By Accident

 

 

Some of the aftermath.

This is how I got hit.

It was raining. She came by me on the left, slowly. She signaled. I thought, “Oh, Christ! You’re going to let me get by first, aren’t you?” And then she was turning right across me, and because it was raining, I was sliding. And screaming. She hit the brakes. I hit her front quarter panel and went down hard on my right side.

I sprung up, decided I was ok, and turned to berate my assailant. She peered up at me from behind the wheel of her Volvo, put her hands up and mouthed, “I didn’t see you.” To which I replied, “Well, of course you didn’t f*&$ing see me. You never f*&$ing looked.” She asked if I was ok, this is all through the windshield. She couldn’t be bothered to get out, or she was afraid I might punch her, which, given the adrenaline spiking through my system, was probably a legitimate fear. I said, “Yes, I’m f*&$ing ok,” and I rode off at top speed, leaving her and a small congregation of cyclists gawking. I may never have ridden so fast in my life.

It was only when I got home that my wrist started to ache, and I could see where I was bleeding. And suddenly I was really tired. I realized that I had been riding on adrenaline then. At the time I’d no idea. So, coming down off that hormonal high, my body sort of crumpled on the floor of the shower, and I had a brief, emotional moment there, with the hot water pouring over me.

I rode with a brace on my wrist for about a month after that. It hurt.

I imagine this scenario plays itself out pretty regularly on city (and non-city) streets, a car turning across a bike lane and a cyclist getting the worse of the deal. The injuries probably range from minor, like mine, to death. It is, at any rate, a common experience, and yet, even after riding the city for 20 years, I’d never been hit. And I learned from it, things I might never have learned otherwise.

I did what you’re supposed to do after getting thrown. I got right back on that horse and rode. At first I felt sad, like the shine had come off, like this thing I’d been doing for decades was somehow more dark and sinister than I’d imagined. After that, I entered an angry phase. I began seeking conflict with drivers, yelling, punching hoods. It was no fun.

After a month or two of two-wheeled rage, I had an epiphany. I was afraid. Everywhere I went I anticipated being crushed and killed, and rather than weeping and cowering, I was going on the offensive. If I wasn’t overtly courting conflict, I was having protracted arguments, in my head, with errant motorists. I was, I think, trying to make sense of a new landscape, one in which I could be doing everything correctly, and still be killed.

This was no way to go about riding a bicycle. I ride a bike, because I like it, not to drive myself into irrational rages. I had to change, not only my attitude, but also the way I ride. I had to be more forgiving, more patient. This took time.

First of all, I had to admit that the mistake the Volvo lady made is exactly the kind of mistake anyone could make. She was distracted. She ought to have seen me, but she didn’t. The other day I made a pot of coffee, but forgot to stick the pot under the spout, and so coffee ran all over the counter and floor. I’m no better than Volvo lady. Up to this point, I’ve maybe just been luckier.

Angry is no way to ride, or do anything else for that matter. Whether my anger is justified or not doesn’t even begin to be the point. When I’m angry, I’m the one who suffers. My ride goes to shit. I get off the bike worse than I went on. I don’t always like to forgive. I don’t always just move on mentally, but when I do, I feel better and happier. This is the hardest single thing I do on a bicycle.

Next, I had to recognize that no one is in MY way. I don’t actually own the way. It’s a public way. And, as it turns out, everyone wants to use it. Weird, I know, but true.

Third, I had to slow down. This one was hard, because I like to go fast. This one was hard, because previously, I had only one speed, which was as-fast-as-I-could. This one was hard, because it meant I missed a lot of lights that I might, in earlier days, have sprinted through.

Finally, I had to admit that I am flesh and blood and vulnerable. For a guy who used to fancy himself impervious to the predations of weather and road condition, this was a lot to ask. Here’s the thing. I’m a robot, but I have a lady robot at home who loves me. I have two little robots that scream “Daddy!” when I come through the door. I have a robot dog whose raison d’etre is walking by my side to the coffee shop.

I didn’t expect any of this. I always assumed that the consequences of a car accident would be entirely physical, but right away the mental and emotional aspects of the experience made themselves felt. I tried to pay attention. Though a minor accident relative to most car/bicycle interactions, it was a major event in my life, one that, after months of dissection and examination, I’m glad happened.

