Learning the hard way

Gary made a good point the other day.

For all my bitching and moaning about careless, angry and/or indignorant drivers, not to mention the appalling lack of bicycling infrastructure and planning around here, riding in L.A. is usually a pretty ordinary experience. With a little care and caution, most problems can be avoided. And those that can’t usually offer a way out if you can just keep your cool long enough, or react fast enough, to find it.

Still, in all the years I’ve been riding — here in Los Angeles and around the county — I’ve only had four accidents serious enough to require medical care. And at least three of ‘em were my own damn fault.

Like my first serious accident, for instance, back when I was riding 50-miles a day in training for a planned solo cross-country ride from Denver to Key West.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon following a rainy morning, and I was feeling good, supremely confident in my bike and my own skill as a rider. I approached a busy intersection, paying close attention to traffic conditions; in fact, this day, I can still tell you the location of every car, truck and bump on the road, as I leaned into a sharp right turn well north of 20 m.p.h.

The only thing I didn’t see was the puddle of water directly in front of my wheel.

I was leaning so far into the turn that my knee was just inches off the ground as I hit the puddle. Both wheels instantly slid out from under me, sending me skidding across six lanes of traffic with my bike still tucked firmly between my legs. Somehow, I managed to avoid the cars — or more precisely, they managed to avoid me — and smashed into the curb on the other side with enough force to crush both wheels.

My clothes were completely shredded; my jersey was falling off my shoulders, and only a few loose threads held my shorts and protected me from a complete loss of dignity. Of course, I just wanted to get back on my bike and keep riding, nearly naked or not; a few of the drivers who’d stopped to help convinced me it would be smarter to let one of them drive me to the hospital.

I ended up with severe road rash from my ankle to my chin, along with a broken bone in my right elbow, and my sister gave me my first helmet the next day, which I’ve worn ever since. Of course, that cross-country ride was officially canceled; I ended taking a job in San Diego, instead, while I recovered from my injuries.

And I learned that nothing is more dangerous than overconfident rider.

My next accident came a few years later, as I was riding along the bike path on Coronado Island. A small boy suddenly darted across my path just feet in front of me, and I instinctively laid my bike on its side, since there was no way to stop in time.

That worked. He wasn’t hurt — terrified, maybe, but okay. And his parents couldn’t stop thanking me as I rode home more road rash and another broken bone, this time in the other elbow.

The next incident occurred right here in Los Angeles, when a driver following behind me on a quiet side street started honking her horn for me to get out of her way. She could have easily gone around me, but for some reason, it seemed more important for her to go through me.

Rather than let her jam me into the parked cars, I took the lane, which pissed her off even more — much to my satisfaction, I have to admit. I stopped at the stop sign on the next corner, then just as I started to make my turn, she gunned her engine, lurching to a stop just inches from my wheel.

And that’s when I did the stupidest, most idiotic thing I’ve ever done on a bike. Which is saying a lot, to be honest.

I stopped, turned around and looked her right in the eye, then flipped her off. The next thing I knew, her bumper was going through my back wheel, throwing me to the ground. The result was yet another broken arm, permanent vascular damage to my right calf, and a failed court case that kept me off my bike for over a year.

And teaching me the hard way that some battles just aren’t worth fighting.

Finally, there was my infamous bee encounter, exactly one year ago Friday. I’m still dealing with the last, lingering injuries. And I still don’t remember what happened.

Still, that doesn’t seem too bad for nearly 30 years of riding. Only one of those incidents involved a driver, angry or otherwise. And not a single one was caused by poor planning by anyone other than myself.

So maybe the lesson here is that safe roads and educated, courteous drivers are important.

But nothing beats a safe and careful rider.


Gary encounters a wrong-way rider with an attitude, while Will gives new meaning to getting doored. Outdoor Urbanite presents safety as fashion statement. Courtesy of C.I.C.L.E., we have an Introduction to Bicycle Etiquette, and a cyclist t-boning a bear. No word on any possible ursine injuries. A Petaluma writer calls for licensing cyclists, for our own good. The Feds are looking for a biking bandit. Kansas cops are cracking down on non-stop cyclists. How’s that for alliteration? And finally, my old home town is telling cyclists to dismount and don’t be that guy. Hey, I said I was sorry…

One comment

  1. Olivia says:

    Thanks for writing this. Read every word and will do my best to learn from your experiences.

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