Car doors - Good for slowing you down when your brakes fail

There was an item on Campbell Live the other day that discussed the danger of cyclists and car doors. Ok so it’s not new news but a few days prior celebrity Don McGlashen (ok he’s not quite a-list, maybe e or f but definitely higher than me) had been knocked off his bike and suffered a few injuries including a punctured lung. So Campbell Live wanted to investigate just how cyclists should deal with the danger of traffic on one side and people in parked cars opening doors at just the wrong time.

The whole piece was dramatic, including a reenactment of the reporter coming off her bike. I have no idea what she hit that pushed her off her bike but it must have been serious because she looked like a pro with fancy gloves and a flash bike, and it showed her crawling to safety. Wow maybe she hit the cameraman and tried to make it look like it was an accident. Talk about commitment to the story.

Anyway at one point a cycle safety advocate suggested that the best way to deal with the tight squeeze between the traffic coming up behind you and the potential of a car door flying open in front of you is to sit out in the path of traffic. Yes that’s right she suggested it was safer to cycle directly in front of cars doing 50+ km/h than the tragedy of a car door opening ahead. This has to do with what was referred to as “wriggle room” – if you are riding close to parked cars you don’t have any. When asked if she felt drivers would mind being held up by a cyclist she was confident they wouldn’t. Tell her she’s dreaming mate is all I can say – drivers would mind – a lot.

Drivers get grumpy if you don’t take off at the lights nanoseconds after it turns green but she thinks they’ll quite happily slow down to 10 km/h while Mrs Thompson cycles safely home on her Thunderbird 82 with breadsticks for lunch in the front basket? At the very least she would get honked off the street, at worst she’d end up with some guy in a Hummer putting her headfirst into the basket and wearing the breadsticks. And it’s not just impatient drivers that would skittle her on her eco-friendly jaunt back from the herbal highs breadsticks shop – it could just as easily be a senior citizen in a Suzuki Swift peering over the steering wheel and unable to see anything short of a UFO, particularly on a dull day or fading light. And it wouldn’t matter how many high-vis vests she was wearing at the time.

Cyclists need to ride defensively

I know there is a lot of debate, particularly here in Christchurch, of the rights of cyclists. I’m happy to side with the bikers in principle. I regularly ride to the office and dealing with post-quake traffic is becoming a type of thrill-seeking sport (but the satisfaction of flying past rows of cars stuck in standstill traffic makes it all worthwhile). However there’s nothing to be gained by demanding your rights as a cyclist only to have a 2-tonne car drive over your face. Sure you had the right of way but now your face resembles a deformed pizza. That’s no victory in my books.

So for me, I don’t care what the cycle advocate says on Campbell Live, or even what Land Transport recommend (they also suggest going into the path of traffic and leaving a 1m gap between you and parked cars), I have my own rules for riding out there in the wild west of urban traffic.

  • Ride like nobody can see you – In some cases it’s quite possibly true. If you crossing the line of traffic make eye contact with the driver, nine times out of 10 they’ll be kind enough to let you through.
  • Ride like everyone’s an idiot – This includes people sitting in parked cars as well as zombie-like pedestrians who are only looking for cars (see point 1 above).
  • Take extra precautions at all time – At times this might mean getting up on to the footpath to get right away from the traffic. And with Christchurch streets being what they are, it’s a necessity on occasions. Of course if you’re on the footpath the pedestrian rules this turf so stay out of their way.
  • Stay on your toes – Like a midget at a urinal. Don’t daydream, drift off or lose yourself in the music. Have total situational awareness at all times. (ps I get ka-ching extra points for using “situational awareness” in a sentence).

Of course my cycle survival guide comes with no guarantees and there’s every chance I could be flying across your bonnet at an intersection near you sometime in the coming weeks but it’s served me well biking around Christchurch for the last ten years or so. And if someone does open a car door, I’ll be watching and waiting for it – this biker can stop on a dime. I just need to prepare a nice safety message for the dropkick who tried to kill me.

Cyclists – Where on the road should they be?
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