Video: Riding Big and Getting Space

In Southern California, the car is king. Many places people need to go are connected by freeways or multi-lane arterial roads. Sound familiar?

What’s a bicycle driver to do in such a car-dominant environment?

In a series of excellent videos, Dan Gutierrez and Brian DeSousa have demonstrated the techniques cyclists use to safely and effectively navigate arterial and urban roads. The cyclists are not riding at high speeds, they are simply controlling their space in the lane and negotiating when they need to merge.

(NOTE: because of the helmet-mounted video cameras, they need to use rear-view mirrors, rather than turning their heads to scan. A head turn communicates with the motorist and shows a human face—it make the maneuvers even easier.)

For more instructional videos, visit YouTube and

I use this technique in Central Florida on roads like Colonial, 436 and 17-92. It works and it is safe. Yes, occasionally motorists will honk. This is simply a territorial noise they feel entitled to make.

11 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I’m always pleased to see this sort of video. It shows a good clean integration of bicyclist and motorist, bicycle and motor vehicle. Thanks to your comment, I will now think of motorists’ honks as that of a misguided goose and get even more pleasure from waving back to them (with all my fingers).

    I use these same techniques on my daily drives, which take me all over eastern volusia county. I agree that it has proven (to me) to be far safer for traveling on the roadway.

    I’m a bit intrigued by one of the rider’s jersey pattern. It’s very close to that of a target, but I’ve not heard of many cyclists getting shot at. For that I am very thankful.

    I will disagree slightly with the left-turn technique. Two cars pass the cyclist in what I consider an unsafe manner. He moved far enough to the left of the lane to allow loss of lane control. I’ve seen RC1 course material that supports this method, but I find it’s not optimum in so many situations.

    Prior to learning of vehicular cycling practices, I had occasion to drive my bicycle in Naples, FL on a six lane roadway. I realize now that I did not occupy enough of the lane to maintain control, although I did occupy at least the right third of a very narrow roadway. In retrospect, I needed to be in the center or slightly left of center. Naples drivers are not the most courteous operators I’ve experienced. I had thought I would never ever consider to ride in that area again. With my new understanding of the safer methods, I’m no longer of that opinion.

  2. Keri
    Keri says:

    A misguided goose! LOL

    Re: the left turn. It depends on the speed. If the motorist behind me is slowed to my speed, I’ll let him slip past. If there is no one behind me, or a motorist farther back, I’ll hold the lane a little more to prevent a high-speed, in-lane pass.

  3. Rick
    Rick says:

    Good lane use!
    Those roads look high-risk compared to the riding I am accustomed to. I would suggest redoing that video with the riders dressed in bright colors so that you are modeling good clothing choices along with good lane use. I would also use (bright!) flashing front and rear lights, day and night, on those routes. High conspicuity is critical to being seen by the person dialing their cell phone who is just behind the car that just changed lanes to go around you. They may only get a quick glimpse of you – they need to SEE you.

    • Dan Gutierrez
      Dan Gutierrez says:

      The question is not about relative visibility it is about thresholds. If I’m plainly visible enough to be seen by being in the lane center, and the video clearly demonstrates this, then adding some color may help, but then again it may not. The important take-away is that visibility is dominated by lane position, not clothing choice. A cyclist in day-glow lime at the road edge is much worse off than a cyclist in regular street clothes controlling the lane by riding near the lane center.

      And now for the key insight: Maintaing the same good daytime visibility when the sun goes down requires that the cyclist add lights (and/or reflectors) to stay in the visual foreground, so that a good lane position stays visible at night. I don’t bother with special reflective clothing; I put the lights and reflectors on the bike.

      So to sum it up:
      1) Daytime visibility results from a good lateral lane position

      2) Use lights and reflectors at night to keep this good lane position highly visible.

      3) There is nothing wrong with using high visibility clothing or daytime lighting for extra visibility, but it is not required to be safely visible in daytime traffic.

  4. Keri
    Keri says:

    I think this video (and the thousands of hours of other video Dan and Brian have done without being run over) is pretty solid proof that motorists SEE the cyclists.

    Over-emphasizing bright colors, when they are not the primary factor in being seen, only hands an already-biased system a tool to blame the victim and let incompetent motorists off the hook.

    See the Maryland case discussed here, where the prosecutor made a point of saying the cyclist didn’t have on reflective clothing… in daylight. While the motorist had an obscured windshield and was looking down at her cigarette lighter.

