Biking for Newbies, again

Still plenty of stuff to cover for those newer riders strapping on their helmets for Bike to Work Week.  We’ve covered some of the basics, but let’s get out on the street and address some concerns about those two-ton contraptions you happen to share the road with.  You know, cars.

What should I watch for on the street to make sure I’m safe?  How should I ride with cars in the roadway?

watch out for turning vehicles

The California Vehicle Code explicitly states that bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as regular drivers when they’re on the roadway.  That being said, there are a lot of drivers in LA who don’t quite know how to handle bicyclists on the road.  Here’s some tips to make sure you stay safe out amongst the cars.

  • Watch out for the left cross and the right hook. No, we’re not talking boxing.  A right hook is when a driver turns right at an intersection that you happen to be riding through, turning directly into your left (h/t to Joe Linton) side.  A left cross is when a driver turns left at an intersection that you’re trying to ride through.  You can’t always expect a driver to watch for bikes when turning at an intersection, and you can’t always expect a driver to use a signal when they’re preparing to make a turn.  Sidewalk riders are especially prone to these sorts of accidents, as drivers usually aren’t looking for bicycles moving through intersections from the sidewalk.  If you’re in the road, you have a much better chance of being seen by the car before they make their turn.  Another way to avoid the right hook is to not ride between traffic and the curb.  If you’re zipping by slower cars on the right, it puts you in the drivers’ blind spot.  A car that’s preparing to make a right turn might not see you until it’s too late.
  • Don’t get doored. Even though the California Vehicle Code says bicyclists must ride to the right side of the lane, don’t take that to an extreme.  A lot of bicyclists think that it’s safest to ride to the far right in order to be out of the way of cars, but you put yourself in harm’s way when a driver in a parked car opens their drivers’ side door right in front of you.  Make sure you ride your bike about 3 feet away from parked cars.  It has the added bonus of moving cars not trying to “squeeze through”.  If you’re riding right up against parked cars, moving vehicles might try to dangerously edge through in the right lane.  If you’re riding further out into the lane of traffic, those same cars are more likely to merge into the left lane to get around you.
  • Be Visible. Make sure you have reflectors or blinkers on your bike and on your body whenever you go out to ride.  Always use a headlight when you’re riding at night or in the evening.  Whenever possible, try to wear bright clothing that will be easily identifiable to a driver.  The easiest way to avoid accidents with cars is to make sure they see you first.
  • Make no assumptions. Don’t assume drivers will do what you think they’re going to do.  Always keep alert and be ready to make a defensive move.  Even though drivers and bicyclists should be equally responsible for staying safe on the road, when you get into a crash with a car it’ll hurt you a lot more than it’ll hurt them.

The new riders’ guide from bostonbiker.org is a great resource for those shaking off the rust and getting back into the swing of things for Bike to Work Week.  Also, the appropriately named bicyclesafe.com and Bicycling.com’s Ride Safe feature are other great resources to check out.

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