Cycling, Podcast

Rachael Maney, National Director of Bike Law | EP#436

 June 20, 2024

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Rachael Maney - That Triathlon Show

Rachael Maney is the National Director of Bike Law, a network of independent bike crash lawyers with the goal of being cycling advocates as well as legal advocates and to pursue cycling justice.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Cycling and road safety
  • How crashes with motorists occur, and what you can (and cannot) do to protect yourself
  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist
  • What to do if you, your friend or family member is involved in a bike crash
  • What kind of legal challenges might you run into after a crash, and how to get help
  • Bike advocacy and societal change for safer roads for both cyclists and drivers

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Rachael's background

03:21 -

  • I am the resident long-course triathlete at Bike Law, as well as the national director and co-founder of our non-profit organization, the Bike Law Foundation. Bike Law was founded by my partner, attorney Peter Wilborn, in 1998 following the tragic death of his younger brother, Jim.
  • Jim was killed in a cycling accident when an underage driver ran a red light, causing a collision that ultimately took Jim's life at the scene. He was only 28 years old.
  • Peter, the family's lawyer, was responsible for finding an attorney to represent them.
  • During this process, the most highly recommended attorney asked Peter if Jim had a DUI, implying that a grown man would only be on a bike for such a reason.
  • This question deeply shocked Peter and motivated him to use his skills as a civil rights attorney to protect another marginalized group: cyclists.
  • Over the past quarter-century, Bike Law has evolved into a comprehensive resource for cyclists. Our work operates in two main areas.
  • First, we provide legal representation for cyclists involved in collisions or crashes, or for the families of those killed in such incidents. This includes anyone facing legal challenges or issues related to cycling that would benefit from professional legal support.
  • Second, under our advocacy umbrella, the independently practising bicycle crash attorneys in our network collaborate with local organizations and advocates.
  • Together, we work to protect local communities, provide resources, and drive positive change for cyclists in various jurisdictions.
  • Bike Law has become a mission-driven organization led by attorneys who are cyclists first and lawyers second.
  • They deeply understand the cultural, physical, financial, and mental aspects of cycling, and they use their legal expertise to best serve their clients in unique and effective ways.
  • Our involvement spans all aspects of promoting better biking, from equitable access and representation to safety and the celebration of cycling.
  • We firmly believe that cycling is one of the best ways to contribute to saving the world, and we strive to achieve a standard of better biking for everyone.

Better biking access

07:36 -

  • When considering cyclists, it's evident that certain groups are underserved and underrepresented within our community.
  • As someone involved in multi-sport events or competitive cycling, I often find myself riding with like-minded individuals who are training for specific events.
  • However, it's important to acknowledge the tens of millions of cyclists in North America who live at or below the poverty line. For them, the bike serves its original purpose of transportation from point A to point B.
  • Accurate statistics on these cyclists are lacking, and their crashes are often underreported.
  • This is a significant issue because it means many of these cyclists need services that they aren't receiving.
  • Bike Law aims to promote cycling justice and improve biking conditions for all cyclists, not just those in competitive or recreational groups.
  • The needs of our cycling community are diverse, reflecting its varied members. Our objective is to address these needs equally, ensuring that every cyclist, regardless of their demographic, receives the support they require.

