Having to Clip Out Is No Excuse

Our friend Jeff Hemmel sent this story about another crackdown on bicyclists — this one in St. Petersburg, Fla., where police ticketed 16 cyclists in one day for failure to stop at a stop sign.

We’ve covered stop sign issues here before — and police crackdowns on stop sign scofflaws — so this isn’t really anything new.  What interested me on reading the article was this sentence: “Petrak said she knows she should obey stop signs, but clipping and unclipping her bike shoes slows her down and can make it dangerous when crossing intersections.”

Roll eyes here.

When I took the League of American Bicyclists Road I course — now Traffic Skills 101 — I got points deducted during our ride through the city because I didn’t put a foot on the ground at a stop sign. Their attitude is that stop means stop.  That’s the attitude the Austin Police took last year when they ticketed several members of my club for not stopping at a stop sign. But to them, a full stop means the cyclist should put a foot on the ground.

Okay, I’ll come clean.  I still don’t put a foot down at every stop sign.  Certainly, if there’s no traffic at an intersection, I’ll slow, then go.  If there is traffic at the stop sign, I’ll slow to a track stand, kind of — I’m not very good at them, but I can hold my position for a few seconds, anyway. But unless I get a signal from the driver right away that I can go, I clip out and stop. That’s a very unmistakable signal that I want the driver to go before me.  It’s also one reason I have my pedals set to very light tension.

But I think that comments about the burden of having to unclip at stop signs do nothing to mitigate the antagonism between motorists and cyclists.  We come across as whiners who want everything our way.

If it’s too much of a hassle to clip out, I suggest a little practice is in order.  Do it while supporting yourself against a wall, or a tree, or a light pole.  Keep doing it until it becomes second nature.  Tip: I have found that I clip in faster and easier if I just do it by feel.  It’s when I sneak a look down at my foot that I have to try two or three or more times to get clipped in.

And as far as the safety issue of crossing intersections, I learned long ago that the cyclist’s first job is to get across.  More often than not, I just rest my foot on the pedal and pedal across the intersection, then I worry about getting clipped in.  Sorry, but it’s not a big deal.

What’s your take?

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19 thoughts on “Having to Clip Out Is No Excuse

  1. The clip out excuse is lame and does not help our cause although a peloton riding 2×2 with each stopping at a each stop sign could snarl traffic and increase driver antagonism. That being said lone cyclists should probably be held to the same rules that drivers are. “If a cyclists runs a stop sign and no one is there to witness it…. did it really happen?”

  2. Lame excuse. Period.

    I watched a video earlier this week of a group ride, shot from a handlebar cam, where cyclists were running stop signs and failing to yield. Some with cars stopped that they overtook and made turns out into traffic. Totally unsafe. Totally stupid.

  3. There is absolutely no basis the the statement that it’s too hard to unclip at stops. If ou’re riding with clip-in’s, you need to learn to get clipped in and out in all conditions.

    I make it a point to very clearly come to a stop in front of any car that may be present. I have a couple of 4-way stops on my commute and cars often attempt to be courteous by waving me to make my left turn in front of them when they really have the right-of-way. When that happens, I sometimes shake my head “no” and fold my arms across my chest to indicate that I’m going to wait my turn.

    Other times, I take the initiative and wave them accross before they have time to decide to be polite. That works as well.

  4. The club that I belong to does stop at all stop signs and traffic lights for their organized rides. However, we all stop the cycling-bus as a unit, and then we all go as a unit across the stop or traffic light.

    This one gets even more sticky when you do early morning rides and there is no traffic on the road. Do you come to a complete stop at that lonely stop sign in the middle of nowhere? How about traffic lights that only get activated by those magnetic sensors, that even a group of 10 bikes won’t activate?

  5. The clipping/unclipping excuse is lame. If this person doesn’t know how to use her equipment, she needs to learn!

    That said, I don’t always put a foot down at stops if I know I’m going to get to go again in a few seconds. I do come to a complete stop though – just trackstand (I’m not the greatest at this, but I can hold it for a bit!). I feel like if I’m not moving forward anymore, it doesn’t matter where my feet are.

    I know that my actions affect more than just myself – they affect others’ perceptions of bikers. So I do my best to obey laws, be courteous, and smile at people!

  6. I’ve been guilty of passing traffic on the right while waiting for a stop light. I’m going to stop that, both for safety reasons and to avoid annoying motorists. I also clip out and put a foot down at lights, and when there’s traffic at a stop sign. But if the road is empty, I slow, look carefully, and then roll on through.

    I’m happy to try and follow the rules more to the letter, but I hope the police and cities will also try to educate drivers about the three-foot law, etc. In my experience, most drivers are clueless to those requirements.

  7. I will trackstand for a moment if it’s at a stop sign and there’s no traffic, but it there’s anyone near I’ll drop a foot down. Really, though, my pet peeve is cyclists that ride on the right around stopped traffic. I will sit in traffic just like everyone else, staying in the center left then moving to right when we start moving.

  8. I agree – the clipping out excuse is lame and stupid. If it’s really that much trouble to clip out when stopping, then they shouldn’t be using clipless pedals. I just went clipless a couple months ago and I don’t find it to be a problem at all, and I’m certainly no pro with them.

    There are situations where I don’t always do a full put-my-foot-down stop: if a driver waves me through, if i’m in a very low traffic area and I’m certain no traffic is coming, etc. When I do stop and clip out, I never worry about clipping back in until I’m safely through the intersection. It’s simple enough to ride with my foot resting on top of the pedal, then clip in once I’m out of traffic.

