Life changes, and sometimes you find out you're just along for the ride. Three years ago, just as I was turning my life around, I ended up in the hospital with a shattered femur. I had been the victim of a red light runner, and let's just say mid-size cars aren't very forgiving when they plow into you at 35MPH. My hip required reconstruction. (My Surly LHT, however, came out okay. Can't say enough about the durability of Surly bikes.) I never imagined how much it would change my life. As I get ready for bed tonight, taking Aleve because my titanium femur aches when I spend all day walking at my job, I can't help but be thankful that I'm physically as well as I am, and mentally adjusted to deal with what my new "normal" is.
But I'm not telling you this to scare you away from riding your bike. There's a lot of lessons I learned, and I still 100% believe that cycling is the key to a happy life for a lot of people. If nothing else, I want people to understand what I learned from my accident, and how I can still ride.
What did I learn from this radical change in my life? I've boiled it down to a few nuggets of wisdom... consider them learned the hard way.
- Be confident but predictable - If you're riding your bike, you're doing more for your future than most people, and you're probably having fun doing it. Don't be afraid to ride. If you're obeying the traffic rules, you're not doing anything wrong. Don't be ashamed.
- Be courteous - I always motion to cars when it's safe to pass me. Most people are very thankful that you acknowledge them. It also fosters good will towards other cyclists. Every bit helps!
- Be visible - If you are sharing roads with cars, then there's absolutely no question: do whatever you can to be visible. If something happens to you, the first thing they will ask the driver is "did you see them" and if you're lit up like a UFO, then the only thing they can conclude is if they didn't see you, they weren't looking. It does work!
(Bonus tip: The single visibility item I've gotten comments on more than anything else is reflective ankle bands!)
- Be alert - This means always look twice. It means assume they don't see you. It means pay attention to traffic around you, and the route you're on. It means get enough rest so your judgement isn't impaired. It means get a rear view mirror and use it. It seems like a lot, but once you get the hang of it, it's not difficult at all.
- Handle Your Bike - If you ride big miles, you eventually learn bike handling skills, and this helps a lot. But if you're a beginner, you may want to check out a Traffic Skills 101 class from the League of American Bicyclists. Don't be afraid to ask questions and practice!
With all that being said, #4 is what got me. Even though I had a green light, I didn't double-check the intersection to make sure nothing was coming. I was focused on getting to work on time, not watching for cars. I wasn't rested enough, and I made a bad judgement call to go through without checking.
As cyclists, we condemn drivers for being inattentive (and rightfully so!) but we are just as capable of making the same mistakes. Take your time, spread some goodwill, use your brain, and keep on cycling!