[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Types of Bicycle Riders
Looks at the ways in which various bike riders and cyclists operate on the road and explains how I interface with traffic.
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Types of Bicycle Riders

I would divide bike riders traveling in traffic into three broad types: Type I: those who act like pedestrians, that is, cycle on the sidewalk and cross streets on the crosswalk. Type III: those who act like motorists, get out in the middle of the lane and not surrender it to anyone, and Type II those who try to compromise, riding in the road but yielding to faster traffic. Most cyclists are Type II, which the law also seems to support, but there is considerable variations in their behavior. We can roughly divide Type II into these subsections: Those who a) ride on the wrong side and ignore the traffic and signals, b) ride on the correct side but ignore the traffic and signals, c) ride on the correct side, ignore the traffic, but obey the lights, and d) ride on the correct side and ride with the traffic as much as possible and obey the lights at all time. Bike riders and cyclists are not consistent in their behavior but vary according to the amount or speed of the traffic. For example, on a pleasant country road, even the sidewalk cyclists are likely to forget their inhibitions. And, on the other hand, who's going to ride down the middle of a lane on a freeway? Other causes for the variety in behavior are the local practice of the cyclists, the behavior of motorists, and local laws and regulations.

Now if I was going to rant and rave about anything, this would be it, as I believe that other people's cycling behavior affects my safety. And I also believe that our behavior affects our future right to use the road. However, ranting and raving won't accomplish anything. If I can convince people, I will, and if I can't, I won't start getting angry.

Although many bike riders feel that the safest way to act is to try to hide from the cars, I believe the safest behavior is to mix with them. You need to see them, and they need to see you. Thus I would consider Type I behavior to be the most dangerous. Even though the bike is completely off the street, every time the sidewalk cyclist crosses an intersection or entrance, he/she faces the danger of a suddenly turning car that he/she can't see. Of course, there are also the hazards of the sidewalk, which is mainly why the rider doesn't notice the passing cars. At the same time, the driver is watching for pedestrians but is not expecting a bicycle moving twice to five times that speed.

Type IIa behavior, riding the wrong way, should be even more dangerous, since the rider is running all the traffic signals and coming from a direction that no one expects, except this rider is acutely aware of how dangerous it is. Nonetheless, with the number of intersections and entranceways that must be passed backwards, this has got to be an easy way to die. Skydiving would be far safer. By the way, this is how I nearly bagged a bike rider when operating a motor vehicle. However, it's interesting to note that a sidewalk cyclist moving the wrong way is at greater risk than this guy.  See Wrong Way Cycling.

Type IIb behavior, ignoring the traffic and signals, has been defended within this newsgroup. I have seen large numbers of these cyclists who act as if the law was made simply for the cars alone. Outside of the fact that they are breaking the law (along with type I and type IIa bike riders), there are some consequences to their behavior. One is that sooner or later they don't see something fast enough and get hurt or killed, the other is that the motorists become outraged at all cyclists. I can't help noticing how much less careful urban motorists have become over the last dozen years, and I wonder how much such lawless behavior has affected their manners. If you aren't considerate of other people, they won't be considerate of you, tit for tat. Note that I am not saying that cyclists are responsible for motorists breaking the law; I am talking about sharing the road.

Type IIc behavior, when the cyclists simply ignore the motorists but obey the signal, is also quite dangerous. I just sent an answer about that problem under "Biking is statistically safer than motoring" to Wilco de Brouwer. According to statistics in her newspaper in Holland, this behavior is actually more dangerous than Type IIb behavior because at least those people are aware that they're taking major risks. And, as Joel reported, it also raises some resentment. I saw this first-hand in New Jersey, although half of the cyclists were ignoring the signals too. People justify type IIb and IIc behavior because they say it's much safer on a bike than in a car, but they are forgetting that bicycles also lack seat belts and other protections that come with a car. Besides, what's wrong with being a little safer than necessary?

Andrew says that there ought to be some advantages to riding a bike. There are. Rather that follow the broad path that leadeth to destruction, I take the back streets where the big cars are uncomfortable. It's true I hit more stop signs, but they don't slow me very much as they do cars, and I don't have to wait in long lines at traffic lights. Of course, your city might be designed so that this is impossible, but look around. In New Jersey, on my second trip, I found plenty of back streets that took me to the same place.

I have seen type III behavior defended in Bicycling magazine by a lawyer. He said, ride three feet or more from the edge of the highway wherever you go, no matter the speed of the vehicles. Even if safer, my cooperative personality does not allow me to do that. However, in a few cases on dangerous roads, I have done exactly that. If the motorists aren't going to let me proceed safety, then they are going to have to stop and wait to pass me; I can be just a stubborn as the next guy.

However, my more normal policy is type IId. To me, this is the all around, most cooperative and safest behavior. It is also a bit of a kluge, sort of an acceptance that all vehicles are equal but some are more equal than others. I base my policy on our relative speed, and I can divide the situation into four speeds. The following suggestions are all based on moderate traffic.

When I am traveling at the same speed as the traffic, I stay in line and not near the right edge. This protects me from right-turning vehicles and allows me to turn left if I need to (I sometimes make left turns where there are no streets). It also gives me the greatest visibility and allows following traffic to see my hand signals. Because I am a fairly strong rider, I can often stay in the traffic lane at speeds of 25 mph. However, on some hills, my speed may drop below that of the cars, and my behavior changes.

When I am traveling at 5 to 15 mph below the speed of the vehicles, I move over to the edge of the road. Even if there is a paved shoulder, I don't move onto it. I want the motorists to be aware of me, so I don't move entirely out of their way. At these speeds, we are quite comfortable sharing a 12 foot wide lane. I am prepared to join in with the traffic if it should slow down or to move out if it should speed up.

When there is a 20 to 30 mph difference between my speed and that of the traffic, I move to the outside of the white line, if that area is paved.

When there is a 35 to 45 mph difference between my speed and that of the traffic, I move solidly onto the shoulder. However, even then, I don't move as far away from the cars as I could, as I still want to see them and want them to see me.

Most of my riding is done on roads in Alabama that have no shoulders. Therefore, I must stay away from moderate to heavy traffic that is traveling at greater than 35 miles an hour. However, there are many highways in Alabama with light traffic, so travel is not as difficult as it would seem.

In traveling across country, I have to make an on-the-spot quick analysis of the road conditions, and I often change my route because of traffic. However, I normally can find good options.

There are good statistics available on how people die when biking. These statistics favor being a part of the traffic. However, you can do your own thinking and watching of your own behavior. If your behavior is causing you to have close calls, you better change it rapidly. Always assume that the situation is more dangerous than it looks, always watch the other vehicles, including parked vehicles that could suddenly spring forward or whose passengers could open a door, always take the safest road and follow the safest course, and wear bright colors and use lights and reflectors at night. To those who have little cycling experience, I would suggest gradually acquiring it; they shouldn't ride in anything except light traffic until they have a year or more of riding experience on the road.

In all cases, it is a judgment call, the speed of the traffic, the behavior of the motorists, the width of the road and shoulder are all constantly changing. My behavior is different on days when I am feeling bad from those when I feel cheerful (I am less assertive and have more difficulties on the bad days). While I have chopped everything up into pieces, in real life it's almost an unconscious process in my mind.

As I have also said, there are times when I do not obey the law because I consider it dangerous. At that point, I get off my bike and become a pedestrian and follow the pedestrian law. Remember that being safe is more important than riding the bike. Everyone has heard the term so much that it doesn't have meaning any more, but "safety first" means exactly that: safety before any other consideration.

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