It finally happened to me

Fifteen years on the bike, thousands upon thousands of miles, and I finally got hit. Well, it isn’t entirely accurate to say that I got hit, more like “I stopped and the car stopped on my front wheel”.  I was nanoseconds from being what my father would call “street pizza”.

It was a cold winter’s evening and I was coming east on Weaver Dairy, where the parking lot entrance comes up from the Food Lion. I saw headlights down and to the right and figured the person behind the headlights might see a headlight, taillights, a reflective vest, reflective trim, reflectors, reflective tape on an orange bike, a white helmet– something, anything cruising along in the bike lane, but they just kept coming. I yelled, stopped and put my feet down just in time to have a beat-up Japanese minivan bend my front rim and knock my singlespeed out from under me. I bashed on the hood as we both let out the usual expletives and the driver made the usual claim– “I didn’t see you”. At this point, I shined the headlight in his face.

Now this is where the mistakes were made, why I’m writing this, and why the CBC tries to make it easier for everyone to do the right thing.

  • I, the cyclist, said I was OK. I had no reason to believe otherwise, as the only part of my body that touched the car was my fist. I rode a different bike to work in the morning. After stretching my back out a few days later, I was back to 100%. The problem is, you’re really supposed to get checked out by a medical professional before admitting anything.
  • I didn’t call the CHPD right off the bat to get an accident report. Once I was at home, warm, and cried-out, the best I could do was to get an officer to file an informational report, and even that took a couple of tries to accomplish. Close, but no cigar.
  • The driver admitted fault instantly. In this case, it was pretty accurate, but the insurance companies frown upon this behavior.
  • The driver’s wife offered me a ride home pretty much immediately once we realized I wasn’t going any further. We should have stayed and called the police.

This is where the CBC tries to help. We distribute cyclist crash cards with all of the information you need to collect in a crash. I had one, but it was in the bottom of a pannier and it was cold and I was angry and stressed and it didn’t happen. All I had was a make/model/generation of car, two very apologetic names, and a license plate. The crash cards are useless unless they are accessible and/or committed to memory. To get one, just find the CBC table when we’re at an event, or see this page for the PDF versions to make your own.

The thing we cannot help with is the primal urge of the cyclist to get away from the crash and somewhere safe as soon as possible. Since this collision, I have found that cyclists fleeing crashes is a common phenomenon. The explanation is pretty simple– and pretty impossible to fix. In a car, you sit in a little tank, a climate-controlled steel room with bucket seats and air bags and nice music. On a bicycle, you are little more than a caveman with a club against that tank, so the reaction to a crash isn’t one of “gee, there went my insurance rate, let me grab my phone”, it’s one of “gee, I almost died just now”, fight-or-flight, like a mouse running from an owl. Like the mouse, we want to find the burrow and come out later when it’s safe. The two reactions come from completely different parts of the brain (disclaimer: I am not a neurologist, but this is probably correct). I’m not sure there’s a good way to fix that. But you can at least arm yourself with some knowledge beforehand which might be of use. See also my friend Ginger’s article from a couple of years ago:

There were some other take-aways from this experience, too:

  • Run your lights all the time as bright as the batteries allow. Flash them during the day. Charge them as often as needed. Battery lifespan is not as important as your own.
  • Wear a reflective vest all the time. From my days of working on an Air Force Base, it was required of motorcyclists on base.
  • Maybe a bell that’s louder than you are and better at being heard inside a car. (I am still hunting for one.)
  • I was wearing a RoadID at the time, and always do. But if the worst had happened, who would know to look for it? So for around-town riding, I carry my wallet. Maybe a little uncomfortable, but better than being unidentifiable.
  • This one is debatable, but maybe flat bars are better than drops for urban riding? At least a more upright position if possible, both for agility and outward visibility.
  • Stop thinking they’re going to stop at that stop sign. They may not.

Finally, I pass this intersection at least weekly on my way to church, usually in the dark during the winter. A couple of weeks after this, and my trusty steed armed with a new front wheel, someone came shooting up that entrance at me again. At 6:30 in the morning, it was almost the only car on the road. Thankfully, I played cagey, slowed down, let her stop waaaay out in the bike lane, and then had room to go between her rear bumper and the island in the entrance while she apologized at me. But I noticed– there is no streetlight there. I plan on taking that up with the Town of Chapel Hill in the near future.

I have been cycling in one form or another since the second grade. More recently, I have been riding to work since 2000 and moved to Carrboro in 2013. Once upon a time, I got profiled on over here:

Posted in Ben's Blog, Blogs
One comment on “It finally happened to me
  1. eric says:

    great/terrible story, ben. lots of good recommendations for anyone getting into a collision with a vehicle

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