and pay attention. I always wear a glasses mirror and consider it more important than my helmet. I think riding position has practically zero impact on visibility. Positioning and how you conduct yourself is an entirely different matter.
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Old 01-01-13, 01:30 AM   #18
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Last time I worried about getting hit was a time I came down a hill into an intersection on a 4 lane street and I had the green light. A pickup truck waiting at the light started to make a quick left as I entered the intersection. I started to worry as he started to accelerate from a stop. I was doing about 20-25 in the right-most lane and as he accelerated he got within 4' of me. He crossed my path just behind me. Afterwards I was angry with him.

But you can't fixate on events like that, you have to focus on what is happening right now. That was happening right now for only a few seconds, and the ride was 3,000 seconds long.
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Old 01-01-13, 02:01 AM   #19
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A healthy respect for drivers and roads is beneficial; fear is not. I stopped riding my motorcycle when healthy respect turned into fear. I heard the same thing from a co-worker.

I think there are a number of good suggestions pointed out here that can help with safety:

1: Defensive riding: watch motorists, never pass stopped cars on the right, watch for the right hook, etc
2: Wear bright clothing, add an orange flag, add reflective material to the bike
3: Use mirrors
4: Get a Dinotte red blinking rear light

I prefer drop bar bike even for commuting. When there is a lot of traffic and many intersections and driveways I slow down and ride on the hoods where I can brake and downshift without having to move my hands.
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Old 01-01-13, 08:26 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Crankykentucky View Post
Jim, this is interesting that you use two mirrors. I have to try that out. I really felt like I was doing a good job looking around and trying to anticipate any possible threat in traffic until I heard of the Commonwealth Avenue accident…
I got the idea for an additional right-hand mirror besides the usual left one, from an acquaintance who rode with only the right one. The advantages of two mirrors are:
  • Riding on the left-hand side of the one-way street
    Riding down the center of a wide two-way street, or in a rotary
    Riding into a curve in the road to the right
    When the sun is directly behind, often one mirror will be out of direct sunlight
When I pass through Kenmore Square outbound on the right side Comm Ave to cross over for a left-hand turn at Brookline Ave, I have to cross three lanes of traffic coming from behind, with two more lanes merging at an acute angle from the right from Beacon St. I'm comfortable doing so with the two mirrors.

A perennial argument against mirrors is that a cyclist should be able to turn and look behind themselves while keeping control of the path of the bike. I counter with Jim’s Law of the Road: “No matter of how well-paved and lightly traveled a Road is, you will likely encounter and obstacle on the right, as a vehicle passes you on the left.” In an emergent situation, I think it's difficult to turn around and view behind while maintaining total control of the path of the bike approaching an obstacle. Even then, the view behind is limited. For example, I find when being passed by one car, it's hard to tell if a second car is behind it just from the sound, and I don't think I can turn around far enough comfortably to check behind the first car.

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I use a mirror and scan it every 3-6 seconds.
Furthermore, by occasionally and easily scanning behind, one has a foreknowledge of upcoming traffic, and may not even need to look behind. My own preference is for eyeglass-mounted mirrors, since I do wear eyeglasses, and IMO such mirrors require the least head movement for rapid response while still facing forward towards the path of the bike.

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… Since you are more familiar with biking in Boston, maybe you know if it had gotten safer over the years or if there are still issues facing cyclists…
I have been cycle-commuting for about 30 years in the reverse car commuting direction (from downtown outbound to Norwood). You may have seen an analysis in the Boston Herald after that most-recent cycling fatality that Kenmore Square, and Comm Ave near Boston University are the most dangerous areas. Besides passing through them in the outbound direction, I also travel early in the morning. So I personally find my ride through the city interesting and pretty safe.

The recent Boston initiative of the bike lanes adds a modicum of safety for the cyclist, and increases drivers’ awareness, though often with some resentment. When riding in a lane as well as without one, my adage is “Consider every parked car as you would a gun--loaded--and ready to open a door in your path.” The Hubway Bike-Share program has put a lot of additional (and likely less-serious) cyclists on the road, further increasing our presence. While convalescing in Kenmore Square this summer, I was impressed by the number of cyclists passing through.

