Special Report: Cycling


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.

"Call 911!"

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!

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 09:32:30

I am glad you are okay, and glad you weren't shy about seeing a doctor afterward. I've had many close calls with drivers, some accidental where the driver was inexperienced or not looking for cyclists.

Even in calmed streets, like on the Dundurn bike lanes, a taxi right hooked me right in the bike lane, and I was centimeters from taking a ride on his hood.

I have been cycling Hamilton since 2004, full time since 2008. I am pleased to report that partly due to defensive riding, and partly due to luck, I have never had a collision with a vehicle. And, until March 3 last month, a perfect safety record.

I haven't said anything yet, but now is a good time to share, I wiped out on Aberdeen Avenue in March (after one of the -20 flash freezes) and broke my knee. The embarassing thing is I safely went around the same patch of ice and potholes a hundred times during the four months prior. That day, maybe I was extra tired, but I rode into the ice patch and flew off the bike.

As you described, it was so fast. Like a Family Guy cartoon ... riding ... bang and I'm down. A friend drove me to the hospital, likewise avoiding the drama of an ambulance ride.

Anyway, in addition to helmet, knee pads are now part of my winter cycling gear (when I get back on the road. It could be another month before I'm even walking. Oops.)

So Adrian, I'm glad yours turned out minor, and the nice lady learned to be careful. I do drive periodically and I appreciate how hard it is to see around a corner or past parked cars sometimes; I empathize with both of you.

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 09:36:55

I had the exact same reaction when I was hit by a car (it was turning left) at James & Bold a couple of years ago. Driver more terrified than me, a nasty bruise the length of my thigh, and a general sense of 'so that's what happens when you don't look that one time'.

The matter is worse when walking along one of our one-way arterials – drivers wanting to turn on to them stare toward oncoming traffic with nary a glance toward pedestrians coming the other way.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 09:45:34

Some close calls:

  • Jolley Cut : SUV with NY license plates holds down the horn, then comes beside me and deliberately tries to push me off the otherwise empty road. After he made physical contact, I punched his vehicle as hard as I could, denting it. I did not fall over or even skip a beat pedaling. Unable to get plate, did not call police (should have). This was years ago before the upbound bike lane.

  • Darts bus right hooked me at the right turn highway ramp from Dundurn onto York. Lovely highway infrastructure on residential blocks.

  • Vehicle right hooks me on Main turning onto Locke.

  • Vehicle backing out of driveway on Garth doesn't see me, misses me by centimeters.

  • Burlington Transit bus almost flattens me on Plains Road, nearly drives over me like I'm not even there. I am lit and reflective, that was an uncourteous/dangerous/distracted bus driver.

  • Many right hooks. There is lack of awareness and lack of courtesy. That is why the more modern cities paint their bike lanes a different color at least at crossings.

  • No left hooks, I make eye contact with each driver queued for a left turn. I'm already starting to pull on the brakes if I even think someone will go and cut me off.

Ride defensively, stay safe everyone!

So far, I mitigated inadvertent cut-offs (I think most are inadvertent), by attempting eye contact with drivers I see reversing or turning, and being extra alert with hands on brakes if eye contact fails.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-04-04 09:54:54

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 10:03:32 in reply to Comment 99798

Also want to add I was almost doored several times on Dundurn, in the bike lane. Despite the bike lanes, Locke and Dundurn require caution where parked cars line the sides. (I'm not getting 90 minutes to edit a comment, time settings are off somewhere).

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By Eddie (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 10:26:40

It's kind of amazing how similar our feelings and reactions are. I was rear-ended in my car, at a stoplight on Main West, in January. The girl who hit me was doing 60 kph, maybe more - distracted, straight into me, totalling my car. She too began crying and asking if I was ok. Through my astonishing pain and tears, before I was taken to hospital by paramedics, I pieced together a sentence indicating I wasn't mad at her. My immediate feelings were of fear. Is my spine intact? Can I move my feet? Can I turn my head? Why is my left hand numb? If I'd been riding my bike to work, which I occasionally do, I am quite sure I wouldn't be here to write this, even with a helmet. The impact was far beyond what I'd ever imagined. But even days and weeks afterward, thinking back to the accident, I still don't feel angry. And I don't really know why.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 11:37:03

Glad you're okay and grateful you shared your experience. Having been clipped twice on the west mountain, your account evoked some familiar sensations.

Hope your essay helps ground the ongoing debate in our shared humanity.

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By samuelson (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 12:18:39

You should make contact with her again to make sure she's learned something from this. And she should get you a new bike. You both had traumatic experiences but ultimately she's the one who displayed the kind of negligence that could have killed you. It doesn't matter if she's a good person who just happened not to be paying attention; she still was responsible. Your reaction showed empathy but you may start to wonder over the next few days whether your concussion is any better when a nice person was behind the wheel.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 13:00:31

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 13:31:59 in reply to Comment 99835

let the victim-blaming begin! (cause we all know that a concussion is impossible if you were wearing a helmet - and if you weren't wearing one than the accident was YOUR fault in the first place!)

