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How to "Flow" with traffic, levels of assertiveness, and other questions

Old 09-18-21, 02:33 AM
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Dr1v3n
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How to "Flow" with traffic, levels of assertiveness, and other questions

I've been cycling for about 5 months now, and currently avg 75 miles per week.

I live in California near the beach. I really enjoy riding up the coast, but as you'd expect there's a ton of traffic in this area in general. I've always been a very alert person, and I've applied this to my cycling as well. Even in cars, I'm generally pretty good at predicting what other drivers are about to do. Frankly, I have a collection of "newbie riding in traffic" questions, and I'm just going to list them each below. Any guidance you offer would be appreciated. When I say "in traffic", I am generally referring to being on a paved road either in lanes with cars directly, OR on the side of the road in a bike lane.

1. Is it pretty normal to have to hit the brakes a lot more when riding in traffic?

I find that I end up hitting my brakes, for example on a hill when I am going over about 20-25mph if I see a driveway coming up with a car approaching, because I do not trust that the driver has seen me and will for sure stop. Another example is say there is a green traffic signal at the bottom of a super steep hill. I will often brake multiple times while going down the hill even if I wouldn't usually need to, because if the signal were to turn red before I got to the bottom, I would then have to try to slam my brakes on going 30-35mph or fly through oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, having to do this constantly when the roads are busy sorta kills the joy of the ride at times.

2. Do combinations of road conditions cause you to make more mistakes?

This one is a bit tricky to explain, but it doesn't usually happen when I am driving in my car; it's unique to cycling for me. So let me give an example:

I generally don't have an issue signalling my turns. However, there are times when I am going very fast down a hill in the drops approaching a turn, or I am approaching a turn and there are a bunch of potholes, so I don't feel comfortable taking my hand off of the bars, and thus skip signalling. Sometimes this confuses drivers and has resulted in close-calls. But I don't really know how I would solve this problem because other times I've tried to slow way down in order to attempt to signal when I feel safe, but then that caused drivers to also be confused, become impatient, try to cut me off at a turn, etc... Basically, the difference here is that in a car, I can just turn on the turn signal, but on a bike, my balance, the road surface, and many other factors come into play and sometimes actually following the law can be unsafe. I notice that this tends to happen more when I am riding on roads I've never ridden on before; sometimes a series of quick surprises will pop up and distract me. For example, a pedestration starts walking out, causing me to move left, but when I move left I forget to check and almost go in front of a car, etc.. Any suggestions for these "combo attack" type of issues?

3. Can being too "nice"/passive be more dangerous?

I've noticed a trend where the times that I try to be too "polite" or "nice" on the road often ends up backfiring, confusing drivers, or leading drivers to try and pull risky stunts on me. For example, we have these "bikes may take up the full lane" signs around here, which is nice. I sometimes see bicyclists still try to stay to the very right side of the road. When I've done this though (in an attempt to be polite), I get cars trying to squeeze past me, sometimes nearly clipping me. But when I ride dead-center in the road, they cannot do this, and if they do choose to do this, they risk their safety rather than mine because it forces them to illegally go in oncoming traffic lane if they are impatient. I've also noticed that when I try to remain in the bike lane on the right side of the road at traffic signals, drivers making a right turn tend to sometimes miss me and they try to make a right and cut me off or make a right directly into me. However, the times that I've left the bike lane maybe 300 feet before the right turn lane and just gone into the middle of the straight lane, it seems much safer for me because nobody can suddenly come over and make a right into me like that; or at least that would be much less common.

4. My next question is about "flow" and in the subject of this thread. I've seen many, many city videos like this:


I would not and frankly have no intention of driving this "aggressively" by any means, but one thing I've learned by watching these "city bike messenger" type videos is that these guys get very good at quickly reacting to movements of cars around them, predicting what cars will be doing, and seemingly having a very strong visual horizon. Do you have any tips for getting better at "flowing" with traffic like this? One thing I notice is that these guys don't "fight" traffic, they dont get angry when someone cuts them off, they just immediately react to it and adjust to get out of the way. I've found myself a few times getting a bit startled when a car comes out quickly, and it can delay my reaction time. Any tips for improving that?

5. (Last question) Any tips on improving judging the speed of cars coming from behind?

