Wheel Talk for Wheel People is a monthly advice column written by Christopher White, our adult education program coordinator. Though bikes, biking and getting around SF are our areas of expertise, feel free to ask anything! To submit your questions, please click here.
Wheel Talk, I am a big believer in visibility. At times, I have felt distracted by what some people have done for their own visibility solutions, such as animated LED displays on wheels. I wonder if the same kind of light standardization that has been imposed on motor vehicles should be required for bikes. What do you think? —It’s All Too Star-Warsy
Dear Star-Warsy: I am right there with you in your belief in visibility. Even on our well-lit urban streets, it’s vital for safety that we draw attention to ourselves on our bikes with ample lights and reflectors. And I also acknowledge that safety standardization was an important leap forward for automobile safety. Happily, there already is a modicum of standardization for bike visibility, as dictated by the California Vehicle Code. At night, bicycles must be equipped with a white front light, a red rear reflector, white or yellow reflectors on pedals or feet, and white or yellow reflectors on wheels or tires.
But is it sufficient? Only if you’re satisfied with the bare minimum. Personally, I would never intentionally go riding at night without at least a rear red light, not merely a reflector. Call me a maximalist, but when it comes to lights, I think more is more. Lights all over your wheels? Go for it. I also believe that personalizing your bike’s lighting is simply fun, and if it’s fun, you’ll be more likely to use it. Some of our Bike to School Champions in elementary schools use customized lighting with their students to teach them about safety, to great effect. So while my eyes might be momentarily drawn to the animated kitty racing across your wheels, I don’t think it’s going to make anybody veer out of control. Shine on.
Wheel Talk, I was recently doored on Market Street. It was traumatic, but I felt okay, so I got up and biked away. I regret not interacting more with the driver. Do you have any advice on what to do when you’re in a bike crash, especially when it’s minor? Should you get contact info, no matter what? —Bruised but Still Biking
Dear Bruised but Still Biking: Yikes, I’m so sorry that happened! I’m glad to hear that you’re okay, though. Despite our streets continuing to become safer, dooring continues to be all too common. There are a few things to note here: in most cases, the law views dooring to be the fault of the person driving the car. The California Vehicle Code states that a car door can only be opened if it does not endanger anyone or impede the flow of normal traffic. It’s also important to note that, in nearly any crash, adrenaline will alter your self-assessment of injury. You might get up from the crash feeling fine, but wake up the next morning feeling anything but.
In any crash, it’s a good idea at least to get contact information, or even to call the police if that feels like a safe option for you, because you simply can’t know how you’ll feel the next day. In the case of dooring, it’s an especially good idea, because the law is so clear about who is at fault. For further guidance about dealing with crashes, check out our crash checklist here.
You can also keep yourself safe from irresponsible door-openers by riding outside the door zone — which is to say, at least three feet away from any parallel-parked cars. In traditional bike lanes, stay to the left; on streets with “sharrow” insignias, ride through the center of the arrow (which should be painted to keep you safely away from doors). Don’t be afraid to take the full lane of traffic if it’s necessary to stay away from swinging doors! And folks behind the wheel, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Adopt the Dutch Reach!
Wheel Talk, In order to bike to work, I must navigate Third Street in the Bayview. The right lane is shared bike/auto, while the left is shared auto/Muni. When I ride it, I take control of the whole right lane because I get squished into the parked cars if I don’t. Am I doing the right thing? —Middle of the Road
Dear Middle of the Road: It sounds like you’re riding like a pro! You certainly don’t want to end up in the situation suffered by our previous advice-seeker, running headlong into a door swinging in from nowhere. The right lane in both directions on Third Street is festooned with sharrows, there to remind people in cars that those of us on bikes are allowed by law to use the full lane on any city street, and to remind us to ride outside the door zone. So take up that space without shame! It’s the safest thing to do.