Avoiding the Right Hook

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel encounters the most dangerous situation for cyclists.

So there I was, cruising along in one of the widest, most well-designated bike lanes in the county, when the car that had been alongside me for the last 30 seconds or so suddenly eased ever so slightly ahead…then abruptly turned right into a parking lot. No brake light, no turn signal, just a quick right-hander directly across my path.

Like most bikers, I’ve got my share of traffic stories, but this was my first close-call with the dreaded “right hook.” Named because it pretty much describes the overhead view of the action taken by a motorist turning to the right across the path of a bike in a parallel lane, the right hook has been described as one of the most dangerous threats to a cyclist. It often happens at intersections, but also virtually anywhere there’s a parking lot or driveway. All it takes is a distracted driver, and you’ve got all the makings of a serious accident.

Safety experts say to avoid the right hook by keeping traffic behind you. At a busy intersection with lots of potential right-turning cars, that means riding farther to the left of the lane, encouraging, almost forcing the motorist behind to wait to turn. Likewise, don’t pass a line of slow-moving cars on the right if you can avoid it; if you do, use extreme caution. As I discovered firsthand, you can’t count on a brake light or turn signal as a visual. If you’re moving the speed of traffic, take the lane, rather than stay far to the right, which might encourage cars to try to squeeze by. If you’re approaching an intersection, merge left into the lane of traffic in order to pass a car turning right on its left-hand side.

While my situation had obvious similarities, it didn’t perfectly fit any of the above scenarios. I had actually noticed the car for a while, as it alternately eased ahead of me, then dropped back throughout a 25mph zone, while I maintained a steady 20 mph in the bike lane. Because of the back and forth (and the passenger looking out the window directly at me), I reasoned the driver was well aware of my presence. Still, I was being cautious. I live in a beach community, and this was a well-trafficked road during peak tourist season. I guessed he was probably looking for an address or business, hence the on-and-off the gas behavior. As the end result proved, however, I wasn’t cautious enough. Intent on a good training ride, I maintained my speed and trusted I’d see that blinker or brake light before any right turn.

Obviously, those visual clues never came, and that driver I thought couldn’t have possibly forgotten about me turned directly across my path.

Fortunately for me the driver was just slightly ahead of me. As he turned, and I locked up the brakes, I skidded but stayed upright. It could have been a lot worse. Just a few feet ahead and I would have hit the car at speed. As it was, I still worried I’d lose control and go down between his front and rear wheels. Instead, I ended up literally skidding up against his back door.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, filled with rage. Normally a pretty easy-going guy, I countered his apology with a verbal assault that probably had parents for miles around reaching for the earmuffs.

Lessons learned? Always be aware of the traffic that may be turning right whenever you’re riding, even if you’re within the safe-feeling confines of a generous, marked bike lane. Watch for a car’s brake lights and turn signals, but don’t count on them. Always look ahead for intersections, turns, and driveways that could pose a threat. If a car gets slightly ahead of you, slow down and be prepared to take action, even if it means ruining that nice average speed you’ve been targeting for the last 10 miles.

And should a close call happen, watch your temper. Though that seemed impossible in the heat of the moment, the valid points I was making about using turn signals and watching for bikes in the bike lane were probably lost on the driver as I added so many expletives to the mix.

But then again, maybe not…

“Your Legs Are Awfully Smooth…”

Our guest poster Don Blount fields a sharp question.

As I was getting ready for a ride the other day my wife asked me: “Do you shave your legs?”

I was caught off guard. I replied: “No. Of course not.”

She looked closer at my legs. “Your legs are awfully smooth,” she said.

“Well, eyebrows aside I’m just not a hairy person,” I said. “After 10 years of marriage you ought to know this.”

She let it go and moved on.

Now maybe I bent the truth just a bit. A more accurate answer would have been I had not shaved my legs in awhile.

Now I am familiar with all of the reasons cyclists shave their legs: better aerodynamics, easier to heal road rash, appearance, easier massage, tradition.
I don’t consider myself a fast rider, I don’t get regular massages and the road rash I have had has not been on my legs.

So why is it exactly that I shave my legs? I think just mostly because I ride and that’s what some riders do.

It isn’t something that I publicize, even to my wife.

So with the weather getting warmer and the thought of putting the leg warmers away for the season, I shaved my legs after my ride that same day.

And being overcome with a little guilt for not being totally truthful, I mentioned to my wife the next morning when I returned from the gym, coincidentally there are men who work out there who shave more than their legs.

“I thought you did something to them, your legs looked just too clean,” she said. “I know that some cyclists and swimmers do that. I just didn’t know if you did.”

