Friday Group Ride #429

Friday Group Ride #429

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.

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21 comments

  1. Stewart Van Buskirk

    In general, drivers are usually pretty courteous around my parts in Socal (Inland Empire). And yes, the douchiest of all drivers are those in a BMW, Audi or Mercedes Benz.

    That being said, on Saturday morning we just had an incident where a cyclist was purposely hit and killed by a crazy woman who went out looking for someone to hit. She tried 4 others but missed, and then went head on into this woman. 11:30 am on Saturday morning is still a busy time for people on bikes. The woman was riding in the middle of a GIGANTIC bike lane and it didn’t matter. I was in the same area about 2 hours before on a group ride. It could’ve been any one of us.

  2. Alan Potter

    I also live and ride in the Boston area, but my sense has been that things have gotten worse over the last few years. It feels like our narrow roads have gotten busier, and the drivers are even less careful.

    Drivers of landscaping trucks are the scariest to be around, follower closely by Prius drivers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), Subaru Outback drivers are next on the list. FedEx drivers have the best situational awareness, and UPS drivers are usually pretty good.

    I run blinking lights front and rear on every ride these days, which seem to help, at least a little.


    1. Author
      Robot

      Alan,
      It is very certainly true that our narrow streets have filled with cyclists over the last decade. I am always shocked when I have occasion to spin through Cambridge. 15 years ago I was alone at most lights. These days there is a hoard.
      Robot

  3. Miles Archer

    I haven’t been riding lately so I don’t have anything to add directly on topic.*

    I was just on a business trip to Austin Texas. I was driving through suburban sprawl and I was surprised to see a small handful of people apparently commuting by bike. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the downtown area, but this was in the burbs. Especially since it’s November and it was drizzling. Go Austin!

    *This site is still in my feed and it’s kind of like what people used to say about Playboy. I come here for the writing.

  4. Neil Winkelmann

    My last crash was a slip on some ice, two years ago. I jumped up, pulled my bike from the road onto some grass and paused for a moment. I quickly realized that something was badly wrong (dislocated shoulder – though I hadn’t made that diagnosis at the time – I though collar bone). The woman driving the car right behind me that had witnessed the accident, slowed and asked “Are you OK?”. I replied “No”. So she drove off. OK, then.

    The next few cars passed through until a guy in a pick-up stopped and offered assistance. After a quick discussion about calling an ambulance, we threw the bike in the back of his truck, and he took me to the hospital. He offered to drop my bike back home (out of his way) and I gave him my address. A few hours later he turned back up at the hospital to see how I was doing. The kindness of strangers…..

  5. Steven S

    Why hasn’t anyone commented on the photo yet? This pic is awesome in so many ways. Does anyone know who is leaning on the car?

  6. Matt

    IMO it’s cell phones that have changed the game of late. Years back it was drunk drivers…but those are mostly gone due to the horrific penalties. Everybody over the age of 7 has a phone, and even tho it’s illegal to use it non-hands-free here, you can’t go 5 minutes w/out seeing somebody looking up and down texting, or looking up and to the side w/ it stuck in their ear, driving TERRIBLY at the same time. I’ve had WAY TOO many very close calls w/ cars (I include pickups and SUV’s in the “cars” group) where I live, and I won’t road-ride alone anymore…just not worth it. My MTB gets most of my miles these days, that and the Sat morning group ride (safety in numbers). If only they’d treat non-hands-free cell phone use just like a DUI…loss of license and HUGE fine even for the 1st offense…THAT’S how you stop it. FEAR of losing your license AND big money. So…to answer your question, worse.

