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Bicycling To Oblivion?

Thursday’s bike ride converted into a series of adventures and misadventures.

During the eventful trip, I fell down two times while getting on or off my Cannondale 400 Hybrid, I rescued a damsel in distress whose bike was disabled, and was nearly killed by a cretin who was driving a car.

Incident #1. During the ride, it became cloudy and the skies darkened. I interrupted the ride, got off the bicycle, and turned on the front and rear flashers. When I tried to get back on the bike, my foot couldn’t get over the bar, and the bicycle and I crashed to the ground. This now happens often because of the loss of flexibility that comes with aging.

One of the gear clusters or a sharp edge of a pedal punctured my lower leg just above the foot and my sock was soaked in blood. I wiped off the wound with an alcohol/aloe towelette and put on an oversized Bandaid. I got on the bike, supported by a nearby tree, and continued the journey.

Incident #2. I stopped to drink some Cytomaxed water from my water bottle and some regular water from a drinking fountain in Echo Lake Park. Across the street from the bench and the water fountain where I stopped, a pretty twenty-something year old woman had her bicycle upside down and was talking on her cell phone.

I put the water bottle into the bike’s bottle holder and rolled over to the other side of the road to see if I could help. As I dismounted to talk to her, my damned foot again caught the cross bar and I fell on my face. The damsel rushed over to rescue her clumsy knight. At least this time I wasn’t punctured.

She told me that her derailleur was jammed. I checked out the derailleur, the clusters, and the chain, and discovered that the chain had slipped off the front innermost cluster and was wedged between the cluster and the bike frame. I managed to get the chain back on the gear wheel and rotated the pedal a few times. I asked her to ride around a bit. She did and told me everything was OK. I wiped the grease off of my hands with another Wet Ones towelette — damned things are essential for any bike rider, said goodbye to the damsel, and continued my journey.

Incident #3. Then I was nearly killed by an imbecile who passed me on the left and made an abrupt right turn right in front of me into the driveway of store. Missed me by a foot.

I pursued him into the lot with fire coming out of my nostrils and would have killed him if he had had the temerity to leave his car. Instead, he rolled up the window, and sat staring at the dashboard. He looked retarded: all he did was stare at his dashboard with an impassive expression bereft of any emotion — remorse, fear, anger, or amusement.

After banging on his side window and threatening to kick it in and strangle him, I came to believe he was retarded, walked away, took a deep breath, and got back on the bike to complete a 32 mile ride.

* * *

Since the day when all of this occurred, I’ve been questioning myself about whether I should continue bicycling on the road. I just turned seventy-one and still have good reflexes, but I am alarmed by the carelessness and ineptitude of many drivers.

While waiting for a light to go green, I notice that in the three cars on my left, all three drivers are texting. People routinely open their car doors in my face or make left turns in front of me with little room to spare. This latest incident is the second time in one year when I have almost been killed by an indifferent or negligent driver in the exact same place.

Two doctors whom I see regularly are bicyclists and have recently suffered serious injuries. Florida, where I often ride the trails, has one of the highest rates of bicycle fatalities in the country.

My favorite activities are writing, translating, reading, working out, and bicycling. These days I often nod out on the couch while reading. This is annoying, but not life threatening. Riding 30 or 40 or 50 miles on my bicycles under a hot sun in a tank top is exhilarating. Being confined to a wheelchair would not be exhilarating. Is it time to confine my cycling to bike trails?


  1. Tom Montalbano January 12, 2017

    We all have the same question. The roads have become a free-for-all and law enforcement can’t seem to do anything about distracted driving. More cyclists will die, more drivers’ lives will be forever changed by having killed them, more politicians will bark that we “need to do something about texting and driving,” and nothing at all will change.

    I am 54 and I cycle to work every fair weather day. I enjoy riding bike trails, but I could never be limited to just riding from trailhead to trailhead. I need to get out on the road and go places, sometimes in the next county, many times in the next state. For me, it’s a question of whether bicycling is important enough to me that I am willing to risk my life for it.

  2. sohumlily January 12, 2017

    Same issues here in Humboldt…when I lived in Mendo Co. I rode *everywhere* and felt relatively safe. But my confidence has flagged with my own aging, and I don’t feel safe here crossing the street as a pedestrian. Humboldt stats are grim. I have a deep and abiding hatred for grow-dozer diesel trucks and their dope yuppie owners. People in this town PARK ON THE SIDEWALK and in CROSSWALKS.

