Tag Archive for: confidence

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.

Join Us at the Philly Bike Expo!

The American Bicycling Education Association is pleased to announce that we’ll be at the Philly Bike Expo. So mark your calendars!

Our booth at the Philly Bike Expo
We’re back! This was our booth in 2019.

Founded in 2010 by Bilenky Cycle Works, the Philly Bike Expo promotes “the fun, function, fitness and freedom to be found on two wheels.” The event fosters relationships between the cycling community and dedicated companies and organizations.

Bilenky hosts the event so we can all “admire the artisans whose craft enables us to ride two-wheeled art, to applaud the activists whose tireless efforts further our cycling infrastructure and to explore cycling as a fun and efficient transportation alternative.”

We’ll be sharing a booth in the Expo Hall with the Lehigh Valley CAT-Coalition for Appropriate Transportation.

Concerned about Covid? There is information online about the Expo’s Covid Protocol. We are vaccinated, will be masked, and consider the risk acceptable.

Pam Murray’s bike, home from errands…

Street Smarts — and a raffle.

The recently published Bicycling Street Smarts, CyclingSavvy Edition will be available at the CyclingSavvy/CAT booth. Yes, autographed by the author!  And we’ll be raffling off copies. The grand prize winner also gets a full scholarship to a CyclingSavvy course, online or in person.

We’re having workshops too!

Two of us are giving presentations on Sunday:

John and a friend rode Spruce Street.

Pamela Murray, The Bike Life, Sunday. 1:30 PM — Pam rides over 6,000 miles per year for transportation, fitness and recreation. She is a CyclingSavvy instructor and Bicycle Benefits Ambassador, and leads bike rides for vacation and camping.

John Allen, Riding Philly Streets, Sunday, 3 PM. Videos and discussion of tactics to meet the challenges of Philly riding. In and out of the bike lane! Getting a smile from a SEPTA bus driver!

Click to zoom in for details about the ride.

And a bike ride…

We are also organizing an unracer bike ride. It will leave at 7:30 AM on Saturday from the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial (just downriver from the Girard Bridge), and will arrive at the Convention Center in time for you to check in for the opening of the exhibit hall.

We hope to see you in The Cradle of Liberty!

Happy cyclingSavvy group

Webinar Starts Today

In a few short hours

CyclingSavvy’s free one-hour Zoom webinar, Introduction to CyclingSavvy, starts today:

6 PM Pacific time
7 PM Mountain time
8 PM Central time
9 PM Eastern time

Because of demand, the American Bicycling Education Association has purchased lots more Zoom room.

California CyclingSavvy Instructor Gary Cziko will present. The Webinar will include live chat with three other instructors, and a Q&A session. If you can’t make it, ABEA will be posting a recording. We’ll announce where YouTube has placed it, once we know.

Bike club/organization members

Your club’s requested donation of $100 will give all club members free access to the Zoom Webinar for Bike Clubs and Group Rides, being held at the same time next Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

Club leaders, register here. Choose the Benefactor level. Include your organization’s name in the “Company” box. Note that your club is a Webinar Sponsor in the “Comments” box.

Donations will pay for work being developed exclusively for club and group cyclingHere’s a preview of the new online Group Ride Leader course currently in development:

Here are the sponsoring organizations as of December 8, 2020. Yours can still be on this list!

  • Bicycle Club of Irvine (CA)
  • Big Orange Cycling (CA)
  • Cincinnati Cycle Club (OH)
  • Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists (AZ)
  • GS Andiamo (CA)
  • Major Taylor Cycling Club Los Angeles (CA)
  • Riverside Bicycle Club (CA)
  • San Diego Bicycle Club (CA)
  • Velo Club La Grange (CA)
  • WeeklyRides.com (NC)

Two CyclingSavvy Webinars for the Holiday Season

People are cycling more than ever.

Gyms and pools are closed; countless people are staying and working at home. Many people are turning to cycling as a way to keep physically active, and to avoid exposure to the coronavirus in trains and buses. Cyclists are increasingly using e-bikes to cover longer distances in less time and with less effort.

Gary on Lincoln BulevardTraffic-cycling education — to make cycling safer and more enjoyable — has never been more important. Regardless of your level of bicycling experience, you can benefit from one or both of this month’s CyclingSavvy Zoom Webinars.

Compelling Reasons To Attend

1. If you are a cyclist.

Even if you are just thinking of getting on a bike, register for the free one-hour “Introduction to CyclingSavvy” Webinar. It’s next Wednesday, December 9, at 6 PM Pacific / 7 PM Mountain / 8 PM Central / 9 PM Eastern Time. This Facebook event listing offers more details. Free required Zoom registration is here.

2. If you know others who cycle or are interested in cycling and care about maximizing their cycling safety and enjoyment.