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 13:47:28 in reply to Comment 99835

Where does it say he wasn't wearing a helmet in all of this?

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 14:17:03 in reply to Comment 99798

no one gets doored in Holland ... there you are trained to open the door with the opposite hand.

try it out next time you get out of a car.

You'll be amazed.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 14:33:45

Glad to know you're okay too Adrian.

Speaking of car-doored, this is a scary example of the dangers:


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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 15:00:36 in reply to Comment 99848

agreed trained is the keyword but .. there's no reason this couldn't become part of the drivers handbook or even test !

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By mikebmuller (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 15:56:29 in reply to Comment 99852

doored.ca collects "dooring" incident information for gathering stats on the issue. I was doored on James approaching King by a lady getting out of a taxi. I did a flying front flip over the door and landed on my back. Unfortunately my bike is still a little beat up as I have not had money to fix it since since the incident in December. I called the lady to ask if she would please help pay for the repairs. No response. I am not interested in fighting for it because my bruises and cuts have healed and I am fine. It is just really inconvenient as my bike was my main mode of transportation to Mohawk from downtown.

Comment edited by mikebmuller on 2014-04-04 15:59:32

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By JeffRintjema (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 17:12:57 in reply to Comment 99835

Here is an enlightening article about bicycle helmet function. Basically, helmets prevent skull fractures, rather than concussions.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 17:56:28

Will this accident show up in Hamilton's statistics? I'm wondering what % of these incidents get reported. I'm guessing most cyclists pick themselves up as you did and carry on. I'm glad your relatively OK! Thanks for sharing the experience, it was very eye opening and helpful.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 22:57:23 in reply to Comment 99854

I'd be happier just to have more drivers remember the manual turn signals that they did learn in drivers' ed. At least once a week, I cause a driver ahead of me or behind me to rapidly slow down or even come to a complete halt because I signal a right-hand turn and they seem to think that I'm ... uhm ...I don't know what they think that I'm going do, actually.

I grant that much of the problem is that we are unused to cyclists signalling their intentions.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2014 at 23:03:55 in reply to Comment 99885

Omg yes. Iirc the province now just recommends that cyclists signal right with the right hand, but old habits die hard - I stick to the old-fashioned lefty signals and confuse the drivers.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted April 05, 2014 at 08:39:42 in reply to Comment 99844

For the record, I was wearing a helmet, as per usual.

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By WAM (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2014 at 11:00:00 in reply to Comment 99910

For the record, Mark-Alan was concern trolling, as per usual.

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By samuelson (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2014 at 21:26:20 in reply to Comment 99859

sue her in small claims court. She's probably rationalized it as being your fault not hers. The cab company might have a record of it. Easy case, will cost you $100 to bring and you can claim a new bike and inconvenience.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted April 06, 2014 at 08:31:10

Report, report, report!!! I'm flabbergasted that people are having bike car collision and not reporting the collision. At the very least get insurance information from the vehicle's driver. And since any bike accident results in a physical injury to the driver all collisions should be reported to police.

6 months later if it turns out you have a lingering long-term chronic injury you don't get a do-over to go back to the driver.

If you get doored, it's the door opener who's at fault and they will get a ticket. Section 165 of the Highway Traffic Act;

No person shall, (a) open the door of a motor vehicle on a highway without first taking due precautions to ensure that his or her act will not interfere with the movement of or endanger any other person or vehicle;

In one of the above posts, it's my understanding the taxi driver's insurance will cover you and your bike, and he can go after the passenger later.

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By While I Understand... (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2014 at 01:37:40 in reply to Comment 99980

While I understand your sentiment here, let's face it... most vehicular accidents, motorized or non-motorized, don't get reported these days. The vicious codified insurance retribution regime has seen to that. As such, take all statistics regarding collision counts with a grain of salt and continue trying to resolve things fairly. Nobody wants to perpetrate lifelong harm on accident participants if it can be avoided; it's only civil.
Adrian, I'm glad you are okay and understand completely where you're post-crash feelings came from. Nobody, including the person at fault, wants to be involved in a situation such as yours. Sympathy and understanding is an entirely reasonable response.
All of this simply underscores, to me, the need for better road design and user training if we are to improve the safety of all of those use our transportation routes. Let's push for that.

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By ArvindS (registered) | Posted April 10, 2014 at 12:30:54

Your experience creates an awareness of the importance of safety for cyclists, pedestrians and ultimately drivers too. We and our politicians need to make a choice. Do we want to get around fast or get there safely? The safety of all individuals matters, including cyclists and pedestrians.

Comment edited by ArvindS on 2014-04-10 12:32:37

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