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I was talking to a bike messenger the other day, and he said something that surprised me: If you see a car door swing open in front of you and you can't avoid it, pull your hands off the handlebars and take the full impact. He said you won't lose any fingers this way.

Is this true? Is there a safer way to collide with a door?

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How exactly does one lose fingers in a door impact? Even if there's a way, I'd guess that it must be specific to a specific kind of handlebar. Straight? Drop? Raised? Which handlebar type was implied by the messenger? –  AndreyT Jan 19 '12 at 23:35
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I think the correct answer is to not ride so damn close to parked cars. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 19 '12 at 23:38
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@AndreyT I think the original proponent means the fingers being pressed between door edge and handlebar, during impact. Of course in a major hit the biker might even die, but in a not so big hit, fingers are at great danger. –  heltonbiker Jan 20 '12 at 15:34
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Granted, there are situations where you have problems, but largely it's a matter of learning to "claim your lane". It takes some conscious effort to do this, since cyclists have been taught since infancy to be timid. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 20 '12 at 16:39
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@JimKiley If a bike lane is in the door zone, don't use it. You can ride in the middle of the outermost traffic lane instead. This is legally allowed in my area and I think in most areas. Better yet, ride on a different street. –  unforgettableid Mar 16 '12 at 0:13

6 Answers 6

If I could choose a way, I would brake and dodge to the last moment, to reduce closing speed, and THEN try to grab some part of the door (much harder to do than to say), to decelerate me using the hands and arms, to avoid hitting face-to-metal (but instead face-to-hand-to-metal), and obviously to prevent metal-to-fingers-to-handlebar impact.

But this considers the premise of getting in this situation, which should be avoided at all costs, always watching stopped cars and going as far as possible. But I understand you, because even trying to do so, sometimes you are so cramped for space that is simply not possible to avoid some "russian roulette" short moments.

Also, I find if you rehearse these emergency movements, the chance of getting them right if needed is much greater than if you never think about them.

Damn big-city traffic!

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Personally what I'd try to do if I saw it happening and had the split second decision making ability, would be start leaning toward the car (assuming the door was open enough) so that I'd end up slowing down by sliding against the side of the car and keeping any part of my body away from the sharp corner/edge of the door. If a passenger was getting out I'd use that body as a cushion, if not I'd try to get myself to go over the door frame as close to the hinge point as possible to avoid upper body injuries at impact though they may be sustained going over the door frame. This all assumes the door is more open than not.

Another thing you should do is practice a Quick Stop so that it's second nature when necessary. This is a technique where you get up off the saddle and get your ass behind the seat and even lower than the seat. The idea is to get as much weight over the rear of the bike as possible and then light up your front brake (this needs to be one fluid/fast motion). If done right, you won't endo. I've been able to skid my front wheel (not ideal, doesn't stop as fast as a rolling braked wheel), but skidding a front wheel is not an easy task and shows just how much weight you need over the rear of the bike. A Quick Stop really is a very quick stop.

The best thing you can do is ride left and watch for ANY movement inside parked cars, if you see any, either slow or go further left if safe to do so. If you're going the speed limit, take the lane and skip the bike lane entirely if it's a bike lane that's left of parallel parking.

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This is very helpful. 3 very helpful options, in fact. Much thanks. –  SamtheBrand Jan 20 '12 at 18:30
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Sounds reasonable - but of course, please, don't put yourself in situations where you'll need to try it. You can pretty much always avoid getting doored. (...except the time a passenger getting out of the car at a red light doored me from the left while I was in a bike lane...) –  Jefromi Jan 21 '12 at 18:41
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"If a passenger was getting out I'd use that body as a cushion..." Ha! Yes. :-) +1. –  lawndartcatcher Jul 19 '12 at 17:03
    
You had me at "use that body as a cushion" and then again at watching for movement inside cars. Once I had meeting with some rough pavement because a lady jumped out in front of me, and I swerved to avoid hitting her (my brakes were not good enough to stop at the downhill). Injury + broke my bike + could have been hit by a car, while sliding on pavement. Next time this happens I'll be riding right into the person, and then leave them where they lay! –  Vorac Nov 21 '13 at 13:59

"... avoid it, pull your hands off the handlebars and take ..."

