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?

Is There a Cyclist’s High?

I went for a ride this afternoon with my friend John T. We agreed to meet at Austin’s Veloway for some slow laps. The ride would be a repeat of one we’d done a few weeks before, with the difference that John has really come back from his cycling layoff and has made rapid progress in endurance and speed.

Neither of us planned to push the pace. He’d just come off a 50-mile ride over the weekend, so was looking for some recovery. I’ve been pushing lately, and needed a break from that. We fell into a comfortable tempo, and chatted about all sorts of things — few of which had to do with biking — as we cruised the three-mile circuit.

But at one point, about halfway through our ride, I gave a start.

“You know,” I said to John, “I ride here a lot. I’m probably familiar not just with every turn of the track, but with every crack in the surface. But today, I have a weird feeling. All the curves and turns look alike. I couldn’t tell you where we’ve been or where we were at a given time.”

I looked at my surroundings, and knew instantly that we were on the backside of the Veloway, approaching a nice straightaway that invites the cyclist to crank up the speed. But before my fresh realization, I hadn’t been aware of where I was. I was caught up in the conversation and the ride.

I glanced at my bike computer. It said we were averaging 14.7 mph.

“Wow,” said John, “that’s pretty good.”

We were almost up to the low 15s that I like to do when I’m out alone. John’s been averaging a little less than that on his rides.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” I said. “It’s the biker’s high.”

Back when I used to run (okay, jog) I remembered experiencing the elusive runner’s high once or twice. Runners love to talk about it, probably because it happens so rarely. Marathoner and former Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot has computed that he’s had a runner’s high during just .00185 percent of his runs. In fact, it happens so seldom that some scientific researchers have been unable to account for a runner’s high in their data, and have written papers debunking the idea.

The runner’s high is usually described as a sense of euphoria, where the activity one is pursuing happens without effort. That’s what I went through this afternoon. We weren’t burning up the track, but we were pedaling at a good clip. Burfoot says that to experience a runner’s high, you must stress yourself by running a little slower — but not much slower — than your 10K race pace. That produces a fatty acid called anandamide, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause the euphoria runners seek. Anandamide is also called “the brain’s marijuana,” because of its natural high effect. We must have been in that zone. (By the way, that “endorphin rush” people cite during or after workouts is likely something else, because endorphins are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier.)

As I said, it didn’t last long. I could carry on a conversation with John, and maybe it’s because I was paying more attention to what we were saying than where we were going that I had a sense of being disconnected from my riding. But then I snapped out of it. That’s okay. It was a great feeling — one I’ve never had before on a bike. I hope to experience it again.

Have you ever had “biker’s high?” Was it similar to mine, or something completely different?

Prepping For A Century

I’ve been hemming and hawing for awhile, and during the week I finally made my decision — I’ll be riding in the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred next month. Yes, it’s an organized ride, but there aren’t many like this one. It’s as much a happening as anything.

Held in Wichita Falls, Texas, in the far northern part of the state, the Hotter ‘n Hell always runs on the last Saturday in August — when summer heat is expected to be at its peak. As a counter balance to the heat, the route is flat. This year it’s been modified so that 100-mile finishers will go through Sheppard Air Force Base along with the 100-kilometer riders. In past years, the 100-milers missed the terrific welcome from the airmen.

Now, I’ve done centuries before. But as I mentioned in a previous post, I might have finished them, but I’ve been pretty trashed at the end. My goal this year is to finish and still be able to function normally.

I decided to start getting serious this weekend. Mrs. Noob wanted to head out for an easy ride Saturday, and I was happy to join her, knowing that when she wrapped up her 13 miles or whatever, that I could continue on and do my own ride.

She started to complain almost immediately. “I just don’t feel it today,” she said. She waffled about which route to take, but finally decided a Mopac loop would be good for her. But once on the shoulder of the expressway, she said she didn’t seem to be loosening up. I pedaled easily, to stay with her.

At the top of Escarpment Hill, I waited for her as usual, but when she caught up to me, she said, “I have an idea. Let’s go up to the next street, then work our way through the neighborhood and head back home.” Her hip was bothering her, which hadn’t happened for several weeks, and she was struggling.

When we went our separate ways, I headed for Convict Hill, the neighborhood hill that offers several short but steep climbs as well as a nice longer one in a generous shoulder beside the main road over the top. I did my usual repertoire of climbs, enjoyed the quick descent, and figured I’d head back to Mopac to do a complete loop before calling it a day.

But halfway back to Mopac, I started feeling like Pat. I had no snap in my legs. I turned the pedals, but didn’t pump them. My speed slowed. Once I got on Mopac itself, I realized I’d better pack it in. I turned off at the same street we had before, stopped in the shade of an overhanging tree, and rested before going home.

If this was the way I felt halfway through a summer of regular riding, I was concerned about getting ready for the Hotter ‘n Hell.

This morning’s club ride was going to do a Dam Loop — probably my least favorite ride in the Austin area. I knew that I wasn’t going to do the whole thing, given the combination of heat and higher-than-usual humidity we’ve put up with lately. But I felt good as our big group hit the road.

