Tag Archive for: bicycling

The Quarter Mile Stroad Hack

In my initial “Stroad Hack” article, I described a hack involving two intersections. I referred briefly to the quarter mile on a different stroad, but I didn’t go into detail on that.

This post will focus on the quarter mile, on Gorham Road. It stretches from left to right in the image below. I use it quite often to go to my dentist’s office.

The quarter mile on four-lane Gorham Road, from Clark's Road to Western Avenue

Use Online Maps…and Work Backwards!

Route planning has of course always used maps, initially on paper. I rely heavily on online maps in these articles, and particularly on Google’s ground-level Street View. Zooming in on Google’s satellite view lets you plan your lane choice. That is especially useful on multi-lane roads that you may be apprehensive about.

Always Use Maps?

So, is it necessary to plan every stroad route with mapping? No, I don’t think so. One of my favorite ways of riding is to explore a new area when I go on vacation. Serendipity is an important aspect of those rides for me. “Hey, that road looks interesting, let’s see what’s down there.” Cycling by the rules of the road is generally safe, even on an unfamiliar road. But you may want to choose mapping, especially when you know you will be on uncomfortable roads. It can allow you to make more informed decisions so the journey is more comfortable.

Mapping is also useful for illustration in these articles. I am using Google Earth for these images, although Google Maps works too. Custom maps are a great teaching tool!

Why work backwards?

When planning a route, it is often useful to start from the destination and work backwards. That way, you’ll see what works as you approach it — and at each step as you work backwards to the start. For that reason, I am numbering the following hacks in reverse order, going back from from the turn into the dentist’s office, to the quarter-mile segment, to the start.

Hack 3 – Lane Choice onto Western Avenue

Western Avenue, center turn lane to turn left to the dentist's office

My dentist’s office is on the left side of Western Avenue. Conveniently, Western Avenue has a two-way center turn lane where I can wait for oncoming traffic to clear, before turning left into the driveway. If I’m already controlling the leftmost through lane, moving into the center turn lane as soon as it opens up is trivial.

Left turn onto Western Avenue

Following the rules of the road for drivers, you must use the left-turn lane to turn onto Western Avenue from Gorham Road. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can dismount and use the crosswalks. But we won’t go into that here.

What lane on Western Avenue do you turn into? Bicyclists who feel like they must always stay to the right might be tempted to turn into the rightmost lane, because “bikes stay to the right”.

Then Why Turn into the Left Lane?

There are (at least) two reasons to choose the left lane. For one, it’s more common when turning onto a multi-lane road to turn into the closest lane, Maine laws do not actually require that, though some states do, and it makes sense here regardless.

There’s an important operational reason here too: It’s only about 225 feet from the intersection to the center turn lane. It’s only about 100 feet more to the driveway. That’s only 25 seconds at 10 MPH. It makes no sense to turn into the right lane, then immediately have to change to the left lane to get to the center turn lane. If you do that, any traffic behind you will turn into the left lane to pass you, and will block your lane change. Why not just turn immediately into the left lane? Any traffic behind you will pass you in the right lane, which is exactly what you want anyway!

So there’s one hack: Turn from Gorham Road into the left lane of Western Avenue.

Hack 2 – Lane Choice onto the Quarter Mile

Continuing backwards, what about the lane choice onto Gorham Road?

Choosing the left lane when entering the quarter mile on Gorham Road

This decision is like the last one. You’re going to spend less than 1/4 mile on Gorham Road (just over a minute at 10 MPH) before you turn left onto Western. So why turn into the right lane and have to change immediately?


Granted, that’s a bit longer time spent in a leftmost lane than on Western Avenue. And that might bring up another objection, that motorists don’t expect bicyclists to travel in the left lane for an “extended” time. In”motorist time,” that may be about 10 seconds. 😉 But in our experience, visibility to people approaching from behind more than makes up for any surprise they may have. They still have plenty of time to see you and react.

If you are in a left through lane because you will be turning left shortly, try making occasional left turn signals. I think people are more patient if they understand why you are doing what you are doing. It may also be that they respect you more if they feel like you know what you’re doing. (And as a Savvy Cyclist, you do!)

Evaluating Convenience

I sometimes would still have had time to change lanes if I turned into the right lane here. But I don’t know that when I make the turn. And, whichever lane I choose, motorists behind me in that lane will have to change lanes. So it comes down to a balance of convenience: how convenient is which lane for me, and how many motorists will have to change lanes? Results vary by location, by time of day, and by what the traffic happens to be at that moment. But in this place, I don’t try to overthink it, and simply choose the left lane. The next and final hack makes that even easier.

