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When is a road safe, or not?

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

When is a road safe, or not?

Old 11-01-20, 09:43 AM
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TortoiseAvenger
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When is a road safe, or not?

Hi there:

I've made bicycling my primary form of transport. Luckily the greenway nearest my house connects me to everything I need with minimal spurs off the trail onto roads.

I would like, however, to get more comfortable with riding on the roads. It would greatly expand the places I could go, which might keep me more motivated. I feel comfortable enough with downtown 25 mph situations, it's the 45 mph back roads that freak me out. With google street view I can check out a road before I go, but it's hard to know where to draw the line on what is safe and what isn't. To make matters worse, the data on safety (I'm a scientist by training, I'm comfortable dissecting it) is lacking.

Any suggestions? Where is your "line" in terms of what's safe and what isn't? What speed? Shoulder required?

Thanks for the help!
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Old 11-01-20, 09:54 AM
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Old 11-01-20, 09:55 AM
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Where do other people cycle in your area? If you are on roads that other people regularly cycle on, then you are on roads that most traffic probably expects cyclists.

That's not to say you aren't going to have looney motorists and distracted motorists that you have to watch out for. Quite a while back I'd not been riding the roads and highways for a time and I also had my own imagined fears about going out of the neighborhood and bike trails. Turns out I was completely wrong. I have more issues on the MUP than I do on the highways.
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Old 11-01-20, 10:02 AM
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A lot of variables, but I guess that it boils down to speed disparity, for me. In general, I'd like to see a ~shoulder, let's say 24"+, when there's a 15mph+ speed disparity between myself and the traffic. So a road with a 30mph speed limit without a shoulder isn't a problem if it's flat or downhill. Uphill, though? Yeah, I'll avoid those unless traffic is typically very light on those roads.
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Old 11-01-20, 10:09 AM
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Depends on speed, traffic volume, road quality, road width/shoulder, and your comfort level. Too many variables to give a rule.
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Old 11-01-20, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by 10 Wheels View Post
Where are You?
Durham, NC. We have decent ridership here. Not uncommon to see cyclists on the roads I'm talking about. They city has this map which is pretty cool:
https://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/...Map-Side-1-PDF

Some of the orange roads are 45 mph with no shoulder whatsoever. Some are quite lovely though.

Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
I have more issues on the MUP than I do on the highways.
Really?! Such as?
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Old 11-01-20, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by TortoiseAvenger View Post
Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
I have more issues on the MUP than I do on the highways.
Really?! Such as?
As much as I would love to say other non-cyclists like walkers and runners, it's really other cyclist. Several times this year I've had to throw on the brakes for cyclist coming from the opposite direction that don't want to slow up for the person walking or running in front of them in their lane and they get on my side. Once I had to come to a complete stop, and the other cyclist actually had to brush against the walker to avoid me. And they just kept going with no sign of care for any of us others.

Six times this year alone it was the same thing. A cyclist coming the other way can't seem to slow down and follow a walker or runner long enough for me to pass.

The other times it will be a distracted walker looking at their cell phone absent mindedly meandering in the middle of the trail. But for them a shout of "heads up" gets them back in the proper state of awareness...... probably temporary though.

The trail also has a lot of blind curves, people don't realize how important it is to stay on their side of the trail in a blind curve. With bikes that can easily feel slow at 25 feet per second, people sometime don't think about how quick something can be on you from the other direction.

