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« Charleston's bike parking problem | Main | Bleeding for my art »

Labels and other BS from Copenhagen 

Labels can be useful; for example if I say “Vehicular Cycling,” most regular readers of this page will know exactly what I am talking about. If you don’t this short video explains it.

To me this is defensive riding that works because for the most part, drivers of motor vehicles will go out of their way to avoid hitting you as long as they know you are there.

It is the inattentive or distracted driver who is the most danger, but by riding predictably, signaling intent, and correct positioning on the road, you make even the most inattentive driver aware of your presence.

For example, whatever direction I leave my home I have to travel a busy two-lane highway. The traffic seems to come along in platoons because of traffic lights in both directions.

When the road is clear behind me I ride out in the lane about two or three feet. When I hear a vehicle approach from the rear, I move over to the right to let them pass.

This has the effect of slowing them down and the first car makes a conscious effort to go wide around me. Each car following does the same.

If I stay close to the right edge of the road all the time, a car approaching from the rear will not slow down and will often not deviate from his line of travel.

A driver of a car three or four vehicles back will not even know I am there.  If people want to label this “Vehicular Cycling” that’s okay; it works for me.

However, I prefer not to be labeled a “Vehicular Cyclist.” I didn’t pay a subscription to join a Vehicular Cyclist’s organization. I have not even read John Forester’s book. (He’s the man who coined the term.) 

I am simply a “Cyclist” doing what is necessary to survive while riding my bike on today’s streets and highways.

I have just read an article by Mikael over on Copenhagenize.com titled “Vehicular Cyclists – Cycling’s Secret Sect.” A secret sect… Really. The writer suggests that Vehicular Cyclists:

“Fight tooth and nail against virtually any form of separated bicycle infrastructure because their theory is based up on the premise that bicycles are 'vehicles' and therefore should act as the vehicles in the traffic, using the car lanes just like cars.”

The article then goes on to ridicule Vehicular Cyclists, comparing them to the Flat Earth Society. According to Mikael it is our own fault, the established cyclists in America and the UK, that we don’t have a widespread cycling infrastructure.

What utter bull-shit. I would love it if my local authority was making my city as bike friendly as Portland, Oregon, or Davis, California. But in the mean time I am making do with what I have. The other alternative is to not ride my bike.

There are many people who would ride a bike but are scared to do so I today’s traffic. It is the avid cyclists who take to the road each day, who are showing others that it is possible to survive out there.

Who knows how many others might be encouraged to try cycling just by seeing us pedaling around the city streets. The more cyclists on the road the more cities are likely to facilitate cycling.

I suggest Mikael does not have a clue what it is like to ride a bike in any American city, or in the UK for that matter. Both countries are steeped in the car-culture, and it is not going to change overnight.

The situation is improving, but slowly; I doubt there will be huge improvements nationwide in my lifetime. All we can do in the mean time is keep riding our bikes, while doing whatever is necessary to stay safe.



Reader Comments (16)

I've never heard of these guys. "Vehicular Cycling"? Apparently they do exist. Forester is a real person and there is in fact a Wikipedia page devoted to them. Perhaps they need to be made fun of?
Why anyone would "reject bicycle specific infrastructure" is a little beyond me.
I did not get the impression from the Copenhagenize.com article that they were pointing fingers at anyone other than these specific people. Here in the states we make do with what we have. If I don't ride on state or county roads, then I don't ride. The boys (and girls) over in Copenhagen can be a little smug about the prevalence of bicycle culture over there; then again it seems to me they have that right.
I ride much as you described yourself in the article Dave. I did not feel that the linked to article was in any way attacking or describing me.
Tempest in a tea kettle?
Thanks for the link to copenhagenize though. I'll bookmark that.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

You don't need special clothes to ride in, but for comfort, you still need a Dutch-style bike to go with the suit or skirt you're going to wear to the office. Because everyone works in an office.

Cycletracks will save us all by separating bikes from motor vehicle traffic, regardless of implementation. The design is modular and perfect. Nobody will behave like a jackass in them, and merging into extant road infrastructure isn't a concern because they're perfect in every way, those cycletracks.

Helmets? Well, you can, but let me tell you, they don't wear them in Copenhagen.

And lycra? There's no function without form. Why don't you go get a sponsorship, roadie?

And roadie? Roadie!?! Lame-ass! Heretic! DEVIL!

(Sects indeed!)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterN.I.K.