Hack 1 – When to Turn Right onto the Quarter Mile

Here’s one I never learned until I took CyclingSavvy, even after I had been become a certified instructor with another national cycling program. I’ll frame it as a question:

Q: When would you not want to take a right turn on red?

Everyone makes right turns on red, right? Why wouldn’t you? Bicyclists don’t like delay any more than motorists do. (Consider how many cyclists don’t bother stopping at lights if they think they can make it through. And how many pass even a short line of stopped cars on the way there.)

Red Lights Create Gaps

The answer never occurs to most motorists, including me before I started bike commuting. But you may have noticed it if you’ve cycled in traffic for very long: traffic travels in packs.

And why does this happen? In urban and suburban areas, it’s because of red lights. A red light collects a line of traffic while it’s red. Then it turns green and the whole pack surges forward.

The flip side to this is that red lights also create gaps. While that light is red, the only traffic entering the intersection is turning into it from the left or right (as we are in this case). This is nearly always much less traffic. Therefore, there are gaps for as long as the light is red. And effectively longer, because you’ll have traveled away from the intersection!

We have videos in our Truths & Techniques and CyclingSavvy Mastery courses showing gaps of more than a minute in length created by long light cycles, even at rush hour. You can also see it in this Smart Moves video about riding across a high-speed interchange.

Waiting for the Green when Turning Right…

So, a very basic hack that you can use at every signalized right turn is: Don’t turn right on red. Even if you are allowed to turn right on red, you may wish to wait. Waiting for your green guarantees that you will have a gap with very little or no traffic behind you (except the few that turn onto the road during that time).

Of course, if traffic is light, it may be fine to turn right on red once the initial pack is clear of the intersection. This is especially so if you have the sight distance to see that there is no more oncoming traffic for quite a while. That’s fine. This is a tool, not a hard and fast rule.

As I turn right from Clark’s Road onto the quarter mile segment on Gorham Road, though, the traffic from the left is coming around a curve, so it’s impossible to tell how long until more comes. And it will probably be traveling at the posted speed (or greater) by that time, maybe even racing a yellow. So I almost always wait for the green here.

A curve reduces sight distance for traffic from the left when entering the quarter-mile segment of Gorham Road.
Notice the curve in Gorham Road, limiting the distance from which you can see traffic coming from your left as you wait to turn right.
The curve on Gorham road that reduces sight distance
Google Street View looking left from Clark’s Pond Parkway, about to make the right turn.

Car behind you?

What if, you may ask, there is a motorist behind you who would like to turn right on red?

Positions to allow motorists to turn right on red when waiting to turn right on green into the quarter-mile segment

Well, you can simply move over and motion for them to go ahead. Whether you move depends on the geometry. In this case, the right turn lane gets wider, so I tend to stop at the extreme left side of it. That way, I leave room for a car to turn on my right. I’ll motion for the driver to do that if necessary.

Where the turn is more squared off, you may not be able to extend this courtesy. Moving to the right can put you in a position to be cut off by turning drivers when the light changes.


In this article, I showed a typical bike trip from my office to my dentist’s office around the corner. In that trip, I utilized two different CyclingSavvy stroad hacks. First, I chose to wait for a green light to make the right turn onto Gorham Road, to ensure that I could turn into a gap, and be well established on the road as I prepared to turn left onto Western Avenue. In many cases, I’m already pulling into the left turn lane before any traffic catches up to me!

Secondly, I turned directly into the left through lane, twice. In both cases, it was because it was a short distance to another left turn, so it was not worth starting in the right lane and then changing. Traffic turning behind me has a clear lane on my right to pass me in.

These two general purpose hacks are applicable on any stroad, in a great variety of situations. Having these tools in your toolbox will greatly ease the friction that you might otherwise experience on such car-centric roads. They are what makes you a Savvy Cyclist.

Bicycling in Winter Road Conditions

I live in Westbrook, Maine, a suburb of Portland. We had a few winter storms here last month.

Navigating with my non-studded hybrid tires under winter road conditions always makes me grateful to have a Savvy Cyclist’s confidence to choose the roads and the position on those roads that works best when there is ice and slush. The choices are not always the same ones I make in good weather.

