This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few weeks. I had been tossing it around in my mind and after seeing photographer Ally Newbold’s terrible bike crash (feel free to donate to her medical fund here) I began writing it bit by bit in my mind during my rides.
Then, as luck would have it, I had my very own bike crash that resulted in an ER visit to make sure I didn’t have a broken face or bleeding in my brain. I was riding on a road near my house, doing the second workout in my new weekly training plan, and I was crushin’ it. I felt great, I was going fast, and I felt confident. I went over some railroad tracks that I had crossed at least a dozen times before… and that’s the last thing I remember. According to my Garmin, I was going approximately 18.1 MPH when I crashed, so I hit the pavement pretty hard. All I remember after that is a man asking me for my phone number and a woman hovering over me until my mother arrived to take me to the Emergency Room.
These photos are a more accurate representation of what happened:
All in all, I got very lucky. One of the things I am most thankful for is that everyone on the road was being a courteous driver. If someone had been riding my ass, or even trying to pass too closely (“It’ll take me like five seconds to get past this chick, it’ll be fine”) I could have ended up much, much worse.
Which brings me to my main point… Drivers, I promise I’m not trying to be an asshole when I’m riding my bike. We just see the road differently.
I know a lot of drivers get annoyed when they’re caught behind a cyclist. We’re slower than you. As much as I like to flex and admire my legs in the mirror, I am humble enough to know my gams don’t boast the 100+ horsepower of your spectacular vehicle.
But hear me out.
I try to stay pretty far to the side of the lane. There aren’t a ton of bike lanes where I live, so I am going to be in the road. However, I can’t and won’t hug the white line like I’m trying to bike a tight rope. Why not?
When you’re on a bicycle, you need to be approximately a million times more aware of what’s on the road. When you’re in a vehicle, a small (or even large) pot hole in the road is something you may or may not swerve to avoid, and something that may or may not cause your hot coffee to spill all over your cupholder (the latter happens to me daily, because I’ve lost every single coffee cup lid I’ve ever owned). When I’m on my bike, the same pot hole could easily result in a flat tire or a total crash.
When you’re driving, do you ever think about sticks in the road (post-storm oak branches aside)? If I run over that same stick that you have the luxury of crunching over thoughtlessly, again, I could very easily end up rubber-side-up in the road.
Also, road shoulders are not nearly as well maintained as the roads themselves and are often filled with debris that has been swept off the main route. And people leave their mailboxes open and I’m not actually that keen to find out what happens if I hit one (does the door rip off, or do I come to an abrupt and unpleasant stop?). If I’m not riding in the shoulder, it’s not for the explicit purpose of pissing you off. It’s for my safety.
I need room to swerve a little bit. I need room to make a quick decision to not end up splattered on the side of the road. I want to avoid that branch, I want to avoid the pot hole, I want to avoid the post-winter cracks and crevasses created by frozen water and snow plow shovels. If I don’t, I could very easily end up crashing face-first into the pavement or sliding along the blacktop and ending up right underneath your tires.
Even things I don’t think of as hazards (for example… railroad ties I’ve ridden over plenty of times before) could put me belly-up in the middle of the road. If you’re tailing me, or trying to “sneak around” me, you’re not going to be able to stop as fast as me. It’s really, really possible that you injure or kill me in a split second.
“But I’m in a hurry!”
I hear you, I really do. As someone who is perpetually accidentally late, I get it. Or maybe you’ve just had a long, terrible day at the office and all you want is to go home, microwave a Hot Pocket, kick back, and watch some TV.
But let me break it down for you.
My average speed on most rides is 15mph. Most of the roads I ride on are 25-35mph roads.
If you’re caught behind a cyclist for 30 seconds and you’re slowed from 35mph to 15mph for the whole 30 seconds, you are adding an additional 17.2 seconds to your commute.
If you’re caught behind a cyclist for 30 seconds and you’re slowed from 35mph to 10mph (uphill, perhaps) for the whole 30 seconds, you’re adding an additional 22.5 seconds to your commute.
That’s less time than it takes to microwave your Hot Pocket. Wanna know what takes more time? Running into a downed cyclist and having to fill out an accident report.
I know there’s a whole host of issues drivers have with cyclists – some are fair, some are a little dubious. But all I’m saying is if you happen to see me on the roads, give me a little extra room. It’ll cost you less than 30 seconds (and let’s face it, being caught for a whole 30 seconds doesn’t happen that often – it’s usually much less) and it helps me get home alive.
And the next time you see me taking up an extra 12 inches in the lane, remember, I’m really not trying to be an asshole. I just don’t want to crash again.