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If your city doesn’t have bike lanes, it’s up to every car that passes you on your bike to determine how much space to give you. They often suck at it. But you can reclaim some space—specifically, the safe passing distance—by strapping a pool noodle to your bike.
The noodle, as you can see above, sticks out a couple feet to the side of the bike to give drivers a visual indicator of how far away they should stay. Most states require a 3-foot margin when a car passes a bike. A pool noodle can visually indicate that space, making it less likely for a vehicle to whoosh past you on the road, missing you by inches.
The main downside is that pool noodles aren’t exactly made for this. In Europe, reflective spacers, circular flags that stick out to the side of your bike, are common and cheap. So a very real safety concern is that the noodle could come flying off in traffic if you don’t tie it down securely. It could potentially get caught on other objects or cyclists if you frequently use bike lanes. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether it will work for your cycling habits.
And, yes, it looks silly. However, as we’ve learned before, being silly doesn’t negate being useful. As Toronto cyclist Warren Huska puts it, “I’m unconcerned about looking good…I’m concerned about my safety most.” If you’re worried about any of the above concerns, you can always try ordering a proper reflective spacer (possibly from overseas), but if you go the pool noodle route, it’s still probably safer than trusting the visual judgment of every driver on the road.
This story was originally published on 10/19/2016 and updated on 5/20/2019 with some updated information and links.