This is not a general introduction to winter cycling. To place this article in context, here are some related articles that you may also wish to check out:

Winter Road Conditions

When I set out in messy winter weather, the first challenge starts at the end of my driveway. (I don’t count the driveway itself as a challenge because I can always walk my bike down it. Bonus: You don’t have to shovel the driveway to just get your bike out!)

The streets in my neighborhood looked like the photo at the right as I started out to the grocery store one night in late January.

A residential street under winter road conditions

To the extent that any part of this street can be described as clean, it is the car tire tracks. Even in warm, dry weather, the travel lane is usually cleaner than the edge of the road, or the bike lane if there is one. This is because car tires tend to sweep things aside, making the travel lane somewhat “self cleaning”. Under winter road conditions, frequent car traffic has a similar effect. It’s not so much sweeping, unless the snow is really dry. But car tires compress wet snow into slush, and may partially throw it off to the side. They may melt it if the temperature is near or above freezing. This leads to the somewhat “clearer” tire tracks you see here.

Choosing a Route

After I’m on the street, I must next choose what route to take to my destination. It’s always much nicer to bicycle on quiet residential streets, right? Well, except in this weather, all of those streets are going to look just like the one above. Although the tire tracks are better than the middle or edges, they are still usually a bit slippery. The occasional pavement hazards like cracks and potholes increase the risk. Slush may even hide them! All in all, riding under these conditions is annoying, and you often have to go very slowly.

Arterial road in winter

“Fortunately”, arterial roads are usually in better shape! The faster and more frequent traffic helps to clean them up faster, even with the same amount of plowing. (And even if it seems unfair, they usually get more frequent plowing too.) Here’s the 35 MPH arterial street I took to the grocery store that night. It still had snow in the middle and at the edge, but the tire tracks were mostly just wet, and it was much easier to see potholes and cracks. It was much less slippery than the smaller streets.

So here’s a reason you might actually choose an arterial! (And there are more.)

Winter Road Position

In both photos so far, you can see that the tire tracks are the cleanest position. There was no clear space at all at the edge. Of course some roads have wider shoulders or bike lanes. Plow truck drivers do usually make a decent attempt to clear shoulders and striped bike lanes, at least around here. Separated lanes are another story, because they require special equipment. Some cities are better than others in this regard. Around here, it’s not very reliable. Here’s what Portland’s parking-separated bike lane looked like recently. Also consider that separated lanes don’t get the car tire cleaning effect, and often don’t get as much direct sunlight to help with melting.

Bike Lanes and Shoulders

Even shoulders and traditional bike lanes are not necessarily reliable soon after a storm, evidenced by these sections I encountered while biking home a few days after one of last month’s storms.

This is a shoulder.
This is a bike lane.

So, even with a shoulder or bike lane, I sometimes had to ride in the travel lane, even if just briefly to pass icy edge obstructions.

Even within the travel lane, you may find a need to maneuver to a different position. The collector street (below left) presented such a situation about two days after the storm. As poor drainage pooled, melting snow refroze overnight.

Part of travel lane iced up
Ice covering entire right-hand lane of two-lane street

Sometimes, you just can’t avoid traveling over a small (hopefully) patch of ice, such as this driveway (above right) leading out of a doughnut shop on my way to work.

I’ve found that I can make it through such small sections of ice, even without studs, by just coasting without pedaling, being careful to keep the front wheel straight. If you are paying enough attention to see an ice patch ahead of time, you may also be able to stop, dismount, and walk it.

The Takeaway

As you can see, riding under winter road conditions requires constant awareness of the road surface, and the ability to adjust your position accordingly. A saving grace of riding during or just after a winter storm is that often there are fewer other people on the road, especially at night, and they are often more careful around you (in my experience). As always, communication with others is valuable. A more assertive lane position makes you more relevant to those around you, and in these road situations, gives you more maneuvering room to adjust your position as the condition of the road surface varies.

With these skills that we emphasize in CyclingSavvy, even cycling in winter road conditions can be fairly low-stress. Not everyone would call in enjoyable, especially given that it’s also cold, but with some attitudinal and clothing preparation, it can provide a great sense of accomplishment and independence!

John has ridden for transportation year-round in the Portland, Maine area for over 20 years.