I got hit by a car and learned how large my ego had become, learned that, more than anything, I was in my own way, and that the best way to get where I wanted to go, i.e. everywhere, was to let myself be small and let the world be big. I can, if I squint, see the accident again. I’m riding along. A Volvo passes me on the left. Its brake lights blaze purposefully. I back off on the pedals. A turn signal. I brake. Nothing to prove. And then the car turns in front of me. Its shocks make a hiccuping sound as it bounces into the driveway of the grocery store. I glance over my left shoulder and then guide my bike out into the open lane to glide past the Volvo’s bumper.

And then I ride home. Whole and well.

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42 comments

  1. Doug

    Great post Mr Robo. I remember one day on 2 wheels (my BMW) I had the green…I sensed the car next to me, thought about shooting ahead…then I thought;”ah well, nothing to prove” and decided to take it easy. At that moment a slimeball from the ghetto flew through the intersection, ran the red in front of me and the car next to me, with a glance at me as if to say “too bad white boy, I would have loved to kill you”. A “nothing to prove” attitude may save your life! Keep the rubber side down people!

  2. Heidi Swift

    Really stellar post. I love the bit about the coffee pot.
    I also love the insight here about the emotional aspect of your experience and the depth of reflection about our human interactions. I’m so often frustrated by bike/car/skateboard/whoever to fail to see one another simply as human beings trying to get around in a big-assed world.

  3. dave

    Nice post about a moment each of us go through … have had several of those and have to say you have been lucky to have been only knocked off once. But a part of me wonders if we are being enablers to those that drive without a bit of caution to the other users that don’t have a metal shield around them. Heres to getting home in one piece every day and it still beats driving.

  4. Marco Placero

    Points that might save lives, Robot. Glad you sorted out your injuries deeper than rash, to arrive at catharsis shared.
    Nearly naked participants jousting with armoured motorists, constant self re-hypnosis required, reminding one of purpose, place, cause, effect, intent. A yogic centering– how fragile– merely assists keeping safe in a world racing to occupy limited roadwidth.

  5. souleur

    A very distinguished look at something we all do, cyclist do and will crash. Most impressive to me is that Robot has emotion, a human experience and a heart. I had a very similar episode myself this past August, and thank goodness my helmet saved my life, literally. I found myself working through it very similarly, the physicality of the injury’s were simply flesh wounds, my mental prowess was like picking scrambled eggs off the pave’, my emotions were like a roller coaster, mostly paranoia and delusional. As I rode after this, with anger mashing the cranks, moving then to forgiveness, it changed me in a way that is actually hard to put into words. I am glad you did Robot! Thank you yet for another.

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  7. Dan O

    Ouch – great post though.

    After a few decades and thousands of miles on two wheels – pedal and fossil powered – I’ve yet to be tagged by a car. I’m lucky and realize that luck may not run forever.

    I’ve seen people get hit – including a back seat view from a cab as we plowed into a pedestrian. Ugly stuff that takes awhile to mentally wear off for sure.

    I can imagine after getting hit yourself, the mental aspect would take even longer to heal.

  8. Trev

    I have been hit twice. Once my fault, once the drivers. And last year I was on my brand new BMC , stopped at a red light and from behind some knucklehead flys up behind me on a steel LeMond and creams me. Had his head down and forgot where he was going I guess…. had to quit my job, massive medical bills, and major surgery followed by months of recovery. Sometimes shit really does happen.

    I had my best season this year. Even won 1 race.

  9. Seb

    EXACT same thing happened to me in May. I was in a bike/park lane – car missed stop, slammed on the brakes while injecting herself in front of me, I did my best to squeeze right and fall. Ended up with a egg sized forearm bruise [same spot] and an insurance claim because it was completely the driver’s fault.

    Don’t forget how fast we are too. Drivers do not realize cyclists can get up to 40kph and don’t know how to adjust their timing to something that is faster than a pedestrian, but slower than a car.

    My only wish is that everyone ride a bike in traffic – to see what we see, and then maybe – the paved world will be a better place to move around in…

  10. Rod Diaz

    Ugh… so right. I’ve been hit quite a few times by cars, and unfortunately my commute takes me through a bridge where buses sometimes are less than careful. I’m very nearly always angry there – because, as you mentioned, I am afraid.

    And it’s hard to man up and recognize that. And that you really hit it on the nail and recognize that it is an ego thing, and that it’s important to leg to of it.

    Otherwise riding is ruined, and that is no way to live.

    Rod

  11. JZ

    Great post. I have never been hit and I hope and pray that it will never happen. I was nearly hit by a Sheriff the other day who ran a stop sign. He claimed the sun was in his eyes (which it probably was) but I think he was actually looking at his lap top. I unloaded on him, which felt good, particularly since it was a cop.

