Silent and Deadly?

[This post was written and scheduled before our departure.]

Don’t worry folks, this isn’t a post about a certain antisocial behavior. (Yes, we’re 130 posts in, but we still have a few things left to talk about before we get to the toilet humor.)

No, the title of this post refers to . . . hybrids. And the particular threats they pose for cyclists. You can debate all day about whether a new hybrid is any more environmentally friendly than a used diesel that gets 35 mpg, but that is not the focus of this post.

My beef with hybrids as a cyclist is this: you can’t hear them behind you. As illustrated in this brilliant “Office” clip. There have been a few times I’ve turned onto a street, only to realize a Prius was hovering at the stop sign behind me, or have been about to turn and realized that car I see, but don’t hear, is moving toward me, and not parked along the side of the road. So far this hasn’t exactly threatened my life, but now that Nashville has introduced hybrid buses to our transport system, I’m a bit concerned. I really like knowing whether there’s a city bus anywhere in my immediate vicinity. Anyone out there have these in their city already, and how does it affect your commute? On the bright side, maybe I might as well wear headphones . . .

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16 thoughts on “Silent and Deadly?

  1. Justin says:

    Trisha,

    Disclaimer : Our family owns a Ford Escape Hybrid.

    That said, when I’m commuting to work the vehicles I’m most worried about are the ones that are moving (and especially the ones that are moving quickly!).

    I hear “tire noise” long before I hear a car’s engine when I’m out on the road. The higher the tire noise pitch the faster the car is traveling. Most hybrid’s engines are also running when they’re above 30mph.

    I’ve had a few encounters with hybrids during my commutes but again they were all either stopped or moving very slowly and the experience was usually, “Wow…that’s vehicle’s really quiet. This is kind of nice.”

    As a result, I don’t see them as more threatening than other automobiles.

  2. Capateto says:

    I guess we cyclists ought to consider adding a rearview mirror to our list of bike accessories. Rivendell Bicycle Works offers a really nice one (http://www.rivbike.com/products/list/bags_and_racks?a=1&page=all#product=20-177) and there are other models as well.

  3. Doohickie says:

    I was thinking the same thing, Justin. I hear the tires before I hear the engine a lot of the time, especially if a driver is coasting up behind me. I haven’t done the mirror thing yet. I can see doing it at some point, but I’m not there yet.

  4. Doohickie says:

    Okay, people…. a little help for a WordPress n00b: I went into my profile and supposedly set up my face instead of the pansy purple icon that accompanies my comments. Yet the icon lingers on. What have I done wrong?

    I can’t even find the spot where I set the avatar anymore.

    If I felt as comfortable in WordPress as I do on Blogger, I might move my blogs over, but there are too many things I can’t figure out over here. (Sorry to go off topic on your blog, ladies…..)

  5. Sarah says:

    I haven’t specifically noticed hybrids when I’m out biking. I use a mirror that attaches to my sunglasses (yes, a bit dorky but it sure makes me feel safer) and rely a lot on looking around me to be aware of what’s approaching. Granted, though, that where I live has good bike lanes and bike paths, so I don’t usually have to worry about a car being essentially in the same space as me like I would on a road with no bike lanes.

  6. Courtney says:

    My city has hybrid buses and I haven’t noticed that they are quieter than a normal bus. The Prius can be silent because it can switch off the engine and run only on the battery, but I think the buses just use the batteries to supplement the engine and burn less gas. At least, that is my completely speculative thinking. I have been startled by a stealth Prius before, so I know what you mean.

  7. I hate it when the stealth cars sneak up! They mean no harm, but they can startle. They end up honking to let you know they are there, and sometimes, that is worse. Conundrum.

    Hybrid buses- the ones here in SF are loud. Not as loud as diesels, but still loud enough that I am happy they stop running in front of my home at 11 pm : )

  8. anna says:

    Well, at least you people already drive hybrid cars :-). I don’t worry so much about silent means of transport as I have to deal with many: buses (all of them operate with liquefied petroleum gas engines which is bit quieter), trams (!!!) and of course other cyclists and pedestrians. I wish there would be many more quiet road users (e.g. e-cars, e-motorbikes and e-scooters). That would decrease my stress factor and also help cyclists, because most pedestrians also don’t watch the road if they can “hear” that nothing is coming. I already had one crash with a pedestrian because of that and barely avoided many.
    Imho, after all, quietness makes the road safer (and more comfortable) for cyclists, but there is of course a lot of change in behavior needed. More shoulder checks from everyone :-).

  9. ksteinhoff says:

    I’m a big fan of mirrors,too. After trying a whole bunch of them, I’m happiest with the Chuck Harris helmet mirror made by a guy in Ohio out of recycled materials.

    You can read my review here.

  10. Justin says:

    I have a Third-Eye mirror that is attached to the end of my left handlebar. Much of my commute does NOT involve bike paths or lanes so I’ve always felt this was required equipment.

    Once you’ve used a mirror, you’ll find its hard to go back to riding without one! The extra “situational awareness” is hard to beat.

    That said, one has to remember that most of the dangers to cyclists are coming from the side and straight ahead!! So…mirror fixation can be an issue.

  11. Carolyn says:

    I thought I heard somewhere the concern over the lack of noice from hybrids, and blind people. They would also have a hard time knowing if there are vehicles in the vicinity. And that there was talk of having to install something to make noise so that the vehicles wouldn’t be totally quiet. But not sure where that’s going.

  12. With all the noise coming from the cars, buses, trucks and Harley’s that speed past my place, I’m willing to chance it with quieter cars and buses. Noise kills because it stresses the hearer, leading to heart attacks, strokes, etc. Cyclist just have to learn to visually confirm what’s going on. Quiet car drivers should understand that they aren’t making much noise and take extra caution. I also think cities need to change their attitude on streets. The old idea was to make streets wide and clear of visual obstructions, but that just caused people to go faster. Faster means less stopping time and more death. Newer ideas focus on creating a road that slows the car down, by visually telling the driver that it’s not safe to speed.

  13. Mike says:

    It is nice to be stuck behind a hybrid at a red light because their engines shut off making it much nicer to breath while waiting for the green light.

  14. David says:

    I ride a lot, every day, in traffic and honestly, I haven’t noticed a difference. Once a car gets moving, it’s mostly the tire and wind noise that I hear. Besides, as a safe cyclist, it’s important to be aware of everything in your environment whether it makes noise or not. Don’t ride like you’re blind, ride like you’re invisible.

  15. Guy says:

    Quiet cars haven’t been that much of a problem. The wind in my ears usually drowns out most noise anyway.

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