  5. Eric
    Eric says:

    “High conspicuity is critical to being seen by the person dialing their cell phone who is just behind the car that just changed lanes to go around you. They may only get a quick glimpse of you – they need to SEE you.”

    I don’t think conspicuousness helps with people who’s mind isn’t on their driving.

    Every few weeks or months we read about someone not “seeing” a big yellow school bus (often stopped with flashing lights) and driving into the back of it.
    Here is one from the 29th that I found by 2 seconds of googling:

    Have you seen the videos on TV where a police car is well off the road with lights flashing, then a car “loses control” and piles into both cars? Do you think the driver didn’t “see” that police car?

    Recently, I noticed that all the fire trucks around here have turned on emergency flashing lights on their rear all the time, why? Because people were running into the back of them when they were using ordinary ones. If people did not “see” something big and red, do you think that the new flashing lights will help? You might, but I doubt it.

  6. Rick
    Rick says:

    The fact is it’s easier to see someone in bright colors than not! You don’t have to read about it on the internet – just go look. A driver that sees a cyclist half-a-block sooner has more time to adjust.

    Thank god the guys making the videos haven’t been hit. Thank god I haven’t either. But it only takes one driver not seeing you. As for the cases of cars, firetrucks and school buses being plowed into I would bet money that more times than not alcohol is involved and it was night time. Yes the lights should be warning enough but not if the driver is all but asleep at the wheel. In any case big bright things like that being run into strikes me as more of an argument for bright clothing not a reason to dismiss it. I, for one, will continue to wear bright colors. Even on my relatively quiet community streets.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      Every time a motorist hits something, the first words out of their mouth is, “I didn’t see it.” It doesn’t matter what they hit or hit them, it can be another car that they pulled out in front of, or a person, or a schoolbus or a motorcycle. They all say the same thing.

      The statement is not accurate. Most times they actually did see whatever it was. So it is a mistake to take their statement literally.

      People can look, see and still it doesn’t register that they will have to do something to avoid hitting it. No amount of brightly colored clothing will stop that, just as brightly colored trucks and buses don’t, and as you say, “But it only takes one driver not seeing you.”

      If your theory was correct, then all cars should be colored bright yellow, have flashing lights on day and night, and cars wouldn’t hit each other.

  7. John Schubert
    John Schubert says:

    I doubt the benefit of bright colors is zero. But I am strongly in Dan’s, Eric’s and Keri’s camp that it is overrated. And Keri is spot-on when she states that much of the bleating about bright colors just gives the legal system another tool to discriminate against riders who are already visible from 300 yards away.

    While Rick is correct that you can look and see for yourself, that is an experiment with limited relevance for distracted-driver questions, because you are an alerted observer. Failure to perceive (as in: driving into the back of the bus) is a complex question of perception & cognitive psychology. It really is crying out for more careful research & analysis (and application of what we already know) with the information applied to driver training (both initial and recurrent).

    A perception expert from Canada has posted a large collection of essays on these issues on his web site. Here’s one, with links to the others at the bottom fo the page:

    In my perfect world, the feds would demand that every state adopt a program of instruction in paying attention and multitasking (every time you adjust the heater, you are mulltitasking — multitasking is inevitable), and run every driver in the state through that program of instruction — over a period of, say, three years. Then the various state programs would be compared, and the better ones fine-tuned towards an eventual nationally recommended best practice.

    The huge quantity of distracted drivers on the road makes it remarkable, that there aren’t more distracted driver accidents.

    I wear clothes in all sorts of colors — some bright, a few dark — when I ride. Lane position keeps me conspicuous.

  8. Brian DeSousa
    Brian DeSousa says:

    Being the one of the cyclists in the videos, I’ll add just a couple thoughts to what Dan, Eric, and Keri had to say. First, the quality of the video makes the clothing look less bright than in reality – in particular, in the “Rights and Duties of Cyclists” video we’re wearing blue jerseys, which although they stand out in real life, we’ve had some people who watch the video say they don’t look very bright. Also, do we tell people not to buy black cars because they’re less visible than red ones?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] For a great perspective on “taking the lane”, check out Keri’s post on the CommuteOrlando Blog titled “Smart Moves: You Lead the Dance”. She also put up a great video on lane position and “vehicular biking” using the very car-heavy area of Southern California in her post “Video: Riding Big and Getting Space” […]

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