In my car, I have multiple seconds to actually look at vehicles approaching me from behind in the mirror. On a bike, I have a split second to glance back and sometimes this is not enough time for me to accurately know how fast a car is coming from behind and if there is realistically enough time for them to see/slow down when I pull in front of them during a lane change. Sometimes this results in me waiting, but then more cars come and then I pass my chance up entirely to even get over at all. Any advice for handling this?
Thank you.

Last edited by Dr1v3n; 09-18-21 at 03:04 AM. Reason: formatting
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Old 09-18-21, 04:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
Do you have any tips for getting better at "flowing" with traffic like this? One thing I notice is that these guys don't "fight" traffic, they dont get angry when someone cuts them off, they just immediately react to it and adjust to get out of the way.
This, to me, is key. I've done a lot of city cycling, and I love it because I accept things as they are and just roll with it. Not getting angry all the time frees up head space for processing all the variables you're dealing with.
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Old 09-18-21, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
1. Is it pretty normal to have to hit the brakes a lot more when riding in traffic?
Yes.

Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
2. Do combinations of road conditions cause you to make more mistakes?
Yes, and I continue to learn about new ones. For the first five years or so of daily commuting, I would replay my ride in my head before going to sleep, looking for situations that could have put me at risk, and what I should do. More recently, when a situation occurs, I share it here on BF. Here's an example: Reverse Nicehole FAIL . This is an never-ending activity, where I gain experience through my near-misses and the near-misses and pain of others.

Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
3. Can being too "nice"/passive be more dangerous?
This actually relates to your second item. In any given situation and to any given external observer, I may appear to be too passive or an expletive. This doesn't matter. What matters is what I need to do to operate for my safety first and of those around me.

Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
4. My next question is about "flow"...
I find big packs of motor vehicles are risky. Traffic lights are my friends. If I'm at the front at a red light and I see that there are a lot of vehicles behind me that will merge/demerge around me (because I will take the lane), I will pull off and wait for them to pass. That usually gives me a nice opening of few vehicles. This is particularly applicable in high-speed suburban "stroad" context. Downtown-ish light-every-block is different, because I'm travelling about the same speed as traffic.

Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
5. (Last question) Any tips on improving judging the speed of cars coming from behind?
Mirror. Don't leave home without it.


A formulation that I like comes from a motorcyclist who youtubes as "mcrider". He says motorcycle riding involves "road strategy" and "motorcycle skills". He says you should apply a road strategy (much of what you asked about) to stay out of situations. Since "combinations" can still arise, skills (braking, turning) help mitigate the outcome. And at the end of the day, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are vulnerable to large heavy moving objects, as laid down by Mr. Newton's laws. (If you have to comply with Dr. Einstein's laws, I will be very impressed.)
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Old 09-18-21, 06:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
I've been cycling for about 5 months now, and currently avg 75 miles per week.

I live in California near the beach. I really enjoy riding up the coast, but as you'd expect there's a ton of traffic in this area in general. I've always been a very alert person, and I've applied this to my cycling as well. Even in cars, I'm generally pretty good at predicting what other drivers are about to do. Frankly, I have a collection of "newbie riding in traffic" questions, and I'm just going to list them each below. Any guidance you offer would be appreciated. When I say "in traffic", I am generally referring to being on a paved road either in lanes with cars directly, OR on the side of the road in a bike lane.

1. Is it pretty normal to have to hit the brakes a lot more when riding in traffic?

I find that I end up hitting my brakes, for example on a hill when I am going over about 20-25mph if I see a driveway coming up with a car approaching, because I do not trust that the driver has seen me and will for sure stop. Another example is say there is a green traffic signal at the bottom of a super steep hill. I will often brake multiple times while going down the hill even if I wouldn't usually need to, because if the signal were to turn red before I got to the bottom, I would then have to try to slam my brakes on going 30-35mph or fly through oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, having to do this constantly when the roads are busy sorta kills the joy of the ride at times.

