Commuting in traffic techniques

Hey everyone!

This is a subject that’s interested me since before I started riding. I’m hoping this thread can become a general discussion on the subject, so I’ll try and make the opening interesting!

A few days after Christmas, I went for a quick ride around town… It was my first experience of riding a uni on a ‘real’ road, that is, one with plenty of traffic, stops, crossings, roundabouts, all that good stuff. I hadn’t really thought about how to actually manage these things, and sort of just winged it, so here I am, asking for advice from the community :smiley:

I think the important ones are traffic lights, pedestrian crossings (Such as Zebra’s) And right turns (I’m in the UK, so we ride/drive on the left, so a right turn involves crossing over an incoming lane, so it’s not always as simple as just riding round), but feel free to add any others you’ve found to be important.

I’m also going to link this thread: Requesting Videos: Fast downhill riding and Commuting (dealing w/ pede, traffic, etc) Which searches for videos on the same subject.

I was thinking about the idling. I’ve been trying to learn to idle and so far I can do about 30 times (most of the time 20, front back front counting as one time) and I’m still trying to get to the part where I can stay in one place while idling. But I noticed that idling wears the main leg pretty fast.

I would still think that even with idling for that many revolutions, you have to go pretty slow or be able to idle for even more for those lengthy traffic lights.

So how do you city commuters do it? Only way I would think is to dismount and mount it again when the lights say go.

Also, with the 36ers that go on short cranks like 125 or so for speed in commuting, I’ve never done it but wouldn’t it be even harder?

I find idling possible but it doesn’t sound like a permanent viable solution especially if you’re dealing with constant red lights. Like with bikes, what I see when they hit lights is that they slow down, look around and if there’s no cars near yet, they pedal forward fast and go before the cars come. But I would think with a 36er, there would be more of a lag before the big wheel picks up to go across the street.

Someone seriously supply us with your great videos in that link posted above. It would be a very great watch. It would be a great watch when I’m not outside practicing.

I agree idling doesn’t sound too viable especially on a 36er with short cranks - On my road rides when I hit lights I just jump off and remount. But even this is really unweildy - Sometimes a freemount causes a bit of wobble, and sometimes even a failed mount… Scary!

I wouldn’t condone running red lights at all, on a bike or a uni (Just like you wouldn’t a car) So I don’t really care for that cyclist solution either! :smiley: Not to mention it could go horribly wrong, and you’d be to blame for running the red.

I commute almost every day on either my 36er or my 24 muni and i do not run red lights. I try to time myself with the lights on my route. What I mean by that is when the light turns green, I go and keep watching the light cycles in front of me. At this point I know what lights I can make each green light cycle because the sequence hasn’t changed on my route in almost 2 years. I then slow myself to avoid idling, which I’m not that good at on the big wheel. I then can usually time myself well enough to hit the intersection just as the light turns green. If I do get to a red light, I will either hold on to a post, or sometimes a parked car until I can go again. I also will ride in circles in the crosswalk, or zebra if I have enough room. This is my favorite method during my uphill portion of my ride.
Riding in traffic is no joke and can be dangerous. I know this from all of my own dumb mistakes and good fortune. I have learned the following comments the hard way.

  1. Don’t wear headphones. Hearing the cars and people around you is almost as crucial as seeing them.

  2. Watch out for the following surfaces: White paint in crosswalks, etc. that stuff is slippery when wet. The paint they use here in Seattle is thick and gunky so it doesn’t wear from the auto traffic. Also slippery when wet are, manhole covers and other metal utility covers and also the fancy non cement or asphalt brick like road surface we have on some streets. I also learned the hard way that the wood on our public piers is like an ice rink when damp. Everything was fine until I tried to dismount and ended up flat on my back.

  3. Wear a helmet! I didn’t think I needed one until I required 12 stitches in my forehead after a fall off my 36er during a failed mount. When I slipped on the oil stripe in the bus lane and stopped my forward momentum with my face. But i did reach behind myself and grab the uni on my way down. Fortunately it happened in front of at least 75 people to make sure my humiliation was complete. That reminds me, oil stripes on the road can be slippery dry or wet.

  4. Pay attention to the road in front of you. Bumps, dips and cracks can cause a crash if you are not ready for them. Try not to get distracted by all of your female fans. Let’s face it, a man on a unicycle is likely to make the babes get all excited until you splatter on the road in front of them. The road rash made it hard to sleep for a week or two.

  5. When in doubt, dismount! Live to ride another day. The people in cars are on cell phones, checking a GPS, smacking around the little snotty brats in the back seat or digging through a purse or bag of grub they need to eat instead of looking out for innocent uni riders.

Be safe

splutters beer over keyboard

Great info!


Is it okay to hold onto a parked car to stay mounted? Or do you look around a bit before you do that?

And about the crosswalk, that’s a useful tip, I’m guessing you have to watch out for pedestrians going across it while doing tight circles and looking to make sure if the light turns yet. What about encounters with just a thin line that separates the intersection?

Any chance of capturing it on video for us?