Invite your family (friends, neighbors, (work associates . . . ) to this webinar by forwarding this article or its link to them. Start them on their way to being able to go anywhere by bike!

3. If you are a bike club/organization member.

Are you itching to get back to group rides again? Ask leaders to make your organization a CyclingSavvy webinar sponsor. Then you and all members of your club can attend the Zoom Webinar for Bike Clubs and Group Rides on Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

For bicycle club/organization leaders:

A requested donation of $100 will give all of your club members free access to the December 16 Zoom Webinar.

Choose the “Benefactor” level at CyclingSavvy.org/support-cyclingsavvy/. Include your organization’s name and state in the “Company” box and indicate “Webinar Sponsor” in the Comments box.

Donations will pay for work being developed exclusively for club and group cycling. Here’s a sneak preview of the new online Group Ride Leader course currently in development:

Donor organizations will receive recognition and the Zoom registration link to share with members. Contact Gary Cziko to discuss other possible club-sponsor options.

Who is running the CyclingSavvy Webinars?

Cali Riderz on Pacific coast Highway, Los AngelesGary Cziko will host the two webinars from Los Angeles. Participating panelists from the East Coast will be CyclingSavvy Instructors Michael Burns and Nadine Ford.

Nadine, Michael and Gary are all board members of the American Bicycling Education Association. John S. Allen, chair of ABEA’s Program Committee, and author of Bicycling Street Smarts and editor of The Savvy Cyclist is the fourth panelist.

For more information about the CyclingSavvy approach to make you a safer and more confident cyclist, visit CyclingSavvy.org. For a sample of what we will cover in the first Webinar, see this lesson from the free online Essentials Short Course.

Thank You

Here are the sponsoring organizations as of December 8, 2020. Yours belongs on this list!

  • Beach Cities Cycling Club (CA)
  • Bicycle Club of Irvine (CA)
  • Big Orange Cycling (CA)
  • Cincinnati Cycle Club (OH)
  • Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists (AZ)
  • GS Andiamo (CA)
  • Major Taylor Cycling Club Los Angeles (CA)
  • Riverside Bicycle Club (CA)
  • San Diego Bicycle Club (CA)
  • Velo Club La Grange (CA)
  • WeeklyRides.com (NC)
Safe passing -- you can see my hand signal in my shadow.

“Control and Release” for safe passing

Several weeks ago I posted an article with dashcam video about roads with double yellow lines. I was driving the car, and slowed to follow a bicyclist at a blind curve on a two-lane rural highway. A large dump truck with a trailer appeared, coming from the opposite direction.

If I had held my speed and passed the bicyclist, I could not have merged left far enough to pass the bicyclist safely.  Neither could the truck driver see me in time to make more room.

Safe passing-- the location on Route 117 in Lincoln, Massachusetts, USA

The location, in Lincoln, Massachusetts, USA

The bicyclist kept to the right as far as he could. He relied only on hope —  and my good judgment —  to avoid a close pass, or worse.

The video held a message for motorists: “What you don’t see can hurt you” — or hurt someone else (in this case, most likely the bicyclist).

Blind curves hold a message for bicyclists

To clarify this message, I later rode the same stretch on a bicycle with front and rear video cameras.

As this video shows, I mostly rode on the shoulder. Several cars and a pickup truck passed me —  no problem. No oncoming traffic prevented safe passing clearance.

But as I approached the blind curve, the shoulder narrowed to almost nothing. A big truck or other large vehicle could be approaching ahead. Who knew? Who could know? Neither I nor the driver of the car approaching from behind me could see around that curve.

Here’s what I did — what I always do — to protect myself:

I checked in my rearview mirror and took a look over my shoulder. If vehicles had been closer behind, I would have have used a hand signal to negotiate my way into line.

This car was far enough back that I simply merged to lane-control position. Then I made a hand signal: “Slow.”safe passing: the car's slowing confirmed that the driver had seen me and was acting safely.

The driver slowed to follow me for a few seconds. Once I had rounded the curve and could see far enough ahead, I released to the right and give a friendly wave. The driver accelerated and passed me.

How control and release promotes safe passing

What did my actions achieve?

  • They indicated that I was aware of the driver’s vehicle behind me.
  • They indicated that I knew it was unsafe to pass. Maybe I knew something the driver didn’t know!
  • In case the driver was impatient, they made it clear that passing would have to wait until we could both see far enough ahead.
  • The car’s slowing confirmed to me that the driver was aware of me and acting safely.
  • And by releasing as soon as it was safe, I demonstrated courtesy. No motorist wants to be “stuck” behind a cyclist.

As it turned out, there was no large truck, or not even a small car, approaching from the front.

But that isn’t the point. One could have been.