One of the highlights of the route is “Hail Mary Hill” — a tough one that ends at a church parking lot where we can take a breather. This is a steep one, and it has been my nemesis for as long as I’ve been riding. I made sure I was near the back of the group when we hit the hill, in case I had to unclip and walk up, as I’ve done so many times before.

But today, I felt strong. I was in my lowest granny gear, but stayed on the wheel of Jordan in front of me. I even got out of the saddle to pump a bit, which I’ve never done on that hill before.

I got to the top, and when I turned into the parking lot, got an ovation from everyone who was already there. We turned onto Bee Caves Road, which features a lot of long hills, and rode to our regular rest stop at a Walgreens. I decided to turn around at that point and head home, but instead of taking our usual route, I would go back the way we came, and deal with the hills on both Bee Caves and Barton Creek Blvd. A new rider decided he’d be smart to turn back too, so we swapped the lead as we made our way back, this time having a lot more trouble with the hills than we did on the way out.

Total mileage: 36. Average speed: 14.2 mph. Not big numbers for a guy who faces a century in a month, but because of the hills we tackled today, I figure the numbers did not represent our effort. If anything, the weather conditions this weekend were a good indicator of what the Hotter ‘n Hell ride will be like. I think I can be ready.

Sushi Rice Cakes

Looking for a different taste treat when you’re on a ride? Guest poster Don Blount might have just the ticket.

Nutrition is one of the components of cycling that I have been looking at recently. I do not like to eat big meals, so before or during rides on most days I will eat a Trader’s Joe cereal bar with a tablespoon of peanut butter, adding a piece of fruit on days when I will be riding harder. Because of this, I always carry food with me, such as a Clif Bar and some Clif Shot Bloks. I have also carried fig newtons and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but didn’t like how they often ended up squished in my jersey pocket. And at most of the stops on group rides the food offerings are pastries, other sweets or processed foods.

So I started digging for other options and came across recipes from Allen Lim, the exercise physiologist who has worked with Lance Armstrong and a number of cycling teams.

One recipe I had test-tasted by several people who are into fitness, including members of my biking club, was for Lim’s sushi rice cakes.

Lim has said he made them as a fresh and savory alternative to the sweet, pre-packaged foods his cyclists were eating.

These rice cakes are far from the ones available in grocery stores. They are soft, moist, salty and/or sweet depending on how they are seasoned and have a shelf life in the refrigerator of about a week.

They are also surprisingly easy to make. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

Cook the sushi rice. This sticky rice serves as a binder for the rice cake.

While that is cooking, cut up and cook bacon (I used turkey bacon) and also the eggs (I used egg whites).

Mix in a bowl with the other ingredients – soy sauce, grated parmesan cheese, brown sugar.

Then place in a pan, shape, cut and wrap in foil.

Lim also has a way to wrap these so that they are easily opened even while riding.

Most don’t get it but once it is explained it is surprisingly simple and efficient to hold and eat the rice cake. The recipe I used made eight, which I stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Here is the nutrition breakdown of one rice cake: Calories 225, Fat 8g, Sodium 321mg, Carbs 30g, Fiber 1g, Protein 9g.

I prefer mine salty to balance all of the sweet foods available and to help avoid cramping.

You can get the full recipe here and view a video of Lim making the cakes here.

And while we’re talking about Allen Lim, remember that he is making his SkratchLabs drink mix available to Bike Noob readers at a 15% discount. Just go to the website, skratchlabs.com, and use the code Bike Noob when ordering.

Are You Wearing Arm Coolers Yet?

It’s mid-summer in Central Texas (and everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere) and that means blistering sun and hot, hot temperatures. Most of us grit our teeth, make sure we have ice in our water bottles, and slather on the sunscreen before heading out on a ride. But this year, some riders are showing up with another arrow in their anti-heat quiver: arm coolers.

We who live in climes where the temperature gets below 65 degrees (18C) probably have a pair or two of arm warmers — those slip-on black sleeves that we can pull off once the temperature rises enough. Arm coolers serve just the opposite function: They keep the arms cool under the burning sun.

At least four members of my cycling club have taken to showing up on ride days sporting these things. And they swear by them.

Do they keep your arms cool? I asked my friend, Laura.

“Oh, yeah, they really work,” she said. She’s been wearing them every week for at least a month.

Janice echoed that opinion. “They do,” she said.

Janice (left) and Laura show off their arm coolers before a recent ride.

But there are some actions users must take to get the best out of them. For example, in our ride Sunday, we faced the usual hot sun and high temperatures, and Laura said she’d forgotten one important thing.

“I forgot to wet them down,” she said. She, and the others who use them, pour water over the sleeves before heading out into the elements. But Laura didn’t do that Sunday, and she said the sleeves didn’t cool her arms.

Janice said that’s okay. “I use mine as suncreens,” she said. “My skin is so light that I need all the help I can get.”

Laura said preventing sunburn was the only real effect the arm coolers had on her arms that day.

On really hot, bright days, Laura and other users have been known to slide ice cubes under the sleeves to beef up their cooling power.

A quick check of some online sites shows arm coolers to cost more than arm warmers — about $30-$45, depending upon the brand and the site. But for those who’ve become hooked on them, that doesn’t really matter.

“I’m going to get some leg coolers to go along with these,” Janice said.