I got hit by a car once (actually a few times), but this particular time it took an odd psycho-emotional toll on me that affected my riding for nearly a year. The wrist I sprained firmed up after a few weeks. The scrapes healed. And then I was angry, and I stayed angry for months.
That anger was fear, of course.
The illusion of control and of relative safety had been shattered, and that pissed me off. Up to that point, I had assumed, probably subconsciously, that if I did the right things I would be safe on my bike in the city. Writing that sentence makes me chuckle, because it is patently false nearly word-by-word. I would have acknowledged that if asked. Intellectually, I understood the game I was playing. In fact, when the woman in the Volvo wagon cut across me, I saw her coming. Things could have been worse had I not been tuned to the frequency of the danger. But still, my whole mindset and approach to riding was wrapped in this ego-driven narrative about myself as so superior a cyclist that I was safer than reality eventually informed me I was. In many ways, I owe that woman a debt of gratitude.
Following the rules does not guarantee your safety. A bike lane is, too often, a bit of paint sprayed on the same asphalt that cars and trucks patrol like so many great white sharks at the summer shore. Traffic accidents are like any pandemic. They proliferate where large numbers of humans gather.
You’re safer in the woods, except when you’re not. In the spring, I was having a ripping day on the bike. I was railing all the turns, hucking the drops, and hurdling all the logs, but for that last one, the one that came up all of a sudden as we rounded the corner at speed. I mistimed that one, hitting the log below its apex, moving the pivot point of our interaction quickly backwards and down. I did that thing where I thought a hundred thoughts in the portion of a second it took me to hit the ground, the most salient being, “this is gonna hurt.”
I heard and felt the telltale click and pain radiating through my chest and shoulder, my ride ruined, my next few months instantaneously featuring more couch than saddle.
Most of my friends have moved away from road riding, toward dirt of whatever flavor, because it is ostensibly safer. I think what they mean is that it feels safer, or maybe that they think they have more control away from the predatory path of automobiles. Those things might be true. I’ve only offered you a couple of data points.
What I think is: If you ride as much as you want to, you’ll fall off sometimes. The consequences will exist somewhere on the spectrum that runs from “a good laugh,” to “a sad funeral.” I try not to let it bother me.
This week’s TCI Friday asks, how safe do you feel? What have you changed, if anything, to be more safe? And is there a point where riding your bike will feel so unsafe that you’ll stop doing it? For myself, I’ve made my peace with it. I’m not deluded anymore, and I’m still stoked to ride my bike.
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