I do try to be respectful if I use a vehicle to prop up on. Usually a large box van or truck is my fave. Mostly I only use one finger to hold myself up, people think I’m doing a trick. I have even used a vehicle stopped at the light after asking the person inside if its ok. I have never been told no, and usually have a nice encounter. You’d be amazed at how many people smoke pot in their cars, just something I’ve noticed when holding onto their vehicle. Plenty of offers to share. I’m not a skateboarder for goodness sake!

I do have to look out for pedestrians in the crosswalks. Many times I can help everyone by telling them my intentions and how I plan to go around them. I will use the entire length of the crosswalk, from one side to the other and avoid getting to close to the intersection. I am able and comfortable doing a 180 on my 36er and find this a useful skill. I use the walk/don’t walk flashing signs to help me time the light. In Seattle they have a countdown on them that really helps.

Let me think about getting some video, I try to maintain my focus in traffic.

One thing I should have added is to give yourself enough time to safely get to your destination. I was in a hurry in November of 2012 and lost focus on my 36er and had a very unusual UPD where i bounced up and when I came down and caught my foot on the pedal while the wheel got stuck in a crack in the road. My knee was the weak point and collapsed backward. A nice surgeon had to put humpty dumpty back together again. 8 months before I could ride the 36er again. 5 months and lots of rehab before I rode the muni again. All of that could have been avoided had I not been hell bent on catching the next train out of the city. I now get to where I am going when I can safely arrive. I love riding my uni, and don’t want to lose any more time to a stupidity injury.

Great info Keithb, timing the lights is how I did it last time too. Sadly I’m not so experienced at it yet :smiley:

So it IS possible to commute in the US on a unicycle!

You all have just given me hope! (seriously) I am REALLY looking forward to the videos. ((especially dealing with left turns and traffic circles in the US))

In regards to lights… here, in Kalamazoo, lights change their duration in some areas based on time of day. I’m guessing even so, if I commute the same route the same time I should be able to estimate green lights. Years past, bike commuters gave me a list of streets that paralleled the busy streets that were almost suicidal during rush hour. Maybe it was a quarter mile out of the way, to ride safer but it was worth it. I think now there is an app that allows local bikers to post safe routes and update it on a current basis. Anyone know more about that.

Fortunately, I’ve a bike path a couple of blocks from my house that leads all the way to the beaches of the Great Lakes in one direction and to Battle Creek in the other direction. That should help Some with travel across country through rural areas… I’m inspired.

I wonder how uni-commuters deal with night riding?

I should have remembered to add this to my list of tips. I highly advise using a front and back flasher for riding in traffic. I have a super flash attached to the back of my helmet and a small bike headlight on my 36er. the new light weight batteries and small lights are very effective for uni riding. My front light is 500 lumens and has a number of different options like low/medium/high and flashing. This has reduced my “OH SH*t” moments significantly. I use them day or night. I also wear high visibility clothes, reflective jacket or vest and an orange backpack. I also wear lime yellow gloves and use my hands to let the cars behind me know my intentions. I often wonder what folks think of the crazy guy on a unicycle giving turn signal directions. I have done a lot of bike commuting in past years and just try to use what I learned doing that. I also have had motorcycles and learned that people don’t see you or sometimes even care if they do.

Getting home safely is not an option, it’s a requirement.

The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Well…a video is just… :smiley:

To many of us still learning, it’s invaluable in more many ways than one. Some have even made me want to get right back and ride some more. If you’re able to get a friend with a bike to follow along or someone to hold the camera at the location while you’re doing your stops at red lights and so forth, it would be a nice video to watch you commute from afar.

But yeah, your safety is first. Thanks for the great tips. Any video on the technical parts of commuting.

Great advice in this thread! I’ll try to add a little more. I don’t commute in traffic much myself any more, but have lots of miles in under various conditions.

First rule to remember:

The car always wins.

Keep this rule in mind at all times. This does not mean the car has the right of way. But physics doesn’t follow traffic codes. Riding in traffic means you have to generally trust the motor vehicle drivers, but you must also be vigilant.

Probably one of the next most important things to do is to ride predictably. Nobody likes to drive near things when you don’t know what they’re going to do. Like small children, cats, squirrels, people who are clearly lost but forgot they aren’t alone in the universe. Signal your intentions. Ride in a straight line. Don’t idle if you’re in a crowded space.

In terms of predictability, I prefer that the motorists see me as a cyclist, and not a unicyclist. Unicycles tend to distract motorists, while cyclists tend to get space. I want space. People can notice me when I’m on the bike path. :slight_smile:

Beyond the good advice that’s been posted here, the rules for riding bikes in traffic are basically the same and there’s tons of good advice out there on bike sites (and in books, etc.). Almost all of that stuff applies equally to us.

What do I do at traffic lights? Dismount. People like watching you get back on anyway. Or if there’s a post or something, you can hold onto that.

