How to: Recover from an opening car door

Sunday, August 23, 2009
By steven
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At 10:30pm tonight, a guy in a taxi full of his girlfriends swung his passenger side taxi door open and I ate it.

This is a full (and sorry, lengthy) guide about what you can do to protect yourself in this number one danger of riding bikes in the city, and how to recover once you take the spill.


Protecting yourself:

1. The only thing that stands between your head and the sharp edge of the car door is chance; or your helmet.

2. Always keep your hands on your brakes, you never know when you’ll need to come to a screeching halt. (A heavier clunkier bike is going to have a harder time stopping than an efficient road bike with good brakes).

My friend just told me: “I had a friend that happened to in L.A. and the door cut open his arm and it looked like the inside of a cherry pie..”

You can’t predict when a door will fly open or a car will lurch out from parallel parking, so be especially wary if you’re locked in with cars on either side of you. If you have space on one side, you can try to dodge the door while increasing the pressure on your brakes; however if you swerve wildly and slam into the door, you risk propelling yourself into the middle lanes of the street. Give yourself some extra space even with bike lanes because while they’re great ‘n all, an open door can fully occlude the width of the lane and you’ll get clotheslined. You never know who’s in that car, and most aren’t looking.

Note: Never bike fast between cars in lanes of traffic.

3. If you get thrown off your bike, keep your limbs bent and don’t fully lock out your joints.. that’s how you’d get them snapped. Try to absorb and then divert the pressure of the fall with hands/palms extended and your feet, then rolling onto your side if you can. Protect your head to the best of your ability from any impact, even with a helmet. I know this sounds ridiculous, but if you’re wearing your backpack of emergency tools, it does break some of your fall.

Recovering from a spill:

1. Don’t immediately spring up unless you’re in the path of oncoming traffic. Take your time and go down your mental checklist of where you’re fine and where you may have been injured, and if you’ve hit your head. This sounds like a no brainer but I can’t remember falling (there’s a blank in my memory), just realizing I’d hit the ground.

2. Initiate contact and engage with the person who opened the car door as quickly as possible. There is such a thing as “swing open and run”.

3. Collect information. Immediately ask for contact information: phone number, name, state ID license (if you think you or your bike have damages), and witnesses. If it’s people getting out of a taxi, get the taxi’s information as a witness (driver ID, license plate). *CALL the person’s number immediately to verify it’s a working phone*.

If you know what parts on your bike are damaged and can make a cost assessment, let the person know how much you’re requesting them to cover. Request cash up front if it’s minimal (you now have a flat tube or punctured tire). Or you can file an accident report with their insurance company.

Quickly assessing bike damages:

a. Frame. If your frame is bent, your bike may be totaled.

b. Fork. If the fork of your bike (the two pronged metal bars that turn the front tire) is bent, you may be able to replace that.

c. Wheel. If your wheel is visibly bent, you’ll probably need a new one. Avg cost: $100+

d. Spokes. If it isn’t rotating smoothly, check the spokes on the wheel to see if any have come loose. The spokes distribute tension on a wheel as with tennis racket strings, and need to be even. The avg cost to repair each spoke is $5. However your bike wheel has memory for any place it’s taken a hit, and it’ll always be wobbly from hereon… but it’s still fully functional, just less efficient.

e. Stem & Handlebars. [see wiki] If your handlebar is misaligned, you can have one person hold the fork and the other readjust the handlebar. If the person has ran off, you can hold the front wheel in between your thighs to readjust. Make sure it hasn’t loose and wobbling because if it has, you cannot continue to bike and need to tighten the stem with an allen wrench. On newer bikes, it’ll be threadless and clamped. On an older bike, the handlebar will be ‘threaded’ and may require more than just the single allen wrench.

f. Brakes. [see types on wiki] On a geared road bike where you can coast (vs a single-speed fixed gear bike where you must pedal to speed up and to slow down, and wheel rotation directly corresponds to pedal rotation), if your hand brakes aren’t functioning as usual you shouldn’t continue to bike. You most likely have rim brakes, and they may need to be realigned via jiggering-by-hand or a small allen wrench. Your brakes should clamp down onto the metal rim of the tire, not the tire itself.. which will wear the rubber on the tire and cause tire to explode over time.

Also, check the tension of the brake wire. If it’s come loose then your brakes may be clamping down much weaker. Loosen via allen wrench, pull wire tighter to desired tension, and re-tighten bolt.

For fixing more types of brakes, check out this article.

g. Drivetrain. Your chain will probably have fallen off with any large impact. If your geared bike has a derailer, you can just pull the chain and plop it back on the chainring (the spikey blade looking wheel) realigned. For other bike types, flip your bike upside down onto the handlebars and seat, wheels in air. Align the chain as you can, (if you have a kickstand, the kickstand must be up, not down or it won’t work) and then rotate the pedals till the bearings are all back on track.