Tag Archive for Denver

In 1986, my sister saved my life 18 months ago

Twenty-three years ago, I was, to paraphrase an early Jimmy Buffet song, God’s own cyclist and a fearless man.

I was living in Denver at the time, and biking was my life. By then, I’d been riding for 6 years and considered myself an expert on all things bike.

I rode a minimum of 50 miles a day, every day, rain or shine. On the rare occasions when something kept me off the bike, I obsessed about it all day, then rode that much harder the next day. Once I even bombed down a mountain pass, passing cars on the shoulder at over 60 miles an hour — without a helmet — well aware that the first mistake I made would be my last.

But then, hardly anyone wore helmets in those days. I certainly didn’t think I needed one, since experienced riders like me just didn’t hit the pavement.

The only risk, in my overly confident mind, was if I was knocked there by a car or another rider. And I’d made a careful study of traffic and defensive riding techniques to make that didn’t happen, priding myself on my ability to read the streets and anticipate the actions of everyone on it.

Pride, as they say, goes before a fall.

This particular day, I was riding fast as I approached a major three-way intersection. To this day, I could still tell you the exact location of every single car as I carved a perfect a turn, leaning hard to the right as my knee barely cleared the pavement.

The only thing I didn’t see was the large puddle of water directly in front of my wheel, left over from a brief thunderstorm earlier in the day.

As soon as my bike hit the water, I hit the pavement, sliding across six lanes of traffic until I hit the curb on the far side with enough force to pancake both wheels.

My clothes were shredded, leaving me no more than a few threads from an indecent exposure charge. Fortunately, one of the drivers who had miraculously avoided me wrapped me in a blanket, secured my bike and drove me to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a broken bone in my elbow and severe road rash from ankle to chin.

Somehow, my speed and the angle I hit the road kept my head off the pavement, confirming my belief that a helmet was unnecessary.

My sister, though, was not so convinced. The next day, she bought a helmet and made me promise to wear it. Once I was able to get back on the bike, I put it on just to humor her.

And I’ve worn one every time I’ve been on a bike since.

Because as I recuperated, it finally dawned on me that overconfidence is more dangerous than anything I might find on the road. And that every rider hits the pavement sooner or later.

Yet it took two more decades of riding before I used my helmet for more than hair net.

Then in September of 2007, I was riding along the bike path north of Santa Monica, just approaching the new L.A. County Lifeguard headquarters at Will Rogers State Beach, when I encountered a massive swarm of bees.

I’ve told the story before, so I won’t bore you with the details (you can click here if you missed it). But the next thing I knew, I was stretched out on the bike path as a lifeguard pulled an oxygen mask over my face, with no idea how I got there.

The doctors in the ER said I’d suffered a moderate concussion, and the fact that I’d been wearing a helmet had probably saved my life. And as I looked at the cracks veining through its foam lining, I realized they probably were right.

So if someone tells me they started wearing a helmet because of something I said or wrote, it means more to me than they will ever know. Because an accident like that, in a place like that, pretty pretty much confirms that anything can happen, anytime. And anywhere.

I hope they — and you — never need it.

But I can honestly say that my sister’s insistence that I wear one has a lot to do with why I’m still here, and writing this, today.


Police in Pasadena are encouraging kids to wear their helmets — something state law requires. A writer in Seattle examines the age-old conflict over where — and if — bikes belong. Bike culture comes to D.C. A cycling Fox News reporter in Milwaukee documents his encounters with dangerous drivers. Introducing the cycling art of schluffing — something I’ve done since I was about 6 years old. Brayj points out the failure of bike planning at UCLA, as well as calling our attention to tomorrow’s county Department of Public Works meeting to explain why they won’t be building the long-promised extension to the Arroyo Seco Bike Path.

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…

Learning to ride safely. Or not.

Great post on the Gary Rides Bikes blog yesterday.

He wrote about repeatedly passing the same rider on a recent ride, since he was the faster rider but stopped for red lights, while she went through them but rode slower. So they kept leapfrogging one another.

It served as an example of the problem with so many riders who blatantly disregard the law — as well any semblance of common sense —  in an apparent rush to get where they’re going. And it struck a cord with me, because I’d been thinking much the same thing while I was riding today.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that so many riders learn to ride, and often, ride fast, without ever learning how to ride well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a stickler for obeying the letter of the law. I think the highest obligation of cyclists is to ride safely — that is, without posing an unnecessary risk to themselves or the people around them. Sometimes that means observing the law, and sometimes that means breaking it. But for a damn good reason.

I got my first real road bike when I was living in Louisiana, and I quickly learned to ride fast and far, dodging pickup driving Cajuns along backcountry bayous. I continued to use the same skills when I moved back to Colorado, and found myself riding rural farm roads and high mountain passes.

But I didn’t become a good rider until I started riding at Denver’s Washington Park.

In those days, Wash Park was the center of the local biking community, and a mecca for cyclists all over the country. Riding there often meant riding with cycling royalty, like Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney, and there were often rumors that Alexi Grewal or Greg LeMond might be somewhere in the vast crowd of riders, though I never saw them myself.

The big draw was a roadway that encircled the park, and was closed to car traffic Monday through Friday, providing a safe, traffic and red light free loop a couple miles long. Riders would start arriving in mid-afternoon; by 5 p.m., there were usually hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of riders circling in the same direction. Gradually, a peloton would form, as the slower riders dropped to the right, and the better riders grouped together and gained speed.

Anyone was welcome to join in, as long as you could keep up — and ride safely. Make a mistake, though, and you’d hear about from the other riders. Do it again, and you could expect a warning bump from a passing rider. Third offense meant a shoulder or hip check designed to knock you off your bike and on your ass.

The same rules held true on weekend group rides. If you wanted to do something stupid and risk you own life, go right ahead. There’d be no shortage of pall bearers at your funeral. But do something that endangered bystanders, risked the safety of the group or brought undue attention from law enforcement, and you could expect to pay the price.

It was a brutal way to learn. But I learned to ride safely. And I learned fast.

That sort of thing just doesn’t happen today. As many people have noted in other forums, there are no training procedures required for cycling, and the kind of education I received wouldn’t survive very long in today’s more litigious society — and probably shouldn’t. And experienced riders, such as myself, have learned the hard way that any attempt to educate another rider these days more likely to be met with a heartfelt “fuck you, asshole” than it is a polite “thank you.”

So new riders are left to learn on their own, for better or worse.

Which too often means they develop the physical skills to ride, without the knowledge that goes with it. They learn how to ride, and in many cases, to ride fast and far, just like I did. But they don’t have a clue how to ride safely.

Or courteously.

Especially in crowded, fast-paced and high-traffic city like Los Angeles.


Apparently, the conflict between drivers and cyclists isn’t limited by the Atlantic. A columnist in Colorado assures a driver that traffic laws apply to teenage cyclists, as well… but walking bikes across an intersection? Get real. Boston riders reveal it’s possible to look good on a bike, without resorting to spandex. And an Ohio man goes to jail for trashing his car after running down a cyclist on the sidewalk.

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