Monday, 16 July 2012
Trying to be Nice - Big Mistake
Today, I had to commute on a route I've only cycled once before, ending with a mile of 6-lane highway. On the way there, no problems at all - took the lane (what we Britons call 'primary position'), the 6-lane highway goes down a fairly steep hill into a creek, and my momentum carried me up the other side almost all the way to my destination, so I was able to match traffic speed almost all the way.
On the way back, there's that same fairly steep and long hill, but going uphill this time, so I tried to retain as much momentum as possible, but soon I'm down to 10mph and puffing and panting away. Meanwhile a line of a few cars has developed behind me, so I decided to try a new technique I've read about recently: 'control and release'. So I give up my strong primary position and move right (about 3ft from the curb) so traffic could overtake in the same lane. I figured I could get back into primary position if the motorists failed to pass safely. Big mistake!
It's a fairly wide lane but I don't think it quite classifies as a 'wide outside lane' (see this Google Maps street view image), so I figured they would still be able to give me just enough room. The first three cars did, but then I get buzzed at about 1ft clearance by an SUV. By this time, more cars have appeared behind me and I was faced with a situation that was no longer controllable.
I eventually managed to get back into primary, but only after a couple more passes that were too close for comfort. I guess some motorists in Maryland have yet to see the memo about the 3ft passing law.
1. I will not try to facilitate traffic flow again - at least not anytime soon. I think it's too dangerous.
2. 'Control and release' may work in some conditions, but in my opinion it is risky: too many motorists simply do not give cyclists a safe amount of room, even when they can do so. And what at first appears to be only a few cars behind you can easily develop into a long line of traffic, so that before you know it, you can be boxed in with no way to safely retake the lane.
3. For the first time in about 18 years, I experienced what gutter-riding cyclists experience. When every third car overtakes you with just inches to spare, it's no wonder they're scared of traffic.
To motorists who may read this: if you want cyclists to 'get out of your way', ALL of you have to pass us safely. I tried seeing if you could do it today and I ended up risking my life in the process. We can't afford to help you motorists get past us if some of you are going to put us in danger when we try to help you out.