    Fucking humans…there’s just too damn many of ’em.

    • sohumlily January 13, 2017

      In *cars*.

      The unspoken and obvious rule is that without an automobile, you are nothing.

  3. Rick Weddle January 13, 2017

    re: Cycling safety…
    Bicycle riders, like motorcyclists, take their life in their own hands and put it on wheels in harm’s way every ride. There are more risks now, of more kinds, it seems, than the ’60’s, when it was proven repeatedly, horribly dangerous for bicyclers to run any of Hwy 1, for an obvious instance. There should be clear warnings in all related bicycle publications and advertisements, instead of none; regular reminders, roadside, in media, in responsive, compliant Chambers of Commerce, for a while. It matters not a bit how much you pay for your machine, or your spandex/bullet-head outfit, or your $30,000.00 mo-ped Harley knockoff, it really messes with your image and sense of self-worth to get wrapped around the duals on a loaded trash-hauler, on a nice day, at some quick little curve with a view.

  4. Erskien Lenier January 13, 2017

    I transitioned from 23 yrs of ultra distance cycling whereby I logged over 750,000 miles to minimalist sandal and barefoot ultra distance running for the same reasons. I saw too many friends being killed or maimed by intoxicated and distracted drivers and the law not really giving a crap about cyclist. Tap the purp on the wrist and back to cruising the beat…
    I actually have come to love running far more than I ever did cycling… I adventure tour or “LandSurf” as I call it now….

  5. Richard January 13, 2017

    Our society treats driving as a right, regardless of “laws”. Untill that changes (never?) we will continue to tolerate 30-40k deaths per year and untold thousands (millions?) of injuries, maimings and lives ruined.

  6. Esther January 13, 2017

    If you consistently do not clear the top tube when mounting or dismounting, you can adjust your technique, or buy a bike with lower top tube or step-thru frame. I don’t know if you are moving your leg in front of you or behind you to clear the top tube. Many people have a better range of motion with knee straight and rotating the leg behind them. Another option is to lean the bike a bit sideways to reduce height of top tube.

    As for a driver who almost right hooked you when turning into a driveway, there is a countermeasure. When a section of road has driveways and parking lot entrances, look behind you for clearance, and then move farther left into the lane (center of lane or left tire track). You can return to the right tire track after you get past the set of driveways. You need to behave like a motorcyclist and maintain situational awareness.

  7. LouisBedrock January 14, 2017

    Esther: Great advice. Thank you.

    Richard: I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Erskien: I’ve gone in the opposite direction. Arthritis and neuropathy have curtailed my running—I’m now limited to walking two miles or less. I miss the endorphin high after a five mile run.

    I’m not nearly as strong a cyclist as you, but can still do 50 miles a day in warm weather. While this doesn’t provide the “runners’ high”, there is a milder euphoric aftereffect. And I love the existentialist intensity of bicycling—you’re right there in the present; you have to be.

    Rick: I avoid highways. However, lightly traveled roads have dangers—potholes, parked cars whose doors can open in your face; inattentive, distracted, and inebriated drivers, and even other cyclists who don’t obey rules of the road. One must balance risks with rewards. Near misses and mishaps of friends have alarmed me, but I’m not sure I’m ready to hang up my bicycles.

    sohumlily: I lived five very happy years in Philadelphia and three equally happy years in Spain without a car. In Philadelphia, I used my bicycle all year around for everything: visiting people, going to work, going to grad school at night, and shopping. In Spain, I walked. European cities are more humane—they were not built for the automobile. Where I live now I could not survive without a car. Public transportation is abominable.

    There are too many people. Most biologists and ecologists believe the carrying capacity of Earth to be around two or three billion human beings: we’re at about seven and a half billion. Woe is us.

    Tom: I used to use my bicycle for everything when I lived in Philadelphia. I was younger and stronger then—and flat, compact central Philadelphia was ideal for cyclists.

    Now I’m older and ride only when the temperature is above 65°. Most of my riding is on local streets.

    Most trails look the same and are cut off from their surroundings. However the Withlacoochee Trail in Inverness, Florida is an exception. It’s open, not enclosed, offers many alternate routes, and is 48 miles long if you count the six mile extension at the southern end. The Rails to Trails folk maintain it in pristine condition. I visit it twice a year— in the spring and in the fall, usually for ten consecutive days of bicycling.

    Right now bicycling is still important enough to risk my life for—but I’m wavering.

    To all: Thank you for reading the article and thank you for your comments.


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