Regular commuting on the 'other side of the road'

G'day, SC brainstrust -

The title of this post is not figurative, but literal (yes, literally!), and I need some advice, please.

I've recently washed up in Europe (Geneva) for the next 12 months for work. There have been a few more stresses and difficulties in my arrival than would be ideal, and although I'm not fully settled yet, if I don't get back on a bicycle shortly I am going to go round the twist (as well as start looking like the Michelin man - I fully blame the chocolate...).

Although I am adept at riding in a straight line - I'm an experienced bike commuter in Sydney - and have done group cycle touring in Europe before, my concern is that I am just tired and stressed enough that I will do something stupid/dangerous because everything is now on the 'wrong side' of the road. In particular, most intersections are not intuitively obvious to me in terms of who-goes-where, and they usually involve a mix of motorised vehicles, various modes of public transport (and tram tracks), bikes and pedestrians. 

The vehicle traffic here is more-or-less as expected in Europe: patient, polite and quite chilled around cyclists. There is no shortage of other bikes on the road, or infrastructure, and no great difficulty in my getting a bike - but the real fear of injuring my pride, my person, or someone else is really holding me back right now. (I still look both ways about three times when I'm crossing the road as a pedestrian, because I don't quite trust myself not to get that wrong!)

If you've had to adjust long-term to 'thinking on the right' in terms of your riding, how did you do it? Any tips to share, or anything I should know?


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I have, in the past, put a ribbon on my handlebar. It reminds me that the ribbon should always be on the handlebar that is pointing to the middle of the road. I also recommend doing it when you get back to Australia so you can reclimatise to riding on the left. 

I move between left and right countries several times a year, including Switzerland most years. I just swap my mirror on my handlebars from one side to the other. But even without it there wouldn't be a problem. Just do it.

If you do get a local bike, be aware that the left brake lever will operate the front brake. So don't grab it too hard.

In Geneva, stick to the bike lanes and paths. Don't pay attention to the road signs intended for the cars. Use the bike direction signs. And be very aware of the other bikes. They wiz around and don't expect you to be hesitant. I'm sure you'll be into it soon. Make sure you travel around the country on the bike. It is one of the very best for cycling.

For me, the initial stages aren't too bad cos I have to concentrate at every intersection, and my concentration is good enough to figure it out.

The danger starts to kick in when I don't have to concentrate any more - when riding on the right becomes "automatic". The problem then is that I have two automatic systems in my brain; on the left, and on the right. The unused "one the left" system sits in my brain doing nothing until one it day it activates itself for no good reason.

I don't really have a solution. I guess one possibility is to deliberately maintain the concentration phase beyond the time being on the right is automatic enough to not need it.

Handy if you can find a local to take you around a bit and show you the ropes, tho I imagine Geneva shouldn't be too idiosyncratic. My son lives in Copenhagen and gave me a good guided tour.  Maybe you'll find some regular commuters you can sit behind. Join Bike Geneva if there is such a thing!

I agree withColin, it's just when you think you are on top of it all when you can get into trouble. I think I just kept up a conversation with myself- keep right, head over there, stop there to turn, turn into the correct side of road,  etc etc.

one thing I did was to pause before launching into a street and just see how everyone behaved. It took me several days before I was game to ride through the Place de Bastille in Paris, after studying it from a cafe.

interested to hear how you go

Pay attention to brakes, the right lever will usually be the back brake. The left lever will do bad things if you apply it too hard.

And be ready for vehicles entering on your right. If your route isn't signed as having priority, usually the case on a major route only, then you need to give way.

Otherwise, enjoy the serenity. Ding ding!

I've found the switch mostly pretty easy.  Both on bike and in a car.  Especially in urban areas.

The dangers are remote areas where you might forget and one way roads where you might forget.  The you default to old habits.

(Both circumstances I've been caught out!)

Probably right to be cautious initially, an acquaintance doing a Harley tour in the US, was paralysed from the waist down 3 years back. Pulled out of a servo and ran down the wrong side of the road in a semi rural area and went over a rise to confront a F150 head-on...both swerving to the same impact site. Combination of fatigue from the flight, v-twin vibes and noise and winter to summer transition not helping I guess.

Normally found after a few days, the brain rewires sufficiently....hopefully you're at that stage now,


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