Bicycle Portland, Maine

Pamela Murray welcomes you to the Maine lighthouse bicycle tour
Pamela Murray welcomes you to the Lighthouse Tour

Bicycle Portland, Maine and the surrounding area, August 25-28 (Thurs.-Sun.). Pick and choose among any or all of these events:

  • 6-lighthouse coastal tour,
  • lobster dinner on the beach,
  • overnight camping trip,
  • CyclingSavvy bike handling and street skills  sessions. 

Let us know if you need help finding accommodations for the nights of Aug. 25 and 26. We may be able to help. But the overnight for the tour August 27-28 is free at the People’s Perch in East Baldwin, Maine, a unique and friendly spot with camping accommodations. Then also, there’s a 200-foot water tower which you may climb, safely belayed. Great view…

Bicyclists arrive at the People's Perch in East Baldwin, Maine with its 200-foot water tower.
Bicyclists arrive at the People’s Perch

Click here for a form to contact us and sign on. We’ll soon get back to you by phone or e-mail.

And click here to register for the CyclingSavvy course. Truth and Techniques session is over Zoom on August 19; then Train Your Bike August 25. Both of these are prerequisites for the Tour of Portland, August 26, but see the course listing for alternative options.

It’s going to be a great time, so bicycle Portland, Maine and the Portland area with us!

Maine is a beautiful place that I paradoxically want to hoard to myself and share with everyone I meet.

John Hodgman

Teaching Adults How to Ride a Bicycle

After I wrote the Savvy Cyclist post about teaching children, I began on this post. I realized there’s only one difference in teaching adults.

The difference is age. Although that is an obvious difference, there is more to it than just the number of years.

What isn’t different about teaching adults?

First, the steps I use for teaching adults are the same I use with kids. We lower the saddle and remove the pedals so that balancing and steering are easier to accomplish. I created a chart listing skills from being able to sit on a bicycle saddle to riding independently. We check off each skill as it is mastered, celebrate the progress, and then prepare for what’s next.

Even a student who first begins to advance the bike forward using the feet on the ground is working on several skills at once: Balance, steering, and processing touch/pressure from sitting on the saddle. We don’t stick to the order of skill mastery, as some students advance past a skill or two without directly working on them.

Adult student on bicycle with pedals removed

The saddle is lowered and the pedals are removed when teaching balancing.

Second, adults — just like kids — are nervous learning a new activity that challenges their body and perseverance. It is important for me to present myself as a calm and patient teacher, without judgment. Students of all ages learn to ride easier and faster when they are relaxed and don’t feel pressure to perform at a particular level within a specific time.

Finally, adults experience the same excitement when they master riding a bike. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s a beautiful experience to witness a student’s feelings of success when this hard work comes to fruition.

The only difference

Age. That’s obvious, I know. However, I’m not referring to the number of years.

It’s what comes with age that can be problematic: Feelings of shame and embarrassment that build as one grows older not knowing how to ride a bicycle. A 48-year-old student shared that her new partner organized a bicycling excursion. Instead of divulging that she didn’t know how to ride, she frantically searched for someone to teach her.

Circumstances prohibit many people from learning during their childhood. A 28-year-old student mentioned that his parents forbade him from learning because his cousin was hit and killed while riding.

And a 45-year-old student spoke about growing up in a rough neighborhood. Staying safe inside her home was more of a priority than learning how to ride.

Thankfully, negative emotions disappear as bicycling is mastered. Feelings of joy and achievement replace feelings of shame and embarrassment. Circumstances that kept a student from learning become a distant memory.

Never too old to learn

So when a friend admits to not knowing how to ride a bicycle, don’t show shock or surprise. Be quick to remember the true age difference: Not the number of birthdays, but the feelings and history that come with age.

It may have taken your friend a lot of courage to tell you this. Casually mention that there are instructors who teach adults (see list at bottom of page). Inspire your friend to give it a try.

Teaching during the pandemic

Is it safe to teach anyone how to ride right now, in a pandemic? Yes!

In an email from June 6, 2020, John Ciccarelli, principal of Bicycle Solutions in San Francisco, described the additional precautions he’s using while teaching:

Adult student learning how to "power pedal" her bicycle as instructor looks on

Pre-pandemic, John Ciccarelli assists a student raising the pedal for a power-pedal start.

“I and one of my five Bicycle Solutions instructor partners (League Cycling instructors) re-started lessons recently. His county (Santa Clara) already allows outdoor classes; San Francisco will allow them on June 15.