2. Do combinations of road conditions cause you to make more mistakes?

This one is a bit tricky to explain, but it doesn't usually happen when I am driving in my car; it's unique to cycling for me. So let me give an example:

I generally don't have an issue signalling my turns. However, there are times when I am going very fast down a hill in the drops approaching a turn, or I am approaching a turn and there are a bunch of potholes, so I don't feel comfortable taking my hand off of the bars, and thus skip signalling. Sometimes this confuses drivers and has resulted in close-calls. But I don't really know how I would solve this problem because other times I've tried to slow way down in order to attempt to signal when I feel safe, but then that caused drivers to also be confused, become impatient, try to cut me off at a turn, etc... Basically, the difference here is that in a car, I can just turn on the turn signal, but on a bike, my balance, the road surface, and many other factors come into play and sometimes actually following the law can be unsafe. I notice that this tends to happen more when I am riding on roads I've never ridden on before; sometimes a series of quick surprises will pop up and distract me. For example, a pedestration starts walking out, causing me to move left, but when I move left I forget to check and almost go in front of a car, etc.. Any suggestions for these "combo attack" type of issues?

3. Can being too "nice"/passive be more dangerous?

I've noticed a trend where the times that I try to be too "polite" or "nice" on the road often ends up backfiring, confusing drivers, or leading drivers to try and pull risky stunts on me. For example, we have these "bikes may take up the full lane" signs around here, which is nice. I sometimes see bicyclists still try to stay to the very right side of the road. When I've done this though (in an attempt to be polite), I get cars trying to squeeze past me, sometimes nearly clipping me. But when I ride dead-center in the road, they cannot do this, and if they do choose to do this, they risk their safety rather than mine because it forces them to illegally go in oncoming traffic lane if they are impatient. I've also noticed that when I try to remain in the bike lane on the right side of the road at traffic signals, drivers making a right turn tend to sometimes miss me and they try to make a right and cut me off or make a right directly into me. However, the times that I've left the bike lane maybe 300 feet before the right turn lane and just gone into the middle of the straight lane, it seems much safer for me because nobody can suddenly come over and make a right into me like that; or at least that would be much less common.

4. My next question is about "flow" and in the subject of this thread. I've seen many, many city videos like this:

I would not and frankly have no intention of driving this "aggressively" by any means, but one thing I've learned by watching these "city bike messenger" type videos is that these guys get very good at quickly reacting to movements of cars around them, predicting what cars will be doing, and seemingly having a very strong visual horizon. Do you have any tips for getting better at "flowing" with traffic like this? One thing I notice is that these guys don't "fight" traffic, they dont get angry when someone cuts them off, they just immediately react to it and adjust to get out of the way. I've found myself a few times getting a bit startled when a car comes out quickly, and it can delay my reaction time. Any tips for improving that?

5. (Last question) Any tips on improving judging the speed of cars coming from behind?

In my car, I have multiple seconds to actually look at vehicles approaching me from behind in the mirror. On a bike, I have a split second to glance back and sometimes this is not enough time for me to accurately know how fast a car is coming from behind and if there is realistically enough time for them to see/slow down when I pull in front of them during a lane change. Sometimes this results in me waiting, but then more cars come and then I pass my chance up entirely to even get over at all. Any advice for handling this?
Thank you.
Wow, this is a lot to unpack, especially since I'm getting ready to go out on a ride; I'll give it a shot, but I'm sure I'll miss something and will have to come back to later.

1. Is it pretty normal to have to hit the brakes a lot more when riding in traffic?
If I see a car coming out of the driveway, I tend to take the lane to make myself more visible, I don't brake unless I'm sure they don't see me, but if I can't take the lane I just keep a close eye on that car, but never brake unless it's clear I must brake. As for braking at the bottom of a hill --- I absolutely hate it. There are a few spots where I stop on the hill until I know I'm going to get the green light and start pedaling, so I don't have to brake at a red light. The timing of some of the lights change here, depending on traffic volume (we have "smart" lights), so it does make it difficult to time the light, that's why I just stop and wait on the hill.

2. Do combinations of road conditions cause you to make more mistakes?
I think just more practice, i.e. riding time will correct this issue. The key is to always be looking ahead and planning for the worst scenario...it becomes second nature over time. Just like checking my mirror, I do it a lot , but not a lot of thought goes into it, but I do remember years ago it being more of a chore.