    The funny thing is that I went away from it feeling bad and regretting losing my cool. I certainly didn’t make the Sheriff a bigger fan of cyclists. On occasion I have let other drivers know of my feelings towards their driving and I have usually regret such incidents.

    The realization that we all make mistakes is important. I am a driver and I sometimes make bonehead mistakes while driving. I also make bonehead mistakes riding.

  12. mtnscott

    In MSF class they told us to watch out for U-Hauls and Volvos
    No one is trained to drive a U-Haul, they just throw you the keys.
    You only buy a Volvo if you know you are a bad driver.

  13. Lydia Sugarman

    I’ve been hit twice. Had a few more “nice” crashes. Seen some pretty awful stuff when I was living in New York. Even been knocked off my bike by some not so non-violent hippie hikers on the GW Bridge. I’ve run the whole gamut of emotions. It’s profoundly affected my riding, such as it is these days. And, that makes me sad and angry. I’ve ended budding friendships with people who refuse to try to understand things from a cyclist’s perspective. I’m tired of justifying Critical Mass rides to people who don’t realize they act like assholes *all* the time behind the wheels of their cars/SUVs.

    Forgetting the coffee pot is not the same as the self-absorbed “motorist” behind the wheel of a Volvo not seeing you. It just isn’t! You didn’t almost kill someone.

  14. Carl Johnson

    I had a similar encounter last year — except I escaped unscathed. I was coming up a hill, albeit quickly. A driver was exiting a housing development and coming onto my road, where I had the right of way. She came to a complete stop, looked right at me as I continued to proceed toward her (certain she wasn’t going anywhere), and then at the last possible second hit the gas and pulled in front of me. If I’d been on a flat I couldn’t have avoided hitting her, but I was able to come to a full stop and somehow her tail didn’t catch me. I could tell from the next turn she took that she was going to our local elementary school, where I chased her down, took a cellphone pic of her license plate (or thought I did — in my crazed state, I screwed it up), and proceeded to completely lose it on her, in front of her grade-school kid. She, too, said “I didn’t see you,” which was absolutely impossible, as she had been looking right at me, and I at her. I screamed something about getting off whatever pills she was on and rode off in anger, still shaking, and completely angry at myself for losing control. I ended up not calling the police for that reason, which I regretted.

  15. Roger in Denver

    Took me until I was 51 to get hit and when I did it was a left cross that broadsided me and left me broken (leg and ribs), bruised (hematoma’s as colorful as anything Picasso could have dreamed of on both thighs) and battered (both shoulders separated, and the feeling of being unable to move for almost two days afterwards). My feelings were much the same as yours except I was laying on the ground, an paramedic and nurse who witnessed the accident holding me down and holding my head in traction (I landed on my head and handlebars after being tossed into the air) and all I could see of the woman who hit me was the flower tattoo on her ankle. She also said, “I didn’t see you” and that only made me madder, why, I don’t know. Would I have been happier if she said, “I saw you but hit you anyway”? Probably not.

    Anyway, couple of quick things. If you get hit… CALL THE POLICE. Do not let the driver leave even if you think you and your bike are not damaged (I had no choice, needed a ride, bike seat was about 20 feet from the bike and handlebars looked like a pretzel, not only that, but the ER was a definite stop and the paramedic had called 911 requesting an ambulance even before he got to me lying in the road). You don’t know what damage was done to you or your bike. Next go see a doctor sooner than later. Finally make sure you you talk to an attorney. Your own insurance can pick up where their insurance left off and other things I didn’t know (She was underinsured and I quickly went through her insurance in medical bills).

    Oh, and funny thing is, except for making more eye contact I don’t have that ‘waiting to get hit again’ feeling. But then again years of climbing, kayaking, extreme skiing… my wife thinks I have a death wish anyway.

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  17. Carl Johnson

    Roger, sorry to hear of your injuries and glad you got back out there. I wouldn’t say it’s a death wish — it’s a life wish. We want to live and experience things, not just sit inside boxes while the world rotates.