I didn’t tell her that I started shaving them last year and she did not notice.

“By the way,” she said. “If you get tired of shaving with a razor, there
are some depilatories in the bathroom that you can use…On your legs. It’s what I use.”

I just stared at her.

“I don’t use depilatories,” I said. “I am a cyclist. We use razors.”


The other day I came home to find a plastic Target bag on the bed. I first thought my wife had been out shopping and picked me up some boxer shorts. But when I opened the bag, I found something completely different.

Two bike jerseys and a pair of bibs.

“Cynthia stopped by today,” said my wife. “She thought you might like these.”

Cynthia is a friend of ours, who took up biking last year. This year, she joined a local team – the Tough Cookies – and started training seriously. For her, it was all about losing weight. Cynthia, like my wife, has had trouble finding bike clothes that fit. Her solution was to get men’s clothes.

But her training is paying off. Last week, she completed the MS 150 from Houston to Austin, which features a 100-mile leg on its first day. Her training is paying off in other ways, too.

“She’s lost enough weight that she doesn’t need to wear men’s clothes anymore,” said my wife. “So these are now yours.”

The mountain bike jersey and the bibs. The long-sleeved jersey was in the wash.

Cool. The two jerseys are technically for mountain bikers. The long-sleeved one has no pockets and a simple V-neck. The short-sleeved one has no elastic around the hem, and two zippered pockets. I’m no mountain biker, but I’ll be wearing these on shorter weekday rides.

The thing that left me a little uncomfortable was the bibs. They’re great. They’re Castellis, and I’ve always wanted a pair of those. They’re a little garish, with a broad red stripe down the leg and “Castelli” in big letters down the side. They’ve got the distinctive Castelli chamois pad, which is thinner but denser than most other pads.

So, the big question: Do I accept and wear the bibs, knowing that they’ve been cushioning someone else’s bottom? A female someone else, at that?

I hemmed. And I hawed. I found little nit picky things wrong with the two jerseys. My wife stood glaring, hands on her hips. “You’re over thinking this,” she said.

I wore the short-sleeved jersey for a short trip through the neighborhood. It fluttered in the wind, but that was okay. I wasn’t in a time trial. I was just getting in some miles on the bike.

Under the jersey, I wore the bibs.

They fit like a glove. I’m going to keep wearing them.

The Most Important Thing: Aaron West

Aaron West

The latest contribution to our series of guest posts, What’s the Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling?, comes from South Carolina biker Aaron West. He’s only been on two wheels for nine months, but he’s blown past my accomplishments with a single-minded determination to achieve a lofty goal. Here’s his story:

A year ago I was a broken man. Literally. I had been active for about two years, had lost a good bit of weight, and then suffered a running injury that shut me down completely. It was crushing. I remember going to the gym, trying to do anything to get my heart rate up, only to leave in pain and frustration 15 minutes later. After a couple weeks of this, I decided to dip into my savings and buy a bike. That opened up a whole new world to me.

Getting on the bike was a major learning experience and it took me awhile to get the hang of it. I rode by myself for awhile at a safe location with little traffic. I was still injured, but the bike rarely caused unnecessary pain. In fact, it seemed to help me rehabilitate. As I became more comfortable with the bike, I started to feel better and gradually increased my mileage.

I’ll never forget the first time I decided to try a “long ride,” which back then was 25 miles. That was my milestone, farther than I had ever ridden before. I mapped out the course, and pushed myself for 20 miles at around 13 mph before having to take a break. I was wiped out, dripping sweat, my butt hurt and an isolated park bench looked like paradise. After 30 minutes of rest, I got back on the bike and gutted out the remaining five miles, making sure to only stay on flat or downhill roads. What is amazing is that this ride was just nine months ago.

Over the fall I did more and more rides. The highlight was the Tour de Leaves in Tryon, NC. I went with the easiest of the organized rides, which did not go over any mountains but compared to the flats where I live, was a challenging, hilly course. This was my first “group ride” and taught me a lot of lessons. I remember drafting off a nice lady unintentionally and she got a little mad at me. Of course I didn’t have the fitness level then to “pull” anyone, including myself. Even though this ride was also a struggle, I pushed and made it, feeling exuberant for completing such a daunting challenge.

Fast forward a few months later — I was still a beginning rider, but had learned a few things from riding with a cycling club through my office. By that point my longest ride was 55 miles and my average speed was around 14-15 mph on the flats. At this time I was feeling a little more confident in my abilities.

