Vehicular Cycling isn’t For Me

Vehicular Cycling is the practice of riding bikes in traffic in a manner that’s visible, predictable and in accordances with principles for driving. Theory is that you are safer because you are more predictable. Seems reasonable enough no? Do things in a visible, predictable manner, don’t get hurt. In automotive traffic, riding like a car drives. Taking a full lane and sticking to your guns.
Cycling in Traffic Image

VC is an advanced way to handle yourself in traffic and you should not attempt to do so if you are wet behind the ears. It can be safe in certain situations if you are experienced and know exactly what you are doing. But there are lots of cases where behaving like a car is not in your best interests. Here are three things to think about before you decide you are going to exercise your rights to the road and ride like a car drives.

Who Promotes VC?

Experienced riders are a great source of information if you have questions. But be careful if one advises you to be more VCish than you are comfortable with. I have no issue with an experienced rider practicing VC. I do it from time to time. But they should not be preaching to the newly converted, or to the about to be converted. I’m new enough that I can still remember how intimidating cars, trucks, buses were at first. If a sage rider told me in my formative days that the way to turn left was from the vehicle left turn lane, I may not have ever started.

Is It Really Safe To Claim Your Rights

Another thing that you should consider before doing too much VC is that the road is not always a welcoming place for cyclists. I’ll tell you a story. On occasion, I claim the lane to make a left turn. Very VC. Once, when I claimed the lane, made my signal and waited for oncoming traffic to clear, a motorist behind me got impatient. I’m not sure why since he was also turning left and would have had to wait anyway. As I rounded the turn, he came up on my left in the oncoming traffic lane. He drove beside me for a few hundred meters. Once I looked over he accelerated as hard as he could and cut into the lane in front of me. With his exhaust and his noise (it was a damn loud Trans AM), he was ‘teaching me a lesson’. I did everything right, but it could have turned out very badly for me. I blame the tenets of VC for this. It’s not a position I’ll put myself in again.

Collisions Still Happen

Also, before you decide that cyclists always belong in traffic, remember, sometimes collisions happen. Vocal VCer’s love to compare collision stats with automobiles. They often claim that the risks of competent VC are comparable to that of driving. I agree that if you are well seen and you are competent at VC, then probability of collisions are comparable to driving. But risk involves two factors, probability¬†and penalty. I’ve been involved in two rear end collisions in my life. Both were while I was stopped in a left turn lane waiting to make a left, both would have killed me if I was on my bike. In a car, it’s an inconvenience, on a bike, it’s a funeral. There’s going to be a time when you couldn’t anticipate, couldn’t react fast enough.

So, any VC’ers who have made it to the end of this post without closing the browser in disgust, I’ll offer this olive branch. I think it’s fine what you are doing. Hell, do whatever you want. Myself? I’m going to pull my bike off the road when I’m waiting at a busy intersection. On occasion I’ll bike on the sidewalk if I think road conditions are too dangerous.

Another thing, let’s leave the VC stuff off the recruitment poster OK? It’s not going to win us new recruits.

10 thoughts on “Vehicular Cycling isn’t For Me

  1. I guess I fall into the “VC” category since I strive to obey all traffic laws when I’m riding my bike. I disagree with the idea that cyclists can just ride wherever they want and pick and choose which traffic laws they will obey.

    I understand your points. I don’t support them but I understand them. After reading your post, I’m left with one nagging question: Just how the heck *do* you make a left turn if you don’t do it from the left turn lane?

    1. It’s not so much that I pick and choose which rules to follow, more that I get out of the traffic if it’s too hairy. I don’t decry segregated cycling infrastructure like hard core VC’ers. I’ll use the sidewalk if I need to. There are some different hazards there, but I feel it’s ultimately safer.

      A Copenhagen left is shown in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QEKTZyQmwk at about the 4 minute mark. It’s slower, but not as vulnerable.

  2. It all comes down to timing in my opinion. If the traffic is light enough that I can take the lane without taking a bumper first, I will do it. I’ll even take the lane if there is a lot of traffic, but moving slowly enough that I can keep up with it on my bike. If there are impatient idiots behind me, they will pass in the oncoming traffic lane. Their safety is their business, and my safety is mine. I’ve been in this situation a few times, especially at intersections with only one lane in my direction of travel, or with very narrow lanes (ex. Phillip and Columbia, Albert and Columbia, Albert and University).
    I used to also take the sidewalk when convenient, but I found out that it is illegal to do so in Waterloo region, so I don’t do that anymore. However, many people break the rules when convenient and very few get caught (think speeding). So I say, do what you feel is appropriate for your given situation. I also agree that VC needs to be taken off the recruitment poster.