  7. Stephen Barner

    I can’t say that drivers have changed much in the past few years up here in northern Vermont. If anything, perhaps slightly worse, due to the increasing number of drivers illegally looking at their cell phones. The worse are and have always been males in pickup trucks. The older and rattier the truck, the nastier the driver. On the other hand, I don’t let these guys bother me. Their goal is to scare cyclists, but after 50 years of road riding, I have long ceased to scare. The guy who passes you far too close isn’t going to hit you, unless he forgets about his mirror. The drivers you who should keep you up at night are the ones who would be horrified if they clipped you–the driver texting on her cell phone (and it’s much more commonly a “her”), or the kid tailgating the car in front of him while drifting over into your path. He’s not going to notice you while he’s staring at the leading car’s bumper and envisioning himself in a NASCAR circuit.
    I was talking to a co-worker just the other day about my 1984 Campagnolo Neutral Support bike, which spent much of its working life on top of one of those Buick station wagons. It was built by Serotta and dressed up with Murray decals and engravings, as Murray had purchased the rights to be the bicycle supplier to the Olympics and also for the 7-11 team. There was a confusing situation with both Huffy/Raleigh and Murray being different types of sponsors, but that year Serotta was building bikes for both teams, I believe. Since the one I have was not designed for a specific rider, it’s a more generic geometry (though said to be crit geometry of the time) and probably isn’t much different from any other Serotta of the time, other than being Campagnolo Blue and wearing Campy and Murray graphics. A wicked cool piece of history that looks almost new, as it was, essentially, a spare. How do I know it’s not one of almost equally rare replicas? It still has the white vinyl numbers on the seat tube that allowed the support mechanic to grab the correct size bike off the top of that land yacht.

  8. Pat O'Brien

    The answer to the first question is yes, things are getting better in Sierra Vista, AZ. I don’t know how they are in the rest of the state.
    The best drivers are the professional ones.
    The worst drivers are using cell phones.

  9. Parker English

    No question drivers are more considerate now than, say, fifteen years ago where I usually ride — backroads in Tidewater, Virginia. Blinking lights front and rear probably help. Older cars and pick-ups strike me as most dangerous.

    Ordinarily clumsy, I managed an effective summersault during my first wreck from slots in a road, 1974. On the crappy shoulder of a not well planned bikepacking route with lots of commuting drivers flying by. None stopped but none were needed — no damage except for a punctured tire. Not uncommon now for drivers to inquire if help’s needed while I’m enjoying a rest break. Heck, even a train stopped this past summer to let me thru a backroad crossing outside Watkins Glen.

  10. Aar

    Although the type of motorist/cyclist interaction has changed, I think it about the same, overall. Back in the day no motorist respected cyclists but every motorist was driving. Thus, even the ones who tried to plink us with beer cans gave us space.

    Today, I think most motorists know how to drive around cyclists but there are so many people who are sitting behind the wheel doing things other than driving. From Landscapers to Soccer Moms to Indian Chiefs rushing to meeting or out for cocktails, many drivers are distracted, in a hurry and, quite often, angry. Those are the ones who pass too closely and too fast. Further, the beer bottle of years past is becoming insults, confrontations and deliberate attempts at vehicular homicide.

    I always try to give a wave and a smile to motorists every time I get a chance. It just may give one of us the consideration that saves our skin.

  11. Dodger

    Drivers seem to be worse around Denver, and ongoing suburban sprawl continues to eat away at the prime roads that are relatively close-in. Texting is a problem, as are many of the new arrivals from the last few years. They all seem to think their time is more valuable than anyone on two wheels.

    Riding around Newport Beach, CA I’ve been impressed by the signs that say “Cyclists may take full lane.” Wish we had them here. I think this solution, more than any years-long, expensive project to improve cycling “infrastructure” is the key to a happy cycling future. And while we’re at it, please don’t let drivers use the old “I never saw him” excuse to avoid criminal penalties for reckless driving. /rantover

  12. Dan Murphy

    Ouch. Glad to hear you came out of it OK.

    I live out in the Greater Boston western burbs. For those unfamiliar with the area, I live in Hopkinton MA, right on I-495 which is the outer loop about 25 miles west of Boston. I don’t think riding is appreciably better or worse that it was 20+ years ago when I moved here. The last 20 years have seen a lot of development in the outer burbs bringing a lot more riders, but also a bit more traffic. I stick to the smallest of roads and love the riding here, but there are still some roads I’ll avoid at certain times because they’re too busy for me. Now, you city riders would probably get a good laugh at what I call “too busy”, and I admit my standards for good riding roads have changed over the years. All I’m saying is that a narrow, twisty road combined with impatient commuters is bad. Almost all of my issues are with cars passing me when it’s not safe to pass – blind corners and blind hills. A lot of people just don’t care, and since there are more people out here, the odds of a bad encounter are greater.

    As mentioned lots before, cell phones are a huge issue, and why the state of MA doesn’t have a hands free law is beyond me.

    Being semi-rural out here, pickups can be bad. When a pickup blows by you and you see him smiling in his rear view mirror, you know he was aiming for you. Entitled suburban moms are probably a bigger issue than the pickups, though.

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