Urban cycling tip of the day: Watch out for Muhammad Ali, or the right hook

Using an exacting research methodology — known colloquially as “watching my ass” — I have tried to correlate a motorist’s use of a turn signal to the motorist’s actual intentions. Results are as follows:

So when you are in a situation like this, where a car has casually drifted over and looks as though it might — or possibly might not — turn right, it’s a good idea to …

Car looks as thought it might turn right, so look at the front wheel to know what's happening, not the turn signal

Glance at the turn signal if you want. But that is advisory information only. Front wheels don’t lie. Of course, they don’t give you much advance notice, either.

Still, it’s a good habit to help you avoid getting hit by — or being unable to stop before hitting — a car that makes a right turn immediately in front of you. Some people refer to this situation as the “right hook.” This also is a right hook:


I was right-hooked once. Not by Muhammad Ali. At least I don’t think so. I don’t know who it was — because after I crashed my bike into the right rear quarter panel of their hatchback and hit the pavement, they merely slowed, then spun their tires and took off.

This was in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I was in college. I was cruising along Colorado Boulevard — which is probably a very bad place to be riding a bike. I was going to a job I had at a restaurant called the Rusty Pelican. I was wearing some of those black-and-white checked chef’s pants and one of those chef’s shirts with all the big buttons on the front.

Fortunately, I was OK, except for some road rash and a tear in my chef’s pants. It was educational, though — one of the most memorable lessons of all my college years.

But I must say that far more common in Eugene is the motorist who does notice you as they cruise past and prepare to turn right. If it’s a close call, they stop and wait for you to go by before making the turn. That’s been my experience anyway.

I always try to give those people a wave as I go by. I used to flash a peace sign, but I worried someone would mistake it for middle finger.

Positive reinforcement pays off, I think. If you see that somebody noticed you and watched out for you, give them a wave. In the meantime, watch your ass, too.

7 thoughts on “Urban cycling tip of the day: Watch out for Muhammad Ali, or the right hook

  1. I have experienced Research item #5 on more that one occasion and nice touch with the snow flakes. Hap Hap Happy Holidays.

  2. It’s the lane drifters that I hate the most, signal or not. Too lazy to go deeper into the intersection and turn the steering wheel a little harder, or fearful they’ll spill their latte.

  3. I always assume that the car immediately next to me is planning to turn in front of me. Based on that assumption, I have ridden thousands of miles on the streets of Eugene without even a slam-on-the-brakes close call by doing the following:

    1. NEVER passing a car when I’m in the bike lane and we’re close to an intersection or other potential turning location. The risk-reward ratio is just too high. I adjust my speed while approaching such intersections so that I am either well ahead of or well behind a car.

    2. LOOKING carefully and continually at cars traveling next to me at the same speed as me to see if I can gauge their intentions. Watch the driver’s head to see if they are looking around in preparation for a turn, talking on a cell phone, or doing anything else that is highly correlated with an upcoming unexpected maneuver.

    3. MOVING either subtly or forcefully into the auto travel lane when necessary for short distances in order to avoid obstacles or make an ambiguous situation clear.

    and most effective:

    4. AVOIDING busy streets with bike lanes when possible. I always choose 12th or 15th over 11th or 13th when biking east-west between the university and downtown, for example. I take the whole lane and know that there is no possibility of a right hook crash. There are more stop signs, but I’d rather arrive in one piece than sweaty and two minutes earlier.

  4. I’ve been nearly right-hooked plenty of times… Most recently (a few weeks ago), some jack-ass in a black sedan decided to -speed up- and cut me off -right- as I was riding through the intersection.

    Needless to say, unkind obscenities were shouted in their general direction.

  5. I like Jonesey’s list… I think the simple version of that is to do everything you can to avoid right hook situations.

    More generally, I assume that they really want to run me over and are just looking for a situation where it won’t be super duper obvious that they did it on purpose.

  6. I like Jonesey’s list, too. I agree especially with Item #4. In fact, I think the single most important consideration for safe and enjoyable cycling around town is choosing a route.

    (And yet … why the hell am I on Coburg Road all the time??)

  7. From my experience, motorists fall into one of three highly dangerous categories:

    1) people who drift around with their coffee in one hand, cell phone in the other, and head firmly thrust up their bottom,

    2) sociopathic thrill-killing cannibals who cann’t wait for a fresh human road-kill buffet, and

    3) RideShare and Fed-Ex vans.

    Admittedly, the last category is probably included in one of the other two, I haven’t figured out which yet, though I am leaning to #2

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