3. Can being too "nice"/passive be more dangerous?
In general I think being nice helps me out, but being nice should not be confused with being passive. I'm very assertive when taking the lane, but I don't do it in a way that surprises other drivers, that's key. And when I do take the lane I signal to the drivers behind me to pass as soon as I can make room...A common example of this is when I'm riding past parked cars. Also, we have a few Sharrows around here where I can't maintain the speed limit, which is around 30mph. I don't ride in the middle of the road in these cases and I don't feel as if people take advantage of that, on the contrary, I think most of the drivers go way too far out, considering the oncoming traffic.

4. My next question is about "flow" and in the subject of this thread. I've seen many, many city videos like this:
Just more time on the roads. I've been riding in the roads for over 30-years and you do get a sense of what other drivers are going to do.

5. (Last question) Any tips on improving judging the speed of cars coming from behind?
Judging approach time in a mirror is difficult, because you really can't judge speed and as they say, "Objects in the Mirror are closer than they appear". This is where you want to develop the instinct to just keep checking the mirror and NEVER allow yourself to focus in the object in the mirror, because you don't want to run into anything in front of you -- that's just embarrassing. Another thing about mirrors and why you want to always be checking them is that cars can suddenly just be there, seemingly out of nowhere and that's usually from cars pulling out from a driveway or cars you passed that were parked along the road and just started moving.

I can't emphasize enough...Do NOT allow the image in your mirror to take your attention away from looking forward.



.
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Old 09-18-21, 09:12 AM
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1. Is it pretty normal to have to hit the brakes a lot more when riding in traffic?
This is sort of a "Duh!" I hit the brakes more in traffic whether in a motor vehicle or human powered vehicle. With either, moving with confidence and a manner that others will be more likely to predict your intentions just makes it safer and easier for all.

2. Do combinations of road conditions cause you to make more mistakes?
Everyone makes mistakes. I really don't follow your train of thought in your example. Are you turning at the bottom of a hill that has some potholes and rough pavement as you approach the turn? Just move with confidence and stay in control. Any vehicle behind you, motor vehicle or other is supposed to yield to you as the vehicle in front. If I was turning left, I'd be on the left side of the left lane. If turning right on the right side of the right lane. If going straight I be in the middle of my lane if I know traffic is behind me.

3. Can being too "nice"/passive be more dangerous?
Yes. Follow the rules of the road. If you are at a stop sign, take your proper turn to go. If I'm in a car, I'll be confused if you don't move at the appropriate time. I control the vehicles behind me. I don't leave them room to pass me in the same lane.

4. My next question is about "flow" and in the subject of this thread. I've seen many, many city videos like this:
I don't know. I don't ride my bike in the big city.

I wouldn't do it around here. Though I suppose there have been some unique circumstances that added up to me making an exception to my rules on occasion. But in general, no, I don't pass other vehicles in the same lane. With the exception of other bicycles and they know I'm passing because I told them so.

5. (Last question) Any tips on improving judging the speed of cars coming from behind?
Ride more in traffic I suppose. Car drivers are unpredictable too. They don't all behave the same. Some come up full speed and pass with good timing. Some zoom up on you and then follow forever. Some slow gradually and take forever to get close and eventually they pass. Many times in the worst possible place.

My son has had Varia radar for quite a few years. He always tells me when a car is coming from behind. However most of the time I already know from just listening. And my ears aren't that great IMO. But even when going 20 plus mph on the open road I notices the changes in the sounds that are an approaching vehicle. I can tell when they are following or when they are passing. I glance back too just to make sure what I think is what is actually going on. Maybe with some attention and some experience you will too.

I finally got my self a Varia radar earlier this year. I haven't noticed that it's helped me any. I still know the car is coming about the same time it alerts me. But if you can't sense that, then I recommend the Varia radar for areas that you aren't in constant traffic. On otherwise empty rural roads it does rouse one from a daydream about winning the TdF if a car comes along. <grin>

You do need to take your lane before the car gets to you. Otherwise they've probably made their decision long before they got to you. So you need to give them time to change their mind if they chose poorly.