  3. Very well done post!

    I suppose I am a VC because I have little issue in “taking the lane”, though I am also not the type to do it if it will put myself in danger or if it’s going to simply piss off all the motorists behind me. I read far too often people who “take the lane” purely because they can, despite no real reason to do so.

    On most roads I ride in the “sewer zone”, meaning I usually am at the edge of the sewer or at times ride over it. Even while in a bike lane I stick as far right as possible.
    This time of year I’m really left with no choice but to ride further out because heavy snow and ice builds up closer to the curb or in the bike lanes. If the city would clear right to the curb this would not be an issue of course.

    For my first year or two I was a die-hard sidewalk rider. Although the thought of riding on a sidewalk now gets my stomach in knots, I no longer fault people who do ride on them, though would prefer to see them in the bike lane when one is present.

    When I was looking at moving to K-W and saw some of the speed limits on certain roads, I believe even I would be riding on the sidewalk there at times. Speed limits in St. Catharines are no more then 50 km/h within the city. When you go to rural StC or rural Niagara-on-the-Lane speed limits can reach 70-80 km/h. Fortunately I only head to the rural spots maybe once a year and people that travel in those areas are always extremely friendly (mainly because bike tourism is quite big).

    As for left turns there are different factors in play for myself. Is traffic heavy? Is there a dedicated left turn lane?
    Although 80% of the time I make a “Copenhagen-left”, I usually have little issue in making a left turn if there is a dedicated turning lane.
    If it is just four lanes of through traffic then I do the Copenhagen-left.
    Fortunately thus far I have never had an issue with making a left turn in a dedicated turning lane. People wait behind me without issue.

    I would say as long as people obey traffic laws (stop at reds and stop signs), people should ride in such a way they are comfortable.
    If they choose to ride on the sidewalk give pedestrians the right of way. Give them as much space as you’d want a car to give you on the road. NEVER go from sidewalk to road, sidewalk to road. This annoys everyone and makes all cyclists look like jackasses.

    1. Sewer zone. Priceless. I’ve never heard that one.

      I’m starting to think that St.C might be more cycle friendly than the ‘loo. I usually have at least one driver per week pull a boner.

      1. RE sewer zone: I didn’t know what else to call it :p

        Motorists in StC do seem quite friendly towards cyclists, even if deep down some wished we were off the roads.
        I can only compare StC to Niagara Falls and Welland.

        Welland is a nice city to get around in, though not as nice as StC.
        Fewer bike lanes and some roads with speed limits of 70 km/h were a bit of a turn off. Though they did have quite a few 40 km/h roads there and some nice north-south off road multi use trails.

        Niagara Falls is so-so. The touristy area is quite easy to get around in, however for locals who rarely visit this area the rest of the city can be a headache. Roads are in terrible condition and traffic can get quite bad.

        StC comes ahead in bike friendliness over those two, but also in weather. NF & Welland tend to receive a considerable amount more snow and rain year round then StC.

  4. The thing with VC is that a bike can never be like a car, we don’t weigh a tonne or two and take up the entire lane with a giant metal cage… that’s why VC will never completely protect a cyclist. I do take the lane to make left turns, and I’ve never had a problem when I give myself enough time to get into the lane and make it without getting in anyone’s way — similar to how you’re supposed to do it in a car.

    If I can’t get over, I’ll just turn right and pull a u-turn. That’s the safest thing for novice cyclists to do too provided the right turn took you onto a quieter street, I reckon… and that’s why picking your routes is important too… avoid putting yourself in busy intersections in the first place. I think signals and eye contact with drivers helps too, I rarely have any bad interactions these days.

    I get the impression from various online forums that some cyclists feel that anything less than VC is conceding victory, and I suppose on some moral level it is, but I care far more about staying alive than I do about some altruistic debate about who has what rights on the road. The other thing about VC that pisses me off is the opposition to bike-specific infrastructure. Some VC’ers are anti-bike lane and anti-path.

