Friday’s ride, in which I met another bike rider the hard way

Okay, so I’m moving a little slow today.

August just hasn’t been my month as far as bike riding is concerned. Normally, I try to put in 100 to 150 miles a week this time of year, when increased fitness and summer weather usually combine for the year’s most enjoyable riding.

But various distractions have kept me off my bike much of the summer, to the point that I’ve averaged less than 30 miles a week for the past three weeks.

Part of that is due to last Friday’s limited ride, interrupted by a bike on bike collision on the bike path in Santa Monica, followed by a slow ride home with blood trickling down my leg.

Somehow, I failed to remember the alcohol swabs and bandages stashed in my seat bag. Or that the reason I shave my legs is precisely so bandages will adhere to them.

But that’s what happens when I break my own rules. 

First rule of thumb is to never ride the beachfront bike during the summer. And if I do, to do it in the morning when traffic on the pathway is at its lightest. 

But a late start meant a shorter ride than I had planned, while a lingering migraine suggested an easier route than the hill-filled one I’d penciled in earlier. Which led to the conclusion that an easy coast along the coast would be the best option to get at least a few miles in.

Then there’s my rule about avoiding the most crowded section of the pathway between the Venice and Santa Monica piers on Friday afternoons, when newly arrived tourists head straight to the beach, joining with locals who don’t appear to have been on a bike in years to form a rolling blockade and human obstacle course.

Don’t get me wrong. 

It’s not that they don’t have a right to be there, other than the chronically unenforced and inadequately marked bike-only sections. State law gives pedestrians a right to share the bike path — any bike path — anywhere there isn’t an alternative pedestrian walkway, such as the famed Venice Boardwalk, within a relatively few feet.

In fact, the newly restriped Santa Monica sections of the pathway include pedestrian walkways on either side of the bike path, though they aren’t adequately indicated as such.

It was a funny, but telling, moment at the most recent meeting of the LAPD’s bike task force when the subject of the beachfront Marvin Braude bikeway through Santa Monica and Venice came up. And the experienced bike cop next to me and I both said in unison that it was the single most dangerous place we ride.

Evidently, something about the presence of sand and sea air seems to disconnect the standard safety centers of the brain.

Or maybe it’s just the absence of sobriety that seems to go hand-in-hand with weekends at the beach.

Either way, it’s a risk I usually try to avoid. Except this time I didn’t.

Then there’s my third rule of thumb, which exceeds the standard allotment of opposable digits by roughly 50%, and forces me to use a finger in place of a thumb. Or borrow one from a total stranger, which seldom seems to be a good idea.

As an old school rider, I was taught to call it out whenever I pass another rider or pedestrian, with a simple “on your left” or “passing right” in the rare instance that the other person’s position makes that the safer option.

And yes, I know some people prefer bike bells. But a bell can only tell you a bike is present. Or an angel just got its wings.

Using my voice, I can tell them not only that I’m there, but that I am passing and which side I’m passing on.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that some people tend to get lost in their own world once they get to the beach. And even the most polite announcement can startle them.

So I’ll sometimes save my breath if I don’t think there’s any risk that they might move in front of me, or if I can give them at least the three-foot passing distance I’d expect from a motorist. Or if they’re wearing ear buds and aren’t likely to hear me anyway.

In this case, the bike path was just as crowded as you’d expect for a sunny summer Friday afternoon. And I was taking my time, both because of the crowds and my still aching head.

But even rolling far below my usual speed, I was still faster than the assorted beach cruisers and motley mountain bikes crowding the bikeway. So I’d wait patiently until there was a break in traffic coming the other way, then slide around the walkers and riders ahead of me, either calling it out as I passed or giving them as much room as I could.

And if the situation didn’t allow it, such as slowly working my way through the great mass of humanity jumbled before the skate park in Venice, I just didn’t pass until it was safe to do so.

It was an approach that got me safely, if slowly, through Venice Beach and well into Santa Monica, when I came upon a pair of casual cyclists riding slowly ahead.

