I know I’ve asked the question I’m going to ask before, but very recent events and conversations have me thinking that the answers may have changed. I’m getting ahead of myself though. First, I crashed my bike.
There is a steep, narrow road on my daily commute. It’s avoidable, but it is the most direct route, so I ride it a lot, enough that I’m familiar with most of its nuances, where the potholes are, how the traffic stacks up, how cars handle the light at the bottom. The town, though quite wealthy, maintains its roads with the approximate care my kids maintain their laundry, i.e. very sporadically, and only under threat of punishment.
I was coming down the hill at what I’d call a moderate pace, neither fast nor slow. I looked ahead, as you have to do because there is very little shoulder, and noticed a contractor’s truck with super wide side view mirrors. This time of year the gutters are overflowing with leaves, so I thought to jump up onto the sidewalk to get around this truck, rather than try to duck under and plunge too deep in the accumulated leaves. I’m loathe to ride on the sidewalk generally, but very few people walk these sidewalks. The houses that line this road are large, with lots of green space between. One section of sidewalk riding would do the trick.
Now, because I’ve ridden bikes my whole life, I usually see crashes coming, but there is a species of crash that defies any expertise for prognostication, and this was one of those. As I came back off the sidewalk onto the road, my front tire plunged through a pile of leaves, beneath which there was a large slot cut out of the pavement. My tire caught there, sideways to the gap, and disappeared. I hurtled sideways into the car idling there in the line of traffic, careened off her front quarter panel and, turning my back slammed into the rear of the SUV in front of her.
I lay there in the verge for a second, waiting for the bloom of pain, trying to sort out the chain of events that had just knocked me off my bike. Despite hitting the SUV with my whole body at something like 15mph, I wasn’t hurt. I stood up. And that’s when something surprising happened (irony).
All the drivers got out of their cars, and none of them yelled at me.
The first things they said were: “Do you want to go to the hospital?”; “Do you want a ride somewhere?”; “Are you sure you’re ok?”; “Is your bike damaged?”; “Oh my gosh, my heart is racing…I think I’m more upset than you are.”
No one was concerned about damage to their car. The guy whose driveway seemingly caused the problem came out and said he’d called the town to fix the problem with the pavement there, but they were, predictably, uninterested. He said he’d call again.
This is/was pretty amazing to me. I’ve been hit by cars who tried to blame me for being in the way. I’ve had people bump me and drive off. I’ve been threatened by people when I asked them not to drive in the bike lane. But everyone who saw me crash was nice, helpful and genuinely concerned. On top of that, I really wasn’t hurt despite going full yard sale into a couple of big steel boxes.
I was telling someone at work the story, and they said, “I know, something might be changing. I was on my way in today, and I was waiting at a light in one of those green boxes they have marked for cyclists, the ones that sit in front of the traffic at the light, and this guy in a BMW creeps up on me, and I think, “Great, here we go. This guy is going to hassle me for pulling in front of me. Then he rolls down his window and says, ‘Nice bike! Where’d you get it?'”
This week’s Group Ride asks two questions: First, are things getting better between cars and bikes where you live? And second, who are the best/worst drivers? Part of the story about the BMW centered on this idea that, generally, drivers of luxury cars are worse to deal with than drivers of economy cars, with the exception of the Prius, which seems to draw people who hate driving and are very bad at it. I always watch out for men in pickup trucks, although I have to admit, I perceive a softening and even a courtesy in that broad group of drivers, too, lately.