City riding with parked cars

parked cars

See that door opening on the cyclist? The frequency of accidents and deaths due to car doors suddenly opening is quite high. They usually cause the cyclist to swerve to the left into the path of a vehicle.

Court decisions have suggested that a bike should give at least three feet of clearance to parked cars to prevent a door incident. This usually means riding more in the middle of the lane, which many are uncomfortable doing. However, you might just need to and let the cars do as they must since you do have the right to the lane.

(I would have thought that the driver would be the one responsible for looking before opening his door, but apparently not. Of course, even if the legal liability were with the cyclist, you would still want to ride as safely as you can; it doesn’t help to be “dead right”.)

A few tips: If you can see that the car is empty, well good, you can move closer to it as you pass. But so many windows are tinted that you cannot see inside. If you’re a fast rider, you’re probably experienced enough to feel comfortable riding out in the lane with the cars. If you’re slower, you can probably ride closer to the cars as long as you are 100% ready to slam on your brakes if a door should start to open. Of course, be looking farther ahead for taillights that would indicate someone has just parked and is ready to open a door, or is departing and might pull out in front of you.

If there are many cars with pedestrians about, such as a garage sale site, a church service beginning/ending, a busy restaurant, etc., then it’s best to slow down and ride farther away from the cars since the likelihood of doors opening is high.

Don’t swerve in and out

A common mistake is to move to the right after you have passed a parked car, and then come back out again when you get to the next parked car. No, you should remain out and ride in a steady predictable path. If you dart in and out, a car will not know what to expect and not see you when you pop out to pass a parked car. Be visible by maintaining your position on the street.

I hope no one reading this rides against traffic

In writing this blog, I have assumed every cyclist knows you must ride with traffic, not on the wrong side of the road against it. Still, so many people are under the wrong impression that it’s safer to ride where you can see oncoming vehicles, presumably so you may know when one is about to hit you and you can take evasive action. Wrong wrong wrong. Statistics show that riding on the wrong side increases accidents. Cars oftentimes do not see you; they do not expect you riding at them. And if a car is about to hit you, do you really think you have time to avoid it?

To my dismay, I have witnessed experienced cyclists who, singly or in groups, cross to the wrong side of the road prior to a left turn. It happens on a busy road where they would need to (god forbid!) stop and wait for cars, before making a proper left turn. Instead, when there happens to be a break in the oncoming cars, they cross over in advance and ride up to their intersection against traffic. They set themselves up for a classic head-on collision, because a car making a right turn from the intersection will turn directly into them. Remember that vehicles making right turns are NOT looking to their right; they pull up looking left for approaching cars, and they continue to look left even as the final car is passing and they are accelerating into their turn. Think how you do this when you drive. Very few of us look to the right before we move forward as the final car passes us and we begin our turn. Why not? Why should we? Cars and bikes are not supposed to be coming at us in the wrong direction.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, since cars naturally turn right while looking ONLY to the left, it’s another reason why cars should never pass a cyclist on a two-lane road if there is an intersection. The passing car in the wrong lane can crash head-on into a right-turning car whose driver is understandably looking the other direction.

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Bike riding in cities — be visible!

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To improve your chances for safe riding in cities, you need to ride where motorists can see you and know what you plan to do. If you ride on sidewalks and then dart out into traffic, if you weave in and out of parked cars, if you ride to the right of stopped or slower cars in their blind spots, or if you ride on the wrong side of the road, you are asking for trouble.

The photo above is of my mates on Day 1 of our ride across the country in 2007. We were still in Southern California, and notice how we are all taking up the right lane at the signal. This was the correct thing to do, as much as many motorists might think we should all be to the far right in a straight line-up. The critical thing about this intersection and roadway is that there is only a tiny amount of room on the right. If a cyclist were over there, 1) it is a potentially dangerous situation due to right-turning cars; or 2) you’re just blocking right-turning cars needlessly.

