Grant Petersen says many controversial things in his book, Just Ride. One of the chapters I’ve haven’t heard much outcry about is 18 – The predictability ruse.
Sooner or later, all riders hear that being predictable is key to safety out there among cars. When you drive, you certainly want bike riders to be predictable, don’t you? I do. All drivers do. If you’re unpredictable, they get nervous and have to pass with care, just like you’d do for an awkward toddler lurching across a bike path. But, think about it–however inconvenient it may be for the driver, slowing down and paying close attention are GOOD things for you.
He goes on to say that he doesn’t condone being reckless or oblivious (“riding like an idiot”), and offers that there are times when being predictable is a good thing (like when making a left turn against traffic). But he thinks inconsistency may not be a bad thing.
But given the number of riders (and idiots) out there, there are bound to be some who that way and, yes, anger drivers. But they also keep drivers on their toes–here comes another cyclist; I wonder if he’s as oblivious and suicidal as the last one…
The Safety Swerve
He goes on to describe one trick that can make drivers more cautious.
You’re riding down the road, glance back quickly, and notice a car bearing down. Most cyclists react by riding closer to the edge of the road. That’s what the driver wants you to do–defer to them, give them more elbow room, get the heck out of the way. Here’s another option: With the car three to four seconds behind you (it helps to have a bike mirror), wiggle a bit or swerve for an instant. Look unsteady or oblivious. Reach your left arm skyward or outward to stretch it or shake it. Your goal isn’t to freak out the driver. It’s to appear slightly unsteady on the bike and unaware that a car’s approaching, so the driver will pass you more carefully. Be aware, ride with precision, but give cars reasons to pass you with a little extra caution.
Cue The Outrage
I can just hear the LCIs clamoring to lecture me. At face value, this advice (from a long time rider) flies in the face of the conventional wisdom of the safety experts. Some will choose to dismiss his technique as reckless and cherry pick phrases and sentences to brand his ideas dangerous. I would ask that people read the chapter in its entirely, several times, before passing judgement.
I choose to believe that his ideas are not that incompatible with the teachings of vehicular cycling and assertive lane positioning. It can also be extended to the techniques for riding in bike lanes. Especially bike lanes with obstacles and hazards. Staying in the bike lane on certain streets can be more dangerous than assertively taking your right of way. One example in Austin is North Loop between Guadalupe and the curve where it morphs into 53rd. Another is 51st between Duval and Airport. For myself, I choose to judiciously weave a little, to avoid bad pavement, potholes, debris. The speed limit isn’t that high along these stretches (although the cagers continue to ignore speed limits) and the slight delay this might impose on cars is trivial compared to the absence of caution I experience when I hug the bike lane.
This is similar to the technique I use on a section of Metric Blvd between Rutland and Kramer. There is no bike lane and the outside lane is narrow (meeting one exception to the FARP rule in Texas vehicle code). I take the lane in this section. But I don’t just ride down the middle. I weave a little. This isn’t some random back and forth; I’m avoiding road hazards. Utility access covers, bad pavement, cracks, bumps, etc. make this stretch of street interesting on narrow wheels. I pick paths between the obstacles. This makes me appear unsteady and (god forbid) unpredictable to motorists closing from behind. I’ve noticed that drivers move into the inside lane (as they should) and do not attempt to “share” the lane with me, even when my path takes me toward the right side.
I wonder when somebody will demand that I turn in my Road Skills 101 certificate . How dare I be unpredictable.