Yeah, but it’s just not efficient among other things. It’s like you having to get out of your car or off your bike and stand to the side every time there’s a red light. Fortunately for them they don’t have to and we’re trying to avoid that whole remounting half a dozen times per mile issue. And like Piece Maker said, there are fail mounts not to mention attempting to mount in the street while cars are driving by, it gives a whole new meaning to the suicide mount :stuck_out_tongue:

But holding to posts is a good idea. I was thinking sometimes those posts/poles are out of reach, maybe work on doing curb jumps in case they’re out of reach, we can temporarily jump up on the sidewalk or something and hang on and when light is green, ride back down.

Am I the only one that have so much issue with bunny hopping? I find it hard and tiresome on a 26 oracle and I’m still trying to learn it. I would imagine a 36 to be harder. Most of you guys seem to do it with much ease. Guess more practice.

I ride a 36’er to work most days. At first it was a pain but after the first few trips it didn’t take long to figure where all the hand holds were, which intersections-lights to time correctly and what areas to avoid. Daylight ride in and nighttime ride home. Little different route due to lighting. If I have an issue I dismount. Too crowded, I walk to an open space to remount. Now riding the same route for over a year, I know where-how-when to ride it. I rarely have to dismount anymore. I wear a helmet and at night Blinkys, headlight, yellow reflective vest.

I’ve been commuting 4 years now on a 36er. I’ve always had a helmet light, bar light, and at last 2 red flashers in the back. I go to work at night and return in the morning. This time of year it is full darkness when I leave the house. I run my lights in the day time also. Last spring I mounted a bottle dynamo and run a nice led dynamo light. I still have my old primary light mounted to my helmet. It’s an AY-UP light from Australia. I got it 3 years ago. The battery is dying. That’s what prompted my to go dynamo. The AY-UP light has a flashing mode which I use in the day. The dynamo light is either on or off. I also run that in the day. The helmet light is invaluable when cars jut out from driveways. When they do I stare at them with that light. They’re reaction is usually an oh shit look.
As far as traffic is concerned, stay off the side walks as much as possible. I’ve been hit 4 times. 3 times have been on the side walk. One time was in the bike lane in Seattle. I’ve gotten decent at evasive maneuvers in the past 4 years. I usually ride clipped in. The place where I catch the bus is a busy town center so I will unclip while riding through there. Also at the airport I’ll unclip. I’ve almost been taken out by baggage trolleys that people fling around. The skycaps are terrible about flinging trolleys and wheel chairs.

Couple things I might add.
A rear-view mirror is helpful. I got one that sticks onto my helmet. I still find looking behind me while riding straight to be difficult, so this makes knowing what’s coming up behind you easier.
When crossing in front of a car stopped at a stop sign or in a driveway, I try to make eye contact, and usually give them a smile and wave to acknowledge them for the courtesy of waiting for me. They usually return the gesture, and it lets me know that they’re not going to suddenly jump out when I’m right in front of them.
I really try to plan my routes to include streets that have dedicated bike lanes, or at least streets that are wide enough to give me some space between me and the cars. I’ll go on sidewalks if I have to, but they are usually more hazardous than the street. (As mentioned previously.)

That’s a fantastic tip! I’m terrible for looking behind me and ending up veering over to the side too :smiley: To Amazon!

I would probably have a different approach to traffic lights if there were a lot on my ride. As it was, there was only one at the beginning, bike path in the middle, and two at the other end. I prefer stepping down but that’s all a matter of preference.

If you aren’t solid at mounting, make sure you factor that into your riding. Don’t try to mount when cars are passing by, for example. Even if you have high freemount percentages, nobody’s perfect so don’t allow a bad mount to turn into a disaster. Also it’s good for commuters to perfect their mounting. I’m around 99% on my 36" with handlebar, but that number is lower when crossing bumpy intersections, for example. Sometimes I will just hoof it across and mount when I get to the other side.

Absolutely. If you are moving at a good clip, you don’t belong on the sidewalk. Also, cars won’t be looking for you there. If you feel you’re not ready to ride in the street, make sure your riding is solid enough, and possibly do some practice riding on less-traveled streets. I didn’t uni-commute to work until after I’d tried the route on a weekend.

It can be a lifesaver. I never ride with cars without one. It makes life much easier if you can glance behind without having to turn your head around. I recommend the “Bike Peddler Take A Look” mirror, which clips to a pair of glasses. Eye protection is also a good idea for commuting with cars, so look for a pair of sunglasses that isn’t too dark. Anyway, I’ve broken every other mirror type I’ve tried, but that one is still going strong since 2007! Eventually I’ll get a new one due to some scratches on the lens (which is hard plastic, not glass).

Thanks for the mirror recommendation, I agree nice tip and thanks for the link I was looking around for a simple, decent, but cheap one right after you recommended it to us.

I posted this in another section but is this skill possible and viable for commuting purposes, especially on a bigger wheel like even a 36er?

It’s basically stationary balancing. There’s another one around the 4:15 mark where he’s going really slow. Not sure how hard it is, I tried a bit of it and it seemed hard on my 26er.

That video of Max is gorgeous. Stillstands and ultra-slow riding are hard, but great skills to practice. Not necessarily useful in traffic unless you get pretty solid at doing them.