I guess I'm a vehicular cyclist. I ride where I want or have to to stay safer on the roads.

That being said, I'm for all sorts of infrastructure improvements which will make cycling safer or at lease appear safer to the general public. The public has a distorted idea of risk and I'm not sure how to change that fact.

One trouble with specific infrastructure is who designs it and where the test implementation is made. Usually not by cyclists for design. Around here we don't count cyclists in traffic flow surveys so we can't place new infrastructure improvements with any real data as to need.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Dave, what Mikael suggests about VCs in my community is right on. Of course I have remained a VC Ninja as it is the only way to ride with confidence in an environment dominated by speeding drivers, 8 lane roads and poor law enforcement.

The test of whether cycling succeeds should not be measured by Ninja volume but by those who prefer non-confrontational travel. In other words, until our young children can be seen along with grandmothers running errands on bikes, we have failed in achieving social justice for road users.

Is it a sect? Really don't know as I'm not an expert on such but I do know I hard I've had to work to teach my sons how to survive on hostile roads and remained greatly concerned for their well being every day they ride to school.

The new film at Streetsblog is excellent: Here is the link.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Dave, I agree 100% with you. We ride fairly similarly, though like you, I don't consider myself a vehicular cyclist, rather a common sense cyclist (or maybe a bike dork considering that I give hand signals before turning).

I'm not in favour of separated cycling infrastructure, it erodes the perception of my right to use the road. Frequently such infrastructure doesn't go where I need to as I commute and run errands on my bike. Nearly always separated cycling infrastructure is not appropriate for the speeds I like to ride at - 30-40kph (18-25mph). If there's a nice wide shoulder on the road and they want to call that a bicycle lane, I don't mind, I'd be riding there anyway most of the time.

To me, separated cycling infrastructure actually reinforces the very anti-cycling notion that riding a bicycle is dangerous.

I suggest Mikael does not have a clue what it is like to ride a bike in any American city, or in the UK for that matter. Both countries are steeped in the car-culture, and it is not going to change overnight.

Add Australia firmly to that list Dave!

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

My personal opinion is that the copenhagenize movement is a complete, internet-promoted sham. No matter how many damned segregated bike lanes you have anywhere (at extremely high, if not unaffordable cost to municipalities), it's never going to cover more than a fraction of the roadways that people need to use to get somewhere. You still need to know how to cycle on roadways or else you're one of those idiots who ride on the sidewalks. Most of the people who are promoting these things don't really ride much anyway, or if they do, don't stick with it. They are just fans of promoting it and looking at pictures of Copenhagen riders on the internet, not actually riding much. They also like stylish high heel shoes and cute hats. It's fashionable to think cycling every year this time of year, but few people ever actually do so beyond a few recreational rides in nice weather (not too hot, not too cold, not wet). I ride on many completely separate paved recreational paths. I probably face as much danger from idiot cyclists and pedestrians on them as I do from idiot motorists on the streets: swerving unpredictably, riding no-hands as they approach me head-on and pass a mere inches away, texting and talking on cellphones as they ride... you name it. Everything they do as drivers, they do as bicycle riders. Just make the drivers and the road themselves more cyclist-friendly, and all we be well.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Legal, economic, and cultural aspects also contribute to higher cycling rates in Copenhagen. It isn't just cycling-specific infrastructure. This is never addressed by any facilities advocates of which I am aware. Blinders ON.

If that's what's wanted here in the USA, then a great cultural change will have to happen concurrently. If this willingness to change can happen in the USA, I'd welcome it..

In the meantime, I'm not willing to wait and especially when teaching even simple rules of behavior can make cycling more safe. And it "feels" safer, too.

I want greatly increased ability and responsibility of motorists too. That makes everybody safer.
But that's a tough sell.

This Commute Orlando blog post is one you might enjoy, Dave.

Cycling properly isn't that hard, really. Classes are available, too.

Why not sell bicycles drastically reduced in price with the transportation dollars? That will garner more cyclists and the US (made in China) bike industry would be happy too.
Just an idea. I'm not saying it's a good one. But if money-losing bike-share programs are to be publicly subsidized, why not just cut out the middlemen?

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay

@ skylab

"Why anyone would 'reject bicycle specific infrastructure' is a little beyond me. "

It depends on the design, really. Much of the US bicycle specific infrastructure is very poorly engineered and designed or and rightly SHOULD be rejected.

