20 December 2007

Anatomy of a crash: Over the bars, Part I

Posted by todd under: Crashes; Riding; Riding in the Bluegrass .

THE SCENE: It was a dark and stormy night.

No, really — it was.

I was riding my Specialized Milano home from checking out a gym (a dive — I didn’t buy a membership.) Since it was pitch black, and raining, and I had no lights, no reflective jacket, nothing but a couple of reflectors on the bike, I was riding on the sidewalk. In the interest of safety.

I was standing up on the pedals when my front tire plunged about a foot into a missing section of sidewalk, then hit the edge of the next section.

The bike stopped dead. I kept going — over the handlebars, somehow still holding onto the handgrips.

If you don’t already know, I hope you never find out that it’s sickening to see the pavement approaching your head at high speed.

I landed squarely on my left shoulder, lay there for a few minutes taking inventory, and hoped for the best.

THE AFTERMATH: The front tire went flat, and I had no patch kit or pump. Besides, since I had no flashlight, it might have been to dark to fix the flat anyway.

However, it wasn’t too dark for several guys in a pickup to see the accident. They pointed at me and laughed pretty hard as they went by.

I walked the bike home. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far.

THE DAMAGE DONE: Nothing but a bruised shoulder, as I recall. It could have been worse.

Much, much worse.

The bike got a couple of scratches.

ANALYSIS: What could I have done to prevent this, or: How can you avoid my fate?

  1. Before riding in the dark, get (at least) a headlight and a blinking taillight, so you can ride in traffic with confidence that you will be seen.
  2. Ride on the road. There are several excellent reasons to ride on the road rather than on the sidewalk, but for the purposes of this story, suffice it to say that there are a lot of badly paved roads out there, but there are a lot of worse sidewalks. (At least, that’s true here in Lexington, Ky.)
  3. Above all: Stay seated while pedaling. When riding for transportation, there’s almost no reason to stand up on the pedals. If it’s too hard to pedal, downshift. When you stand, you are at greater risk of your foot slips off the pedal, and, as I so ably demonstrated, you might fly over the handlebars¬† after hitting an obstacle. Once you are up in the air, all kinds of bad things can happen — you can land on your head, or in front of oncoming traffic. You can jam or break a wrist, or break an arm. The list goes on.
  4. Slow down (boy, do I wish I would have). Make sure you can see the ground far enough in front of you, soon enough, to see and avoid obstacles.
  5. Carry a patch kit and a pump. In this case a flashlight would have helped as well. I could have been walking a lot further that night. Self-sufficiency is always best.

Sometimes crashes happen — biking is no different than driving in this regard. But a lot of crashes don’t have to happen. This one certainly didn’t.

This happened shortly before I started bike-commuting regularly — I was still a rookie at riding in the city.

Fortunately, it turned out to be a cheap lesson; the next one was a little more expensive.

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About the picture atop the page

Yes, that's me, Todd Van Campen. No, I'm not wearing a helmet. Yes, I usually wear one, so please don't scold! Seriously, I endorse wearing a helmet! Pinky swear! In fact, I almost ALWAYS wear one (while riding a bike anyway). (On the other hand, if YOU don't want to wear a helmet, I have no problem with it.) I don't remember what happened on this particular day. Fortunately for all of us it makes for a less-nerdly picture. My exceptionally talented professional photographer friend Charles Bertram took this photo.

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Art for art’s sake

I asked my 6-year-old son, Caleb, an avid bicyclist and artist, to draw a bike for me. I think he did a great job!

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