For certain a collision on a trail might be less chance of immediate death. However there are quite a few survivors of accidents with motor vehicle. So fearing the worst might have you avoiding decent choices for a ride. My only severe accident so far has been on the MUP. I got a severe concussion, cracked skull and no recollection of it or the previous 4 miles. So based on my circumstantial evidence, the highways are safer. <grin>
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Old 11-01-20, 11:27 AM
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Get a mirror and just give it a try. It will take some getting used to but your comfort level and confidence will improve. The mirror ( in my estimation ) is a very important part of riding safely on the road and always knowing where cars are. You also must learn to be assertive of your rights as a cyclist, whatever they are in NC. Temper that assertiveness with common sense. For instance, on blind curvy roads where it would be dangerous for a car to pass without knowing if a car is coming from the opposite direction, take your half in the middle to control the situation. When passing becomes safe pull back onto the white line. I give cars every opportunity to pass and can ride on a white line for miles, if it is safe. Again, the mirror gives you the extra time and awareness. Riders that are clueless and block cars from passing only give drivers a bad impression.
I have a friend who I don’t ride with anymore who seems to think that stoplights and stop signs are mere suggestions that cut into his average speed. He will pull up next to cars at lights that have already passed him, cars that will now need to pass him again. He also goes through red lights and has almost gotten hit a few times. I have ridden on the road for 45 years and it pisses me off to see riders behaving stupidly; they only reinforce the low opinions some drivers have of cyclists. It may be I am lucky to live in a rider friendly area but I rarely have problems with cars.
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Old 11-01-20, 11:30 AM
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The road is always safe. You, however, are only as safe as you feel.

You can be hit and killed by a car driving 15 or 25 just as by a car passing at 45.

In fact, the least-safe scenario is often a narrow road full of dips and twists, where cars find it hard to pass cyclists, The cars might only be doing 25-35 mph regularly, while you might be doing 15 .... but if the cars can't pass and there is no safe place for you to get out of their way, sometimes drivers can get impatient.

Also, side streets add to danger, because cars watch cars and look right past cyclists. it isn't the car passing at 25 in urban traffic, it is the blind idiot pulling out of a strip[-mall driveway trying to squeeze in between two cars doing 25 mph, and not seeing that you are going to be in that "empty" (read: car-free) space.

if I were you, I would use google maps to look for bike lanes, breakdown lanes, wide shoulders .... and driveways where you can get fully off the road to let a line of cars pass when need be. (I refuse to just pull over near the outer edge of the road---if I cannot get Fully off the paved roadway, onto a sidewalk or into a driveway, I won't let cars pass. Drivers can get stupid if required to go more slowly than they want.)

Don't worry about speed limits---look for pinch points, choke points, look at intersections---some intersections have bad pavement near the road edge, and when cars squeeze you over to the edge, you might find yourself on mountain-bike-trail terrain.

Look at pavement quality in general. There is one really nice route I have been riding, but there is a portion with a lot of blind curves, downhill and then flat, which is wide enough, except that there are some big pavement patches, and places that badly need patching. I have had to remove it from my route repertoire because too often I would be approaching what I knew to be dangerous pavement, with a car coming up behind, not letting me swing wide around the broken tarmac. I don't care if that car is doing 25 or 45---if I hit a big broken chunk of road and fall in front of the car, it will crush me with weight, not speed.

The Most Important Thing® (IMO) though, has nothing to do with the cars, the cars' speed, or any of that. The important thing is your confidence.

If you are afraid while riding (and I am not saying this to shame you---I listen to my brain when it is afraid because I have found out how much it can hurt when I don't) then you will be tense and edgy and make mistakes.

I learned this from mountain-biking---if I was a little afraid at the top of a sketchy downhill, I could try it, but if I really felt fear---then I would likely be too tense to flow with the terrain, too eager to grab too much brake, too nervous to just see the right line, and all in all, too distracted by fear to use all my skill---not that I ever had much---which meant I was pretty certain to end up crashing.

Riding in traffic is More dangerous---problems are a lot less frequent but potentially much more serious. So I definitely pay attention if I feel a little uneasy---bravado doesn't help bones knit.

If you want to ride more roads, do it. But listen to yourself on any given day. yes, you might be scaring yourself when there is no reason to be afraid---but that doesn't mean your fear won't interfere with your focus. When riding, you need to make sure you stay rational---don't be unnecessarily afraid of crashing or getting hit, based on an over-excited imagination---but also listen to reasonable fears.

I have ridden along side 8-lane highways, raging city traffic, suburbia, and lane-and-a-half rural roads, and everything in between. I am pretty calm all the time (after so many years of practice) so I don't really get scared on the road---but I still listen when the voice of caution says "Not this road."

