Jim’s Tech Talk
by Jim Langley
In most parts of the USA, May is National Bike Month, one of the biggest pushes of the year to get more people pedaling. It’s been put on by the national organization, The League of American Bicyclists since 1956!
State and city biking organizations almost everywhere pitch in with their own Bike Month, Bike Week and Bike To Work Day celebrations. In case you want to mark your calendar, National Bike to Work Week 2019 takes place May 13 to 19. Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17.
Here in Santa Cruz County, California, Bike Week keeps growing larger. It’s a fun event that’s gotten lots of new folks to try riding to work and school every year with free breakfasts in over a dozen locations along popular commuting routes. I hope you can get involved and participate in your local events.
You can learn more by visiting the Bike League online. If you’re not sure about your area’s events, I recommend checking with your local bike shop since most should know what’s happening or who to contact to find out.
Bicyclists Get Credit for Paved Roads
The League of American Bicyclists organization itself goes back to 1880, when, arguably its most impressive achievement began, which was The Good Roads Movement. That effort resulted in our roads being paved. Before that they were dirt and not so pleasant to ride on, what with horses and carriages ruling the roads.
It was only about 13 years later that the automobile took to the newly paved roads. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three years later the first car/bike crash took place, “in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a pedalcycle rider.”
A Common Accident Every Cyclist Should Know About
Today, there are innumerable more cars and bicyclists using the roads. So, because there’s so much traffic and so many new cyclists will hit the street for Bike Month, I want to discuss a common accident that happens to many riders, from pros to complete novices. It’s called getting “doored.”
I’m going to explain how it happens and offer some tips that hopefully ensure it never happens to you. I’m sure you experienced readers will be able to add your best tips for avoiding dangers like getting doored. That way this will be an excellent tutorial for staying safe out there for everyone this month.
When a cyclist says they were “doored,” it means that someone in a vehicle opened their door so that they, the cyclist, couldn’t avoid it and ran into it or got hit by the door. How serious the crash is depends on the situation.
If you see the door being opened in time to swerve and mostly avoid it, you might not even crash or get hurt. But, if the door is opened quickly, you could hit it so hard that you do a “Superman” flying over the door landing head first in the road. Not only will you likely end up in the hospital but your bike will probably be totalled, too.
Another type of injury that results is caused by doors that are only open about halfway when you hit them. This can be a bad crash because there’s no give to the door when it’s struck on end like this. The impact can easily break a collarbone or much worse.
One more is when someone opens a door to exit the car when you happen to be right next to them. That can knock you down and out and wreck your bike, too.
Note that while getting doored is most likely to happen when you’re riding past parked cars and in traffic, it can happen anywhere there is at least one car in close proximity. I have even almost gotten doored by a passing car who thought it would be funny to try to scare or cause me to crash by swinging their door open at me.
If you want to watch lots of doorings (pretty hard to watch in my opinion), simply fire up YouTube and search on the words “getting doored.”
Maybe with the new technology coming to motor vehicles, there will be some system that prevents opening doors anytime bikers are near. But, until that comes along, we cyclists are on our own to protect ourselves.
The best tip I can give you is to expect that someone is going to door you and always be thinking about it and watching out for signs that it’s about to happen. And take precautions any time you are riding around cars.
What do you watch for? Whenever I’m approaching traffic I first look to see if anyone’s in the vehicle. Look through the windows if you can. Look in their sideview mirror, too, for their reflection. Try to spot signs that they’re about to exit. Driver’s usually look in the mirror first, a telltale motion you can spot. In my experience, it’s harder to “read” the passengers.
I’ve been hit that way while I was waiting for a light to change. The passenger kissed her boyfriend goodbye then swung the door open fast enough that it hit me so hard it nearly knocked me off my bike. “Oops, I didn’t see you,” is all she said as she scampered aways as quickly as possible.
Precautions To Take
The number one thing is to realize that you’re passing cars or cars are passing you. In that situation, you’re at risk. The best way to avoid any chance of getting doored is to ride so that you’re further away from the vehicles than the width of the doors. That way if they swing the door open, you won’t get hit.
Another safeguard is to slow to a speed that you know you can perform an emergency stop to avoid any opening doors. This is one of the reasons traffic safety educators tell cyclists to take the lane.
Also, be ready to stop as quickly as possible – or to swerve to avoid colliding with the door. Keep your hands close to the brakes and maintain a good grip on the bars. I prefer to sit more upright, too, grasping the brake hoods rather than the drops. This provides the advantage of sitting higher so it’s easier to see further forward and spot risks earlier.
To stop quickly, keep your weight back and apply the rear brake hardest first, adding more and more front brake as needed. Having your weight to the rear helps prevent skidding (which increases the time it takes to stop) and you going over the handlebars. I recommend practicing this maneuver so that your muscle memory helps save the day in a panic stop like this rather than having to think about it before you react.
Getting doored is one of the hazards of bicycling. I hope these tips help keep you safe and that you have a fun Bike Month. Please share your traffic safety tips in the comments.
Ride total: 9,261
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.