    And I can’t say say this enough: get a mirror. It’s far more important to your safety than a helmet would be – rear end collisions will mostly kill you with or without a helmet, but if you’re checking your mirror you might be able to squeeze over in time. I’ve only had a mirror for a month but I love it… sure, it’s not the most stylish thing to hang on your bars, but function over form folks.

    (I also need to learn some concision)

  5. I really can’t agree with this. Biking too close to the side of the road and biking in inconsistent ways IS dangerous. The Toronto bike accident report suggested that a full 30% of bike-automobile collisions occurred when someone was cycling on the street.

    Certainly, there are legal differences between what bikes and cars can do. On a bike, it’s perfectly legal and safe to do the left hand turn demonstrated in Rob’s link (but impossible in a car), and I certainly do that when traffic is heavy and I don’t want to cross multiple lanes of traffic to turn left, but it takes a hell of a lot longer than using an advance left signal with a turning lane. I’ve never had a driver complain when I stop to turn left in the middle of an intersection.

    Cars turning right are a better example of safe/useful VC. If you stop at an intersection, it’s WAY safer to pull over to the left and let cars pass you on the right than to pull over to the right and have cars pass around you. I’ve heard of drivers getting angry for cyclists taking the lane and not allowing right-turning drivers to pass them (which is unfair – if I were a car, you wouldn’t be able to pass either) but almost every time I pull over to the left to let a car turn right, I get a smile and a wave from drivers.

    Most importantly, safety for cyclists comes from a visible presence of cyclists on the road. If drivers are used to seeing bikes around, they’re more likely to look out for bikes. Minimizing your visibility by hiding from drivers doesn’t get us anywhere. Of course, choose your route based on comfort, but convenience is 90% of the reason I choose to bike, so if I can’t cycle down King Street to do my shopping, I’m not interested in cycling at all.

  6. I bike ride on the sidewalk because I have seen / heard way too many cyclists getting killed on the roads. But please understand my specific ways of bike riding on the sidewalks:

    1) – If there is a person on the sidewalk, I completely get off the sidewalk at least 2 car-lengths before and after that person. I do this because I feel that the sidewalks are meant for the pedestrians and NOT BIKES, so I don’t want that pedestrian feel that they are having to share their space with a bicycle as it is not right to pressure pedestrians in such a way. If there is no space for me to get off the sidewalk then I simply get off the bike and walk it past the pedestrian.

    2) – I ride a folding bike with 19″ wheels. Bikes with wheels of 50cm (20″) or less are actually allowed on the sidewalks according to K-W and Cambridge bylaws. Its only bikes with tires OVER 50 cm that are banned from the sidewalks. Still, I get off the sidewalks or off my bike when close to a pedestrian on the sidewalk, to me that is just what a sane person is supposed to do.

    3) – my bike has 19″ tires, its really small, and as a result of this I have a hard time even doing “walking” speeds on it, a person jogging often passes me while I am riding my bike, so as you can see, I am not a “speeder” on the sidewalks.

    4) – when coming to a intersection, I ALWAYS get off my bike and walk across, because thats the law. Doing otherwise is a HUGE breach of the law. Bike riding in a cross walk is also a ticketable offense, so I don’t do it.

    5) – in downtown areas where there is shops along the sidewalks I get off my bike and walk, I don’t want to startle any shoppers who might be leaving the stores right in front of me. Yes, I’m only bike riding at walking speed but at first glance seeing a guy on a bike is scary because one always assumes a bike is going FAST (not slow like me), so I just get off and walk.

    5) – I don’t wear a helmet as I almost always bike ride a lot slower than the local joggers. Joggers don’t wear helmets so I don’t either. ( If I was on the road then i would wear a helmet because a helmet might help me a bit to survive when a car smashes into my backside at 90 km/hr — maybe.)

    6) – My bike has a bell, a LED flashlight for a headlight, and flashing rear tail light, as well as reflective tapes on front forks and rear forks, wheel reflectors, white front / red rear reflectors. I make sure I have everything for night riding as the law requires, even though I seldom ride at night.

    7) – Since my 19″ wheel bike is so slow, I find myself walking more and more these days and I just leave my folding bike in my car’s trunk (where it normally is kept.)

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