Defensive Street Bike Riding Skills - Play The Game

It's a bitter pill to swallow when you realize just how dangerous street Bike riding can be - that something we love so much can so easily wreak havoc on our bikes, our bodies and our families.

It happened the other morning just as it happens three or four times each week--a way-too-close call with one of our four-wheeled friends.

I was riding in to work on Pacific Coast Highway, a thoroughfare with two or three lanes going in each direction and well-timed stoplights to keep things flowing. Traffic was heavy but moving briskly--30 to 40 mph--and I was traveling a bit more quickly than the other vehicles, a tactic that allows me to ride mainly in traffic gaps or open zones that offer a modicum of room and time to react defensively if the need arises.

While riding at the posted limit in a gap that happened to be in the right lane, I approached a car traveling a bit slower than me in the left lane. As I came within about 20 feet of the car it braked suddenly, lurched to the right and, wheels screeching, swerved into a Starbucks parking lot. I missed hitting--or being slashed by--the car's rear bumper by maybe 5 or 6 feet. Pretty close.

Truth be told, I'd been ready for the boneheaded move, having slowed slightly as I'd approached the sedan. Five seconds before the car lurched right I'd looked into the car's cabin to see the driver's head moving right to left and back again. Drivers rarely make sudden moves without some sort of head turn, even if it's only a slight look to the right to check the side-view mirror, so my antennae were up. The head movement triggered a warning in my cranium, which translated into a reduction in throttle, which, frankly, saved my butt.

It was more than quick reflexes or a high degree of traffic savvy that kept me from becoming Aerostich-wrapped ground chuck. Those are great skills to have, and you've gotta have them to stay alive on the mean streets. But such skills must be unwrapped and ready to use to be useful in an every-second-counts situation like this. Your brain can't take the time to dig them from your hard drive when a car's cutting into your space right now.

To keep those skills warm and ready to use, I play a game while riding I call Worst-Case Scenario. It's pretty simple, really. In every traffic situation I find myself in, I envision the worst-possible things that could happen and come up with a plan to deal with them. Maybe it's an oncoming car turning left in front of me over the double-yellow; or the Starbucks Swerve; or an emergency stop by the car in front of me; or maybe a suddenly appearing foot-deep pothole. Whatever. Funny thing is, once in a while even the craziest, stupidest things you can imagine actually happen. And when they do, you'll be ready if you're playing the game.

It's a bitter pill to swallow when you realize just how dangerous street riding can be--that something we love so much can so easily wreak havoc on our bikes, our bodies and our families. Understanding the dangers makes it doubly important to be ready when something ugly does happen. All the more reason, then, to play the game when you ride.

It's riding season. Be safe out there. MC