Cycling Has Made Me a Better Driver

The ride Sunday morning had been an uneventful one. Four of us set off for Creedmoor, southeast of Austin. We found that one of the country roads we take to get there had been partially graded to prepare for resurfacing, and was not in good shape for cycling. If we go that way again, we’ll have to figure out an alternate route. One of the highlights along the way is an exotic game ranch, featuring lots of African deer and antelope, zebras, ostriches and emus, and other critters.

The animals take off when I stop and get out my camera. But the guy on the left shows off his long horns. (Click to enlarge.)

The animals take off when I stop and get out my camera. But the guy on the left shows off his long horns. (Click to enlarge.)

It’s only about 17 miles to Creedmoor, but for some reason, every group I ride with tends to stop there for a long time. We take turns going in to buy fig newtons, top off our water jugs or buy Gatorade, and use the facilities. Finally, I asked everyone if we planned to go home at all today.

Not sure why we spend so much time here -- it's a rather nondescript convenience store stop.

Not sure why we spend so much time here — it’s a rather nondescript convenience store stop.

We take a different road back than out. Thaxton Road takes us past lots of single-wide and double-wide manufactured homes, but also some anomalies.

A fancy ornamental fence in front of a house in the country.

A fancy ornamental fence in front of a house in the country. Picture from Google Earth Street View.

A cute, well-cared for cottage on a stock pond. Picture from Google earth Street View.

A cute, well-cared for cottage on a stock pond. Picture from Google earth Street View.

On the way home, one of the group peeled off to head for his house. The remaining three were spread out, with me bringing up the rear. With just two miles to go, my ride nearly ended. A driver poked his nose from a side street on the right into the bike lane, looking to make a left turn. But for some unfathomable reason, he only looked to his right. I was traveling at about 20 mph, and it looked like he would pull out right into my path. I moved out of the bike lane and into the traffic lane, so his chances of seeing me were better. At the last moment, he looked my way, saw me, and slammed on his brakes.

I passed in front of him, and gave him an appreciative wave, wondering at the same time if he’d ever received any drivers’ ed. I was reminded of a woman on my block who was supervising her grandson while he rode his bike through the neighborhood.

“Left, right, left!” she called as he went by. Meaning, of course, that he should first look to his left, then to his right, and make a final check to the left  before riding through an intersection.

The car driver I encountered could have used a refresher like that.

Then, just a quarter-mile beyond, a pickup truck drew even with me as I came upon another intersection. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. His turn signal was flashing, and he was going to turn right. I don’t trust pickup trucks. I hit my brakes, and eased into the traffic lane behind him. Sure enough, he braked hard and turned right. If I had stayed in the bike lane, it would have been a classic right hook.

Two cases, two times I anticipated what the drivers would do, and saved myself from a potential disaster.

I’m not sure that would have been the case five or six years ago. But since I started riding a bike, I’ve become a better driver.

When I’m on the road, I’m a lot more aware of what’s going on around me than I used to be. I used to be proud that I checked my rear view mirror every 15 seconds; now I do it even more often. And it’s not just the rear view mirror. I’m constantly scanning around me, even the oncoming traffic on the other side of the road divider. You never know when some clown is going to lose control and cross the median into your path.

In Texas, I think there’s something genetic that keeps drivers from signaling their turns. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading minds, and anticipating what drivers around me are going to do. Most often, they pull around to pass me on the right — even if I’m going down the Interstate at 80 mph.

My heightened awareness behind the wheel doesn’t mean I’m a little old octogenarian tootling along well below the speed limit. A good driver won’t hold up traffic, but also won’t dart in and out of lanes, just to wind up only two car lengths ahead by the time we reach our destination 15 minutes down the road. Instead, I’m part of the traffic, trying to be as predictable as possible.

I’m the same way on my bike — predictable. Drivers might not pay the closest attention to me, but once I’m in their sights, they should have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to do. But I never really worried about being predictable in the car until after I’d ridden the bike for awhile. When you ride with heightened awareness, that rubs off onto your driving, too.

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5 thoughts on “Cycling Has Made Me a Better Driver

  1. I agree with all you have said. I wear a road ID bracelet. They make them here in Kentucky. I also use the road id text message that if I stop for longer than 5 min a text is sent to three very dependable people. I was wondering if you ride with a mirror and if so what kind?

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