I’m sure we all know the following scenario: You’re riding on a street, minding your own business, enjoying the sun and the bees and the birds. Suddenly - and seemingly out of nowhere - a car passes by so close that your heart skips a couple of beats.
You try to keep your cool, but in your head, a voice is raging: “Why? Why did that person have to do that? Why risk someone’s life who’s a lot more vulnerable on the street?”
Honestly, I think that a lot of the times, people just don’t know any better - especially if you don’t ride a bike or you only get to ride on very safe cycling paths outside the city. Those are no real-life conditions to create awareness in car drivers. A lot of them can’t seem to imagine how many things cyclists have to pay attention to if they want to stay safe on the street. For them, we are a nuisance. For us, it often is a matter of live and death - as dramatic as that might sound.
I’m definitely not trying to make excuses for car drivers here; there have been many cases where some ignorant jerk cut me off or just didn’t look and also didn’t care. Many times have been very close passes, and I’m by no means a reckless cyclist who provokes those kind of incidents.
Riding in Berlin and LA not only taught me that I have to be tough, fearless and careful at the very same time, but also to accept that car drivers oftentimes don’t have the same perception as we do. They don’t have to watch out for all those things that we have to develop a radar for.
So, here’s my TOP 20 list of things that we as cyclists have to pay attention to when sharing the street with cars (of course, that list depends on the area you ride in; countryside probably won’t check all the boxes compared to a city like Berlin).
Top 20 things I wish car divers knew that cyclists have to be aware of
#1 - Potholes and cracks in the road
Classic. I still can’t bunnyhop, so those are a real hazard for me. Luckily, I got familiar with almost every pothole on my way to work.
#2 - Broken glass
Love it. People seem to be doing a really good job in breaking bottles on streets, bike paths and literally everywhere else.
#3 - Pedestrians trying to walk onto the street
They stare at their phones. They don’t look left or right. Sometimes, they use the bike lane to wait for cars to pass so they can cross the street. And a lot of the times, they seem to grossly underestimate a road cyclist’s speed.
#4 - Cobblestones
At least Berlin is full of them. Most of the times, they’re manageable. Sometimes, though, the cobbles are quite far apart from each other or really big, so you risk slipping or getting stuck in between with your skinny tires. Nightmare!
#5 - Tree branches, stones and other stuff
Especially after storms, construction work or similar events, these can be scattered everywhere and become a big hazard for cyclists.
#6 - “Right before left “ (Germany)
I don’t know if you know that, but in Germany, there’s a traffic rule that says that on intersections without a specific sign (“Vorfahrt”) the person who arrives at the intersection to your right first has the right of way. These intersections can come up quite unexpectedly sometimes. Okay, I admit it, cars have to deal with them, too. But cars oftentimes don’t see cyclists as easily as the other way round.
#7 - Car doors opening
The worst! Ever since I heard of someone being doored and ultimately thrown under a truck, I’m super anxious about something like that happening to me. Here’s the thing: If I ride close to the cars, I can easily be doored. If I ride more inside the street to leave extra space, cars might pass me too closely. It’s a lose-lose kind of situation.
#8 - Unleashed dogs
Owner is chatting away with someone while precious doggo is looking around for great smells and the perfect pee spot. And let me tell you, some of them don’t like cyclists at all.
#9 - Low flying birds
Imagine you’re riding fast and you feel safe, and suddenly there’s this stupid sparrow flying in your way. Almost-collisions with birds are not rare at all. Malicious attacks by birds on your head can happen occasionally, as I got to experience recently; so please wear a helmet at all times.
#10 - Bees and bugs
Bugs, well, you just accidentally swallow them and they’re basically out of sight, out of mind. But bees? Imagine getting one of these into your mouth, eye, or under your helmet! You can’t even predict them, either. Ask Mitch, he was stung by one during a sprint down the street only recently.
#11 - Other cyclists
Riding on certain streets in Berlin can feel like unexpectedly joining a giant group ride. A lot of the times, cyclists here have either really shitty, broken bikes that make all kinds of disturbing noises, or they don’t know how to give signals to other cyclists when they’re trying to pass or make a turn. They like to ride in the middle of the bike path, too, so you can’t pass them… and a lot of them jump red lights just to ride like a snail in front of you once you catch up.
#12 - E-Scooters
Don’t even get me started on this topic! I’m grateful that those e-scooters are not as omnipresent in Berlin as they are in LA, but they are a huge hazard. They can go quite fast, and most people don’t know how to properly use them. I definitely like to keep my distance whenever I spot someone on a scooter.
#13 - Confused tourists
Oh, aren’t they a joy to be around, parking their suitcases right in the middle of the bike path, looking at maps and brochures or fighting over which direction to go? My advice: Invest in a really loud bell.
#14 - Dangerous winds/crosswinds
Crosswinds can be fatal if you have a light bike and a car or truck passes by; which obviously can increase the wind even more. Car drivers are rarely affected by strong winds, while cyclists have to be ultra careful and keep a tight grip on their handlebars.
#15 - Roadkill
Not my favorite, especially if I’m responsible for it (don’t ask). Luckily, it’s not a super regular thing to encounter on a ride and thus technically not a major hazard. But imagine a car that doesn’t keep its distance and thus forces you to ride over one!? Ugh!
#16 - Driveways
Obviously, another classic that we need to keep an eye out for. Wouldn’t be the first time that someone leaving a driveway overlooks a cyclist.
#17 - Suddenly ending bike paths
Happens in Berlin all the time. You’re riding along, and suddenly: Uoah, where did that path go? And why does that sign say “No bikes”? Where the heck is that… Oh, on the other side?! Where was I supposed to cross? — Streets never end abruptly. Why bike paths?
#18 - CARS
Any additional explanation needed?
#19 - Sudden flats or other mechanical problems
Nobody likes the sound of a blown tire. Especially not when you’re going fast and you’re right next to a car.
#20 - Vehicles blocking the bike lane
I saved my personal favorite for the end - vehicles that get too comfortable on the bike lane. I will never get why people do it, and I get very aggressive when they do. Sometimes, they drive out of a driveway and stop right on the lane, see you coming, and back off. THANKS to those, honestly. Most of the times, though, they look you right in the eye and stay exactly where they are.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, though!
Alright, I hope this didn’t sound too much like a rant, because that’s not the kind of message I wanted to throw out.
My main point is that we as cyclists have so many things to be aware of during our commute, and we’re constantly in danger of getting hit - even if we pay full attention to our surroundings. I know that car drivers won’t necessarily read this blog post and suddenly change their behavior (wishful thinking, ahoy!) but at least it might give a general idea of how tough it is to ride a bike in a world where cars still “own” the streets.