1) If we’re waiting at the far right when the car arrives for a right turn, he looks left for approaching cars in case he can turn right on red. The light turns green, we go, and the car turns right and hits us (because they rarely look back to the right before starting their turns). Or, if cars are already waiting at the intersection and the cyclist rides up on the right and stops in a driver’s blind spot, the driver never will see him and can turn right into him.

2) If the right lane is wide enough (and it usually is), a cyclist waiting in the middle of the lane instead of the far right allows cars to pull up on his right and make their turns on a red, when traffic allows. This is a good example of “sharing the road”, and I’ve had numerous drivers thank me for being in a spot that allows them to make a right-on-red (when there’s no cross traffic) instead of sitting behind me waiting.

In the photo above, if there had been fewer of us, it would have been better for us to have stopped more to the left to allow right-turning cars to proceed on up. However, with that many riders in the group, it was fine to fill the lane as we did and not stretch too far back trying to be considerate to one or two potential right turners.

What about a marked shoulder?

If there is a wide marked-off shoulder or bike lane, then it may be safe to ride up to the intersection to the right of lined-up cars as long as you never stop in a car’s blind spot. And if the light turns green and you have not yet arrived at the front of the intersection, you must pay extra-close attention to whether a car is turning right or not since they do not know you’re over there. Be prepared to stop! If your locale allows for riding on a sidewalk, you must treat every intersection as if you are a pedestrian. Can you imagine how hard it is for cars to see you riding into an intersection if you’re on the sidewalk?

Getting back to the photo of us taking up the entire right lane at a stop light, this is proper because the shoulder is too small for bikes. Certainly a group of cyclists, but even a single biker, should remain out where he can be seen. Importantly, this means getting into the line behind other cars, and probably in front of cars who arrive after you. Once traffic begins to move and you are past the intersection, you can move to the right so that vehicles can pass you assuming you are riding slower than the traffic. If you are riding at the same speed as the traffic or wishing you could ride even faster, remain in the full lane so that cars can see you. Never pass cars on the right!! This is a common mistake that results in numerous accidents because the cars cannot see you coming in their blind spots and they turn or move to the right for whatever reasons.

The first time you line up in the lane in front of other cars, it will probably seem strange. A bike lining up with the cars? But don’t forget you are legally a vehicle too, and being visible and predictable is the most important factor in bike-car safety. You will soon be out of their way when the normal flow of traffic gets going again and they can see you and pass you safely. I have never had a car honk at me or otherwise treat me badly when I have ridden this way in traffic and at intersections.

What about a right-turn-only lane?

Unless you are turning right, do NOT remain to the far right in a right-turn-only lane. If you are going straight, it’s best to ride up to the intersection (and wait if it’s red) directly on the white line separating you from the right-turn lane. In this case, you are in a safe spot where cars can pass you on both your right and left.

Next topic: Riding with parked cars.

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Cars turn into your path. Be ready.

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Or maybe even tractors turn into your path? Actually no; as we were riding across Indiana (in 2007) we passed the tractor.

But the most common bike-vehicle accidents involve cars turning left into you, or they make a right turn into you. Why? Because they simply do not notice us or realize our speed.

I think in the case of a car turning left into us, it’s because they just don’t notice us. They are not accustomed to paying attention to cyclists coming toward them way over there across the road. Their eyes are looking only for big cars more directly in front of them, and if they don’t see any, they whip the left. If we’re suddenly right in their path, it’s too late.

In the case of a car making a right turn, I believe it’s because they are not paying attention to our speed. Subconsciously, the driver assumes bicycles creep along at 8 or 9 mph and as soon as they pass us, their brains register that we are far behind them. Once they begin their turn, they are no longer even aware of us speeding along at 16 to 20-something mph.

What can a cyclist do? He/she must be ready for the worst to happen! A cyclist must ALWAYS maintain “situational awareness”. It has happened to me many times, and fortunately I have seen it coming and I have been able to either turn right in the case of a left turner, or stop in the case of a right turner.

Usually it’s the vehicle’s speed that gives him away. If he’s coasting or slightly slowing, he’s probably getting ready for a turn. Assume he is! For a potential left turner, sometimes you can see where he’s looking and he gives away that he’s about to turn. With right turners, they always have to slow down and you must be watching for it and stop (or slow WAY down) when you see this happen. I think seeing a right turner getting ready is lots easier than with a left turner.

