When Bikes Hit Bikes

Last summer, I was on a club ride when we approached our turnaround point. We had to get ready to make a left turn into a gas station. We were riding two abreast on the road; I was in front on the right.

The rider next to me was experienced, but unfamiliar with this route.I told him we’d be making a left, and started to ease my bike in that direction.

He didn’t move. I nearly crashed into him. I was looking ahead to the turn, and didn’t see that he wasn’t moving with me. I jerked the handlebar to the right, somehow avoided falling over, and we got to the gas station without a mishap.

I’m thinking about that incident, because I recently came across some data about bike-on-bike crashes.

The Safety Committee of the Twin Cities Bike Club in Minnesota compiles records of crashes involving the club’s members. Each month, they print the crash rundown in their club newsletter. Their January newsletter toted up the crashes for the year: 34. Five of those crashes were bike-on-bike.

We always hear about solo crashes, where bikers lose control and go down, or car-bike crashes, which most often seem to happen when a car turns right in front of a bike. But why would bikes hit other bikes? Isn’t the hazard obvious? Can’t it easily be avoided?

The Twin Cities Bike Club listed causes for four of the five crashes. All were different.

  • Rider failed to signal intention to stop, rider behind hit front rider.
  • Rider turned into another rider riding beside him.
  • Riding in pace line, tire of rear rider touched the one in front.
  • Rider behind looking into rear view mirror ran into a slowing rider in front.

Three of the four somehow involved riders hitting the bike in front of them. All because of different circumstances, but the results were the same — a crash.

So one way to be a safer biker is to pay close attention to the bike in front of you. This is why you always hear warnings against “half-wheeling” in pacelines. That’s when your front wheel overlaps the rear wheel of the rider ahead. I witnessed the results of this when riding my first century. A serious crash on a wide, arrow-straight road.

In fact, it was a bike-on-bike crash that got me wearing a bike helmet. In the 1980s, my wife and I would take our bikes out on the local hike & bike paths in city parks. In one case, the path came down from a bridge over a creek, and merged with the path that ran along the creek. A rider coming down the hill couldn’t hold a tight line, and hit my wife head-on. She had cuts and bruises, some road rash, but was more frightened at the collision itself than the consequences. We went to the closest bike shop and bought helmets right away.

The bike club’s safety column concluded that most accidents — bike-on-bike or otherwise — are caused by inattentiveness.  It urges all bikers to take a Traffic Skills 101 course, which teaches defensive biking techniques.

And here’s something very timely: The League of American Bicyclists is partnering with the city of Houston to offer the classroom part of Traffic Skills 101 online, at bikeed.org. Registration is free. It’ll take about four hours to complete it, but you can take as many or as few modules at a time as you want. There’s a quiz after each module. Once you’ve completed the online part, you’re eligible to take the on-the-road portion. I signed up for the online course tonight, even though I’ve already passed Traffic Skills 101. We can all use a refresher.

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3 thoughts on “When Bikes Hit Bikes

  1. One of our local bike clubs provides free bike safety classes. If I recall correctly, it was a weekly class for several weeks. It was a great mixture of in-class written instruction on local bike laws, safety issues, etc. and on-the-bike instruction which consisted of various bike-handling obstacle courses. The class ended with a 2-mile ride in downtown traffic. It was a great class to take for a newbie like me. I think it would benefit so many people if all cyclists took a similar class.

  2. your own story happened to me when i was about 13, a friend of mine and I were riding abreast, he knew where he was going and i didn’t, riding slightly behind. at the intersection he turned left into me while i was turning right. total crash with a couple of scratches and a long way from home. we decided to ride single file after that.
    great article, thanks for the statistics.

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