RLC: Car v Bike

Conflicts between cycling groups and cars are more common than crashes. Conflicts and close calls are frightening and frustrating for both cyclists and motorists. In this lesson we’ll look at the most common conflicts, why they happen and how to avoid them.

Brush Passes

While some brush passes are intentional, most are a result of bad spatial judgment on the part of the motorist. This is quite simply because the motorist thinks there is space in the lane to squeeze past the group. As we teach solo riders, cyclists can eliminate this illusion by riding farther left in the lane. It’s even more critical to do this as a group, either by moving a single line into a control position or by doubling up. Clinging to the edge leaves riders with no good options if they encounter a surface hazard when a car is passing.

Misjudged Passes

Motorists often misjudge the speed of cyclists, this happens with groups, too. But in the case of a group the motorist may also misjudge the length. The longer and faster the group, the harder it is to anticipate how much distance is needed to safely complete the pass.

Doubling up is a good way to shorten your group. In some circumstances—like a stretch of road with limited passing opportunities—it is wise to break the group into smaller platoons with some distance between them. Control and release is another option. We’ll talk about that in another lesson. 

It’s also fine for motorists to wait behind a group for a short time until they have a passing opportunity. The rear rider in a group should have an awareness of potential conflicts and be ready to discourage an unwise pass. Don’t be shy with the stay-back signal and an aggressive lane position. Motorists are notoriously short-sighted about making an unwise pass. Situations to watch for include: oncoming traffic, intersections where motorists could enter the oncoming lane, blind curves and hill crests.

It’s good practice to offer a thank-you wave to a motorist who passes safely after waiting.

Right Hook

As I noted before, motorists have a hard time judging the speed and length of a group of cyclists. If a motorist misjudges the distance needed to pass before an upcoming turn he will face a choice of stopping to wait for the group to pass on the right, or trying to race the group to the turn. 

Lane control and shortening the group by riding double is the best countermeasure for this, but beware that motorists have been known to pass long, two abreast groups in the left lane and then race them to the turn. So even with lane control group length can contribute to this mistake.

In the shoulders and bike lanes lesson we’ll look more closely at strategies for protecting a group in a bike lane from right hooks.

Left Cross

This type of crash is not common for groups, mainly because groups are hard to overlook and drivers may perceive them as being faster. Be aware, tho, if you are traveling faster than usual—especially downhill—drivers waiting to turn left could underestimate your speed. For a high speed group, the best strategy is for front riders to communicate with drivers to stay put.

Motorist Overtaking a Left-turning Group

Motorists must pass bicyclists. It’s an imperative. Making a left turn can put a group in conflict with passing motorists. It’s critical for everyone to communicate clearly with hand signals and lane position. The rear rider has the extra responsibility of having the group’s back.

When approaching a left turn:

  1. The front rider signals the upcoming left turn well in advance. 
  2. Riders echo the signal to pass it back
  3. The rear rider moves to the left side of the lane with a stay-back signal and holds off any potential traffic until the turn.

When approaching a left turn pocket, it is essential for the rear rider to do this well ahead of time. Many motorists see left turn pockets as a passing opportunity.