Cyclists must ride defensively

One reason fast cyclists are not sufficiently aware of these reckless turners is because they are focused on their speed and effort, as if in a race. They are not riding defensively, but are concerned about their performance. (Or, they are simply not maintaining situational awareness regarding a 150-lb bike among 4000-lb cars). Cyclists MUST be ready to slow or stop and relinquish their hoped-for performance stats for the ride. Better to complete a slightly slower ride than end up in a hospital.

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Did a lawless or impolite cyclist cause this?

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When I rode across the country with America by Bicycle in 2007 (this photo is me in Missouri), ride leader Mike Munk did a great job explaining the rules of the road and the best ways to ride safely. One interesting thing he said was that if we ignore rules and do not properly share the road, an agitated motorist might take his anger out on the NEXT rider down the road rather than the one who pissed him off. In other words, YOU may get away with it, but your poor comrade up ahead could pay the price for your bad behavior.

This “revenge phenomenon” may have occurred to me a week ago. Out on a lonely farm road, I was descending a fairly steep hill at 35 mph. No other cars were in sight behind or in front except for a single car coming up the hill. Suddenly the car crossed over the center line and was aimed directly at me! It kept coming, and soon she was completely in my lane still headed right at me. I moved as far to the right as I could, and as she got pretty close, she turned away.

I say “she” because as she passed by me within a few feet (with about a 75 mph differential), I looked at the driver. She had a snarly, pissed-off look. What did I do to deserve this???

Since I did nothing to her, maybe it was a previous cyclist she encountered who pissed her off and I was the next cyclist she saw. However, if someone’s that crazy to drive across into my lane right at me, who knows if what pissed her off was the fault of the cyclist or whether she just didn’t know a cyclist’s rights and incorrectly thought the cyclist was being a jerk. Maybe the fact that I was descending the hill in the center of the lane made her think she had to “teach” me to ride on the far right side of the road, (Of course, a cyclist is to ride as far to right as practicable only when there are vehicles approaching from behind.)

This reminds me of an incident in British Columbia in 2012 when we were riding from Montana to Alaska. I had to stop at a road work site until it was our side’s turn to go. I happened to be at the front of the line, and the lane for about 30 yards was very narrow. Therefore, I rode in the center of the lane as to not “invite” the car behind to attempt an unsafe pass. It was only 30 yards, so this didn’t take long at all, yet when it widened and I move over to the right, the car behind decided to “punish” me by nudging me off the road! He must have thought I was doing something illegal, and it was his role to teach me a lesson. Canadians are too nice to have done this; it MUST have been an American. hahahaha

Blind hills and curves

The photo of me in Missouri shows many blind hills ahead. You would think that a passing car would NOT go completely into the oncoming lane when it has no clue as to whether a car will suddenly appear and come straight into him at 60 mph. Yet, this happens all the time, either at a blind hill or a blind curve. I’ve even had police cars and school buses do this, and in both cases cars DID come out of the blind spot and the cop and school bus had to slam on their brakes and swerve to avoid a head-on crash. I am amazed these drivers do not see the potential danger in this.

There must be some inner voice telling drivers that it is against the laws of nature to slow down when a cyclist is in front of them. As I said in a previous post, I even had a car pass me at a blind hill and when the oncoming car appeared, they and I all slammed on our brakes and stopped completely. There we were, the three of us blocking the road, with the two cars facing each other with their bumpers a couple feet from each other, and me to the right staring in amazement as to what just happened. I continued on after a few moments, but I’ve always wondered if one or both drivers found a reason to blame me for their near-collision.

5-star review!

I received the shipment of my new books yesterday! Now I can do some local promotions – or at least try. I also have my first review on Amazon, and it’s a five-star! http://www.amazon.com/Head-Over-Wheels-Tragedy-Cycling/dp/1620064987/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413417659&sr=8-1&keywords=head+over+wheels

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Riding against a red light

redlight

Bikes are vehicles, and therefore cyclists are supposed to follow the same rules of the road as any other vehicle. Nowadays, sensors under the road at intersections detect when a vehicle is waiting. Unfortunately, those sensors do not always detect a bicycle. What are we to do, wait there all day?

