Bike to Work Hazards Part 3: Fellow Travelers

Dog chasing a bike

We share planet Earth with a wonderful and diverse collection of carbon-based life forms. And sooner or later, every one of them will try to make you crash.

Dog chasing a bike
Break out the bear spray. Photo by megan ann.

Josh’s route to work takes him past many large, aggressive dogs who usually chase him away from their fences and then return to their owners’ stoops, smugly satisfied that they have protected their territory. One morning, however, the biggest and most aggressive of these dogs finally cleared the fence and chased Josh for about a block before he was able to get away: clearly things had escalated. The next morning, the dog again leaped the fence in vicious pursuit; but Josh is a scoutmaster and an outdoorsman, so he was prepared and had the tools: he laid down a cloud of bear spray and continued on his way to work. That dog now watches every day from the porch as Josh rides by.

As readers of previous posts on road hazards and Mother Nature know, the majority of bicycle accidents do not involve other vehicles. Today I talk about the hazards posed by the occasionally sentient beings who cross our paths and how to mitigate them.

Three Categories of Hazardous People

Pedestrians include powerwalkers, casual walkers, dog walkers, old people with walkers, rollerbladers, and joggers. They unpredictably meander from one side of the path to the other, take the exact middle of the path, text, and generally don’t pay attention. They are easily startled, don’t know right from left (every tried calling out to a pedestrian “On your left,” and have them jump…to the left?), and they are easily injured if you run into them.

Your best bet for avoiding pedestrians is to stay off the sidewalk. But occasionally you will encounter pedestrians in bike lanes or in mixed use bike/walking paths. If you must ride with pedestrians, slow down, provide lots of warning with a bell or your voice, and give them lots of time to decide how to stay out of your way.

Children are a more unpredictable subset of pedestrians. They are singularly unaware of their surroundings and are liable to drop stuff or tear off in any direction without warning. If you find yourself in a herd of kids, make enough friendly noise so that they know you are there and drop to walking speed until you are clear.

Car Exiters are a particular problem for cyclists because of the door zone. Avoid the door zone when possible, and when not possible, scan the cars ahead to see if they are occupied, or if they are running (both indications that a door could open), and be aware of traffic behind and to the left of you in case you need to swerve.

Hazardous Critters

Squirrels, birds, and deer will dart into your path without warning, but it’s the dogs that cause the most problems.

When you encounter an unleashed dog, don’t overreact; you are in far more danger of crashing because of the distraction than you are of being bitten and enduring a painful, rabies-induced death. Most dogs will lose interest after you clear their territory so they are easily outrun. If an aggressive dog does decide to chase you, you can yell at it, spray it with your water bottle, or act as if you are going to throw something at it. If you find yourself standing or stopped when accosted by an aggressive dog, keep your bike between your self and the dog. If you regularly encounter an aggressive dog on your route, talk to the owner or contact police.

“What about cats,” you ask? They will just lie there in your way; you have to ride around them.

As a regular bike rider, you are more connected to the people and animals in the world than those who drive all the time. By taking care in your interactions with those other beings, you can keep those connections at a safe distance.

3 thoughts on “Bike to Work Hazards Part 3: Fellow Travelers

  1. There’s one more hazard, yourself. Today was my first day biking to office and I just realized some dumb rookie mistakes can be a bigger hazard. My work is like 7 miles away and I got a cool bontrager pannier bag which I can attach to a rack. My mistake was to leave the straps of the bag on in. It got stuck on the chain rings of the back wheel and abruptly through me off. Luckily, I had just crossed a signal and was on a side walk. Learnt from mistake. Always remove the straps of your bag before clipping it on to the rack in the back.

    1. Good point! Many times I have said to myself, “What is that sound?”only to realize that it is a strap banging into my spokes. I’ve always managed (so far) to catch it before anything terrible happens.

      1. Funny, I did hear a sound a long way before I was thrown over. I checked whether I still had keys in pocket and continued, as I had nothing else on me. Another lesson, check your bike whenever you hear any unusual sound.

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