Safety strategies

09:53 -

  • I think the advice we'd have given 20 years ago has evolved significantly. Back then, bike advocacy buzzwords like "taking the lane," or "as far right as practicable" were common. While still relevant, today's main concern is the increase in traffic violence due to handheld device usage, driver impatience, and anti-bike bias.
  • Twenty-five years ago, we could advise cyclists to ensure they were visible and ride in safer spots. However, nowadays, there's no guaranteed way to protect against distracted or aggressive drivers. You could be highly visible, but if a driver isn't looking at the road, they won't see you.
  • Given this, one of the most important things is to ride predictably. While we can't anticipate a driver's actions, we can position ourselves so they can anticipate ours. Although it might be unpopular, the key takeaway is that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
  • It's crucial to consider variables like road maintenance and visibility. If you have a choice, opt for routes where visibility is clear, the roads or bike lanes are well-maintained, and you're not forced onto rumble strips or shoulders. Choose areas where drivers are accustomed to seeing cyclists and drive accordingly.
  • Interestingly, in the elite triathlete and cycling community, many travel to rural areas with less traffic and open roads. However, these areas often see more crashes because drivers there aren't used to sharing the road with cyclists. This doesn't mean avoiding these places but highlights the nuanced nature of the issue.
  • From my experience, I've noticed that the places where drivers are always attentive and respectful are those with the highest number of cyclists, like Mallorca or the Canary Islands.
  • Other areas that come to mind include certain parts of Italy. It's challenging because, in the U.S. or North America, cycling is often compared to places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Girona. While those comparisons are useful, they overlook the cultural aspects affecting bike safety.
  • The prevalence of traffic violence and crash statistics are inversely proportional to the number of cyclists and bike trips. Essentially, the more people cycling, the fewer the accidents.
  • Conversely, in areas with fewer cyclists, you're more likely to see higher rates of injuries and fatalities. This correlation highlights the importance of encouraging more people to ride bikes to improve overall safety.

Taking the lane

14:35 -

  • Critical thinking, common sense, and discretion are essential tools for any cyclist. There are specific situations where taking the lane is the safest option, such as riding two abreast.
  • This technique makes cyclists more visible by mimicking the size of a motor vehicle. For instance, on mountain roads with switchbacks and elevation changes, riding two abreast ensures better visibility for drivers behind you.
  • Conversely, if there is usable infrastructure like a paved shoulder or bike lane, I prefer to use it, especially during rush hour traffic.
  • However, obstacles like debris or parked cars that pose a danger, such as dooring crashes, need to be considered.
  • If you need to make a left-hand turn, start by progressively making yourself more visible and signalling to ensure that drivers can predict your movements.
  • It's crucial to avoid making a left turn from the far right shoulder. Instead, position yourself appropriately in the lane.
  • In situations without a shoulder, where the lane is just wide enough for a tight pass, I would generally take the lane to ensure my visibility and safety. This approach forces drivers to be patient and ensures they see you.
  • Every situation is unique, and you must use your judgment to decide the best course of action, factoring in variables like shoulder width, rumble strips, and overall road conditions.

Bike riding tools like radars

18:23 -

  • When considering technological or equipment-based safety measures, it's important to recognize that these tools are passive.
  • They undeniably improve our safety and are far better to have and use than to be without, but they aren't foolproof and cannot completely prevent accidents.
  • Many of our clients have been involved in crashes, often due to left or right hook collisions where a motorist turns into the path of a cyclist travelling straight. However, an equal or even greater number of our clients have been struck directly from behind.
  • Interestingly, about half of these clients were using devices like the Garmin Varia, which provides audible and visual notifications to both cyclists and motorists of an approaching bike.
  • The issue is that by the time a cyclist receives this notification, they often have limited options for avoiding a collision. The physics and science of operating a bicycle are very different from driving a car.
  • Even cyclists with excellent handling skills and reaction times can't always evade an inattentive driver travelling at 60 or 70 miles per hour.
  • While devices like the Garmin Varia can flash and signal all they want, they won't necessarily prevent a crash if the motorist is not paying attention.
  • Nonetheless, it's crucial to use such devices. The rear red blinking light, in particular, stands out as one of the most significant inventions for bicyclists since the wheel itself.
  • I believe it's crucial to invest in a high-quality, bright rear light for your bike, even if it costs more. In many European countries, a rear-blinking red light is mandatory for cyclists.
  • You can find cheaper lights for around 10 euros, but they're often not very bright and hard for motorists to see. In contrast, high-end lights are much more visible, making a significant difference in safety, although they can't entirely prevent accidents with distracted drivers.
  • In the US, the situation is different. Each state has the authority to enact and enforce its traffic laws, resulting in a lack of consistency across the country. For example, cycling in Miami differs greatly from cycling in other parts of Florida.
  • Generally, most places require a red rear light or reflector, and some states specify the minimum number of lumens needed for these lights. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light, enhancing visibility and safety.
  • Front lights are essential, especially when cycling in the dark. However, many cyclists use the strobe mode on their front lights, which can be very distracting in group rides.
  • Research shows that fast-flashing strobe lights can attract drunk drivers, causing them to steer toward the cyclist.
  • This insight explains why some places, like Lisbon, have laws requiring front lights to be steady instead of flashing. The steady light helps oncoming traffic see you without causing distractions that could lead to accidents.
  • When cycling, always use a high-quality, bright rear light. If you're riding in the dark, ensure your front light is on but avoid the strobe mode. A steady front light increases your visibility without distracting oncoming traffic, reducing the risk of accidents. Keep the flashing mode for your rear light to alert motorists to your presence.
  • This approach can enhance your safety and the safety of those around you.