  18. Rod

    Robot,
    VERY well put and good choice of words, we recently had a bad crash on our club run when an old dear pulled straight into her drive and wiped half a dozen people out.
    It took an air ambulance and 2 ambulances to get everyone sorted. Thankfully all just about back on their bikes. Thanks for sharing

  19. Owen Mulholland

    I must be the resident chickenshit. Stories such as “By Accident” remind me why (at least one of the reasons) I jumped into the fat tire end of the pool over 2 decades ago. I see road bikes all over the place and I’m particularly impressed by the single gear crowd using their relatively simple devices to navigate the urban jungle with daily disregard of what might happen “if”. I’m all for the bike world coming into being, and I can certainly do it when necessary (a few years ago I had to commute to work by bike across cities 60 miles round-trip for a few weeks, and with several broken ribs too.), but to really enjoy cycling I hit the dirt where nary a car is to be seen. I realize this is not an appropriate answer to the car/bike standoff for many folks, but one to be considered if possible.

  20. Alex

    Great ability to express your changes in mind sets.

    I too have been hit by a driver, sideswiped as he was changing lanes to move around cars traveling slow because of me. I guess he never saw why everyone was going slow, me. I wasn’t given the oportunity to confront the driver and settle stories. A witnesses did stop to calm my nerves from the adrenaline high you mentioned. I’m glad I too choose to get back on the bike.

  21. Bart

    I try to remember to remind myself before every ride and during ever ride that the ONLY thing that matters about this ride is that I make it home to my wife and two small daughters. Power, time, speed, bonking, nutrition, hydration, etc all matter not one bit compared to that. It helps me slow down. Stop at stop signs completely. Wait at red lights. Yield where it is in my best interest even if I have right of way. I no longer ride the routes that require me to ride on busy or fast roads. Or roads with no shoulder. I ride the residential road one block over and deal with endless stop signs if I have to.

    I haven’t been hit but I know that I’m more important to three other people than I ever have been to myself, so I have to play it safe.

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  23. Erica

    I also choose to bike to work because I like it. Unlike my car commuting days, I jump off my bike and arrive at work energized, refreshed, and happy. I’ve had my share of rude, angry drivers and it’s hard not to get pissed off. But that would destroy the whole purpose of biking to work. I’m glad to hear you recovered and your advice to let yourself be small is fantastic and worth following.

  24. Jack

    Had an accident like this not too long ago in NYC, except the car was in oncoming traffic turning left across two lanes of traffic. He was lucky he didn’t get hit by a car. I had a similar skid, but was ok. Be safe, thanks for the great blog- jack

  25. Scotty

    I been riding one of these respect cycles mini velos in DC pretty fun way less scary at high speeds in traffic- not a big fan of the mini until I rode this thing- I now know the owner pretty cool dude named mike- website seems OK – but trust me you want to go fast and not crash- as much…ride a mini-

  26. EJ

    Yes, the gal in the Volvo wasn’t paying attention. That scenario happens all too frequently. My husband worked to invent a better bike light – a brake light – but also an awareness beacon – but also one that blinks brighter – even in the rain – AND can be worn on the backpack or helmet – up high over the car’s fender where the driver can see it blinking, even out of the corner of their eye. We hope what we’ve accomplished with this bike brake light will save lives and prevent injuries. Your physical injuries were minor – relatively, and maybe they could have been prevented if there was something bright, blinking and making more people aware of the presence of a cyclist near by. I especially like the fact that you can wear it high on your body – and the cyclists or cars around you can tell when you’re slowing down. To your safety… thank you for sharing your story. It will help to save lives (and sanity) too.

  27. Mike B.

    I have had many similar experiences and have come to similar conclusions – albeit less lucidly. I have ridden accident free now for many years. It is a good idea to respect drivers even if some have no respect for bikers. My guiding principle is to never force a driver to hit the brakes for me in an ordinary traffic situation, such as a stop sign. This is more work than gliding through a stop sign, but did you choose to ride your bike because you didn’t want to peddle it?
    I am happy to have the cover of a car going through an intersection at 30 mph to keep an oncoming car from turning left in front of me. But if a car in front of me is driving slower than traffic allows I know they are probably uncertain, and therefore unpredictable. This is a very dangerous situation for a cyclist so beware.
    We are the vulnerable ones and so it is incumbent on us to pay attention.

