Tag Archive for bike accidents

What to do when you find yourself head over handlebars

I recall reading once that the average bicyclist can expect one accident serious enough to require medical attention for every eight years of riding.

By that standard, I suppose I’m ahead of schedule. Prior to the infamous beachfront bee encounter, I’d passed through the ER three times in 27 years of riding. So that brief holiday in the ICU means I should be good for another six years.

You, on the other hand, could be another matter.

You see, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that everyone hits the pavement sooner or later. No matter who you are, or how good you are. Or how good you think you are.

Then again, maybe you’re the exception. Maybe some other poor schmuck will take your fall for you, balancing the cosmic books and enabling you to ride off into the sunset accident free.

I wouldn’t count on it, though.

So when and if the day comes when you find yourself getting intimately acquainted with the asphalt, try to learn from my hard-earned experience.

These few tips won’t keep you from getting hurt, but they could keep you from making things worse. And help you get back in the saddle that much sooner.

Stay down

Remember when dad told you to just shake it off? Great advice when you’re six years old and take a tumble; not so good when you’ve just taken a spill that would score a 10 from the Russian judges. Just make sure you’re out of traffic or other danger zones, then sit or lie down until help arrives — or at least long enough to make sure getting up is the right thing to do.

Take a quick inventory

While you’re down there, take a moment to make sure all the parts are still attached, facing the right way and still work properly. Fingers don’t flex? Leg has an odd bend that wasn’t there before? Probably not a good sign.

Assume you’re hurt

After an accident, your body gets flooded with enough feel-good and pain-killing chemicals to stock your local pharmacy. But it’s not every day you can pull off a wipeout worthy of a SportsCenter highlight reel and escape without a scratch. So assume that something is wrong, and you just don’t know it yet. Chances are, you’ll be right.

Listen to strangers

Other people can see what you can’t and they’re probably thinking a lot more clearly. So pay attention if someone tries to tell you that you’re hurt. I once wiped out on a high-speed turn and slid across six lanes of traffic, breaking my elbow and skinning my right side from ankle to chin. I just wanted to get back on my mangled bike and finish my ride; instead, a good Samaritan wisely insisted on driving me to the hospital.

Trust authority

Odd advice coming from an old rabble-rouser like me, but however it may seem at the time, the men and women in uniform really are there to help — and unlike you in your current state, they actually know what they’re doing. So if they think you should go to the hospital, go. Your life just might depend on it; mine probably did.

Be prepared

Never ride without a current ID and emergency contact numbers, as well as your insurance card — or at least your group and policy numbers. And pack a cell phone; you can use it to call for help, or someone else can call for you if you’re incapacitated. Or you could just answer it when your spouse/significant other calls while you’re in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, like I did.

Be ready to help yourself

Accidents have a nasty habit of happening when help is far away and there’s no one else around. So shove a first aid kit into your bike bag, and learn what to do if you or a companion gets hurt. (Hint: an inner tube makes a great sling or tourniquet, and can be used to bind a bandage or splint.) Visit www.redcross.org for a list of first aid courses near you.

Alex notes a new petition asking LAB to rescind Santa Monica’s Bronze Award. Stephen channels LADOT’s Dear John letter to the bike community, and notes that the Bike Plan has no clothes. Streetsblog calls your attention to tomorrow’s Transportation Committee meeting to discuss several major biking issues; Gary reposts the LACBC’s eblast on the subject. Will comments on Specialized’s new pre-fab ghost bike. Travelin’ Local joins in on Bike to School Day. Green LA Girl answers the burning question of where to recycle your old inner tubes. Columbia, MO bans the harassment of cyclists. SF Streetsblog reports on the Mathew Modine sans skid lid controversy. Vermont cyclist celebrate the World Naked Bike Ride, while Boulder’s police chief warns that participation could mark you for life as a sex offender. A San Diego writer quotes Mencken to observe that cyclists don’t need stop signs. And finally, even Seoul recognizes the need for better cycling infrastructure.

It’s spring, and I’m head over heels


You can't really tell from my crappy, left-handed into-the-mirror photo, but that lump is about the size of a golf ball.

You can't really tell from my crappy, left-handed into-the-mirror photo, but that lump is about the size of a golf ball.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Me, I mean.

Between work, weather and other assorted issues and obligations, I hadn’t been able to get out on my bike for over a week.

But today dawned under a clear blue sky, at the gateway of what promises to be an extended warm spell. For once, my calendar was clear. And I was feeling good as I set out for a long, fast ride up the coast.

That lasted for about a mile and a half.

Before I even got out of my own neighborhood, I found myself at the end of a long line of cars, lead by perhaps the most indecisive driver I’ve ever encountered. He’d come to a dead stop in the middle of the traffic lane, forcing the drivers behind — and me — to jam on their brakes. Then he’d pulling over towards the curb, before jerking back into the traffic lane.

This was followed by a feint to the left, another to the right, and yet another full stop in the traffic lane. Finally, he put on his left turn signal, and I saw my chance. I slipped past the line of cars on the right, and was just about to blow past him and into the clear.

But at that exact moment, instead of turning left as his signal indicated, he swung hard to the right to make a U-turn — despite the line of cars behind him and oncoming traffic from the other direction. And despite my presence in the space he was about to occupy.

I grabbed my brake hard — exactly the wrong thing to do, since I only had one hand on the handlebars, and the only brake within reach was the one in front. Instantly, I got that eerie feeling of briefly defying gravity as my momentum carried me forward, while my rear wheel rose up off the ground to follow.

As I felt myself flip over the handlebars, I took my own advice for once by tucking my head down, pulling in my elbows and rounding my shoulders.

Sure enough, I flipped over the front wheel, landing on my shoulders and rolling forward to absorb the impact. Luckily, his U-turn had stopped traffic in both directions, so I was able to clip out of my pedals and get the hell out of the way before traffic started moving again.

And needless to say, words were exchanged; needless to say, the driver considered himself blameless in every possible way.

But the bottom line is, I have no one but myself to blame.

I was the one who trusted his turn signal, despite his previous actions. I was the one who failed to have both hands on the handlebars. And I was the one who grabbed only the front brake, despite decades of experience that should have taught me what happens you do.

Fortunately, I’m fine, more or less. I’ve got a jammed left wrist and lump the size of a golf ball on my left elbow, along with other assorted aches and pains. But both will heal with a few days rest and a lot of ice.

But one interesting thing came out of it.

After icing my elbow for an hour or so, I rode my bike down to the shop where I bought it to get everything straightened out again for next week. And while I was there, I struck up a conversation with another rider who was also having a little work done.

Turns out, he was someone I knew, if only from his blog.

So, I’ve got a few bumps and bruises, a freshly tuned bike and a new friend.

I’ve had worse days.

Gary writes a heartfelt explanation of why he won’t be cranking with the Mob this weekend. Caltrans can’t find enough shovel-ready bike projects to fund; maybe they aren’t looking hard enough. No Whip takes in bike night at the Hammer Museum. Velocouture explains the concept of a city bike. The San Gabriel paper offers advice for competitive training. Albuquerque get its first bike boulevard, while Bulgaria gets bike alleys. The UT student paper notes the importance of the upcoming city council election in making the city more bike friendly. Sound familiar?

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…

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