Distribution of the different types of crashes

27:25 -

  • From my observations, the majority of crashes involving bicyclists are either left or right-hook crashes. Head-on collisions are less common but typically occur when a motorist illegally crosses the double yellow line and ploughs into a cyclist head-on.
  • While there are other scenarios for head-on collisions, they are not as prevalent. Left and right hook crashes account for the largest number of crash victims we represent.
  • However, the most significant increase we've seen in the past decade involves crashes where a cyclist is struck directly from behind.
  • This type of crash has increased more than any other.
  • Unfortunately, many bike crashes in the U.S. go unreported, making it difficult to gather accurate statistics.
  • Crashes involving children or middle to upper-middle-class cyclists on road bikes, tri bikes, and touring bikes are often underreported.
  • For the cycling community that relies on biking as a primary mode of transportation, the statistics are inconsistent and unreliable.
  • Despite the overall decrease in traffic violence and fatalities in America, the mortality rate for middle-aged men on bikes is rising.
  • This demographic is the only one where crash prevalence is increasing rather than decreasing, highlighting the severity of this epidemic.

The impact of forums or campaigns

30:05 -

  • I believe that intolerance is unfortunately prevalent in various aspects of life, including how cyclists are treated on the roads. There's often a lack of acceptance from motorists who don't believe they should share the road with cyclists.
  • This sense of entitlement and intolerance manifests in dangerous ways, affecting both cyclists and motorists alike.
  • As a cyclist, I feel the most impactful way to foster positive change in bike culture is to lead by example. It sounds idealistic, but it only takes one cyclist behaving recklessly or unlawfully in front of a motorist to shape that motorist's perception of all cyclists.
  • The same holds in reverse; a single negative encounter with a vehicle can make a cyclist hyperaware and sensitive to every vehicle's movement.
  • Navigating bike advocacy is fraught with challenges because of the diverse needs within the cycling community. Yet, every action I take on my bike in Florida can influence perceptions in California and beyond.
  • These actions create small ripples that collectively can make a significant impact.
  • If every cyclist commits to riding predictably and respectfully, even without detailed knowledge of local bike laws, we can mitigate misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • It's crucial to recognize the power dynamics between bikes and motor vehicles—the certainty of outcomes if a conflict arises.
  • I think it's a misrepresentation to believe that all motorists despise cyclists or that all cyclists disregard traffic laws. Such stereotypes only perpetuate division and hinder progress.
  • The reality is that these conflicts often boil down to mere seconds of inconvenience or misunderstanding, but the consequences can be severe and even fatal.
  • To address this, we must move beyond isolated perspectives and echo chambers. It's about acknowledging the alarming rise in accidents and fatalities involving cyclists and taking collective responsibility to shift our cultural norms.