“I do bring my own bike for demos and coaching-while-riding, plus any teaching bikes I need for the client(s).

“I bring a cloth, soaked (sopping wet) in 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, in a one-gallon Ziploc bag, and use it for wiping bike contact surfaces, tools etc.  In the few adult learn-to-ride lessons I’ve done in the past two weeks (one client, two lessons), I haven’t had to remove and re-install pedals, but if I did I’d just wipe those.

“We practice distancing. The client is never within six feet of me and if s/he needs me to adjust the bike s/he parks it and walks away from it. I do what’s needed, then I walk away.

“I wear a synthetic, loose ‘bandanna’-style face covering (Buff) and require my client to also wear one when near me, but not while riding.  I talk only through the Buff.  We ride along at a good separation distance and I coach on the fly, talking or shouting as needed. I only shout when they’re a considerable distance away.

“(I also have 3M N95 masks, but they’re too restrictive to talk through effectively during lessons. I wear one under the Buff when inside stores.)”

Update: We have another post about teaching techniques and a student’s progression.

Passing safely with lots of clerance on shared-use patsh

Shared-Use Paths, Part 1: Etiquette

etiquette of passing on shared-use paths

Have you been out walking or riding on your local shared-use paths? Has use been a bit heavier than usual? It certainly has been where I live.

The Orlando metro area has over 100 miles of shared-use paths. I’m an avid user, both for walking and cycling. But with increasing use, it becomes apparent that a lot of users don’t have a good grasp on safety, or how their behavior affects others — more so as new users seek fresh air and sunshine during a pandemic.

This is part one of two posts about how to be safe and considerate on shared-use paths.

Path Etiquette: ensuring you and your fellow path users have an enjoyable time.

keep right on shared-use paths
On roads, pedestrians are required to walk facing traffic, so they can see cars coming and step aside. Stepping off the road is not always necessary, but pedestrians can easily do it when it is.

Pedestrians should never be expected to step off a shared-use path or a sidewalk to make way for another user, and so it doesn’t make sense for them to walk on the left.* Doing so causes both the pedestrian and an oncoming user to have to stop whenever passing isn’t possible due to opposite-side traffic. When all users keep right, faster users can simply slow and wait for the opportunity to pass. BTW, if you cannot keep your bike balanced at walking speed, you probably aren’t ready yet to be on the path (more on that below).
yield to oncoming traffic

Take it easy!

That brings me to my next point. When an obstruction is on your side of the path (or road, for that matter), YOU yield — whether it’s a fallen branch or a slower user. If there is oncoming traffic, wait until that traffic has passed.
don't thread the needle
Don’t thread the needle! This is disrespectful to both the person you are passing and the oncoming person. A crowded path isn’t the place to set speed records. If you have a need for speed, you should use the road instead.
move over to pass
When you do pass a slower user, move over! This is my chief complaint as a walker. I can’t tell you how many times a pathlete has blown past my elbow when there were eight feet of path to her left. Why would you do that? You know you hate it when motorists do that to you on the road.

It’s also nice to say something. I personally prefer to offer a gentle “good morning” vs screaming “ON YOUR LEFT.” Some people may react by moving left! Some are listening with earbuds and may not hear you. Startling them by yelling doesn’t necessarily help you pass safely.

So even if you say nothing at all, moving over as far as possible and passing at a reasonable speed is fine. In this pandemic time, social distance is about more than only common courtesy. (See our recent post about riding in the pandemic.)
single file to pass
Along those same lines, when you are riding side-by side with a companion (these days, a member of your household, I’d hope!), it is polite to single up in order to give a slower user more space when passing. Oftentimes two cyclists are so engrossed in their conversation that the left rider doesn’t even move left and the rider on the right brush-passes the pedestrian (me, yes, this happens a lot). Please be present.single up for oncoming traffic on shared-use paths for oncomingSimilarly, many older shared-use paths are not wide enough to remain side by side when there is oncoming traffic. Without a centerline, some users don’t recognize this. The additive closing speed of both users can be disconcerting.don't take up the whole path

Shared-use path courtesy when walking

When walking or jogging with family/friends, do not spread across the path requiring every other user to have to ask you to move in order to pass.
keep your dog on a short leash
I’ve walked many path miles with my dog. I trained her to walk on my right. She does this by default now, so I never have to worry about her wandering out in front of someone. A well-behaved dog makes everyone’s life easier on the path.