  28. Ole Bat

    As a ‘Boomer era rider who rode from the midwest to Boulder 40 years ago,
    I have seen the scenario from both sides. Luck, fear and paranoia perhaps
    have been more my guardians than any skill set I’ve acquired. I can quickly
    count 8 life-altering crashes suffered by acquaintances, and a couple more
    fatalities of friends’ friends. Some were road hazards like potholes, some
    could be called rider errors, but at some point I think one has to accept
    responsibility even for driver error, because we know what the situation
    is.
    I cringe and get mad every time I, in my car, have narrowly avoided a
    bike ridden by a young, naively ignorant self-absorbed anarchist, not just
    because they’re acting like foolish boors, but because they have no idea
    the only reason they’re not pavement-napping is because I drive thinking
    like a cyclist.
    On last weekend’s century ride, one person fortunately survived being run
    over by a camper trailer; I expected more crashes not from the mostly
    courteous drivers, but the scores of hot-shots who passed inches away, up
    or downhill, without any hint of warning to announce their proximity. “On
    your left” was said more times by me, than by all the faster riders who
    passed me. I rang a small bell well before I overtook anyone, even when I
    managed to jump a wheel and get pulled downhill, because the duo I drafted
    never once gave warning that I could hear.
    I recall from driver’s ed class decades ago that we are legally obligated
    to avoid accidents, even when we may have the right-of-way, and cyclists
    especially need to keep that mindset, because they will always suffer the
    worst in car-bike collisions. The wisdom and maturity to take responsibility for everyone else may only come from time and experience, but confrontational aggressive behavior only increases the polarization and
    fosters ill will that benefits no one.

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  30. Ty

    Nice article. Your epiphanies are making me contemplate my own riding style. Your accident was scary and I can completely understand the anger and fear that followed. Realizing that no one is perfect and the roads are in fact a public way is tricky when you are doing things the right way while others may not be paying attention. A huge lesson in patience and understanding for sure… but I have no doubt will result in a much safer and more enjoyable ride.

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  32. Steve

    A great post and one that I wish I could relate to, however I am still suffering the mental torture after an “accident” nearly 2 years ago…

    Last 10 miles of a route home on a road i’d travelled 100′s of times (I say travelled because i’ve never been on it since).

    Weekly rides 350miles a week, as fast as possible (not racing), but happy.

    So last stretch home after 80 mile, all is well traffic is a bit busy, but its only a 1 mile length then onto the quieter roads again.

    Then i get the feeling someone just jumps on my back, and wacks me around the back of the head with a cricket bat. WAK. I do manage to say on the bike fortunately (when i get home I see the back of my helment is in 4 peices held together by the outer casing, so i’m guess that would have been the state of my skull without the hat).

    And so about 10 seconds later it dawns on me what actually happened. Off into the distance goes a medium sized wide berth lorry with extended wing mirrors at exactly head height (for my cycling posture). He’s obviously been so close to give me a wack around the back of the head but not close enough to bring me down by clipping the bars (that makes me feel luck to be alive!)

    So, I can “understand” how this happend… Even though I had 3 x Cat EYE LD610s on the back of the bike and it wasnt even dark (dusky maybe at a push), with the contstant stream of traffic it is plausible my lights were obscured by the car in front of the van.

    Or maybe the van driver was just drunk, or on the phone or whatever, doing a line on the dashboard, who knows!

    Point was/is, I had no ego, I was not racing to avoid a car turning into me, I was just happily letting the world exist around me, and doing my thing, only to have the closest call with a very serious and very possibly fatal incident.

    (I do know now I can stay on the bike if i am wacked directly to the back of the head with a cricket bat!)

    And the effects on me even 2 years after the incident are still immense.

    I cannot protect my self from this kind of collision, but I do not want to widow my wife and orphan my children (I want these things more than to ride a bike)

    So, I avoid roads with traffic, which is not easy!, a ride a LOT less, and I am always afraid out there.

    I hate it. What do I do?

    Any helps?
    THanks

  33. Mark Mulligan

    Years ago I was commuting home in traffic and the driver of a car had a “Big Mac Attack” and abruptly turned into McDonalds without signalling. My bicycle hit his right front door as he turned into to me. I grapped the door handle (told you it was a long time ago) and was leaning out with my wheels actually under his car, pedalling like mad not to get run over by his rear wheel. He stopped and apologized profusely, asking if I was ok. As I said I was fine, I saw out of the corner of my eye a gent eating a burger in his pickup truck laughing manaically. As the car that hit me pulled away, I say the window sticker showing it was brand new, and the deep spiral gouges my pedals had cut into the lower part of both doors.

  34. Jesse

    I went through the same epiphanies and anger after I had got hit by a car. Thankfully mine happened very early in my cycling career and I’ve been a much more cautious rider since. Except with the speed part, I still have to catch those lights everytime.

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