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
Ron Sowers says
The “door zone” is most definitely a factor that I take into consideration as I pass parked cars.
One thing not mentioned at all is that the rider about to be doored might swerve so far into the traffic lane as to be hit by a vehicle from behind. Not a good outcome in all likelihood.
Demetri Kolokotronis says
It’s happened and resulted in death.
Greg Conderacci says
Good advice, Jim. I also try to look for heads in the parked cars, although that can be difficult with high headrests. It’s pretty safe to assume that I car door will open seconds after the driver pulls in. Back in the day when I did a lot of city riding, I would carry a whistle and blow it before passing a long line of parked cars.
Finally, there are moronic bike lanes, like in the neighborhood of Roland Park in Baltimore, where they put a narrow bike lane between a curb and parked cars. It’s impossible to avoid being doored by a passenger, so the only option is to avoid the road all together, defeating the purpose of the lane!
When I first joined it was “league of American Wheelmen”. I was sad to see it changed. I can remember my grand mom referring to my bike as my wheel. Some traditions should be maintained.
Mark Ward says
I question the advice of applying rear brake first in an emergency braking situation. I’ve been a lifelong rider of motorcycles and bicycles, off-road and on, and I know that most of our stopping power comes from the front wheel, even on loose ground when applied judiciously. Perhaps your advice is aimed at beginners that may not yet have developed good braking modulation skills?
Jim Langley says
Thanks, Mark. The advice to hit the rear brake hardest first is to prevent the very common road bicycle cycling accident of applying too much front brake, which results in flipping over the handlebars and landing head-first on the pavement. This is a hazard of road bikes because the drop bars put more of the weight far forward on the bike. With upright, flat handlebars, it’s less of a problem but still happens a lot to beginners or anyone who uses too much front brake at the wrong time.
With practice, riders can learn to use the front brake and apply more force there earlier, but from the many crashes I’ve seen and from my personal experiences in emergency situations, I consider it an advanced skill and one that can easily go wrong.
Thanks for the comment!
Mark Ward says
Thanks Jim. I think we are in agreement that this common accident is more due to a mistake / lack of experience on the rider’s part. Riding mountain bikes on gravel is a great way to gain experience here. Disc brakes should also help as they are generally considered easier to modulate.
Regarding the weight-forward nature of road bikes with drop-bars, the wonderful braking power from the front comes from the fact that the weight is far forward – and even more so when actually braking. You just don’t want to go past the grip point! That comes from knowing your bike and tires, and having a bike with good front-end feel.
Charles R Moeller says
Having a blinking front light on the bike is very important as it will reflect in the outside mirror which hopefully will attract the attention of the motorist. Just a suggestion.
I agree and do this. At least a better chance. Blinking during the day and steady at night. Many use blinking lights at night and the risk is, it blinds those looking at it – more so with strobes.
Tom in MN says
All good advice. Look for those heads!
I would add that when there are sparsely parked cars along the side of the road that you should not only move out when next to the parked cars, but instead ride at a steady distance from the shoulder/curb that keeps you outside the door zone. You want to avoid last minute swerves out into the traffic lane that make it hard for the car traffic behind you to avoid you. Look for single parked cars in the distance and get out of the door zone well before you get to the car so you can make a gradual move into traffic. This goes along with my practice of erring on the side of riding closer to traffic (typically just outside the white line) rather than in all the junk at the edge of the road. I think this helps avoid having drivers stop paying attention to you once they figure they don’ t have to avoid you.
I believe this comment is a lot more important than proper emergency braking. In city biking I have made it a habit to pick a line that is outside the “door range” and simply hold it. Weaving in and out around parked cars forces the following drivers to guess what you are going to do next. They guess wrong and you become a hood ornament. If you are going in a straight line and are partially in their lane, they will see you and know they will need to go around you.
leo J says
Thanks for highlighting this important issue.
Too add to “How serious the crash is depends on the situation” there is, in my opinion, an even more hazardous situation. This occurs when an opening door clips the end of your bars an throws you and bike left into the roadway. If there happens to be oncoming traffic the hazard of being run over while on the ground can result in very serious injury or a fatality.
Although you do say ride far enough away from parked vehicles, you and some commentators advise to look for drivers in vehicle in-order to swerve away. This behavior is mostly ineffective and diverts the riders attention. The BEST way to avoid dooring is to consistently ride at least 5-6 feet away from parked cars. Also, where there is intermittent parking, ride predictably and hold your line,rather than moving right between parked vehicles and moving left before encountering the next parked vehicle.
There’s only one safe way to ride past parked cars and that’s to stay outside of the door zone. Looking for heads, checking rear view mirrors, being “ready to stop”, etc. is a mug’s game. Also, the dangers of dooring are, to a degree, misrepresented in this article. Doorings can be fatal.
Mike Tierney says
Peter’s response is the perfect response. His four sentences say everything worth saying.
In reference to Jim’s comment about “riding out in traffic”. Let us never forget that we ARE traffic. We deserve to be there as much as mommy in her Range Rover.
Another dimension to this, and a ready solution to this perennial issue, is the motorist’s responsibility. You mention the sideview mirror. In Europe, drivers are taught to look into this mirror before exiting the vehicle. After all, this is one reason such mirrors are mounted. If this precaution is not followed, the law concludes the driver will automatically be held at fault for any injuries or damages, certainly fatalities, that may result. Same applies to injudicious opening of doors by passengers.
Certainly, I follow the precaution of cycling beyond the swing radius of doors and looking out for vehicles with activated white reversing lights, brake lights, blinkers and front tires turning, but essentially the driver should be held at fault if anything untoward occurs, the same principle as when motorists back into traffic from a drive way without performing a proper rearward scan (another pet peeve of mine). The “Oops, I didn’t see you”-lady would accordingly be guilty of a hit-and-run, even if no damage or injuries were sustained.
As a retired police bike officer, I’d like to add that if you’re ejcted from the bicycle due to being doored, it is highly likely that you’ll end up on the pavement in the traffic lane to the left of where you were riding. Doored riders (except at very slow speeds) don’t end up clinging to the car door and don’t end up on the car hood. In the vast majority of cases where the cyclist is ejected, the cylist will be thrown into the lane that has overtaking traffic. That’s where the risk of very serious injury and fatality skyrockets. After you hit the pavement, you’re generally not going to immediately bounce upright and your head will probably be at the bumper height of overtaking traffic. If they’re panic-braking, their bumper just gets even lower as the front of the car dives. To make matters worse, if you’re down on the pavement, an overtaking vehicle that is unable to stop before impact will strike you and then either drag you or roll over you, depending on the speed of the overtaking vehicle and the road clearance it has underneath. Regardless, the results are highly likely to be critical injuries and/or potentially death, There are lots of arguments about “taking the lane” and I won’t go into those, but each rider needs to be aware of what happens when you’re ejected by a dooring and needs to make their own decision about whether taking the traffic lane to the left of parked vehicles, to avoid the possibility of being doored, is something they want to consider There are lots of factors in that decision, but we should all probably have that decision made before we ride anywhere there’s a “dooring zone.”.
John Schubert says
Use lane control. Stay out of the door zone. Stay out of the startle zone.
Jim, I love ya, but you shouldn’t even suggest that a rider can safely swerve clear of an opening door. If you do a time-motion study, you’ll see it is unlikely to succeed.
These crashes cause thousands of injuries and a number of deaths annually.
Here’s a piece I wrote about door crashes:
Stay out of the door zone and ride in a straight line! If I encounter motorists who open their door near me without looking first, I stop and explain how dangerous that is and what could result! Some have no clue!
Education is key on both sides! Be polite when you do this!