Wednesday, January 6, 2010

further thoughts on lane taking

I was biking across the Longfellow (brrr) and wrestling with my skirt which was attempting to ride up above a decent height, when I had a further thought on taking the lane.

I was listening to Terry Gross interview John Hamm (of Mad Men)  on Fresh Air a while ago, and she was remarking that the character of Don Draper has a way of crossing his legs that says  "not only do I own the space I'm in,  I own ALL of this extra space around me"  It's just a subtly Alpha sort of thing to do- claiming territory with your body language.  Maybe you had to hear how she said it, but it completely made me think of the attitude that you have to have when you take the lane.

I'm going to skirt around the gender issues of territorial marking, and how that may or may not relate to women's and men's attitudes towards vehicular cycling.  However I think that there is an interesting parallel between body language and bike position language.  Taking the lane says "here I am, this is MY space",  whereas hugging the gutter is cringingly apologetic- "sorry I'm in your way,  I don't mean to be, oops, sorry, don't mind me."

It doesn't have to be an aggressive thing- it's more about self confidence, and the respect that self confidence engenders in others.   I get it,  I understand how and why it works, but I also can completely understand how someone beginning cycling,  perhaps a bit shaky,  perhaps a bit slow,  is not really going to have the self confidence to claim that extra space.  And although I practice vehicular cycling much of the time,  I think it's really important to have more protected facilities that will give people new to cycling a chance to get a little more comfortable with the feel of biking in the street and a sense of the rhythms of traffic- a chance to build the self confidence to take the lane.


  1. nice point.

    I was thinking back to when I test rode both a pashley and a betty foy and how on the betty I felt more able to claim my space. I was riding both down a narrow side road and both times had landscaping or construction trucks behind me. with the Pash I pulled over. With the betty I did not move over. I felt more ownership of that space and the whole damn street. ( garbage truck on other side made passing me impossible unless I pulled over. )

    I often go back to that day and what was going on for me that gave me the confidence to own the space so I can bring it with me all the time.

  2. You're absolutely right....and I agree with you!

  3. While I agree with you that in certain cases it is the safer option to take the lane and take up the extra space, and I feel comfortable doing so when I feel it's appropriate; I also feel that riding towards the side of the road in particular situations is not cowering, but simply polite.

    The simple fact is that in a lot of conditions (heavy wind for instance, or up a steep incline), I am forced to ride quite slowly, whereas the effect on the speed of the automobiles on the road is pretty minimal, and simply taking up the full lane in that case is just pig-headed.

    I also find that drivers are usually kinder to me when they feel I'm giving them some thought and not just hogging the road to make a point.

    I'm not at all apologetic for being on the road, I feel I belong there as much as anyone, but I'm willing to give and take a bit to make myself safer and ease tensions.

  4. Interesting. I am definintely a claim the lane girl when I don't have a good bike lane or path available. I refuse to apologize for being an assertive women when it comes to my right to share the road or really anything else, either, although I think because I am a woman my assertiveness has at times been termed "aggressive" and unfeminine.

  5. I have always wanted to take Flamenco lessons, in part to practice claiming my space. Maybe 2010's my year!

  6. Remember, a cyclist riding 7mph down the middle of the lane is easier for a motorist to pass safely than one riding 20mph down the middle of the lane because it's easier for the motorist to judge when to move back into the lane after passing. The only advantage the cyclist has at 20mph is he/she doesn't get passed as often.

    It IS scarier to be riding down the middle of the lane at 7mph, however. There's a bit of faith involved, especially at first.

  7. I completely agree with you about needing an amount of confidence to take a lane, but also with Portlandize in saying that sometimes it is just courtesy to defer the lane (when safe to do so).

    That being said, I tend to also agree with you in that a cyclist who is clinging to the curb (or who is dangerously in the "door zone") emits a certain timidness and many drivers will notice this and often pass too close... often giving rise to further anxiety. Often times, though, this timid behavior and anxiousness is born from inexperience or ignorance... though, unfortunately, so is the bold and brash behavior we see from some cyclists in the city.

    One last thought; Though I try to be a courteous and confident rider, my largest concern comes from those drivers who (regardless of the law or common civility) sees my body/bike language of taking the lane, and feels the need to try t take it back. I have only had a few instances of this happening (thankfully... and hopefully no more!). All I can say is that it is quite frightening to be passed from behind by a car quite literally 6" off my left, just to be yelled at by the driver at the next stop-light telling me I have no right to be on the road... :/

  8. I didn't mean to advocate hugging the curb or the parked cars - I agree it's both good to follow a straight path as much as possible rather than going in and out of parked cars or whatnot (predictability in your movement helps everyone feel more comfortable with you), and that it's good to stay out of the door zone when at all possible.

    I also often make sure I'm in the middle of the lane when coming to a traffic signal, which helps people feel I'm not trying to sneak around them, makes sure they don't try to zoom around me dangerously to get to the light first (I never have understood that one), as well as protects me from right-hooks, since I'm not to the right of anyone.

    I've also found that if I intentionally defer the lane when I feel I'm holding up traffic, motorists are usually quite careful about passing me, I've never really felt endangered in this position.

    In any case, I've never yet had a run-in with a motorist where I felt particularly in danger - intimidated a few times, but not in danger, yet.