Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life Is More Exciting For Cyclists

Cyclists and drivers are a bit like boys and girls in a grade two classroom.  They are thrust into the same space and told to get along, yet the gulf between the two mentalities is so great that neither side really likes or trusts the other.  I have rejoined the world of cyclists and have once more embraced a car hating attitude.
 The main problem with cars is that they are bigger, stronger, faster and you know that the driver isn't paying as much attention to the road as to his cell phone, radio and hair.  The problem with bikes is that they are slower, harder to see and you know that they are being powered by someone who is slightly insane.  

   As a cyclist I need to proactively guard against careless drivers because I don't really care who's at fault when I'm run over.  Staying alive is a very real priority while biking.  One of the dangers when riding is when people pass when there really isn't room to pass.  Calgary doesn't have a lot of shoulder room on a lot of its roads so at times I feel most comfortable riding in the lane so cars have to change lanes to pass me.  There's a chance that I will delay the driver by half a minute but if that half minute of their time means that I don't die, I think that it's a good deal.  

Today I was biking from the university to the Currie Barracks which conveniently lets me bike down 29th Ave by Foothills Hospital.  This is a great road because there's a fun hill that allows me to get up to high speeds.  I powered past a hapless cyclist while cruising beside the hospital and then started down the hill in a devil may care, hell bent, balls to the wall 60+km/h manner, tucked down so that not one extra molecule of atmospheric friction would delay my trip of insanity.  

I think that drivers often feel the urge to pass a cyclist as soon as possible, even when the cyclist is going above and beyond the speed limit.  On this hill I get going fast enough that often vehicles slow me down so I didn't feel bad at all about leaving the shoulder and riding behind a van in front of me.  I was flying down the hill when the van inexplicably began to slow down.  
It is easy to become accustomed to high velocities, it's a familiarity breeds contempt sort of thing.  Well it's also very easy to quickly become re-aware of the danger of high velocity, just try and stop in a hurry.  

I always figured that a bike should be able to stop twice as fast as a car, but going down that hill the van was definitely slowing down faster than I was.  I was braking as hard as possible without skidding and the van was suddenly very big and very close.  If the driver happened to look in her rear view mirror at that time it probably would have been quite rewarding.  A human face far closer than expected upon looking in the mirror, and a face wearing an expression of panic.  

However, I doubt that she looked back until too late.  I imagine that she looked back just after upon hearing a thump as she was rear ended by a cyclist.  Luckily I had managed to slow my bike down enough; my front tire hits bumper and stops immediately, my inertia compels the back wheel to depart terra firma and I'm airborne, briefly.  Soon, gravity being what it is, I'm reacquainted with my earthbound tendencies.  A quick, ungraceful roll and I stop.  I immediately try and get up, though I think it took a couple of attempts.  

The people in the car behind me ask me if I'm alright, I indicate to the positive.  The car I hit drives on, either unaware of what occurred, or uncaring.  I think that I might have scuffed their bumper so maybe it's good that they didn't stop.  

I regain my senses and try to put my chain back on.  However the back wheel isn't spinning.  A quick inspection reveals the wheel to be bent, more than a little.  Looks like it's the bus for me.
So end of the incident tally.

My body-small scrape on arm and leg but otherwise fully intact
My bike- presumably fine except for the damage to the wheel
My pride- wounded, though strong enough to handle greater damage than that.  Dare I say it? Pride suffers after the fall.  


Anonymous said...

Wow. Glad you are Ok Ed. I know exactly what you are talking about... when I am biking around I feel an irrational hatred for cars.

PsySal said...

Glad you're ok! Hate to say but this kind of thing can be super bad for cyclist.

Case 1: I'm riding down center street with Clem, a hummer (actually I think it was an escalade) wants to pass but no room. Later, on the downhill part, after passing, said hummer SLAMS ON BRAKES in front of me. There's no question they were trying to get me to smash into them, and almost succeeded.

Case 2: Group of cyclists, including some olympic hopefuls (this was early this year), are cycling somewhere in Austrailia. Driver honks and honks but can't get around. Finally gets around, slams on brakes, Cyclists plow into rear of vehicle, many go to hospital with end of career. I think one might have even died, but I don't know.

BE CAREFUL! =) But have fun and try not to think about it too much, or it'll wreck it for you. Hehehe... Remember the main difference when you are on a bicycle is that you're aware of how fast you're going, and how vulnerable to accidents.

People are killed or seriously injured in car accidents all the time, but a car feels like a safe place because it is suspended, cushioned, comfortable and quiet. Per km traveled, bikes have 2x more fatality rate. Per hour of activiy, cars are 2x that of bikes.

Anonymous said...

when ever i am sad please tell me this story. also... ive only ever hit parked vans/cars on my bicycle...