Putting your foot down, part 3: Why track stands don’t count

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To an urban cyclist, practicing a track stand at a red light may seem like a fine way to pass the time ‘til it’s lawful to go. He might think: What could be better than working on my skills while I obey the rules of the road?

After all, track stands improve your balance, and a balanced cyclist is a safe cyclist. If you can stay stopped without getting out of your toe clips, you’re truly maximizing your efficiency! Often the extra effort isn’t even worth it; the light always seems to change as soon as your foot hits the ground.

Unfortunately, to a driver, a track standing cyclist presents a different image. An idling motorist waiting next to a biker rocking back and forth on his cranks is likely to misread this behavior as antsy, impatient, and even reckless.

It’s just as easy to imagine this driver’s internal monologue: Where does this guy have to be? He’s clearly chomping at the bit to get moving. Why can’t he just relax and wait like the rest of us?

The thing is, this anti-cyclist attitude may be incorrect and misguided, but the fact remains that putting your foot down truly is safer than a track stand.

What makes it safer? Why should cyclists make that extra effort and put their foot down? Because if they don’t, they’re ignoring the first principle of riding safely in traffic: communication.

Getting along in traffic is a dance, and while there are certain moves we all know, there still needs to be some basic level of communication between partners to avoid stepping on each other’s feet. This is especially true for bikers — as Sir Elton John famously said, “Cyclists are all tiny dancers.”

One of the most effective ways that we can communicate with drivers is by putting our foot down. When you stop at a red light, the drivers who have the green need to know that you’re not going to dart out in front of them as they enter the intersection.

By taking your foot off of the pedal, you’re announcing that you’ve committed to wait for the light. You’re no longer a variable in the driver’s traffic equation. Putting your foot down is essentially the equivalent of putting a car into park: if you’re going to start moving, you need to take some additional action.

A track standing cyclist does not convey this message. He may be obeying the law, but even the most statuesque track stand communicates that you’re ready to move at a moment’s notice. (After all, the practice was initially used to start velodrome races.) It’s like if pedestrians waited for the “walk” signal by standing on the curb with one foot raised, about to take a step.

Obeying the law is great, but staying predictable and safe while you do it is even better. When you communicate clearly, you make the complicated dance of riding in traffic a little simpler for everyone. That’s why, when it comes to red lights, track stands are best left at the track.

Yours,

Josh

Image VIA flickr.

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