When I damaged my hand over the summer and had to go to the emergency room, the admitting nurse asked me, “Do you feel safe at home?” which is a coded way of asking whether I might have been a victim of domestic violence. My wife stood there looking bemused, and I replied in a theatrical whisper, “She’s right there…” It’s a crass joke, and inappropriate probably. Domestic violence is no joke, except that I’m crass, and it made my wife laugh, which is one of my favorite sounds in the whole world, so…
We’ve already been talking about safety this week, but I wanted to delve a little deeper. The ER nurse’s question actually gets at the heart of the matter, and gives us this week’s Group Ride. Do you FEEL safe on your bike?
Because one thing that the comment thread in this week’s other safety-oriented post made me see is that how safe I feel often bears very little resemblance to how safe I actually am. Reading through a report of Boston Cycling Safety, I came away feeling much less likely to be injured on my bike.
But I’ve been hit by cars twice, both times while doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and I know that sometimes the odds beat you, and that the fallout of an accident can be an even wider gulf between how you feel and how you are. After my first accident, it took me a year, maybe more, to feel good about riding in the city again. I kept riding, but it wasn’t fun, and if it’s not fun, then what is it?
These days I take a varying approach to safety, even sometimes riding without a helmet, as I did on Block Island this last weekend. Off season there is very little traffic. Was that irresponsible? Maybe. But it also felt good and free and worth it to me.
I hear from a lot of my friends who are over-40 that they have fundamentally changed the way they ride, the times, the routes, sometimes even skewing hard toward trail riding, rather than being out on the road. Whether that’s a heightened sense of mortality or the product of hard-won experience, I couldn’t say. I do know that the older I get the more I want to enjoy every ride, and that encompasses safety, intensity and location.
My feeling is that drivers, at least in Boston, are far more aware of cyclists than they were 10 years ago, even verging on sympathetic sometimes, and yet the fact remains, in any conflict, I will come out worse than I went in. I rapped my knuckles on a woman’s side view mirror just this morning. She was stopped at a light, and lined up too far over toward the parked cars. I thought I could snake my way through, but I misjudged it. It was a small thing. She wasn’t mad. I wasn’t mad. But it hurt.
This week’s Group Ride asks, do YOU feel safe? How has your perception of safety changed the way you ride, if at all? If you’ve been hit, what was your experience of getting back on the bike?