As @datlas says, there is no formula. Some roads might be great except at certain hours---rush hour od when schools get out. Some roads might be great except during the death hours---1-3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, or whatever hours bars let out on weekends in North Carolina. Some roads might not bother you despite high volumes of traffic--I ride along plenty of two- and three-lane high-speed roads where there is a safe amount of shoulder and a very small number of side roads, and feel perfectly safe (though the sounds and scenery leave much to be desired.) You will learn where you are comfortable, and you will learn to be more comfortable everywhere. And there will still be roads you'd prefer to avoid.

Use google maps, that is a great idea. Look at the edges of the road, and imagine how you'd feel rising there. Look for bike lanes or shoulders which suddenly disappear--- you Definitely want to know about those spots before you get there--and look for bad pavement, patches, wash-outs (there is a stretch of a hill nearby where dirt driveways fill the bike lane with debris after every rain) and bad pavement. Then, forewarned to some degree, go ride those roads. You might find that they really aren't scary. You might find that they aren't scary and also aren't sufficiently safe.

No matter what, it is all about how you feel. I don't push myself if i feel bad about a stretch of road. There are some mistakes you only get to make once, and I try to avoid them. but don't let irrational worry keep you from enjoying your bike. Cars passing fast are not inherently more dangerous than cars passing a little more slowly.

Ride and enjoy.
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Old 11-01-20, 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by waters60 View Post
Get a mirror and just give it a try. It will take some getting used to but your comfort level and confidence will improve. The mirror ( in my estimation ) is a very important part of riding safely on the road and always knowing where cars are.
Good enough advice.

Originally Posted by waters60 View Post
You also must learn to be assertive of your rights as a cyclist, whatever they are in NC. Temper that assertiveness with common sense. For instance, on blind curvy roads where it would be dangerous for a car to pass without knowing if a car is coming from the opposite direction, take your half in the middle to control the situation. When passing becomes safe pull back onto the white line. I give cars every opportunity to pass and can ride on a white line for miles, if it is safe. Again, the mirror gives you the extra time and awareness. Riders that are clueless and block cars from passing only give drivers a bad impression.
This is really important. The law gives you the right to "take the lane" for your own safety, and anyone who has been squeezed off the road or nearly hit by a car which tried to pass on too tight a corner, or a blind corner when a car unexpectedly came the other way (raises both hands) can tell you, it is better to irritate a driver for a few seconds than to have that driver punt you off the road to preserve his own life. And in my experience, drivers invariably cut back to the right without any concern for the cyclist there, rather than drive head-on into an approaching car. can't blame them---but i also cannot allow them to do it to me.
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Old 11-01-20, 12:37 PM
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The mirror advice is good. For me, it's mandatory.

You can find what roads other cyclists favor by looking at the Strava Heat Map: https://www.strava.com/heatmap#7.00/....36000/hot/all

I avoid all commuter roads as much as possible during commute times. That's huge. Weekends are always the best. I run very bright flashers in the 200-300 lumen class, front and back, during daylight hours, I wear bright jerseys, and never blue or green and especially not asphalt colored as is so popular now.

I strongly disagree with the idea of taking the lane. The only time I do that is on a 2-lane bridge. The only rider I know who's been hit has been hit twice, both times while taking the lane. I've been riding in traffic, mostly roads with no shoulder, for 67 years. Never been hit. The problem with taking the lane is this: When I'm say a foot inside the fog line and a car passes me, it'll put its left wheels about 3' into the opposite lane. This means its exposure time to oncoming traffic is low. I've seen quite a number of cars force the oncoming car over onto the shoulder by underestimating how fast I was going - not my problem. I'm not worried about their safety, just my own. That want to be aholes, fine. OTOH, if I'm taking the lane, and there's oncoming traffic, either seen or unseen, their time in the other lane is much longer. If they're forced to move to where they would have been had I been near the fog line, they'll hit me. That's how my friend's been hit, exactly. Cars don't realize how fast road cyclists are moving.

