Cycling is one of the healthiest and most fun ways to get from point A to B. To ensure your ride goes as smoothly as possible, you should always avoid some common “tricky situations” that may lead to collisions with motorists. Wearing a helmet and signaling is always a must, but here are some situations to look out for when riding alongside traffic:
This is one of the most dangerous situations for cyclists because your options are to crash directly into a car door, or potentially veer into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to prevent.
To ensure you don’t get doored, simply ride far enough to the left of parked cars so that it’s impossible to be hit by a careless driver. The average car door is 5’ long, so riding 4’ away from parked cars is sufficient. If you can reach out and touch a car’s mirror, you’re definitely too close. Remember that it’s legal to ride outside of a designated bicycle lane if it’s too close to parked cars on a busy street.
The “Right Hook”
This crash happens when a car makes a right-hand turn and hits you. It may be that the driver thought you’d be slow, or that he could out speed you.
One of the best ways to prevent the right hook is to ride in the center of the lane. If you ride too far to the right-hand side of the road, motorists may mistakenly believe they have plenty of space to move around you. A typical single-lane road doesn’t have nearly enough space for a car to safely pass a cyclist. It’s completely legal to take up a lane in DC so long as you don’t “unnecessarily impede traffic.”
When approaching cars in a stoplight, always pass on the left, not the right. It’s legal to lane-split in DC so you’re fine either way, but you’re less likely to be hit on the left. Cars looking to make right-on-red turns will not be expecting a cyclist to appear last minute.
While getting rear-ended is a moderately uncommon crash, it’s always a concern among cyclists. Riding predictably will go a long way in preventing rear-end crashes.
What does “predictably” mean? While you shouldn’t bend over backwards for motorists, making turn signals is vitally important whenever turning or even switching lanes. Another big mistake to avoid is capitalizing on an empty parking lane. If 10 parking spots are empty it may feel like you have your own private lane, but eventually the parking lane
will end (you’ll get to the end of the line, or meet up with a parked car). This means you’ll need to suddenly merge into traffic, which motorists may not anticipate.
Although it’s illegal for a car to pass a bicyclist any closer than 3 feet, a bicycle is much smaller than a car, so it’s hard for motorists to judge how much distance is available between their car and you.
A great way to prevent any sideswipe crashes is by investing in a little handlebar or helmet mirror to see when cars are approaching. Don’t wear headphones when cycling with traffic either—You can hear motorists getting angry and trying to speed around you, and listening to music stops you from using all senses when traveling.
Prevent Road Rage
While road rage isn’t a “scenario” per se, it’s nearly impossible to avoid if you cycle often. No matter how horribly a driver cut you off or otherwise ignored you, do your best to stay calm and avoid confrontation. At the end of the day, you’re on a bicycle while he’s in a car. It’s not the best matchup.
The best news is that DC is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US. By cycling smart and avoiding clearly-risky situations, you can easily commute without ever having an incident with a motorist.
This post was contributed by Eric Minghella.