++++++++++++++

I don't know if any of this applies to you people out there is CA. From what I've read on here about cars vs cyclists in CA it's a different world. I also know that when I ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway, if I have a car that acts like a butt to me while I'm on my bicycle, then it'll be likely to have a CA tag on the back of it.
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Old 09-18-21, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
4. My next question is about "flow" and in the subject of this thread. I've seen many, many city videos like this:

https://youtu.be/WyV894c8oqI

I would not and frankly have no intention of driving this "aggressively" by any means, but one thing I've learned by watching these "city bike messenger" type videos is that these guys get very good at quickly reacting to movements of cars around them, predicting what cars will be doing, and seemingly having a very strong visual horizon. Do you have any tips for getting better at "flowing" with traffic like this? One thing I notice is that these guys don't "fight" traffic, they dont get angry when someone cuts them off, they just immediately react to it and adjust to get out of the way. I've found myself a few times getting a bit startled when a car comes out quickly, and it can delay my reaction time. Any tips for improving that?
This is the only Q i can be much help with. Riding like those bike messengers takes 1. Aptitude and 2. Practice 3. Speed. If you are lacking one of those three qualities pick a different riding style. In the city grid you really need to be able to hold 20+ mph for a couple minutes at least, and sprint up to 30mph for a few seconds AT LEAST. The ability to see the big picture and not get fixated on any one thing for more than a nanosecond. Distraction is deadly. Fighter pilot focus is a plus. PRACTICE is key, and by this I mean cycling the same route many many times to get the traffic signal patterns figured out, basic flow of traffic every block at every time of day you ride there. If you aren't assertive you'll get bullied and likely run off the road or crushed. On top of all this, you need crazy bike handling skills. You don't really need years of practice but you do need those three qualities or forget it.

Cheers.
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Old 09-19-21, 08:41 AM
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Dr1v3n 1. Is it pretty normal to have to hit the brakes a lot more when riding in traffic?

Yes. Don't outride your brakes. I've commuted 28 years, and on some streets I would slow down a little before intersections, especially those where I couldn't see due to buildings or hedges, fences, etc.

2. Do combinations of road conditions cause you to make more mistakes?

Yes. When trying to brake down a steep hill I sometimes will try to signal a turn with a leg...also when I'm wearing a rain cape/rain poncho. Sometimes I will just go past my turn and double back when its safe.

3. Can being too "nice"/passive be more dangerous?

Yes. In addition, I have been using the AirZound Airhorn for ~25 years. Besides helpuing alert vehicles to my presence (as well as bright daytime lights) when cars honk, I will often honk back.

4. My next question is about "flow" and in the subject of this thread. I've seen many, many city videos like this:

I don't like the word "Flow" is dangerous. You know that feeling, whether biking or driving of "Oooh, If I speed up/slow down I can juuust fit in...." Forget it. Distance equals safety whether it's physical space or timing.

But I like the part about learning to physically react without emotionally reacting. That is something I still struggle with, even at 59. It's the adrenaline that gets your emotions amped up, and learning to recognize and ignore that is tough. I like how that is your goal.

Also you shouldn't be anticipating what others in traffic will do...you should anticipate what they might do...and that includes multiple scenarios. Your goal shouldn't be how to fit IN, but rather how to fit OUT...that is, where can you bail, or get away in case some one else does something unexpected that can harm you.

5. (Last question) Any tips on improving judging the speed of cars coming from behind?

After many years of using bar mounted mirrors, I began using a Tak-A-Look glasses mounted mirror (also now for many years). Like most helmet or glasses mounted mirrors, they are usually flat so there is no distance distortion. Although the mirrors can be small, the view is big. And by slightly turning your head, you can see behind you from curb to curb without significant head movement. With the mirror in the upper left corner of your field of vision you can look both ahead and behind at the same time.

Sounds to me like you have the right mindset for safe cycling in traffic. I dont know how old you are, but I started bike commuting seriously when I turned 30, and 29 years later it has become easier, with fewer and fewer new scenarios to surprise me.

I believe you have the right attitude and mindset to enjoy riding safely in traffic.
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Old 09-19-21, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by BobbyG View Post
Also you shouldn't be anticipating what others in traffic will do...you should anticipate what they might do...and that includes multiple scenarios. Your goal shouldn't be how to fit IN, but rather how to fit OUT...that is, where can you bail, or get away in case some one else does something unexpected that can harm you.


This is something they should teach everyone to do no matter what type vehicle they are operating. Back when I was 15 learning how to fly, one of my flight instructors drilled this concept into me and I've used it ever since for everything I do.

It's not just simply expect the unexpected, but plan what you will do for any unexpected situation that might happen.
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