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…The Boston accident really shook up the people who work in that neighborhood. I know some of the people who commute by bike and work for a non-profit on the street where the student died. One guy stopped riding his bike for a week and then decided to just leave earlier in the morning for work in an attempt to avoid traffic. As you know, the accident between the truck and the cyclist occurred during the day. It's still not clear how fast the student was going or if he saw the truck attempting the turn.

I admire people who commute to work in Boston by bike. I think I will stick to the suburbs for a while…
Personally, having cycled extensively in Michigan and Ontario, also in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and on a USA cross country tour, I think bicycling in New England, and particularly in Metro Boston ranks among the best. The city itself is very interesting, and has been called “The City of Outdoor Rooms,” by a Boston Globe architectural writer, as opposed to other American cities described as “Cities of Towers and Cars.” The suburbs and exurbs are similarly interesting and intimate venues. Nonetheless, within about a week after my accident this June, a triathlete in training was killed by a hit-and-run on a narrow residential road in Wellesley (Weston Road as I recall). A few years ago another “serious” cyclist was fatally hit on Rte 115 in Millis, a narrow exurban road. I have ridden enjoyably on both of them.

If you really want to avoid city cycling and get out of the suburbs, as you may know you can take your bike on the MBTA Commuter Rail during off-peak hours, which includes the entire weekend in both directions, and get off in or near some bicycling meccas, such as Cape Ann, Lexington and beyond, Needham into Dover-Sherborn, Norwood into Westwood and Dover-Sherborn, and the South Shore from Hingham and further south along the coast.

Last edited by Jim from Boston; 01-01-13 at 05:31 PM.
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Old 01-01-13, 06:16 PM   #21
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A comment on riding speed. Most car on bike crashes that have happened to my friends and family members occurred at intersections when the cyclist was riding fast and the driver "didn't see" the cyclist. Whenever approaching a particularly dangerous intersection, I'd recommend slowing down a little. An oncoming car making a left turn, for example, may not realize that you are riding 25 mph. Interestingly, bikeshare crash rates tend to be lower than overall cyclist crash rates. There are different theories to this, but I attribute it to the slow top speed of bikeshare bikes. To my knowledge there have been ZERO bikeshare fatalities anywhere in the US. Cities like Boston and DC have already logged over a million trips with not one fatality. Quite impressive.
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Old 01-01-13, 07:45 PM   #22
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Which brings up a good point. Reflective gear should be plastered across your butt. We tend to wear reflective and bright vests in dim or dark situations, but they don't really do much good because we're leaning forward on the bicycle and headlights aren't going to light them up very much.
At a longer range, elevated reflective gear does make some sense -- it's visible in the upper spread of headlight beams, visible over lower cars, visible despite changes in grade that might obstruct your tail light or fenders.

But up close, more-elevated reflective gear is outside its effective angle. Compare the reflective backpack flap and helmet trim in these two photos -- the first at about 120 foot range, the second at about 30 foot range.


Conspicuity 3 by joshua_putnam, on Flickr




Rainy Day Conspicuity - Rear by joshua_putnam, on Flickr
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Old 01-01-13, 10:23 PM   #23
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But in both cases, if there were a wide reflective and hi-vis stripe across the rider's butt, the rider would be even more visible.

I also think there should be a wide reflective and hi-vis band all the way around the wrists on jackets, jerseys, etc.. Where the hands are is often the widest part of the bicycle. As you can see from your photos, the rider with the hi-vis arm warmers has much more visible arms than the other rider, which could give drivers a better idea of how wide the cyclist is.
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Old 01-06-13, 01:01 PM   #24
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Good points. Thanks!
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Old 01-06-13, 01:51 PM   #25
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Where did you get the neon arm warmers?
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