If they hit me because I'm riding in the middle of the road, it'll be found to be my fault, not theirs. Many state laws, including mine, state that cyclists shall ride as far to the right as is practical. That's not only the law, it's good advice.
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Old 11-01-20, 12:44 PM
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Hm, that's a difficult question to answer, there are so many things I judge against each other. Of course, a shoulder is nice, but then again, it is not necessarily needed. I mean, even though a road has a shoulder, I'm not necessarily going to ride on it.
It depends on how curvy the road is, gravel or not, time of day (or night), shoulder or not, average speed of motorists, number of motorists (less is not always better), and so on.
I sometimes get the "creepy-crawlies" on a road, only to find out later that it is a road where several people have been hit before or cars tend to crash.
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Old 11-01-20, 12:47 PM
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Checkout the strava heat map, zoom in your area and see where people are riding. strava heat map
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Old 11-01-20, 01:00 PM
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I respect you greatly, Mr. @Carbonfiberboy, and have about a decade less road-riding experience but sorry ... you don't know how to take a lane.

I take a lane soon enough, and far left enough, that only the stupidest people are ever going to try to pass. I do it when I know there is insufficient visibility for a car to see if the road ahead will be clear long enough overtake me

A car putting two wheels into the opposing lane by three feet will duck back four feet when the driver suddenly sees a car coming head-on---and if the driver was not giving me three feet (which is why I would take a lane--when there is not enough room for a car to pass and leave me enough room to not get forced off the road) then when that driver got fully back into the travel lane, that driver would either hit me, or I would see it all happening and ride off the road---which I have been forced to do, and which is itself a total crap-shoot. I have no idea what might await me off the road, but a lot of times it might be a curb, a ditch, in one case a guard rail---only way not to get hit would have been to go over the rail and down a multi-foot drop.

I have been hit a few times---but never by a passing car. I have been run off the road while NOT taking the lane, which is why I started taking a lane.

Sorry about your friend's situation. I would hazard a guess, however, that there is a reason the Actual Traffic Law allows cyclists to take a lane.

Uniform Traffic Code:
0316.2065
(5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use or, if no lane is marked for bicycle use, as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition or potential conflict, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, turn lane, or substandard-width lane, which makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge or within a bicycle lane. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. (Emphasis added.)

Your disagreement is noted, and naturally, I would not recommend that you do anything you find uncomfortable. However, I will note that the majority of the cycling community including the people who actually wrote the law, disagree with you .... or at least leave taking the lane as a Legal option.

I have only researched about 3/4 of the continental United States, but those states all have either an identical or closely similar law.

As for those drivers---and I have met them---who are willing to completely enter the oncoming traffic lane to overtake a cyclist, even when the driver cannot see around a corner or over a hill .... I still prefer to take the lane if possible, because i then know that those are reckless and careless drivers who will endanger themselves, myself, and any number of other people without thought, and I like having plenty of road to my right to move into when I see the car entering oncoming traffic on my left---and in every case in which that has happened, the driver did indeed cut back across my path, and would have hit me had I not had the extra pavement to pull off a panic braking/turn maneuver.

It is good that the OP sees that there are options, and that taking the lane is not mandatory .... I know we each have many decades of commuting experience, and it cannot hurt to get two views from people who have actually put their philosophies into practice.

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Old 11-01-20, 01:09 PM
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You never know. In September I was riding this road during a cross-PA tour. Lightly traveled road in Amish country. Got passed by one car in maybe 5 miles. Saw maybe four cars coming in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the one car that did pass me buzzed me despite a clear line of sight and PA’s 4’ law that allows drivers to cross the double yellow line to give a cyclist 4’. The driver appeared to be an elderly person.


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Old 11-01-20, 01:13 PM
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Yes, taking the lane is an option. And I sometimes take it. Most often when I don't do so is if there are curves in the road where someone can come in fast from behind the corner and hit me. I mean, I'm allowed to not be a mere few centimetres/inches from the side of the road, but I try to weigh things against each other. Sometimes it is prudent to be a third or more out from the side, sometimes it's better to hug the kerb.
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Old 11-01-20, 01:15 PM
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Originally Posted by TortoiseAvenger View Post
Hi there:

I've made bicycling my primary form of transport. Luckily the greenway nearest my house connects me to everything I need with minimal spurs off the trail onto roads.

