When you're cycling you generally try to avoid actually flying through the air, especially if you're no longer attached to your bicycle. That's where things went wrong for me yesterday.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published April 04, 2014
The experience at the heart of cycling is freedom and the sensation of flying. Only a few activities give you that feeling and it's amazing.
Of course, when you're cycling you generally try to avoid actually flying through the air, especially if you're no longer attached to your bicycle.
That's where things went wrong for me yesterday.
I've had the same mountain bike since I was 18 years old. Last fall I visited a good friend in Montreal and I borrowed his partner's cyclocross (which has the look and general performance of a road bike, but with some additional reinforcement that makes it suitable for off-road riding too).
What a bike!
I'd become used to what it felt like to ride a heavy old mountain bike. On a bike with a lightweight aluminum frame, race styling and thin tires, the experience was completely different.
The bike hummed when I rode it. Each pedal stroke felt like it was transmitting tremendous power to the wheels. The bike simply sprang forward when I applied torque, and the sensation of sailing down the curvy road that comes from the top of Mount Royal and down through the cemetery - well, I was hooked.
When I got home, I purchased a similar model to the one I'd ridden in Montreal. I had a few good rides and then came the winter of epic snowfall. I retired my nice new bike for the season and went back to the old clunker.
Now that the weather is finally getting better, you can imagine my excitement to get back on the road.
Yesterday morning dawns cool but dry and I decide to slip out for a quick ride.
I gear up and head out.
From Locke I head down Stanley, towards Earl Kitchener school. I'm travelling at a good clip, keeping a fairly wide margin from the cars parked on the right-hand side of the road.
The bike's tires are singing on the pavement. I'm thinking about the day ahead, enjoying the peace that comes with exercise, watching the road unspool in front of me.
And then a car reverses out of a driveway and hits me.
In the split second before impact I yell "Whoa!". And then WHAM.
It's dark but gradually growing lighter as my vision slowly clears. I'm staring at a grey and cloudy sky. It dawns on me that I am lying in the middle of the street.
I see dim figures standing over me.
"Are you okay? Oh my god are you okay?"
I'm not able to speak. My breathing is strange: slow and deep and rhythmic. I hurt, but the more troubling thing is that I'm really not able to say anything to the people talking to me.
I'm stunned, in the truest sense of the word.
"Call an ambulance!" a woman says.
"What do I do?" someone replies. It sounds like a child, perhaps an adolescent boy.
A man arrives, and he asks me if I'm okay too. I am still speechless. Several moments pass.
My head clears a little and I start to regain control over my limbs.
I get up and pick up my bike and walk it to the sidewalk.
"He's okay," the man says. "Cancel the ambulance."
The boy tells the ambulance not to come.
"Are you okay?" they ask again.
"I'm okay," I say.
And I am. At least, I seem to be. I'm bruised and my bike is unrideable, but otherwise I seem mostly unscathed. The fact I can talk again is encouraging.
The woman who hit me, meanwhile, is not okay. She is weeping and babbling about how sorry she is and looks absolutely distraught. She seems like a real sweetheart, and I put my hand on her arm and ask, "Are you alright?"
Which seems weird, but I want her to know that I'm okay and I'm not mad. We trade contact information, I tell her "accidents happen" and joke with her a little and then limp home.
A little later, I see a doctor who tells me I have a mild concussion and that I'm lucky but shouldn't go back to work. I take the afternoon off and use the opportunity to drop off my bike for repairs. Then I pick up my son from school and go for coffee with him at the Brown Dog on Locke.
I feel exhilarated, like the guy who walks out of a plane crash without a scratch. The day I got hit by a car becomes one of the best days I've had in a while.
So many things about what happened yesterday were different than I imagined they would be.
I always thought that it'd be important to keep your wits about if you were struck in traffic, so you could quickly move out of the way of any other cars whose path you might end up in. I never expected I would be incapacitated to the point where I was not able to move.
I didn't realize just how much force I'd experience in the moment of collision and what that would feel like. I don't know how fast either of us were going, but I do know that what I experienced was less than what it would feel like to be hit by a car going 50 km/h.
Based on that, I can tell you that getting hit by a car going that quickly is an impact that you simply cannot even imagine unless you've experienced it firsthand. Imagine doing a bellyflop off the second story of a building onto asphalt and you start to get the idea.
I used to think I'd be angry at the person who hit me. The relationship between drivers and cyclists is sometimes a little rocky (although I think that is usually greatly exaggerated), and I thought that I'd be enraged if I were hit. Instead the person who struck me was kind and clearly distraught over what had happened, and I felt bad for her!
It's an odd coincidence that this happened right now, during a debate about safe streets that I've been participating in. How does this tie in with that debate, given that this happened on a residential side street which, although it is one-way, is fairly quiet and quite pleasant?
Hamilton continues to be a city where the car is prioritized over all other forms of transportation, which has made cycling a marginalized activity instead of a supported and valid form of transportation. As a result there are many fewer cyclists than drivers.
The evidence is clear that the more cyclists there are, the safer they are, because drivers are accustomed to looking for them. That's one risk factor that may have played a role.
The other important point here is that the statistics don't lie. Hamilton is almost twice as dangerous for cyclists as the provincial average. What happened in an individual collision is not necessarily instructive. It's the ongoing pattern of collisions that must be examined. In Hamilton we can see that continues to be a major problem.
It's also apparent that safe streets protect drivers from the mental pain and anguish that comes from being responsible for serious accidents.
The campaign for safe streets rightly focuses on the most vulnerable road users and its true that each driver is individually responsible for their actions. However, drivers respond to their environment. Roads that are designed for high speeds cause drivers to go faster.
Hunter Street past Macnab, where a pedestrian was killed several years ago, has a big flashing 40 km/h speed limit sign. This is unpersuasive compared to the design of the road itself, which is one-way with wide lanes and concrete barriers on each side, giving it the look and feel of a highway.
This type of road design sends a powerful message: go faster. When this leads to tragic consequences, the pedestrian or cyclist that is hit suffers a great deal and perhaps even dies. But the driver (if they accept responsibility and have a conscience) suffers too.
Hamiltonians deserve better than this, whether they are pedestrians, cyclists or drivers. Ultimately, what happened to me happens all too often in Hamilton and the consequences are often much worse.
I'm very grateful that in my case, they weren't.
One more thing: the reason I was cycling yesterday was because I'm training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer, where I'm raising funds to help defeat childhood cancer. If you'd like to help a great cause, or you appreciate me bugging the Mayor and City Council on an all-too-frequent basis, or you're simply happy I'm alive, I could use your help. I've got a super ambitious goal of $2,500 to meet and I would welcome any amount you're willing to give. Thank you!
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