There is legal precedent for concluding that when a sensor does not detect you, it is malfunctioning and you may proceed as long as: 1) you have waited through one sequence of signal changes to “prove” that it truly is not detecting you, and 2) the “coast is clear”.

I have a few comments about this:

1) Some intersections are so empty that there is no sequence of signal changes to wait through. You need to wait a reasonable amount of time before deciding it’s time to proceed.

2) Unfortunately, most cyclists do not even stop at lights (as long as the coast is clear), much less wait through a sequence. As I’ve said, I wish this weren’t the case because it just further diminishes the respect we cyclists have with motorists who witness a cyclist’s disregard for the law. Cyclists are especially bad when making near-full-speed right turns on a red, just assuming they will be to the right of any oncoming car. But motorists don’t know if you’re going to pull in front of them or not as you turn, so they brake or swerve — and build up their disgust toward cyclists. This is not to say I come to a complete stop at every stop sign or red light for a right turn. Rather, I pretty much do what cars do — slow way down almost to a stop and roll on if it’s clear.

3) I have spoken with police officers about this topic, and most start with the position that proceeding against a red light is strictly prohibited. However, they usually come to understand why it makes sense to proceed, especially when most states have laws specifying situations when vehicles may proceed against a red light when a signal is malfunctioning. Sometimes the officers have said I should get off my bike and walk it over to press the walk button. Being a vehicle, the bike’s “driver” is not required to do this, nor are there always walk buttons.

In Ohio where I live, a bill was introduced last year specifically allowing a cyclist to proceed under the two conditions I laid out in my 2nd paragraph. Unfortunately, the bill died from lack of legislative movement.

On group rides at a left turn where we already knew the sensors would not detect us, the lead cyclists would just fly right through the red light and everyone followed (you can’t get behind the group!). I was never sure what I could do but to follow, because if I stopped and waited a “reasonable” amount of time to prove the signal was defective, I would no longer be a part of that group ride. Such are the dynamics of the masses, Dr. Freud.

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Broken Necks

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That recliner is where I spent 95% of my waking hours for three months following my bike accident in 2007. The chest brace was the bigger annoyance of the two braces because it never felt snug. The neck brace ALWAYS felt snug and secure. Oh, the joy of a broken neck!

I realized today that I had it pretty good, actually. I visited my friend John who recently tripped forward into a wall and broke his cervical vertebrae #s 1 and 2 in five places. He also broke #7, tore his scalp apart, and broke some other “less critical” bones. He not only had a neck brace like the one I wore, but was in a halo. He was pretty darned miserable. He wasn’t smiling the way I am in this photo.

Having my surgery seems like a better solution during healing, but the drawback of surgery is that my neck is fused and I will never be able to bend it much. When my friend’s neck heals, at least it should bend close to normal again. But right now, he cannot do much of anything. He even sleeps in his recliner chair. It is hard to see him suffer his daily life, and he has more than two months to go. I feel lucky – again.

As my book, Head Over Wheels, describes, I was able to lie down in a bed, discard the chest brace (with much effort), roll onto my side, and get comfortable. I was able to sleep pretty well, thank you Papa. My neck was rigidly held together with 11 pieces of titanium hardware.

Who would have guessed it would be a broken fork?

As I was telling my friend today, I always could imagine myself getting in a crash and breaking bones on a bike, because it’s actually a pretty risky sport. Think of all those crazy drivers. Think about all the road hazards. Think about those slick roads in sharp turns (read Chapter 16). Think about how close we ride in groups going 20 mph.

I never would have predicted, however, that my really bad bike accident would result from a spontaneous break of my high-tech carbon fiber fork. This just doesn’t happen. If it did, there would be no cyclists riding bikes.