So I moved onto the other side of the bike path, and was just deciding whether to call it out when the rider closest to me suddenly swung left, making a 90-degree turn directly in front of me.

I grabbed my brakes and swung left with him, but a collision was unavoidable.

We hit hard, my right impacting his left. Fortunately, we both managed to remain upright; somehow, though, I seemed to take the brunt of the impact. He was next to me in seconds, asking if I was okay and apologizing profusely, though he did say I should have called out that I was passing.

In retrospect, he was right. Although he turned before I had a chance to say something.

He and his bike seemed fine. Mine looked okay, other than a dropped chain.

On the other hand, I was pretty badly shaken, and both wrists hurt from holding the handlebars tightly at the moment of impact, but nothing seemed broken. Then there was a roughly two-square-inch abrasion inside my left knee, apparently from hitting the air pump I keep strapped to my frame.

The one I often find myself loaning to other riders after they run out of air cartridges or their cartridges fail to get the job done.

He seemed to expect me to be angry, but it was just one of those things. His failure to look before turning made a collision inevitable, but I could have done things differently, as well.

So we shook hands, and went our separate ways.

I probably shouldn’t have, though. My failure to even remember I had a first aid kit, let alone actually use it, was a pretty good indication I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I briefly debated continuing on my way before accepting that it probably wouldn’t be the best idea. Fortunately, I remembered yet another rule of thumb — after any collision or fall, you’re probably hurt more than you realize at the time, since injuries have a way of revealing themselves hours after the impact.

I have no idea how the other guy felt the next morning.

But I spent the weekend nursing a pair of jammed wrists and a stiff back. Not to mention a patch of knee missing its epidermis.

I’ll live.

All in all, I limped away — figuratively, anyway — in about as good a shape as I could have hoped under the circumstances. Had either of us hit the pavement, it might have been a different story.

But it serves as a reminder that the seeming safety of the bike path is an illusion. And you need to ride defensively every moment, because you never know when someone will do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.

I did almost everything right.

And this time, it wasn’t nearly good enough.

8 comments

  1. Ralph says:

    I try to do everything right, however…. I agree with the ear buds, they can’t hear anything, bell, gentle comment. I’ve had people go left when I’ve notify them I’m coming on the left. I guess they only hear the word left and go that way…. Too many are oblivious in bikes and yes, in cars or on foot. I’m re-installing my airhorn. Get better soon.

  2. Jim Lyle says:

    The rider you collided with should have signaled his intent to make a left hand turn. Thank goodness your injuries weren’t worse. Stay safe; it’s a zoo out there.

  3. fsethd says:

    Some awesome stuff here! “But a bell can only tell you a bike is present. Or an angel just got its wings,” and “an easy coast along the coast.” My favorite? “Almost did everything right” after breaking all your rules of thumb! Glad you escaped with minor injuries (easy for me to say)!

  4. grrlyrida says:

    I hope you heal quickly, Ted. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. I’ve only been on the path once in the winter, so my experience was a lot more enjoyable than yours.

  5. passerby says:

    My rule for riding on the beachpath is to ride with shoes unclipped and ride on the platform side of the pedals.

  6. Biker395 says:

    Actually, California law permits pedestrians where there is “no adequate adjacent pedestrian facility.” Not that it matters, though. I’ve been riding beach bike paths for 30 years, and the only time I’ve ever seen or heard of them enforcing it was along Manhattan Beach some months ago, and that raised a firestorm of protest. Most police I’ve spoken to on the subject, including two different Redondo Beach police officers don’t know what the law is, and refuse to enforce it anyway. Pretty damn frustrating, because the same police are very willing to cite cyclists for riding where they should be walking.

    But you’re wrong about one thing. You DID everything right. The sorry fact is that is not always enough. Hope you feel better!

  7. T says:

    Bike paths are dangerous, unless maybe it’s 6am on a weekday. I nearly always feel safer on the road.

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