Two weeks ago, I was riding my bicycle on one of my standard training rides when a pickup truck hit me on a local road. I was about a foot from the white line and the truck’s mirror smacked me in the shoulder blade. I was taken to the ER in an ambulance and now have a broken left clavicle and broken right thumb. Had he been maybe nine inches to the right, I may not have survived. After this traumatic experience, I wanted to pass on some things I learned, as well as a few tips.
- Always give cyclists 3 feet of space when passing (if not more). There is something in physics called the Bernoulli Principle and in short, driving too close to a cyclist can create a negative pressure zone between the two of you, pulling the cyclist into your car (or if not into your car, then into the center of the lane for the person behind you to finish them off). And giving three feet is the law too in most states (including my state of Virginia).
- I would like to recommend a game every time your family goes for a drive to see who can find the most cyclists and motorcyclists. It is fun to play, teaches kids to look for us on bikes, and it heightens adults’ awareness too.
- Note that in in many states (including Virginia), it is legal to cross a double yellow line to pass a cyclist (if, of course, it is safe to do so). This is preferable to creating a long tail of cars who are angry at the cyclist.
- The person who hit me said that he was following too closely to the car in front of him. Since he can’t see through cars, he never saw me (in spite of my bright clothes and blinkers). When the car in front of him swerved at the last second, he said that he had no time to react. The first car should not have waited until the last second to swerve, but had he been following at a lawful distance, he would have had time to react. So realize that following at a safe distance may not only prevent a fender bender, it may save a cyclist’s life (and keep you out of prison too – another bonus).
- Please NEVER honk your horn behind a cyclist to notify them that you are there or to show support as you witness them on an epic climb. In the vast amount of cases, you will startle them – I have almost fallen off my bike a few times after being surprised with a horn right behind me. Horns are loud when you are in your steel and glass enclosed car – they are much much louder when you are in the open air.
- If bicyclists annoy you and you don’t feel they have the right to be on the road, while I obviously disagree with you, please do not take your aggressions out on them. While it doesn’t happen all the time, I have lost count of how many people have driven within a foot of me yelling “Get off the F&#%ing road A-Hole!” If you don’t like cyclists on the road, get involved and try and change the law, but putting people in mortal danger just to make a point is not cool.
- This is more of a tip for casual cyclists, but we don’t think anything of spending $40 to buy an iPhone protector, but then hesitate at spending $40 for a brain protector (i.e. helmet). My head hit the ground pretty hard and had I not worn a helmet, I could have died or suffered a traumatic brain injury. There is no safety difference between a $40 and $200 helmet, so get something that fits and wear it religiously when you ride.
I hope there are some nuggets here that you will find useful. Feel free to add a comment if you have more tips on how to safely share the road.