Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cars and Things

As far as I can tell, most drivers are not actively trying to kill bicyclists. They just don't care whether we live or die. If a driver wants to turn right 6 inches in front of me without signaling, that is, apparently, my problem,
-Del Dickson

In 15 years of riding and racing, there were so many times when trucks and cars passed by just a bit too close. Sometimes they’d be so close I could feel the vacuum-like force that is typical of a large vehicle passing at high speed. It’s amazing how easy it was to brush off all those close calls and keep riding, never really conscious of the minute difference that separated all those moments from the one that landed me in a hospital.
-Diana Panchyk

Virtually every cyclist, and certainly every roadie, has had more than one close call with a motorist who made too close a pass ─ sometimes unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally.
-Bob Mionske

You know, every time I read or hear about a cyclist getting hit by a car, it makes me feel a little twitchy on my next ride. When I hear a car approaching from behind, my back kind of prickles. After Dave had his encounter with a car, I thought a lot about it on my next ride, but I realized that Dave would hate to be the reason anybody stopped riding.

I read all of the statements above in the same day and then went out for a ride. It was a short one – twenty miles – but it was over a route that involved a fair amount of climbing, helped (if that is the word I want) by a screaming (and chilly) headwind. I was faced with the same conundrum that hits me every year when it starts to get cold. How do I dress?

In the beginning, I usually get it wrong. This time I was underdressed, and, despite all the work I was doing and the heat it generated, I was cold.

And twitchy. Let’s not forget the twitchy part.

But I have to admit that the vast majority of the cars who passed me did so not only safely, but courteously. Of course, all it takes is one person who’s inattentive or actively hostile to a guy on a bike to ruin your day or month or year or even decade.

So why ride?

That’s the very question my mother (who still worries about me) asks from time to time. She sees the health benefits (cardio, pulmonary, etc.) and she also sees the health risks (SPLAT!!!!!!!!!!!), and the latter agitates her more than the former comforts her.

I’ve certainly had enough people tell me that riding a bike on the road is dangerous.

I’ve also had someone say to me, “I don’t mind if people want to ride their bikes, just so long as they don’t do it on the road.”

“Where should they do it?” I naively asked.

“I don’t know.”

Not very helpful, really.

So I still ride on the road, but what do I do to protect myself out on the road?

Well, to be honest, there isn’t all that much you can do to protect yourself from a rampaging 2000 lb beast even if said beast is only going thirty-five miles an hour and is being driven by someone who is paying attention and values the lives of others.

I do have a Road ID that I wear containing some vital contact information. Granted, that won’t do much to protect me from getting hit in the first place, but it might help me out afterwards.

Other than that, be visible, be predictable, use common sense and then don’t fret about it too much because you’ll only torture yourself internally and end up as an unhappy person who used to ride and now sits in a corner staring at the microwave thinking it’s the TV set and wondering if all shows are this boring and wishing you were in the saddle instead, and nobody wants that, right?

You know what? I’m going for a ride.

See you on the road.

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