I would like, however, to get more comfortable with riding on the roads. It would greatly expand the places I could go, which might keep me more motivated. I feel comfortable enough with downtown 25 mph situations, it's the 45 mph back roads that freak me out. With google street view I can check out a road before I go, but it's hard to know where to draw the line on what is safe and what isn't. To make matters worse, the data on safety (I'm a scientist by training, I'm comfortable dissecting it) is lacking.

Any suggestions? Where is your "line" in terms of what's safe and what isn't? What speed? Shoulder required?

Thanks for the help!
A big part of this is learning how to ride on the road. These guys can help with that.

https://cyclingsavvy.org

A friends of mine who's a retired police officer who was involved in getting bike policing going in the US highly recommends them. Riding on the road is counter intuitive until you realize you are a vehicle and you have all the rights and privileges a vehicle does. That, plus intelligent route selection, make it very straightforward. I've been riding on the roads for decades with great success.

J.
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Old 11-01-20, 01:23 PM
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I added Garmin Varias to our road bikes this year. They make an amazing difference.
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Old 11-01-20, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by yarbrough462 View Post
I added Garmin Varias to our road bikes this year. They make an amazing difference.
I ride in Los Angeles where cars are always overtaking cyclists. How does Varias help?
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Old 11-01-20, 01:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
I ride in Los Angeles where cars are always overtaking cyclists. How does Varias help?
What I find more worrying about such things is that many people will then rely on it and think that it's safe because they hadn't had a warning. People on road bikes around here are usually not looking behind them often enough as it is (too focused on aero, power output, and whatever else, I think).
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Old 11-01-20, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
I ride in Los Angeles where cars are always overtaking cyclists. How does Varias help?
Are you asking in earnest because you're genuinely interested to know or are you asking because you're looking for a "gotcha!" to illustrate how the doodad isn't worth the time and money?

Originally Posted by CargoDane View Post
What I find more worrying about such things is that many people will then rely on it and think that it's safe because they hadn't had a warning. People on road bikes around here are usually not looking behind them often enough as it is (too focused on aero, power output, and whatever else, I think).
You should argue about a false sense of security after you've ridden with one.
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Old 11-01-20, 02:00 PM
  #22  
JohnJ80
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
You should argue about a false sense of security after you've ridden with one.
Ray Maker says it best - there are two kinds of people when it comes to Varia Radar: those who love it and those that haven’t ridden with it.
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Old 11-01-20, 02:06 PM
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“I take a lane soon enough, and far left enough, that only the stupidest people are ever going to try to pass. I do it when I know there is insufficient visibility for a car to see if the road ahead will be clear long enough overtake me”
+1. I only take the lane on a blind curvy road under those circumstances; before it goes into a curve, making the driver have to decide between a possible head on collision and slowing down until it is safe. This is where the mirror is critical. As I approach the curve I assess where drivers are, if they will be able to safely slow etc. No surprises. I would add much the same for cresting steep hills, but drivers are more likely to pass there so I take a fair amount of lane as a courtesy to the courteous. The less shoulder the more lane I take.
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Old 11-01-20, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnJ80 View Post
Ray Maker says it best - there are two kinds of people when it comes to Varia Radar: those who love it and those that haven’t ridden with it.
Pretty much. Not that I've polled everybody, but any Varia user that I've asked would replace their unit immediately if it was lost or broken.
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Old 11-01-20, 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
Are you asking in earnest because you're genuinely interested to know or are you asking because you're looking for a "gotcha!" to illustrate how the doodad isn't worth the time and money?

You should argue about a false sense of security after you've ridden with one.
I'm asking because I want to be a safer rider and know how this device adds to the equation. If all it'll do is signal when any car is approaching from behind, I don't see how it'll benefit me. OTOH, if the device can warn about cars that could pass too close, this would help greatly.
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