One of the seasoned riders sent out a challenge for members of the club to participate in the Assault on Mount Mitchell ride for 2011. Not knowing what I was getting into, I threw my name in the hat. I later discovered that Mount Mitchell is the highest mountain in the Eastern United States. This is a 103-mile ride with over 11,000 feet of climbing. I remember my shock after watching a few YouTube videos and seeing how people in impeccable shape struggled and failed this challenge. What in the world did I get myself into?

Not wanting to back down and especially not wanting to hurt myself, I started training. I did a lot of reading, watched what I ate, and made sure to ride as much as I could over the winter (which wasn’t much). I also upgraded my bike and now have something that is better at climbing.

Ray asked us to share what we have learned from cycling. For me, it’s this: ANYONE CAN DO IT! I only needed the proper training and motivation. My incentive came to me by accident (and ignorance), but it didn’t have to. Cycling is a great sport because progress can be made by simply continuing to ride. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

The Most Important Thing: Clive Chapman

Clive Chapman

The latest post in our series of The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Cycling comes from across the pond. Clive Chapman, a 47-year-old engineer, lives in Birmingham, England. He’s married to the “long-suffering Liz,” and they have two children. Clive is an army veteran and rugby coach, who once played rugby at a very high level. But he let himself get out of shape. Now, he cycles to regain his fitness, and blogs about his efforts at www.massivemtber.co.uk. Here’s his story.

As my Army and rugby background indicates I was as fit as a butcher’s dog back in the day.  Besides rugby, I mountain biked regularly and have been a regular cyclist since I was around 6 years old!

June, 2009

For reasons I cannot fathom I stopped all sport and cycling when I hit my late 30s. The phrase, “It kind of just happened” seems as good a reason as any.

Then in June 2009 I found to my horror (unbelievable but true,  it was a total surprise) that I was 312 lbs (22 stones 4 lbs here in England) and had a number of health issues related to morbid obesity.

Earlier I had discovered by chance http://frank.kinlan.co.uk and his blog about a bloke roughly my age and condition whose life was transformed by cycling. It struck a chord and inspired me to do the same.

April, 2011

To cut a very long story short, here I am in April 2011 weighing 214 lbs (15 stones 4 lbs) and no longer have the health issues, having lost 98 lbs so far and am continuing to lose.

I’ve achieved this by commuting every day to work by bike, a 24-mile round trip, MTBing as often as I can at the weekend, (I road cycle too) and watching the old grub intake. I’ve even sold my car as it was not being used.

I’ve pedalled through two of the worst winters on record here in England and now cannot imagine doing anything different.

So onto lessons learnt about cycling. For me there is only one:


From fit bloke and regular cyclist to fat bloke and dead man walking in a few years all because of my cessation of hostilities with the trail is something I’ll always regret. The hard work and heartache it has taken to get where I am now could have been avoided.

But I’m nearly back to where I want to be and the “Don’t ever stop!” phrase is now placed at the head of my blog as a permanent reminder to me of what can happen if I take my eye off the ball again.

Finally on the subject of blogging, I have made a load of new friends via the blogosphere, all top people who encourage, cajole and support this poor weak-willed sap when the going gets tough. Do not underestimate the power of the Internet, because I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. So thank you to my cyber pedalling mates!

Oh, OK — that’s two lessons!

If you would like to join Clive with a guest post on this blog, write one on the topic: What’s the Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling? Details available here. These posts will run periodically on Bike Noob.

You’re Going to Fall – Here’s How

Note: The series of guest posts on The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Cycling will reappear later this week. I must resume contributing to my own blog!

You might have noticed in the Twitter box on the right of this blog last week that I had a minor crash on my bike. I missed a shift on a hill, dropped my chain, was unable to clip out, and I went over.

Just a bruise on my hip and a sore hand, but that was enough to trigger this reprimand:

“Hands on the bars at all times,” commented Mike Weiland, who should know, because he’s had his share of hard falls.

But that’s the problem. When you find yourself going down, what’s the most natural reaction? To put out a hand to brace yourself when you hit the ground.

“You brace, you break a hand or a collarbone,” said Mike. Or an arm, or dislocate your shoulder…

Even experienced riders brace for falls. It’s a natural reaction.

Okay, so I’m going to resist the temptation to brace next time (yeah, right). What can I do instead?

It depends on the type of fall. If you find yourself going over the handlebars, you can plan to roll on your shoulder. I did this in the first bad fall I had on my road bike, and although I was sore, I wasn’t hurt badly.

The guy in this crash looks like he might be able to drop his right shoulder, and roll on it.