The legal process when you have a crash

34:29 -

  • In this area, the insurance requirements for healthcare and automotive are quite distinct compared to other regions.
  • The minimum coverage needed to legally operate a vehicle on public roads varies, so it's crucial to understand what's mandatory. If you're involved in a crash and it's safe to do so, the first step is always to call 911 or the police.
  • Accept any medical assistance offered by first responders, whether it's from EMS or an ambulance.
  • Immediately after a crash, you might feel relatively okay, but those initial feelings can change, regardless of the severity of your injuries. This is especially important in the context of triathlons or multisport events, where delayed onset muscle soreness is a real concern.
  • After intense workouts, our bodies often react differently a day later due to adrenaline and endorphins released during traumatic situations like accidents. These chemicals can cloud judgment and delay the true assessment of how you'll feel later.
  • At Bike Law, we prioritize thinking about cyclists not only at the moment of impact but also years down the road. It's essential to document everything, even if initial soreness or injuries seem minor and likely to heal quickly.
  • Consider alternative activities like aqua jogging or yoga during recovery. Once an incident occurs, there's no turning back, so it's critical to protect yourself by seeking medical attention promptly and ensuring a crash report is filed.
  • Although the process can feel frustrating, especially navigating doctor visits and legal documentation requirements, it's crucial.
  • Insurance companies will prioritize documented evidence when determining compensation for injuries caused by at-fault drivers. This includes medical records, bills, and photos that substantiate your claims.
  • Despite the challenges, understanding and preparing for this process can significantly increase the chances of a successful outcome.
  • For individuals involved in accidents, I always advise making a list documenting any changes in how you feel from head to toe compared to before the crash.
  • This simple step, whether written on paper or stored electronically, helps ensure that any new symptoms or discomfort are clearly communicated and can be properly addressed if needed. Even if medical treatment isn't immediately necessary, noting any changes is essential for potential future developments related to the incident.

Events where an attorney is needed

38:37 -

  • Our approach differs significantly from traditional law firms. We're not just about legal representation; we're here to empower cyclists with information and ensure they feel confident in understanding their rights, responsibilities, and potential outcomes.
  • Whether or not you hire us, our goal is to arm you with knowledge.
  • Our availability reflects the reality of cycling accidents—they don't adhere to regular business hours. Most incidents happen outside of typical nine-to-five times—before work, after work, and on weekends.
  • That's why we're committed to being accessible whenever you need us, ensuring you have support when it matters most.
  • When you contact us, you're reaching out to a team that truly understands cyclists because that's our sole focus.
  • We don't handle other types of cases; bikes are our speciality. Whether you have legal questions or need guidance on non-legal issues related to cycling, we're here to assist you, regardless of your financial situation or the complexity of your case.
  • A bike crash is a unique experience, vastly different from a car accident. Riding a bike is about freedom and joy, and when an accident disrupts that, it can be devastating.
  • We've been in your shoes, and we're dedicated to treating you with the empathy and care you deserve throughout the process.

How Bike Law represents their clients

42:18 -

  • In the United States, the legal landscape for cyclists varies significantly by state. Certain states like Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Maryland adhere to contributory negligence laws, which can severely impact cyclists seeking compensation after an accident.
  • According to these laws, even if a cyclist is deemed to have contributed as little as 1% to an accident, they are completely barred from recovering damages. This means that if you were riding as far to the right as practical but an officer determines otherwise, or if your bike light was not functioning due to a dead battery, or if you were riding two abreast despite a reckless motorist, insurance companies can exploit these legal nuances to avoid liability.
  • In jurisdictions like these, bike law attorneys find themselves frequently in court. They must litigate aggressively to secure financial recovery for their clients because merely filing a lawsuit becomes necessary to pursue any form of compensation.
  • This litigation-intensive approach characterizes their work, where attorneys like Ann Groninger of Bike Law North Carolina and Bike Law Utah become trial lawyers by necessity rather than choice.
  • The dynamics of bike accidents underscore the challenges cyclists face in seeking justice. Law enforcement, typically the first responders to a crash, often rely on statements from drivers who may have motives to avoid traffic violations.
  • Meanwhile, cyclists, the more vulnerable party, may be unable to provide their perspective due to the severity of injuries or other circumstances.
  • This asymmetry can lead to police reports that fail to accurately reflect the true sequence of events or assign blame correctly.
  • In contrast, in other jurisdictions, there may be a more balanced mix of cases where some require trial due to contentious issues, while others are straightforward, with indisputable facts that insurers readily acknowledge.
  • However, Peter and his team at our firm are committed to handling cases regardless of financial constraints. Whether a case involves significant insurance funds or none at all due to an indigent or uninsured driver, or even a hit-and-run scenario, every client receives equal dedication.
  • We take on pro bono cases where necessary, ensuring all clients receive equitable legal representation.
  • Ultimately, the unpredictability of insurance requirements across states underscores the complex and often challenging nature of pursuing damages in bike accident cases.
  • Each case requires careful consideration and diligent legal strategy tailored to the specific jurisdiction and circumstances involved.

