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The 8 Greatest Traps for Urban Cyclists and How to Avoid Them

By Adam Marsal

The urban landscape is filled with hazards that can turn a pleasant ride into a dangerous one. Here are the eight greatest traps for urban cyclists and tips on how to avoid them.

Dooring (how cyclists call the unexpected opening of car doors)

Trap: Dooring is a significant hazard for urban cyclists because it involves a car door opening unexpectedly in your path, often with little to no warning. This can lead to severe injuries from direct impact or from swerving into traffic to avoid the door, creating a dangerous situation. The unpredictability and frequency of such incidents in busy urban areas make it a common and serious threat.

Avoidance tips: To prevent you from being hit by car doors (dooring), keep a safe distance of at least a door’s width away from parked cars to stay out of the “door zone”. Staying alert and watching for signs of activity inside parked vehicles, such as brake lights or visible occupants, can help anticipate when a door might open. Riding on designated bike lanes could also help. You might further consider using bells to alert drivers and passengers of your presence.


Potholes and road defects

Trap: Riding into a pothole or road crack can make you lose control, potentially leading to a fall or a crash, resulting in a serious injury. Hitting a deep hole might also damage your bicycle, often causing issues like bent rims or flat tyres. Additionally, swerving suddenly to avoid the pothole might veer you into traffic, which significantly increases the risk of a more severe accident.

Avoidance tips: Keep a keen eye on the road ahead as maintaining a vigilant watch and scanning for potential hazards continuously will help prevent you from riding into most of the potholes. While riding at a moderate speed in unclear conditions gives you more time to react to sudden obstacles, wider tyres can offer better stability on rough surfaces and allow rims to hold out even significant hits. It’s beneficial to familiarise yourself with regular routes to remember where the potholes and other road defects are located. Also, proper bike lighting during low visibility conditions can help illuminate the road surface.

Right-hook collisions

Trap: Right-hook collisions are called that because they occur when a vehicle turns across your path, often catching you off guard and leaving you with little time to react. These collisions can lead to severe injuries as the cyclist is either struck by the vehicle or forced into an abrupt stop or swerve, potentially causing them to fall or collide with other traffic. The unpredictable nature of these turns, especially at intersections or driveways, makes it challenging to anticipate and avoid such incidents, heightening the risk of serious accidents.

Avoidance tips: To avoid right-hook collisions while cycling, always stay visible and predictable by riding in a straight line. Position yourself in the middle of the lane at intersections to ensure drivers see you and do not attempt to turn across your path. Signal your intentions clearly with hand signals, make eye contact with drivers when possible, and be cautious of turning vehicles by slowing down and preparing to stop if necessary. Additionally, wear bright clothing and use lights to increase visibility, especially during low-light conditions.

Pedestrians stepping into the bike lane

Trap: Pedestrians stepping into the bike lane is dangerous because it creates unexpected obstacles, forcing you to swerve or stop abruptly, which can lead to collisions with other cyclists or vehicles. This sudden need to change course increases the risk of accidents, especially in high-traffic areas where reaction times are critical. Additionally, it disrupts the flow of traffic and can cause confusion for both cyclists and motorists, further heightening the risk of accidents and injuries.

Avoidance tips: You can prevent crashes with pedestrians stepping into the bike lane by staying alert and constantly scanning your surroundings, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic. Riding at a controlled speed allows for quicker reaction times and safer stops if needed. Using a bell or calling out to alert pedestrians of your presence can help prevent collisions. Additionally, maintaining a safe distance from the curb and anticipating potential hazards, such as pedestrians near crosswalks or sidewalks, can provide you with extra time to react.

Lingering in cars’ blind spots

Trap: Staying in the blind spots of cars is dangerous because drivers cannot see you, which increases the risk of being hit during lane changes or turns. When a cyclist is in a vehicle’s blind spot, the driver may make a manoeuvre without realising that you’re riding there, leading to sudden and potentially severe collisions. This risk is particularly high by moving around lorries or busses that suffer from significantly wider blind spots than small cars. The trucks often wear the label “Attention angles morts”,  which translates to “beware of blind spots”, to warn other road users about the large blind spots that exist around the vehicle.

Avoidance tips: To stay safe, you should avoid lingering in these blind spots by positioning yourself where you’re most likely to be seen, such as slightly ahead of or behind vehicles, and using hand signals to communicate your intentions clearly to drivers. Wear bright, reflective clothing and use lights on your bike, especially at night.

Encounters with aggressive or inattentive drivers

Trap: The driver’s impaired judgment or aggressive behaviour can lead to reckless driving, such as sudden braking, tailgating or attempting to intimidate or force you off the road. Such actions increase the risk of collisions and accidents, putting you at significant risk of injury. Additionally, an angry driver might not adhere to traffic laws or show consideration for your right of way, which can further escalate the danger.

Avoidance tips: You can avoid encountering aggressive drivers by adhering to traffic laws, signalling intentions clearly, and maintaining predictable riding patterns to avoid provoking frustration. Staying visible with bright clothing and lights, especially in low-light conditions, can also help drivers see and anticipate your movements. If confronted by an aggressive driver, try to remain calm, avoid eye contact, and not respond to provocation. Prioritising safety, it is better to retreat to a safe location if possible and report the incident to authorities if the aggression escalates. Creating as much distance as possible and focusing on your own safety is crucial in such situations.

Crossing tram rails or wet ground marking

Trap: Crossing tram rails is dangerous because the narrow grooves of the rails can trap bicycle wheels, causing you to lose balance and potentially fall. This risk is heightened if the rails are wet or slippery, as traction is reduced, making it more difficult to maintain control. Additionally, crossing tram rails at a shallow angle increases the chance of the wheel getting caught, leading to sudden stops or skidding. The same applies to ground marking, which might be unpredictably slippery in rain or humid weather.

Avoidance tips: Always cross tram lines at as right an angle as possible. The more acute the angle, the more you run the risk of getting stuck in the hollow with your bike. Be particularly careful with small wheel diameters and in wet conditions. Keep both hands firmly on the handlebars and avoid braking or making sudden turns while crossing the rails or markings.