Getting Hit: A Casual Cyclist’s Guide
Photo caption: Worst pic of us in existence. Quite pleased to have found a use for it.
For those of you who didn’t get the memo: cycling in the city is dangerous! Cyclists and drivers seem to come from two different planets, and despite the fact that so many of them move regularly between the two modes, they really, very much seem to despise each other.
As a long-time bicycle commuter, car driver, flâneuse and road-use generalist, I have found myself at various levels of victimized by drivers and cyclists – and the odd pedestrian – alike. Roads the world over are not places of peace, and the way in which we use vehicles reflects more and more the way in which we – I refer chiefly to city-dwellers here – exist in society: as solitary beasts in competition with strangers, falling out of practice applying community principles such as sharing, empathy, patience, and resilience. I have been squeezed by a moving car into a row of parallel-parked cars. I have been kicked by a man in a suit who was standing on the footpath as I rode past. I have had a bottle thrown at me from the window of a moving bus. I have had drivers bump my back tire, race ahead of me only to cut me off, drive up close to me and scream suddenly in my ear, drive slowly alongside me at night for a kilometre or so, yell lewd comments, and give me the finger while hurling abuse as I rode in a wide bike lane, sopping wet and freezing, through a sudden deluge.
Cyclists can be real dills too. They can be self righteous, darting in front of cars to prove a point or acting aggressively towards other cyclists; careless, not signalling, and riding two or three abreast as traffic piles up behind them; dangerous, running lights and stop signs, and failing to warn other road users of their approach; and stupid, cycling on the wrong side of the road at night with no lights while smoking and checking Facebook with ear buds in (FYI, offenders: any one of those things alone makes you look like a real twit). Stopped at a red light one day, I tapped the cyclist in front of me to let him know that I’d noticed his back wheel was beginning to wobble. He looked at me as though I’d just slashed his tire, then rolled his eyes and rode away when the light changed.
I’ve also been hit by a car. I was lucky and escaped relatively unscathed. My position on accidents is that if you ride regularly, this – or something like it, such as being doored or run off the road by a taxi – is eventually going to happen. For your convenience, I have prepared the following ten bits of wisdom to keep in mind to prevent this from happening to you, or for dealing with it if it does.
- Refrain from biking downtown with your boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon because you’ve had enough of winter and you have your sights set on a queen-sized electric blanket that’s on sale at Target. In fact, just vow to stop letting your boyfriend talk you into buying blankets and electronics in general – convince yourself it was just a fluke that you ended up using that little AM/FM radio so much. Also, it’s just best not to shop at Target. Every time you go there, something – the lighting? the fat noisy children eating messy sweets? the questionable quality of the merchandise? – tells you that you should leave.
- Actually, if it’s not too late for you, reconsider going to university. The student life is largely to blame for the temptation to shop at discount department stores, and if you spend too much time within their fluorescent, mildly flickering white walls it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself wearing body spray, reading young adult fiction, purchasing Gone With the Wind and The da Vinci Code on Blu-ray, making arguments in defence of the film Air Bud – your mouth aggressively sweet smelling and stained red from an entire package of off-brand licorice – and buying things like queen-sized electric blankets because you can’t afford to rent a heated room. Being a student will also make it difficult to afford to repair any future damage to your bicycle, which you ride for equal parts fun factor, high-horsedness (it’s a pretty big bike because you’re quite tall), a daily excuse to ring bells, and to save money on public transportation.
- While riding home feeling pleased that the cube of plastic-packaged blanket fits perfectly into your rear basket, resist – and this is a big one – the urge to stop at The Drunken Poet for a drink and a chat about narratology (again, university and its hovering fug of pretentiousness bites you in the butt) with your fella. You know drinking and cycling is dumb – a lesson you learned in 2009 while biking home from Ingrid’s International Bar in the wee hours one morning with your friend Jasmine through the empty streets of Myodo, Japan, a ride during which you both managed to buckle your front wheels and stagger home after that garden wall came out of nowhere – but you also know that a single Guinness made to last over a drawn-out gush sesh about your mutual love for Michael Pemulis will not do you in. But no matter how you slice it, should a road accident occur later in the afternoon, a pint at The Drunken Poet is incriminating. It’s especially ill-advised if you’re a poet, so if this applies to you I suggest changing course immediately and taking up narrative nonfiction instead. Seriously, start a blog or something.
