Wednesday, 30 September 2015

In which I accidentally invent Vehicular Cycling

When I first started cycling in London, I had a head filled with worries about how dangerous it was, ears to hear motors revving behind me, and eyes to see something large creeping up in my peripheral vision. I was nervous.
So I did the obvious thing: I considerately cycled as close to the side of the road as possible.

Having heard throughout my life drivers complain about cyclists "hogging the road", I was determined to give them as much space to overtake me as possible. And as I driver, I would much rather be able to give anyone not wearing a giant metal exoskeleton a really wide berth (how horrible would it be to injure someone?), which is helped by there being more road for me to move over in.

It's pretty obvious logic: here is the road. I'm a metre wide. If I only leave a tiny gap on my left, the car can pass a metre or two away from me. If I cycled further out in the road, there would be a smaller gap, and the driver would have to pass more closely. Also if I'm next to the pavement I can throw myself to safety in an emergency. It was a brilliant idea.

Except... I noticed that no matter how close I wobbled to the wing mirrors of the parked cars, I would still have cars roaring past inches away from me.
But if I rode a couple of feet away from the side, I usually got a couple of feet of clearance.
And if I rode a metre or more away from the side, I usually got a metre or so's clearance.

Ding - the lightbulb came on. Drivers were looking at the gap between me and the parked cars, and thinking - probably not explicitly - 'That's how big a gap there should be next to a bike. She's happy a foot away from the parked cars, so she will be happy a foot away from moving cars'.

It can't have occurred to them that I was not happy a foot away from parked cars, but I was even less happy a foot away from moving cars, and that was why I was over there, trying to scrunch down small.
Or at least, I have to hope it didn't occur to them, because otherwise London has a much larger number of nasty people than I like to think.

It took me a few months to figure this out. It's not the kind of behaviour anyone picking up a bike for the first time will naturally adopt.
Having now read a lot more about cycling in the last couple of years, I've found out that this behaviour is part of a suite of techniques called "Vehicular Cycling" - you pretend you are driving something as big as a car, position yourself in the road accordingly, and hope that everyone else agrees to join in your pretence.
They usually do, but it requires nerves of steel on your part, because it only takes one driver who doesn't to put you in hospital, and you never know who that one driver will be.

That's not really something I want to spend the rest of my life doing. Bring on the alternative.

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