Might the driver behind me have passed, unable to see far enough ahead, if I had hugged the right edge of the road? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, because I took active control of my safety in a potentially dangerous situation.

When my safety is at stake, I choose not to rely on others to do the right thing. As we say in CyclingSavvy courses, drivers get smarter when we lead the dance.

Would You Ride A Bicycle Through Here?

If you’ve taken the CyclingSavvy course, you’ll recall the video of John Alexander’s bicycle ride across a huge highway interchange.  At less than 10 miles per hour, on an Elektra Townie bicycle.

If you haven’t seen the video, watch it here, and relax. John’s bicycle ride was boring, not daring.

John — and Keri Caffrey, riding behind him with cameras to record it all — had the road almost entirely to themselves, through thoughtful choice of lane position, and by taking advantage of traffic-signal timing.

My own gnarly bicycle riding challenge

I face a similar situation later this month. I have two doctor’s appointments about a mile apart. By far the shortest route between the two doctors’ offices passes through a similar huge highway interchange. I could take a much longer way there, but this longer ride would include backtracking on a poison-ivy-infested sidewalk.

On Monday, I checked out the route in a car, with a dashcam running:

So here’s a challenge for you:

How would you ride this?

Would you ride it at all?

Have a look in Google maps

The image below shows my route, from right to left, in Google Maps. (When I drove, I went straight through on Route 9 rather than turning into William Street. That doesn’t change anything important.)

Google map of gnarly route for bicycle ride

Google will let me share the location but not the route information. Here’s the location in Google Maps. You can play around with Google Street View and get a closer look.

map view of Google Maps, featuring yellow Google Dude

Google Dude is the yellow fellow in the lower right corner of Google Maps

Not familiar with Street View? If you’re using a computer, click on Google Dude, the yellow fellow in the lower right corner of Google Maps. Drag the green fog under his feet to any street that lights up in blue, release the mouse button, and there you are.

You can move around using the the keyboard’s arrow buttons.  The right and left buttons turn you around. The down button is your reverse gear, up button moves you forward. Or click on the image and drag with the mouse.

Once you’ve dropped your Dude, there’s a “compass” in the lower right corner that also makes it easy to turn around:

Google Dude view of William Street

Compass in lower right corner (in Google maps but not in this screen shot) spins map to the view you want.

Once I dropped Google Dude on the road, I spun the compass in the lower right corner to point Dude in the direction I’ll be riding next week. I clicked on the street to move forward, and stand with Dude in the middle of any road.

The arrow in the black box at the upper left corner of the screen takes you back to the overhead view.

On a tablet or smartphone, you can tap and swipe the screen to access these same features.

This bicycle ride is possible!

I have discussed this ride with a few other people and found at least two, maybe, three different ways to manage it. I don’t consider the ride difficult even for a novice cyclist, but savvy strategies can make it much more convenient. (Hint: see my description of John Alexander’s ride above.)

Please post comments and suggestions. I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks with video of my ride.

I love to ride my bicycle, but I have my limits. Arriving at the doctors’ offices drenched in sweat during a pandemic would exceed those limits! If necessary, I’ll ride the route on a different day to shoot the video.

Your turn now.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this ride.


The Madrid Model

Note from Editor John Allen: This post started with a request from Madrid Ciclista in Madrid, Spain, to publish a translation of an article on this blog into Spanish. We were happy to comply. A look at their website revealed that Madrid has been thinking outside the box about bicycling. Miguel Cardo of Madrid Ciclista wrote the post below describing the “Modelo Madrid” in 99.44% perfect English.

Fire up Google Maps.

Switch to satellite view and have a look at any large avenue in my city, Madrid:

Madrid boulevard with ciclocarriles 30 marking



Madrid boulevard with ciclocarriles 30 marking

Lanes marked with that symbol have a speed limit of 30 km/h (about 19 mph). The default of 50 km/h (about 31 mph) is allowed in the other lanes. The marking with the oversized sharrow means:

  • Bicyclists can use the lane;
  • They have to ride in the middle of the lane.

All this started in 2013.

The city government was still reeling from the excesses of a real-estate bubble. Debt had ballooned to 7.4 billion euros after a failed Olympic bid. [1] The city could not even dream of any significant infrastructure project. A giant fine from the European Commission was looming for the city’s failure to reduce its pollution levels. [2]

City officials had to come up with something. This time they just couldn’t buy their way out of trouble. So they tried something different: a plan to increase cycling modal share without any large infrastructure projects.

The first plan was modest.

City officials started with a timid plan of “ciclocarriles 30” along the avenues and boulevards surrounding the Old Town. “Ciclocarriles 30” means 30 km/h bike lanes. The plan also included a municipal bike-share scheme that would use electric bikes, because Madrid is notoriously hilly. [3]

Municipal bike-share bicycle riding over a CC30 marking - photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

Municipal bike-share bicycle about to pass over a CC30 marking. Photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

In the beginning, nobody thought much of the plan.