- On the way home, don’t bother riding in the bike lane, even though the road you’re using has a nice cushy wide one. In fact, don’t bother with your front and rear lights, your beloved bell, or those reflective strips on your helmet either. That Lexus coming along a side road will run the stop sign and T-bone you anyway, no matter how aware you are of the encroaching dusk, of the slight drizzle that’s beginning to gather on your eyelashes.
- If you find that you’re the boyfriend in this scenario, don’t ride too close behind. Keep your distance or that car will take you both out in one go. You’ll end up on the grassy median, mud ground deep into the wool of your favourite navy pea coat.
- Go with your inability to move. The shock will keep you there, pinned by your bicycle to the pavement and immobile, but when the urge comes to get up, I say fight it. When another cyclist casually rides past the scene of the accident and the urge comes to call him a sociopath, I say go with it. Even though you might be numb and uncertain how injured you are, don’t lock your bikes to the nearest pole and allow the driver – who in your memory looks like Al Bundy with Magnum P.I. hair, a Danny Tanner sweatshirt, and Napoleon Dynamite glasses – to drive you to emergency. In other words, don’t leave. Call the police and hold your ground, dummy! In the event that you do go with him, take his card, get checked out, take a tram home, have a whiskey, compare blossoming bruises. Don’t bother calling the driver to inform him that there are no serious injuries – despite him taking you to the hospital, he’ll soon reveal that he is not a decent guy.
- The next day, have your bikes assessed for damage at that bike shop near the train line run by that nice bearded hipster. When he says $400 all up for both bikes, feel good about it being a relatively low amount that you’ll be asking the driver for. The bike guy says he’ll sign a statement attesting to the type of damage to the bikes and how it was most likely incurred. Don’t bother taking him up on this – you’ll soon learn that you have few rights, and despite how much trouble you go through compiling a case, it’s the driver’s word against yours. When you report the accident with the local police, resist the urge to verbally object to the officer’s apathy and indifference.
- Don’t ask the driver for money, don’t expect the driver to accept responsibility, don’t bother the poor pro bono lawyer you read about on the university student services website, don’t file a claim with the transport accident commission, don’t ask for support from the local cyclist’s support network, and don’t tweet anything about the accident that the driver could consider defamatory (you will find out that this includes assuming that he was at fault, even if you’ve left his name out) – he’ll send you a letter from a ‘lawyer’. If you’ve forgotten what really happened the day of the accident, this letter will tell you. Make a promise to yourself never again stop your lightless bike in the middle of the street in a rainstorm after dark and stand there for some time trying to tie a large and cumbersome package to your rear carrier. What a dope you’ve been.
- Over the coming weeks as you continue to plod away at your thesis like a chump, you might find your eyes snapping open in the night from rage and discover you’re in a sweat, your electric blanket working away beneath you, your mind wandering, hatching cunning plans to exact revenge on this gutless Lexus driver. The most cunning of these may or may not include somehow trapping him into exposing a drunk driving record, and/or tracking down his car and inserting decaying barramundi fillets in the ventilation system. Allow yourselves the catharsis that such serious nighttime discussions provide, but try to get over it sooner than later. You’re starting to sound a bit crazy.
- Don’t worry! That d-bag has to live his whole life as a d-bag. In a few days’ time, get back on your noble steed. Speed down hills and ring your bell to your heart’s content. Spring will be here soon. As you pack away your winter things in preparation for the searing heat that will follow, fold the electric blanket as neatly as you can fold such an awkard, fitted, corded contraption. Allow yourself to admit that it did keep you warm, and by the time you pull it out next year, you’ll have forgotten that it’s the bastard to blame for causing the accident in the first place.