Bike Handling: Avoiding Strikes From Behind
“I just didn’t see the cyclist (that was directly in front of my car…)” We hear this all too frequently from drivers in depositions after they’ve hurt or killed cyclists. Even if they didn’t mean to, their momentary inattentiveness causes devastating impacts.
Over time, we’ve learned from experts on human behavior that people see what they expect to see, and often overlook what they don’t. Drivers with years of experience looking out for other cars as hazards frequently miss cyclists (and motorcyclists, and pedestrians, and…) That’s true even when the cyclist is right there, in broad daylight, directly in front of the car. That’s sobering for those of us on the road. How do we improve our odds?
- Conspicuity. Wait, what? The art of being conspicuous, or being seen. Consider it the opposite of camouflage. If you’ve ever wondered why some cyclists are lit up with lights, reflectors, and flags, there’s a strong chance that’s a rider who has been hit before by someone who said, “I didn’t see you.” Do you need day-glow everything? No. But one of the best ways to make yourself conspicuous is high-powered strobing rear lights. What does high-powered mean? Look for lights in the 100+ lumens range. These will be more expensive but are typically rechargeable. Unfortunately, the inexpensive front and rear lights used by most commuters don’t even come close. We do not have any affiliation with these brands, but have found through personal experience that Light & Motion, Night Rider, Bontrager (and others) make quality, USB-rechargeable, long-lasting lighting solutions.
- An even better investment for dealing with strikes from behind? A rear-facing camera with high-lumen lights like those offered by Cycliq. These can record license plate numbers and vehicle information to help find a driver after a hit-and-run, or clarify what actually happened in a crash. For anyone put off by the cost, consider it as another form of insurance should anything bad happen. Recent studies indicate that lights attached to the body, such as helmets, a bag, or on the ankles, conduct organic body movement that is more conspicuous to a driver than a light attached directly to the bicycle.
- Mirrors. We’ll be direct here. There’s a stigma among cyclists regarding mirrors, a stigma we don’t quite understand. If you get the opportunity to ride with Mionske himself, you’ll find his fleet equipped with a variety of concave mirrors adapted to various locations to be able to see what is approaching from behind. Maintaining vehicle awareness, including what’s going on behind you, is simplified with a mirror.
- Use the force. We’re deadly serious, not just Star Wars fans. Most of you have been around, and having been around, honed damned good instincts for vehicle behavior. Trust those instincts. The engine heard over-revving from around the bend, the car that keeps hitting the rumble strips, those are signs of aggression and inattentiveness, respectively. And just a couple examples of what you as seasoned cyclists listen for. Where we can lose the advantage is when we try to default to safe (“It’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about,”) or tamp down the worry when our gut instinct is telling us otherwise. There’s no shame to getting off the road as quickly as possible when your Spidey-senses warn of imminent harm.