Bicyclists should not accept crap facilities.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterspacelab

I like Copenhaganize, in that it encourages ordinary people to cycle, but I do find it somewhat didactic in what it considers acceptable and unacceptable. Sometimes I think the good people over there should looses up.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Smith

There are many within the cycling community who have declared VC dead on numerous occasions, but just like Mark Twain said, "The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated!"

There's a uptick in stories about cyclists having the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, and those rights and responsibilities are central to the idea of using our streets and highways. Sure, you can ride along blithely unaware of those concepts - or at least that's the presumption behind building separated bicycling infrastructure - but eventually the bike lane, cycletrack, or multi-use trail ends. Then what? Many cyclists are so fearful of riding in traffic that in the absence of a bike lane or similar facility, they simply cannot get from A to B. That's simply wrong. It represents a failure of our bicycling advocacy groups, our educational system, our government, and cyclists themselves. The failure includes allowing car culture to dominate our transportation planning, allowing the culture of fear to dominate our bicycling planning, and giving in to the illusion of safety rather than providing genuine safety for bicyclists.

July 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEd Wagner

"Forester is a real person and there is in fact a Wikipedia page devoted to them. Perhaps they need to be made fun of? "

Copenhagenize is a real business and there is in fact a Wikipedia page devoted to Copenhagenization.
Perhaps their marketing needs to be recognized as such?

VC is what you do to use the infrastructure as it exists now. What bicycle infrastructure should do is make cycling feel safe. Think of bicycle infrastructure something like training wheels to develop the physical skills needed to ride a bicycle on the street, than you take those skills and move them to the roads, i.e. riding without training wheels.

Now if you really want to push cycling then you make the bike infrastructure more useful than the car infrastructure, going more places, with better parking, and easier access. But you will still need VC skills where bicycle-specific infrastructure ends.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOpus the Poet

I didn't realise that simply riding on the right place (i.e. road) mean that I'm a vehicular cyclist.

You dpn't even need to ride defensively, just assertively.

Learnt something new everyday.

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdward Scoble

Good article mostly, not sure where you stand on infrastructure.

My problem is that vehicular cyclists, the ppl who identify themselves with that title, do not support infrastructure or acknowledge the increased cycling numbers as a result of said infrastructure..

Cities with good infrastructure, still seem to only have it on 2% or less of the total roads.. So the practice of vehicular cycling on the other 98% is sound.. but the mindset in a religious sense is what is toxic.

I support the tenets of vehicular cycling as a practice for roads without "good" infrastructure for cyclists, aka majority of roads.. its obvious cycling 101 and best to act that way for safety.. but I also support good infrastructure. Sharrows, Well designed bike lanes (not shoehorned in after the fact), roads purposely made wide on the right lane, and especially separated infrastructure..

I really can't understand the religious mindset of the self-titled vehicular cyclists who are so anti-infrastructure.. I support copenhagize folks in identifying the idealistic crazies and making sure they don't impede the difficult task of getting infrastructure funded and approved. I would think the pro-helmet nazi's, gas companies, political agenda folks may give some cash to the Religious VC to keep their cause going.. aka block funding to cycling infrastructure. And that would be extremely wrong.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteraustincyclist

As a train is also a vehicle, I was trying to just assert my right as a vehicular cyclist and take the far right track, leaving the left one open for passing.. first of all, its hard to balance on that.. secondly.. I think I'm dead.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteraustincyclist

Dave, I've read Forester's work, and while he is somewhat cantankeous, I found it pretty entertaining. Check out his website, you'll see a lot of it there as well.

One distinction we all have to remember if that cyclists are vehicular, however, they are not MOTOR vehicles, so there are times when you have to be nice, let motorists pass you, etc.

Forester adresses all that pretty well, in terms of being a "team player' with traffic. He does not advocate an "in your face" approach. I think you'd be surprised that a lot of the stuff you blogged here is right in the same plane as Forester.

He talks a lot about the "cyclist inferiority complex" > Even if you don't agree with him, it is interesting to read.

Forester does not beleive that "bike lanes' are the answer . If they are designed properly, like Copenhagen they are ok, but he gives a lot of illustrations on poor American designs, you posted a video here of one. The scenario of a cyclist getting "right hooked" in a bike lane because he feels a false sense of security is covered by Forester in detail.

Some of his writing is dorky as hell, but it will make you chuckle. The book is huge 545 pages, looks like a textbook, but I whizzed through it. I skipped the chapters on "tandem riding", "racing" and "how to meet a cycling spouse"..

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

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