In a chaotic and aggressive environment, motorists would not welcome the new users on “their” roads. Madrid city police have a well-deserved reputation for not enforcing traffic laws. Most people thought of the plan as some low-cost desperate measure to postpone the EU fine for a while, at least until a different administration was in charge. I’m not even sure that the city officials who created the plan had much faith in it.

Onward to Modelo Madrid.

Modelo Madrid makes urban cycling a transportation mode equal to any otherFast forward five or six years. Madrid city police still turned a blind eye to speeding, but the unexpected happened.

Madrid’s undisciplined, chaotic, aggressive motorists can be seen moving slowly behind a cyclist, waiting for the right moment to overtake — changing lanes to pass in the lane to the left.

The true benefit of the 30 km/h (19 mph) speed limit is not that motorists comply with it, but that they drive at 15 km/h (9 mph) behind cyclists without even revving their engines. A new generation of cyclists — many of whom started riding on the new municipal white electric bikes — uses these roads with confidence.

Every road user is mandated to control his or her traffic lane.

A third measure sustaining this change was a city ordinance issued in 2010, which not only allowed but made mandatory riding on the center of the lane. [4]

In the video below, shot by the rider of a folding bicycle, nothing exciting happens, so don’t feel compelled to watch it all the way through.

The number of cyclists is still modest (2-3 percent in the central area, according to counts by Madrid Ciclista) but growing. [5]

Percentage of bicycles in central Madrid with respect to other vehicles, counts by Madrid Ciclista

Percentage of bicycles in central Madrid with respect to other vehicles, counts by Madrid Ciclista

The graph below, from the city’s lower, less accurate counts, shows the trend from year to year:

Yearly trends in bicycle use in central Madrid

Yearly trends in bicycle use in central Madrid

When compared with other European cities, the number of crashes per million trips is encouragingly low. [6].

City counts showing trend in bicycle use

We can now say that slow lanes were the origin of the so-called Modelo Madrid. The Madrid Model recognizes urban cycling as a transportation mode equal to any other, not requiring special infrastructure but granting the same rights to cyclists as to other vehicle operators. [7]

No cyclists ride on the sidewalk. Cyclists grant the same respect to pedestrians as they demand from motorists. Modelo Madrid puts in practice many of the principles pioneered by John Forester and refined in the United States by CyclingSavvy.

Modelo Madrid: the way of the future?

As with any other aspect of public policy, we can’t “ride” on our laurels — to paraphrase the English idiom — and expect equal treatment for cyclists in Madrid forever.

Economic stimulus money spent on “sustainable” projects is always a threat for urban cyclists, especially in these COVID-19 times. Going back to the segregated model is still possible. Some very loud cycling activists and associations are always demanding narrow bike lanes in the door zone or on sidewalks, following the North European model.

Here’s an example from Seville:

Sidewalk bikeway in Seville, Spain

Bikeway in Seville, Spain, 2018. Photo credit: Gary Cziko

On the other hand, more Spanish cities are introducing slow lanes, especially after the COVID-19 lockdown: Valladolid, Burgos, Leganés, Granada…

Cyclist in Ciclocarril 30

Photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

Additional thoughts from Editor John Allen:

Which way should US states go? Could there be slow lanes on multi-lane streets in the USA? Keep in mind that higher speeds are common now on e-bikes, which probably did not in exist when Seville bikeways were planned and constructed.

Consider that automated crash avoidance is becoming common on motor vehicles, and improving. A transition to autonomous vehicles will follow, in time.

Suppose that a hoped-for decrease in motor traffic occurs with autonomous vehicles. Consider also the dangers of edge riding, and the reduction in efficiency and safety when turning vehicles must cross the path of through-traveling ones, rather than merging before turning.

All of these factors suggest that an integrated model like the Modelo Madrid could become more compelling as time passes.

Does US practice support the Modelo Madrid?

There is no specific mention in the model US traffic law [8] of different lanes with different posted speed limits. Yet these are in wide use, established indirectly.

In several states, large trucks are held to a lower speed limit than other vehicles [9], and are prohibited from using the leftmost lanes on multi-lane highways [10]. Edge-of-the road “friction” with parked vehicles, walk-outs, drive-outs and parking decreases the safe speed in the rightmost lane on city streets.

The general rule is to pass on the left, in the “fast lane”. But faster vehicles may pass bicyclists on the right in a right-turn lane, and sometimes a bus lane.

In all of these cases, the basic speed limit applies: to drive no faster than is reasonable and prudent. That speed is established by the design of the street and by the users who are present. Here’s an example of a bike lane to the left of a bus lane on University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin. [11]