Making Unusual Moves

I don’t always make unusual moves, but when I do, I communicate!

Savvy Cyclists plan ahead and set themselves up for easy maneuvers. Sometimes that means making an initial move that people wouldn’t expect.

Don’t leave others to their assumptions. Let them know where you’re going and what you want from them. In some cases, this is critical to your safety — like crossing steep angled railroad tracks.


Topic 3: Communicating Unusual Moves

Topic Introduction

When you want to make an unusual move, you really need to tell motorists what you’re doing, or else they’ll be heading right to where you want to be.

Making a Left Turn Immediately After a Right Turn

Here’s an example. You need to turn left soon after turning right. If you turn into the right lane, you’ll then need to negotiate with a driver who is accelerating to get around you.

A much easier solution is to turn directly into the left lane. Of course, this isn’t something most drivers would expect you to do, so you have to communicate.

Start on the left side of the right lane. When the signal turns green, enter the intersection heading directly to the left lane. Use your left arm to indicate you are moving to the left lane. The motorists behind you will use the other lane, or lanes, to get around you.

Watch for left-turning vehicles ahead. These drivers will be headed for the same lane you are.

A convincing starting position and trajectory toward the left lane will do most of your communication. A hand signal just adds confirmation.

When opposing traffic is allowed to turn left at the same time, you’ll need to communicate with these drivers. They would otherwise expect you to turn into the right lane, allowing them to turn into the left lane at the same time.  

Some states have a legal requirement to turn right into the rightmost lane. To adhere to this, you can make your arc a little less wide, while signaling your movement to the left. The hand signal is more important in this instance because your trajectory won’t communicate as strongly.

Unless the road you are turning on is completely clear of traffic, you should wait for a green light to turn right. It’s too easy to miscalculate the closing speed of traffic in the inside lanes.

Facilitating Right on Red

Whether you are waiting to turn right on green, or are going straight in the rightmost lane, a motorist behind you may wish to make a right on red. It’s only possible to facilitate them if the lane is wide enough for both of you. Look at the width of the lane and the radius of the corner to determine if you have enough room to do this safely.

Do not wait at the right edge. You can get trapped there by right-turning motorists.

Instead, stop on the left and allow them to slip by on your right. If the lane serves both right and straight traffic, beware of motorists who may attempt to pass to go straight when the light turns green.

Remember, you’re doing this as a courtesy to other drivers. They’re not entitled to turn right on red. If you don’t feel safe, just don’t do it.

Angled Railroad Crossings

Angled railroad crossings can create a special communication challenge. When tracks cross the road at a steep angle, you need to position yourself to cross them as perpendicular as possible so your wheels don’t get caught.

Regardless of the angle, you’ll want motorists to wait behind you while you cross. But when the tracks come up from your left, this is even more critical. Because you need to approach them from the right edge, your lane position will be communicating the opposite of your intentions. Motorists could easily see it as an invitation to pass; just at the moment you need to veer left.

You need some emphatic communication to counteract this possibility.

Once you recognize the upcoming conditions., these are the steps:

  1. Turn your head to look back.
  2. If a car is approaching behind you, look directly at the driver and give an emphatic “stay back” signal.
  3. Move to the left side of the lane.
  4. If you can, hold that signal continuously until you are just before the tracks.
  5. Confirm that the motorist is staying back. Then move right to make your crossing.

A solid shoulder check and a commanding hand signal will serve you well in this situation.

Don’t feel rushed. If you slow down on your approach, it will not only allow you a careful crossing, motorists will usually back off even more.

Ensuring they back off is especially important if you need to cross a double set of tracks. In this case, the tracks are set far enough apart that they require a double swerve. The cyclist’s effective communication on the approach convinces the driver her to give her the space she needs.

Alleviating Confusion at 4-Way Stops

You may have noticed that many of our fellow cyclists ignore stop signs — especially four-way stops, since they expect all other drivers to stop. Because of this, many motorists will expect you to do the same.

Some will try to wave you through through rather than following the rules of right-of-way. This can present confusion and danger when the other motorists don’t have the same plan.

You can preempt this problem by communicating as you approach the stop sign:

  • First, slow down.
  • Plan to come to a stop at the stop bar. If you ride past the stop bar others may assume you are not going to stop.
  • Use a hand signal to indicate you’re stopping.
  • If they still do not move, wave for the motorist to take his turn.
  • If all else fails, put your foot down and insist.

Preemptive Communication

Sometimes communicating can simply reduce tension. For example, when you let a motorist behind you know that you are planning to turn shortly, he might choose to wait rather than trying to change lanes to pass you.

If you’ve made an early move to a left lane to prepare for a turn, signaling well in advance of your turn lets the motorists know why you’re there and might preempt some potential incivility.

In any case, it’s better to communicate too much than not enough. Communicating with motorists sends the message that you are a part of the cooperative system.

Lesson Conclusion

Certainly, most motorists don’t expect cyclists to communicate, follow the rules or reward them for being helpful. So when you do, you’re really making their day! They’ll remember that.

With each positive interaction with a motorist, you’re changing the story, from “Bicyclists are rude, self-absorbed rule-breakers” to “Bicyclists are friendly and cooperative people who are part of the traffic system.”

In the next lesson, we’ll learn a little more about the ebb and flow of traffic, and how to maximize it to our advantage.