    I also hate it when cyclists squeeze to the right side of stopped cars at a traffic light. If we want cars to respect us and treat us as the vehicles we’re supposed to be, then I act like a car whenever possible. I wait behind cars at a light by taking my lane so I’m clearly visible. Then I move over when it’s clear to do so or when I reach a bike lane. In my opinion, if we want drivers to show us respect, then we should return the favor by being respectful also. (I’ll shut up now.)

  9. Being a motorcop, I understand the enforcement side of bicycle safety. I am a little more relaxed though and don’t think I have ever cited a cyclist. I figure if the cyclist gets hit, they will always lose, and need to be careful. Being said, I don’t unclip at stop signs or red lights. I am able to balance long enough to stop for a few seconds and continue. A stop is a stop, in California nothing says your foot needs to touch the ground, it just says stop. When we ride our motorcycles we do the same thing. I don’t put my foot down at the stop sign because I can balance just long enough to make a complete stop and proceed.

  10. Personally I treat every traffic control in the moment. Sometimes running stop signs, sometimes setting up camp there. The traffic determines how I treat any part of riding.

  11. Ray,

    Actually, when the police chief met with ACA earlier this year he defined a stop as complete cessation of any forward movement–period. There is no requirement to put a foot on the ground.

    However, a track stand or even a momentary halt may confuse a policeman and his perception is that you didn’t stop.

    I also find that a foot on the ground is sometimes a great signal for other vehicles that I am acknowledging their right of way (a lot of them don’t get it and I have to add a hand signal).

  12. Great post, and interesting discussion. Personally, if I’m in the middle of nowhere — e.g. open plains east of Pflugerville — I’ll stop at a stop sign if and only if there are other cars present. In the absence of any traffic, I’ll slowly roll the sign. In-city I try to be more diligent about coming to a complete stop and un-clipping. My pet peeve — and what happened to me this morning while riding down Shoal Creek — is when you come to a stop, un-clip, put the foot down, and another cyclist comes zipping right past you and through the intersection. In my opinion that is the zenith of tackiness, and completely usurps the bike-car diplomacy and safe situation I was attempting to create by coming to an appropriate stop.

    If people are worried about losing their cadence or speed when coming to a complete stop, then I recommend keeping in mind that accelerating from zero MPH to cruising speed makes for a good interval. In other words, you can integrate following traffic laws with a good workout routine.

    -jbm

  13. I usually don’t clip out, but do come to a complete stop if there’s no one at the intersection. Otherwise, I do.

    One pet peeve is motorists who insist on honking their horn if they’re behind you as you accelerate from a stop or light while you’re trying to get clipped in. It’s not helpful. I’m usually over on the side of the road out of the way, so there’s no reason to do this.

    • I saw a commuter go through that last week. He was making a left turn and stayed as far to the right as possible. It was very easy for cars to turn inside him. Once he made the turn, he hugged the curb so cars could pass. But some guy just had to honk, honk, honk. As you say, not helpful.

  14. Chiming back in on this one…

    This morning I went for a solo ride with the intention of following the law to the letter. Over the course of many miles, I clipped out or stopped at every stop, red light, etc. In short, I did what I was supposed to do, even though sometimes it was annoying, a hassle, etc.

    In that same amount of miles, four cars brushed so close that I was almost clipped by their mirrors, and one clueless guy turning left appeared to yield to my oncoming right of way, then abruptly turned right in front of me and glared through the passenger window as he actually slowed and forced me to hit the brakes.

    I’m all for cyclists having to be a little more conscious of the rules, not running stops, etc. But to reiterate my earlier point, I wish in addition to the so-called crackdown there would be a similar effort to educate motorists to the rules regarding cyclists. I worry that some drivers who already don’t like cyclists will read of a “crackdown” and think it’s about time and be even less courteous or concerned for a cyclist’s well-being. This morning, all five of the motorists I mentioned BROKE THE LAW, plain and simple. And the consequences of their actions could have been far more serious than me rolling through an empty intersection.

  15. Lame-o. I’m a very low mileage road rider and clipping in and out is simple even for me. If it’s not easy for you, they sell big flat pedals for people who are too lazy to learn. Bicyclists who ride like scofflaws are dangerous – they give drivers a bad impression of us.

    I admit to mixed performance – if no traffic in sight, I typically slow to a crawl, look again, then roll through. Any cars anywhere and I come to a complete stop. It’s just not worth the risk, and I want to keep good relations with as many motorists as possible. I wave at every one of them I make eye contact with and especially those who show any courtesy at all. But, that said, I intend to renew my efforts to comply with a track stand even without cars. I need to learn that trick anyway.

    Agreed – stopping and starting in town is great for your legs. That’s how I have always viewed it.

    Not at anyone in particular – if you let the behavior of bad drivers dictate what you do, then you are a slave to others. Decide what is right, and do it regardless. Be proud and think for yourself.

    Last – my brother taught me not to slide up alongside stopped traffic… it had not occurred to me that it was annoying to drivers who had to then pass me all over again. I’m happier when I’m being polite.

    Safe riding, rubber side down.

  16. Once when riding with a group, I was rewarded by finding a $20 bill when I was the only rider who came to a complete stop. (And no, I did not buy breakfast tacos for the group.) It’s never happened again, but I always stop and check!

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