Most common challenges

46:16 -

  • There's a common misconception among both cyclists and non-cyclists that wearing a helmet guarantees safety or prevents brain injuries.
  • It's not that helmets are ineffective; they do protect the skull from fractures and severe head trauma that could otherwise cause immediate life-threatening injuries.
  • However, helmets are not designed to prevent concussions or protect the brain from the forces generated during an impact.
  • Imagine your brain as a soft piece of fruit inside a mason jar filled with fluid. When a crash occurs and your head hits the ground, the helmet mitigates the impact, but it can't prevent your brain from slamming against the inside of your skull.
  • This impact can cause diffuse injuries across the brain, leading to symptoms that may not manifest immediately but can appear weeks, months, or even years later.
  • These symptoms include memory problems, difficulty finding words, emotional instability, and challenges with cognitive organization.
  • The challenge lies in documenting and attributing these subtle yet significant changes to a specific event like a cycling accident. Insurance companies, driven by profit and tasked with protecting their bottom line, often struggle to acknowledge these nuanced effects as they're not easily quantifiable by standard medical metrics.
  • Unlike a broken bone with a clear X-ray, brain injuries and their ongoing impact on daily life are complex to assess and communicate.
  • For cyclists accustomed to being active, independent, and productive, these cognitive challenges can affect every aspect of their lives, from work performance to personal relationships.
  • However, without a baseline assessment of cognitive function before the accident, it's difficult to prove the extent of these impairments post-injury.
  • This lack of pre-injury data makes it challenging to demonstrate to insurers the true impact on an individual's quality of life and ability to function independently.

Where Bike Law operates

50:20 -

  • The best way to address that question is to visit our website or contact us directly. There's an expectation that as a national resource, we aim to fill the map with 51 lawyers, one in each jurisdiction, each capable of handling cases like the next.
  • Our approach at Bike Law Network mirrors how we advise individuals to select a lawyer or attorney to represent them.
  • When Peter and I review and respond to lawyers seeking to join our organization, we have one fundamental criterion: would we hire them to represent us? If the answer is no, then it's a firm no.
  • We never recommend or refer a member of our community to someone we wouldn't personally hire, drawing on our extensive experience in representing cyclists.
  • For those interested, our website,, features a map with profiles and landing pages for all our network attorneys. Additionally, we maintain affiliations with lawyers who, while not part of the Bike Law Network, work closely with us as local or counsel attorneys.
  • We hold these lawyers to the same high standards of competence and compassion, even if they don't exclusively practice bike law.

Contributing to safer roads

52:35 -

  • I believe the key solution lies in active engagement. We see this principle at work in various social and cultural contexts – if you want change, get involved.
  • The same applies to cycling. There's a vast network of grassroots organizations dedicated to advancing bike advocacy.
  • One can start by volunteering, asking questions, and finding out how to contribute. It could be as simple as inviting a neighbour for a bike ride or skipping a scheduled intense training session to ride casually with someone new to cycling.
  • For parents, involving children in road trips by counting cyclists they see helps raise awareness early on.
  • This fosters a habit of respecting cyclists when they eventually become drivers themselves. Encouraging others to ride bikes, perhaps by accompanying them on their first visit to a bike shop to ease any intimidation, is also impactful.
  • Education plays a pivotal role. Sharing knowledge about cycling safety and its benefits with others can significantly influence attitudes and behaviours.
  • This doesn't require committing extensive hours each week but can start with initiatives at home, with family, friends, or colleagues.
  • Introducing and nurturing a relationship with cycling in those around us is crucial. The more people we get involved, the safer and more supportive our cycling communities become.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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