Three Common Bicycling Accidents – and How to Avoid Them

This is a guest post from attorney Ray Thomas, who represents injured cyclists.

Sharing the road with motorists can be frightening, especially if you live in an area where drivers don’t consider bicycles as legitimate vehicles. I often hear bicyclists say they’d like to incorporate cycling more into their everyday lives, but they just don’t feel safe riding alongside high-speed traffic.

Many states are increasingly enacting laws that help establish and protect the rights of cyclists. While these laws can provide critical legal resource in the event of a collision, they don’t necessarily prevent such accidents from happening. Instead, the onus is still on the cyclist to be aware of how these collisions occur and get proactive about preventing them.

Here’s a look at three of the most common types of bicycling accidents – and how savvy cyclists avoid them:

1. Hit by a right-turning car (aka the Right Hook).

When making a right turn – whether at a stoplight or into a driveway – motorists often fail to look for bicyclists who may be coming up from behind. What’s worse, many drivers nowadays will simply turn suddenly, without signaling, giving the cyclist no advance warning. Whether you’re riding in a bike lane, on the road or on the sidewalk, it’s always safest to assume motorists traveling in the right lane may turn right at any time.

There are two things you can do to prevent this type of collision. First, when you’re at a stoplight next to a car in the right lane, stop either just in front of the car (out of the motorist’s blind spot) to make sure you’ll be seen, or just behind the car so you can gauge whether the driver is going to turn right. Second, never pass a slow-moving vehicle on the right. Instead, wait for an opportunity to pass on the left, assuming it’s legal to do so in your city. Having a rearview mirror on your bike is invaluable for this.

2. Smacked by a car door.

Street parking is another common hazard for cyclists. Many drivers who park by the curb will simply open up the car door without thinking to check for approaching cyclists. Often the cyclist has no time to react, or cannot safely swerve left to avoid the door.

If you’re riding on a street with curbside parking, it’s wise to stay on the alert for vehicles that have just parked or have people inside them. That way, at least you have enough warning to give these cars a wider berth. Again, a rearview mirror is also a valuable tool, as it allows you to continually monitor the traffic behind you so you know whether it’s safe to swerve in a pinch.

3. Hit by a left-turning car (aka the Left Cross).

You and a motorist are approaching an intersection from opposite directions. The motorist either doesn’t see you or misjudges your speed and decides to suddenly turn left just as you cross the intersection. This can be one of the most difficult types of accidents to avoid, because cyclists often simply don’t see it coming.

The important thing here is to make yourself as visible as possible to motorists. For starters, don’t cross an intersection by riding from the sidewalk into the crosswalk, as this makes it even harder for motorists turning left to see you. Instead, stay as far to the left as you safely can; if possible, consider taking up the entire lane as you cross the intersection. Also, by being aware of this type of hazard, you can adjust your speed while traveling through intersections in order to allow yourself to brake quickly if needed.

Defensive cycling skills can take time and practice to develop. However, hyper-awareness coupled with the ability to think quickly and plan an escape route can go a long way toward preventing collisions.

Ray Thomas, a founding partner of the Portland law firm Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton, applies his personal injury litigation expertise to the area of bicycle and pedestrian law in the state of Oregon.

Le Tour de Longneques

I broke away from my usual weekend routine Saturday, by getting up really early and heading west to ride in Le Tour de Longneques. The brainchild of my blogging friend Don Bynum, the Tour started a couple of years ago as an easy 18-mile jaunt between Llano and Castell, Texas.

But each time it’s been run, it has grown in popularity. And as cyclists have gotten better, the Tour was extended. It now starts in Castell, (pop. 72) a hamlet along the Llano River, and goes to Llano (pop. 3,300), the county seat, then back to Castell.

What’s the attraction of Castell? The Castell General Store — one of the funkiest local businesses you’ll ever want to see. It appears ready to fall down in a heap. The grounds are patrolled by a huge rooster — the “mayor” of Castell. The store is a community gathering place, as much a bar as a general mercantile. On the weekends, it adds food to its offerings. Friday is burgers, Saturday barbecue, and for people who want to enjoy an upscale Sunday dinner — steaks.

The store before the ride. (Click pix to embiggen.)
The “mayor” of Castell.

The problem for me is that Castell is more than 90 miles from my home in Austin, and Don made it clear that we would leave at 8 a.m. sharp. That necessitated an early morning wake up. I don’t mind, but my wife sure does. The dog took care of the wake up — an hour earlier than I had set the alarm clock. I hit the road before 6:15, and reached Castell around 7:40 a.m.

A number of riders were already there, in various states of preparation for the trip. When I last rode with Don, I was the youngest person out there. This time, more than half the riders were younger than me, and were more serious riders. Two young women with tri bikes joined us. A couple of recumbents promised to set a fast pace.

Sure, you can pack a road bike in the trunk of a Corvette!

I put my stuff together, mindful of the 8 a.m. start time. But more riders kept dribbling in, and Don would say, “Let’s wait for him to get organized, then we’ll leave.” As soon as that happened, another car toting a bike would turn into the sandy parking area. Then there were two flat tires that had to be fixed (Before a ride?). At 8:30 sharp, Don said, “Let’s take off.”

