Bike Safety

Common Accidents and Preemptive Tips
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Think about the following accidents—the kinds we've all heard about—and ponder the lessons to be learned.

Sewers Skewer
. . . So Scan the Road Ahead

"Can you believe the bars of the sewer grating run parallel to the curb?! It ate my front wheel."

Well, of course. The gratings are installed that way because most road engineers aren't bikers and think bikes don't belong on the public roads. What to do? Make a stink about it through your alderman or bike club or with persistent letters to the powers that be. And in the meantime, learn to ride with a practiced eye always scanning the terrain far ahead.

Turns Burn . . . So Be Wary of Unwary Motorists

"Okay, so I was in a hurry to get home. But the dumb *%#@! made a left turn right into me while I had the right of way!"

This happened to yours truly in Salt Lake. I was in the right, legally, but my head felt wrong for a long time afterward. Now I keep my brakes well adjusted and, though I often commute at a good clip, I'm a much more wary rider, able to swerve or even lay down the bike in a noisy skid if necessary to avoid the close encounter of the hood-and-windshield kind I had that day. Drop 20 bucks on the 600-page bible on the subject of riding safely and knowledgeably, John Forester's Effective Cycling, and you'll stand an excellent chance of not experiencing your own ambulance ride.

Rules Rule . . . So Be Predictable

"Yeah, I was pedaling against the traffic, but I was on the shoulder several feet away from the oncoming cars. The next thing I know this huge Buick roars out of a gas station lot and knocks me into the road!"

Uh, me again. Lesson: Always, I mean always, ride with traffic. And the right way on one-way streets. In other words, be predictable. Don't be upset that the vehicular rules of the road apply to bikers, for in this fact lies our safety. Bikes and cars do mix quite well when both are following the rules (car-bike collisions account for only 12 percent of all cycling accidents).

So why are accidents 2.6 times greater on bike paths? Because there are no rules for pedestrians, and because they don't act predictably. People change direction, stop, swing their arms . . . and then get mad when we mow them down. Likewise, motorists most often nail us when it is (I hate saying this) our fault. According to the statistics provided by long-term cyclist John Forester, "In at least 52 percent of urban car-bike collisions and in at least 67 percent of rural ones," the biker was disobeying a rule of the road when the accident took place. Ouch.

So, My Fellow Bikers . . .

Learn to live to ride another day. And think about those around you: After all, drivers, pedestrians, and other bikers are all fellow humans.

Be sure your bike is in good working order.
Keep your mind on what you're doing.
Communicate with your fellow road (and path) users through clear hand signals (no, not that one—the ones for turning and stopping), and with your voice, head nods, and facial expressions.
Help them to see you by wearing brightly colored clothing, reflectors, and lights. And help yourself when it all goes wrong by wearing bike gloves and a helmet.

And, of Course, a Word about Helmets

One last mea culpa: I'd have walked away (a bit wobbly, granted) from my worst accident had I been wearing a lid. That is what the doctor and cop both proclaimed. Instead, I lay unconscious for a dozen hours and, it was reported, answered the nurse's repeated question, "Do you know where you are?" with "Egypt" and "Idaho." I felt like hell for a month. But, unlike some unlucky others, I made it back home. Think about it.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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