Ted Rogers, who runs the blog, Biking in L.A., urges cyclists to do two things: stay clipped in, and hold the handlebars tightly. He tucks his elbows into his body. “At the same time,” he says, “I tuck my head down between my shoulders, and round my shoulders to shape my upper body into a ball. My momentum will continue to move my body forward, rolling me over the handlebars, still attached to my bike, which helps me maintain my curved position.” With luck, you’ll be able to roll on your shoulder rather than fall on your face. If he finds himself going down sideways, instead of over the bars, he does pretty much the same thing. When I went down last week, I stayed clipped in (not intentionally). That may have prevented me from being hurt worse than I was.

The roll might work for low-speed crashes, says Mike Weiland, but at higher speeds, all you can do is just skid. “Of course the one a few months ago at 24 mph I ended up hurting my hand/wrist not from bracing, but more or less punching the ground as my hand was still in the drops when the bars made contact with the pavement,” he told me.

It appears the best place to land in a crash is on your side. Hitting your chest or back on the ground could mean worse injuries. “As you hit the ground,” said one commenter on a biking forum, “try to stay as loose as possible. If you’re tense or stiff, it’s easier to get hurt.”

In practice, none of this might be possible. One cyclist posted to a forum that he’d been in two bad road crashes. “In neither case, do I remember having any time to react,” he said. “I was aware that I was in trouble, and then on the ground bleeding.”

What’s the old saying? “There are two kinds of cyclists: Those who have crashed, and those who are going to.”

Keep the rubber side down.

During the coming week, Bike Noob will feature two more posts in the series, What’s the Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling? If you’d like to submit your thing, check here.

The Most Important Thing: David Dorman

David Dorman

We continue our series of guest posts on The Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling with an entry from David Dorman. If I have a personal biking mentor, David is it. He’s been indirectly featured on this blog for several years. Whenever I mention “my friend David” in a post — which is often — it’s he I am referring to. David has always been generous with his knowledge. But what he considers the most important thing he’s learned about cycling might surprise you.

So Ray’s giving out homework.  Well, he’s a college teacher so it fits the profile.  I should know the answer to this since have been riding bikes for over 55 years.  But I have only been “cycling” for the last 20 or so years.  You’re cycling  when you buy and wear the dorky stretchy pants because they actually make sense and help.  So I decided to think about what is the most important thing on my Saturday morning ride. Maybe something will come to me.

On my way up the first hill getting my heart rate up a bit I start thinking.  Hummm, we all learn the most important things the first time we actually ride, like keep moving forward or you will fall over, learn how use the brakes or you will run into something and it hurts to fall down.   That was too easy, so that can’t be right.  OK, those are important things you learn about riding bikes, not cycling.  My 4-year-old granddaughter has already nailed most of those.  Maybe she will be a cyclist someday but right now she’s just a little girl riding on the sidewalk.   She’s at her soccer game this morning so maybe cycling is important because it’s a sport and there are no balls involved.  Weak, but it makes me smile.

On the downhill I pass a traffic speed indicator that says I’m going 25 mph so I think, watching the road far out in front is an important thing I’ve learned. That may make the top 10 but not the most.  Then I come to a red light for a right turn and it’s green so I lean into the turn. Leaning rather than steering is important.

Next up is a 3-way stop with a car at every corner.  So the idea is that everyone is going to obey the laws,  yield and be courteous, right?  It’s important that cyclists never, ever believe that.  Which brings up the “always make eye contact with drivers” rule and that is a very important thing to learn, at least Top 5.

I am approaching my left turn onto Latta Lane and I have to cross the traffic to get into the left turn lane so I make a quick turn in the saddle and look behind — it’s clear, so I move over.  It’s important to be able to look behind you without running into something or following your head into traffic.  But before you look, your ears should be telling you that there’s something to look for and you want to know just how far away it is so you can plan your move.  All of these things are in the cycling safety bucket, so maybe safety wins.  Reasonable, but hardly profound.

But there are other important things too.  Basic stuff like wear a helmet and clothes that match the weather conditions. If you plan to ride for more than a half hour bring something to drink.  Eye protection helps and so do gloves.  Avoid loose gravel on the road, etc. There are hundreds of important things to know about cycling.  Most of these can only be learned with experience and riding with people with experience.  If you continue riding you will keep on learning.

If I have to pick just one I have decided the most important thing I’ve learned about cycling is that it’s a great time to think.   I’ll think about that since I’m not doing anything but pedaling, trying to get up Convict Hill and even with a heart rate of 160, I’m still thinking.

If you would like to join David with a guest post on this blog, write one on the topic: What’s the Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling? Details available here.