Don Bynum (left) tells the group we’ll be going soon. Maybe.

I’ve indicated before that I like riding in rural areas on lightly-traveled roads. This trip was a straight shot between the two towns, never leaving Ranch Road 152. But RR 152 wasn’t straight. It dipped and curved and rose again for the whole 18 miles. The chip seal two-lane road wasn’t as rough as some I’ve been on, but it still has a way to go before traffic smooths out the surface. Still, I pedaled at what seemed an effortless pace, and noted that I had a good chance to get to Llano in just an hour.

The Bike Noob (left) climbs another hill. This was one of the only times I rode ahead of 70-year-old Doug Miller (behind me).

I almost made it. My average speed on the outbound leg was 17.4 mph. The picturesque Llano County courthouse made a nice rest stop, because of the generous shade cast by trees surrounding the old building. We even had two sag vehicles along for the trip, driven by the non-biking wives of two riders. They made sure we topped off with water and ice before hitting the road again.

The Llano County courthouse.
Llano still has some buildings that hint at the Old West.

But it turned out that the reason for a smooth ride on the way out was that Llano is about 200 feet lower than Castell, and on the way back, I found myself resorting to some small gears in the small chainring. Those same rolling hills we covered on the way out were long uphills now. It took a lot more effort to get back, and the temperature was steadily climbing.

Hickory Creek, one of several we cross on the ride, shows how dry July has been.

I was glad to see the Lutheran church on the outskirts of Castell. Just a mile left! My average speed on the return leg was a meager 12.4 mph. “You didn’t tell me the trip back was twice as far as the trip out,” I ribbed Don, when he pulled in 10 minutes after I did.

But this ride is not just about the ride. True to its name, many of us grabbed a Lone Star longneck to wind down. Then, another treat — we trooped several hundred yards down to the Llano River, where we soaked in what Don calls its “restorative” waters. After awhile, it was time to head back to the store for a lunch of barbecue with all the trimmings, and another Lone Star. Or two.

Some of the guys (Bike Noob 3rd from right) urge Don to be careful as he gingerly climbs up the slick pink granite after a soak in the Llano River.

This would be a nice ride under any circumstances, but the river, the barbecue, and the social aspects of the ride make it special. Don schedules the Tour whenever he feels like it. “It’s a militantly unorganized ride,” he says. Another installment might be in the works for fall, when we won’t have to start so early, and the river might actually run cool.

Stravalogisms

If neologism means coining a new word, or new usage of a word, some members of my club seem to have found a new pastime. They’re Strava addicts, and their posts to the club’s Yahoo group often mention their efforts to win King or Queen of the Mountain (KOM & QOM) or post a best new time on a favorite Strava segment.

Their obsession has led to the coining of a bunch of new words relating to Strava. We’re all familiar with “Stravacide.” Here are some that surfaced in the last few days (and yes, I’m aware that some of these might have been grabbed off various online sites):

Stravacation – A vacation or getaway planned around prime opportunities to obtain a KOM / QOM, i.e., a repeated ride in a remote area designed to obtain the KOM / QOM without competition.

Stravasectomy – Riding your bike so much trying to obtain KOM’s / QOM’s your testicles are numb, fall off or are no longer of use due to lack of availability.

Stravatude – An arrogance or attitude displayed in a group of Strava users. The medium is not limited to physical presence, but social media as well.

Stravitude – Planning Strava segments with the highest altitude beginning points in an effort to gain maximum descent speed.

Stravagate – Posting obviously flawed data to obtain a KOM / QOM, e.g., “Bill’s Garmin posted a maximum speed of 2,450.1 mph and he uploaded it to Strava for a KOM even though everyone knows he can’t go any faster than 1,872.7 mph. That’s Stravagate right there.”

Stravapocalypse – Awakening to compulsively check Strava in the morning (see Stravacompulsive) to find out 10 of your 11 KOM’s / QOM’s have been taken, e.g., “I looked at Strava this morning and all of my KOM’s were beaten yesterday. It was a Stravapocalypse.”

Stravalanche – Challenging your buddies to multiple Strava sections and dominating them all, i.e., “Wes challenged Bill to 10 Strava sections and won them all. It was a Stravalanche.”

Stravacompulsive – Checking Strava constantly in concern over your standings.

Stravacisstic – A narcissistic Strava user, i.e., pretty much anyone with a Strava ID.

Stravavention – A situation in which a Strava user is obsessed with KOMs or QOMs to the point they require an intervention from friends and loved ones.

Stravasnipe – When approaching a KOM/QOM segment in a group, drop to the very back of the group and attack the hill finishing with the front of the group.  Your average will be faster than the group you’re riding with.

Stravissimo! – An exclamation uttered by the tifosi in witness to a cyclist’s shattering of a previously “unbeatable” Strava segment. Used to describe said rider’s new KOM/QOM status.

Stravexpostfacto – Ride some irrelevant part of the route really, really fast and then make it a segment later that night just so that you can get your xOM on it.

I haven’t yet been sucked into the Stravacult (A group of Strava users whose practices are considered bizarre by normal people), so I’m a bystander on this back-and-forth. What Strava-based words have you been using among your Stravamigos?