Riding Single File
As mentioned in last month’s Safety Corner, the CRW Rides Committee has made riding single file in traffic our top safety-related priority for 2005. It is particularly important that we ride single file whenever motor-vehicle traffic is present, but it’s very easy in our group rides to overlook this responsibility. It feels like we are just riding with a group of fellow cyclists, having a good time, and minding our own business. What could be wrong with that? Well, it’s important to single up in traffic for several reasons:
- It’s courteous. With a small effort on our part, we allow motorists to overtake us more quickly and easily;
- It’s safer. Singling up allows approaching motorists to see ahead better, so they know whether it’s safe to pass. Some will try to pass even if they can’t see properly. If oncoming traffic appears while a motorist is passing, the motorist will invariably pull to the right, potentially side-swiping the cyclists in his/her path; and
- It’s the law. In Massachusetts, cyclists are required to ride single file, except when passing. When a motorist approaches and we are not single file, we are wrong. There’s no judgment call herewe are doing something illegal.
For many of the same reasons, it’s also important that we ride as far to the right as safety permits (i.e., while avoiding broken pavement, roadside debris, and the “door zone” when passing parked vehicles). There are a few exceptions to the “keep right” guideline. A cyclist should move to the left side of the lane when preparing to make a left turn. Also, a cyclist should occupy the lane of travel (by riding in the middle of the lane) when:
- Riding at the speed of traffic (for example, when descending a steep hill or in heavy traffic); or
- It’s unsafe for a motorist to pass (for example, when on a narrow road with traffic approaching from both directions).
There are many reasons why we fail to single up in traffic. Sometimes we simply aren’t paying attention. Any time that we are not riding single file and to the right, it is incumbent on us to be particularly alert to approaching trafficespecially traffic approaching from the rear. This requires frequent checks, either with a rear-view mirror or by glancing back. (Practice in a safe area until you can glance back while maintaining your line of travel.) Motorists tend to approach quickly, so act promptly (i.e., don’t wait to finish your sentence). Cyclists near the back of the group can help by calling out “car back” whenever a vehicle approaches. Other cyclists should relay the call up the pack, since those further ahead may not hear the original call. However, each of us is responsible for checking traffic, rather than relying on others to watch for us. We should stay single file whenever there is a fairly regular flow of traffic.
Sometimes we are simply doing what everyone else is doing (AKA, “the herd instinct”). We may subconsciously assume that there is nothing we need to do just because no one else seems to be reacting. Recognize our innate tendency to do as the group does, rather than making decisions for ourselves, and take steps to avoid it. Keep your eyes moving, take in the big picture, and take action when circumstances dictate.
There’s another reason why some riders don’t single up. Some don’t care too much about being courteous to motorists. This isn’t hard to understand. We’ve all experienced motorists’ discourteous acts, many of us have had close calls, and some even injured, as a result. Why should we extend courtesies to those who can be so discourteous to us? As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Being discourteous to motorists simply encourages them to be discourteous to us. From their perspective, why should motorists extend courtesies to those who can be so discourteous to them? On the other hand, when we make a highly visible, courteous gesture (such as promptly singling up), we send a very clear and positive signal. We are doing our part to share the road, and we are inviting motorists to do the same. Since most of us are both cyclists and motorists (but most motorists don’t cycle), we have a distinct advantage in being able to empathize with the other. Let’s use this advantage, along with our intellects and our character, to take the initiative in improving motorist/cyclist relations.
Remembersafety is about choices. What choices will you make?