I imagine you have to push (not pull) your hands of the handlebars.

Maybe it is a good idea, to part ways with the bike, and to get up into a more upright position (instead of head-first).

There's video of people (e.g. someone in NYC) deliberately (and expectedly) running into obstacles and coming off: you could look at their technique.

P.S.: Not the same technique as how to come off a moving motorcycle, which is heavier than a bike.

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This video sounds interesting. Could you provide a link? –  Vorac Nov 21 '13 at 14:05

Honestly, if you have enough time to react then you need to either swerve, stop as quickly as possible, or if you have very little time to react, get your hands (and feet) disengaged from the bike to brace for impact. The problem is you're unlikely to have enough time to react in the first place.

I was hit by a car that turned left in front of me sometime back. By the time I realized I needed to react I was cartwheeling over the hood and my bike, then in two pieces, was left behind. The amount of time it takes for someone to turn in front of you is arguably more time than you'll have if someone opens their door on you in the bike lane. I've heard stories from friends that it happened to them so quickly that they had no idea how they ended up on the ground until they regained their senses and had a moment to survey the situation.

What I'm getting at is that instead of thinking about how you can mitigate the damage when getting doored is inevitable, you need to concern yourself more with avoiding situations where it can happen in the first place. That's pretty simple to do. Avoid the bike lane when there are rows of parked cars. Even if traffic is bad, learn to assert yourself and take a lane when necessary. If traffic is always bad and cars are always parked on that stretch of road, look for alternative routes. Prevention is your best defense in these situations.

Regarding keeping your fingers, i think your messenger friend has been fed some horror stories at dispatch and may indulge in enough alternative cigarettes to believe them. :)

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Dooring crash test video

  • Hitting door - puncture wounds

  • Hitting pavement - collar bone

  • Being thrown into traffic lane and being run over by a following vehicle - fatal

The faster you are going at impact the further the door will throw you laterally. I recently saw the aftermath of a dooring, a lady was going down a hill and collected a door, she broke her collar bone and was being medically treated where she stopped, in the wheel path of the adjacent traffic lane, very lucky not to be hit by a following vehicle.

It takes most people about 2seconds to perceive a hazard and start to react. A head check, braking and swerving take extra time and distance. Treat this is your safety buffer.

Choose a road position to limit buffer incursions from forward and side hazards, claim the lane early to be predictable to following vehicles. Try to reduce multiple threats to single threats.

Preparation also includes a good choice of protective clothing (gloves, closed shoes, helmet, stormtrooper armour). If the worst does happen this will help minimise injury and shock, the less dazed and confused you are the faster you can get out of the way of that approaching bus.

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2 seconds to react? That is an eternity. I should hope a human could react a heck of a lot faster than that. –  Brad Jul 19 '12 at 15:04
    
Great video. But really, 2 seconds is an eternity. For example trail riders have about this long to see the trail beyond the new tern, assess it, choose a path, pedalling strategy, etc., then ride it, reacting to unanticipated roots and boulders. –  Vorac Nov 21 '13 at 14:04

I'm in Chicago and I was just chatting with a friend about how the city is getting a bike share program soon and how many accidents will likely occur due to inexperienced cyclists in the streets. And of course talking about bike accidents leads to door accidents.

I think about what I'd do if a door flew open in front of me every time I ride past parked cars. First, I try to ride at least a door's length away from the cars so I can have time to avoid it. I also look through the back windshield and sideview mirror of every car I pass - if there's someone in there, I slow down and/or distance myself farther.

If, however you can't and the door flies open (either wide open or more open than not), then this has been my idea - don't slow down, prepare to put your shoulder into the part of the door farthest from the hinge, and basically try to break the door off. Crazy as it sounds, the point (I think) is it's likely better than slowing down and then effectively hitting a wall. The farther away from the hinge you hit the door, the more likely the door will give and take some of the impact, and if you break the door off, you'll be hitting the ground with less force than if you just flew off your bike.

I should say that I play hockey, so I have the instinct of wanting to propel myself through something (or someone), and well, if you're going to hit something, commit and brace yourself.

Any thoughts? Totally absolutely crazy? Or do I make a little sense?

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