So how did my cervical #2 get pulverized on either side of the spinal cord without injuring it? Read my book! hahahaha

http://www.amazon.com/Head-Over-Wheels-Tragedy-Cycling/dp/1620064987/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413234968&sr=8-1&keywords=head+over+wheels

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More lousy cycling and driving habits

bike on wire

I wrote “Bicyclists vs Cars” a few days ago, and I have more amazing tales to tell.

Too many cyclists do not follow the rules of the road. Too many motorists do not even know that cyclists are vehicles by law and are granted the same rules that apply to vehicles. This results in a lack of respect by both for the other.

One of the worst times for cyclists to ignore the road rules is when they are together in large groups, such as club rides. The lead riders might slow down a bit at a 4-way stop and see no immediate threats so they yell “clear” and proceed on through. The group mentality then kicks into gear (“I MUST remain with the group at all costs”) and everyone just flies though the intersection, which is bad enough because they’re ignoring the stop sign. But the group will also play follow-the-leader regardless of any changes that might develop. For example, if a car comes from the right or left and stops, they’re forced to just sit there and watch all the cyclists ignore the stop sign when it should be the car’s turn to proceed. What kind of opinion do you suppose that engenders in motorists toward cyclists?

Of course, it’s not just cyclists in groups. Way too many cyclists ignore stop signs and red lights in general. And then they wonder why motorists have low opinions of them. Cyclists claim they run signs and lights only if it’s not hurting anyone else’s  rights, but there at least three problems with that: 1) anyone observing the cyclist ignoring the law, whether they are directly affected or not, will lose respect for the cycling community as scofflaws; 2) the cyclist gets too used to his habit and goes beyond what he can defend as proper. For example, he pushes the envelope and causes reactions motorists to brake or swerve because they don’t know just what the cyclist will or will not do; and 3) see the group mentality argument above.

Too many motorists do not realize we have a right to the lane, even if there is a shoulder or bike lane. I encourage cyclists to share the road and use the shoulder if it’s ride-able, but often times it’s not. Yes, we are supposed to ride as far to the right as practical, but “practical” must be determined by us, not the motorists. “Practical” can be riding down the middle of the lane, as I described in my previous posting on Bicycles vs Cars. In these cases, if a car comes up from behind, I find it helps to put my left hand outward in a slanted-down position, halfway between the signal for stopping and a left turn. This tells the driver that you know he’s there and you’re riding in the middle of the road for a reason, and not just being a jerk. In my experience, the motorist seems to then “get” why you are riding where you are.

The subliminal invitation to pass when it’s unsafe to do so

Do you know how when you hold a door open for an upcoming person, they always start running or hustling to get to you quickly? Something unspoken is telling the person he should hurry and not inconvenience the person holding the door.

A similar kind of unspoken message occurs when a cyclist rides as far as possible to the right of the lane (e.g., no shoulder), and oncoming cars or a blind hill or curve prevent a safe pass. The approaching motorist might not really think there is enough room to pass safely (at least three feet of clearance) and would normally therefore slow down and wait until he can cross the center line to pass safely. However, a cyclist riding as far to the right as possible is sending an unspoken “invitation” to the driver to go ahead and pass. The cyclist is conveying “Go ahead, I’m way over here so that you may pass me.”

This is the very reason a cyclist should take the lane (ride near the center of the lane) — to prevent a motorist from thinking he is being invited to pass when it’s actually unsafe to do so. Once the car is able to cross the center line safely, the cyclist should move to the right, wave the car around him, and wave a thanks as he passes. This “teaches” motorists how to properly pass, and shows you are being considerate to him.

Of course, the cyclist cannot dart out to the middle of the road if the oncoming passing car has already gotten too close. This is why all cyclists should use a rear-view mirror, to constantly monitor what’s coming from behind and move out well in advance of a dicey situation with passing and oncoming vehicles.

P.S. I personally do not try this on busy highways, which is why I don’t ride on one unless it has a sufficient shoulder. Yes, I have the right to the lane even on a busy highway, but I ain’t pushing fate and trusting that cars on a busy highway are going to slow down for me and do what they are more willing to do on a less-traveled road.

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