This has been bothering me for a while. It is part of the reason I spend less time on the bike. My days are numbered. I’m convinced that I’m going to get killed by a car while riding my bike.
I’m not sure if it’s just pyschological. I’m getting older. I have a family and children, so the stakes are higher. I’ve been relatively lucky so far. Maybe it’s that the traffic and drivers have gotten worse. Drivers are increasingly distracted. I’ve read the university studies. I have the proof. I’ve watched the drivers checking email on their phones at traffic lights, or texting while driving. (Sure, I’m a little guilty of being a distracted driver myself from time to time, too.) Cars are faster. Quiter. Bigger. More powerful. The roads are worse, especially in the Northeast, especially in the economic downturn, and it’s harder to find a clean, safe line (though this summer it looks like every road I ride is being worked on).
I’ve seen people doing all sorts of things while driving a car. Reading the newspaper. Eating yogurt. Putting on make-up. Brushing and flossing. Flipping through photos. Smoking pot. I’ve had drivers deliberately run me off the road and passengers throw beer cans and eggs at me. I’ve been harrassed verbally. It was worse years ago. Before live broadcasts of the Tour de France and a certain cyclist became a household name, I often heard, “Get off the road, faggot!” Now, I’m more likely to hear, “Go, Lance!” If they even see me.
I’ve been lucky so far. I don’t take so many risks anymore. I remember back in the day flying down Broadway and into Times Square, cranking a 53 x 12 at 40 mph, in the dark, on my way home from the Central Park ride. We’d run the red lights. We’d go down one-way streets the wrong way. Now I stop at the lights. I don’t flip off the drivers. I have more patience.
But I’ve had my incidents:
In college, I was hit by an 84-year old woman who didn’t see me coming and turned into me. I went under her car. She kept driving. She drove over my leg. I was lucky.
On Christmas Eve, training as an elite racer, I got hit by a guy rushing to the liquor store before it closed. I was tossed 15 feet and smashed my hip on the tarmac. I spent that holiday in hospital. It took 6 months of physical therapy to get back to normal. The bike — a beautiful team-issue Richard Sachs Strada Immaculata — took the brunt of it. I was lucky.
More recently, I was doored, went flying and landed on my knee. I spent a year in PT trying to fix it. There was surgery. Eventually, I had to stop riding altogether. That ended my third comeback. But I was lucky.
In most of the above cases, I was determined to be at-fault because I was on a bike. Because it was my choice to be there on a bike.
At some point, my luck will run out. I’ll join friends and teammates and untold others who’ve been killed on the bike. I’ll be eulogized for dying while doing something I love. But this won’t be accurate. While I love the bike, love flying through tight corners, love descending mountain passes, there’s no love to be found beneath the wheels of a car or truck.