Car back!

One of the first things I learned on my first group ride was to call “Car back!” if a car approached the group from behind.

The warning served two purposes: to let everybody know a car was around, and to tell everybody to get into single file to let the car pass.

So why is it that more and more, I hear “Car back!” or call it myself, and the group blithely continues along, blocking the car from passing?

If you’re riding in the right lane of a multi-lane road, the call is unnecessary. Cars can pass in the other lane.  But if you’re riding on a two-lane road, it’s a different story.

Make way for the car. It’s bigger than you. In a tangle, it will always win.

And I can think of no quicker way to antagonize drivers than not moving out of the way.

One of the more amusing cases I witnessed was on a club ride, when a big pickup was held up by our group — a couple of riders were riding side-by-side, chatting. The pickup pulled into the oncoming lane to roar past, but the passenger rolled down her window and started shouting the Bicycle section of the Texas Transportation code – the part about riding single file.

Problem was, another big SUV was coming at the pickup, and had to dive for the soft shoulder of the road when the pickup couldn’t get back into its own lane fast enough. Amusing, but dangerous. And even though the pickup was too impatient in that incident, you know those folks are not going to be kind to cyclists when they come across them in the future — even if in single file.

What I’ve noticed is that most of the time, bikers are engaged in a conversation when the “car back” warning comes. It must be a really important conversation to not break it off, get into line, and then resume it when the car passes.

Lots of bikers seem to have an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to cars. Bikes are greener than cars. They take up less space on the road. To heck with them.

I don’t buy it.

Under state laws, bikes are vehicles. We have certain rights when it comes to using the road. We also have certain responsibilities.

The next time you’re with a group and someone calls, “Car back!” do what you’re supposed to do. Cut off the chatter and get into a single line. It won’t hold you up at all, and it will do its small part to ease relations between us and motorists.

Picture from the fine Commute Orlando blog. Lots of good safety information there, although set in a more urban environment than I talk about here.

How Well Do You Communicate?

Lately, I’ve been doing most of my riding alone. I haven’t planned it that way, it just happened because of a combination of my schedule and the weather. It’s been too chilly in the mornings to hit the club ride (tell that to the hardy souls who do show up!), and my work keeps me from getting in an evening ride. So I get out when I can.

But the days are getting longer, and I expect the group rides will resume soon. That reminds me to brush up on my communication skills. Over the weekend, riding with my wife, I made sure to point out road debris, broken glass and the like.

Signaling road debris.

In a group, it’s even more important to relay those signals. Trailing riders might not be able to see around bikes in front of them, and wouldn’t be aware of any upcoming hazards.

A couple of months ago, I was out riding with a friend. We were going single file on a narrow two-lane road. I was in the lead. I must have zoned out, because suddenly a jagged-edged pothole appeared right in front of me.

“Yipes!” I yelled, and yanked the handlebar over to miss it.

It caught my riding friend completely by surprise. “Whoa!” he yelled. He missed it too, but it was a near thing. I felt that I had been negligent by not pointing at the pothole as I skirted it. It was my responsibility, and I blew it.

Signals from the lead rider can help other riders get past the problem area more smoothly, too. All you have to do when someone in front points at a hazard is move your bike in the opposite direction. If there’s broken glass in the gutter, cyclists can get a little farther left to miss it.

While you’re passing along hand signals, verbal warnings are just as important. Riders at the back of the group should certainly call, “Car back!” when a car is approaching from behind, and in enough time to allow riders ahead to pull into single file and let the car pass.

But for me, verbal warnings can be problematic. Sometimes, the wind carries sounds away from you, or noise within the group makes it hard to understand. On my very first club ride more than two years ago, we were at an uncontrolled intersection, waiting for traffic to pass.  I heard what sounded like, “Clear right!” so I pulled out into the intersection. A car hit its brakes while I crossed in front of him. The rider who had shouted the warning quickly caught up to me. “I said ‘Car right!'” he told me. “In this group, there’s no such warning as ‘clear right.'”

In fact, when I reach an intersection now, “clear” is one warning I do not give. I prefer to determine for myself whether the road is clear enough for me to cross, and I hope other cyclists in the group feel the same way. I know they don’t — “clear!” is one of the more common verbal warnings on any group ride.

As a lot of us get ready to take part in large organized rides as part of our charity ride training, it’ll be interesting to see just how many novice cyclists are familiar with hand and verbal signals to communicate with the riders around them.

The Rear-view Mirror Question

I was riding laps around the Veloway a few days ago, when I closed on another cyclist. I was about to call, “On your left,” when he glanced up, and moved over on his own. As I drew even with him, I saw that he had a rear-view mirror mounted on his helmet. He obviously saw me coming, and knew when he would have to make way for me.

My friend Gilbert with a helmet mirror.

I’ve never used a mirror. On a typical group ride, I see only a few. Most appear to be helmet mirrors, but occasionally I see a mirror attached to a bar end.

I wonder — would a mirror make a difference?

I always try to be aware of my surroundings when I ride, and I scan behind me frequently. There’s no doubt in my mind that a mirror would make the scanning a little easier, since I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the bike on a straight line while looking back. But it’s the looking back that I think keeps me aware and on my guard.

Besides, a helmet mirror looks a bit dorky, doesn’t it?

Bar-end mirror.

The bar end mirrors are less so.

Like most of us, I also drive a lot. I have a rear-view mirror and two side-view mirrors on my car. I use them constantly. I suppose I should consider doing the same when I ride my bike.

I guess the real question I’ve been considering lately is — are mirrors a biking necessity? Should we all be using them?  And if so, what arguments are there in favor of one type over another?

I’d like to hear about your experiences.

Get Some

Handlebar Mirrors

Evo Edge Road Bicycle Handlebar Mirror - 630031-01
Lightweight, easy to install mirror for drop bars 770612267343
Merchant: Walmart
$15.49
Zefal Spin Handlebar Mirror Universal Mount
Zefal Spin handlebar mirror Universal mounting Shock resistant Bar-end mount Folds against handle bar when not in use New
Brand: ZefalMerchant: Walmart
$13.99

Helmet Mirrors

CycleAware Reflex Helmet Mirror: Adhesive; Black
The unique Kraton covered wire makes Reflex the first and only flexible and fully adjustable helmet mirror. Fits on all helmets Extra wide angle view No hassle installation Adjust or remove Reflex eas...
Brand: CycleawareMerchant: Walmart
$21.99
Thirdeye Mirror For Foam-Helmet
High quality Made in USA
Merchant: Walmart
$12.99
3rd Eye Pro Mirror: Adhesive; Fits Most Helmets
The Pro Mirror attaches to any helmet with an adhesive pad to offer an adjustable rear view. Features adjustibility, flexibility, range, clairity and stability
Merchant: Walmart
$16.99