Car passing a trailer uphill when oncoming bike on shoulder

Here’s a scary on-the-road cycling situation Bugman and I encountered this weekend on which I’d love to get an opinion from police officers and expert cyclists. Were laws broken here, or was this bad judgement – on the automobile driver’s part, or ours?

We were headed south/downhill on our tandem on the shoulder of W CR 38E, coming down off a ride along Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The speed limit on that road is 40mph, according to the last sign I saw, but it drops to 20 mph around a couple of hairpin turns on the switchbacks. We were controlling our speed on the descent at around 20 miles per hour because of the unfamiliar terrain, and because we were sticking to the shoulder, which had a pretty good surface.

Suddenly, Bugman braked, and I could hear the roar of a car engine. We suddenly had a high-speed car headed towards us just a couple of feet away.

There was an oncoming pickup truck pulling a boat on a trailer, and a black Kia Optima decided to pass the pickup/boat right as it was passing us, threading the needle between the pickup/boat and us on the shoulder. Here’s a screen grab from our rear-facing bike camera (I haven’t yet figured out how to post these videos online):

scary vehicle passIt was frightening to imagine the possibilities if we’d been out in the lane for some reason instead of on the shoulder.

I wonder – did the Optima driver not see us? Or did they see us and decide to pass anyway?

Was the Optima breaking the law by passing at that moment? We might be able to measure from the video and show that the Optima was breaking the “3 feet to pass” law, but would that apply for an oncoming vehicle situation like this?

Is it safer for us as cyclists to be out in the lane to be more visible as “real traffic,” and to force vehicles to wait to pass, or is it better to “stay out of the way” and keep to the shoulder? I just wonder if we’d be hurt or worse if we’d been out in the lane in this situation.

I would love to see some opinions on what should have been done in this situation, so that hopefully cyclists and drivers can learn from this and avoid similar scary situations in the future.

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