Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"At least you didn't have a gun"

Tuesday I went out at lunch for a short recovery spin. It was raw out, cold and drizzly, possibly the first time I've ridden in rain this year. I'm always a little more cautious riding when it is wet. Not so much reduced traction or braking power. Cyclist are already invisible to some drivers. When wipers are going and cars are kicking up a little mist, cyclist become invisible to a larger population of drivers.

I was heading south on Daniel Webster Hwy approaching a side street, Henry Clay Dr. There was a car at the stop sign, waiting to turn right. A quick glance over my shoulder to make sure nobody was going to right-hook me said back was clear. Make eye contact with driver waiting to pull out. I had wind to my back and there is slight downhill grade there. I was cruising 25mph. All was good.

Suddenly, without any warning, a car comes flying from the opposite direction on DWH towards me. No blinker that I recall, no waiting in left turn lane, just full speed sudden left turn. Speed limit is 40mph. Most cars travel closer to 50mph on that stretch. The turn is not a hard 90 degrees, but more sweeping from the direction the car was coming. Thus you don't have to slow down much.

In an instant, I realized impact was imminent. I had nowhere to go with a car sitting there. I pretty much thought that was it, that that was my final ride. In a last desperate act, I thrust my bike forward, as in a photo sprint at the line. The front corner of the bumper flew by under my left hip. Miraculously, bike and body cleared the car. Closing velocity between us had to have been at least 50mph, maybe over 60mph. Had I been about 0.2 seconds later, I would have been dead.

After I cleared the car, I was now on collision course with tall granite curb, telephone pole, and razor sharp reflector posts. A split second after dodging the car, I was now panicking trying to not get sliced in two on other obstacles. I barely saved it and stopped. I was trembling uncontrollably.


It didn't take long before the trembling turned into rage. Somebody nearly killed me and kept going. I turned around and began sprinting up Henry Clay Dr. It goes to the YMCA, so I suspected I would catch up to the driver. The car was cresting the top of the modest rise when I gave chase, motioning to pull over. Surprisingly, the car did. I think it was a full-size Buick.

I let up from my explosive sprint as I see the driver's window going down. Uh, oh. Punks? Somebody that's going to scream expletives at me for being on the road? Are they armed? This all crossed my mind as I approached the car.

It was a woman, about my age. She was trembling and began apologizing profusely. She was nearly in tears and shaken up as badly as I was. I said "you could have killed me!" She replied "I know, I know, I just didn't see you." I gave her credit for stopping and accepted her apology. She said "At least you didn't have a gun." She rightfully understood how upset that could make somebody.

I sensed no lecture was necessary. Cyclists must accept the fact they are lowest on the visibility food chain when it comes to the battle on the roads. Sometimes drivers just don't see you. I was wearing my red Nor'East jacket, which has decent visibility. I suspect there was traffic coming up behind me and the woman was fixated on them, perhaps thinking "I better turn now, or I'll have to wait." It would be easy to miss a cyclist coming up the right shoulder.  In the future, I will wear a hi-viz yellow shell on dreary days.

It took a good while for the adrenaline to settle down, like the rest of my ride. It didn't sink in right away how close that incident was. Rolling an ankle in the woods is one thing. Head-on with a fast car is a risk level I can barely comprehend. Be careful out there, folks.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even when they're looking right at you, they're looking right through you.

A driver once appeared to be looking at me as she stop at a stop sign on a side road. I continued up the hill and she ran right into me. I had my hand on the hood yelling STOP! she never did. The impact shot me and bike across the street into the other lane where luckily there was no traffic. I held the bike up and chased her down yelling nasty things.

When she stopped she was so upset, and sorry, I told her I was Ok and let her go. She never saw me, even when I was on her hood.

later I discovered my frame was bent and the chainring went through my brand new shoe and sock just barely breaking the skin.

She never saw me. Just like I didn't see the pickup I cut off the other day. No accident but it was close. We're all human, we can't see everything all the time. We all make mistakes.

Steel doesn't care. Bones shatter.

Yes, be careful

Alby King said...

Same thing (with less speed) happened last year. Wearing neon yellow - passing an entrance to a housing development a car coming in the opposite direction nearly got me. I went *vertical* to avoid the bumper - and folded the rear wheel returning to earth. The driver was so very, very upset. I was psyched to be alive and demanded she drive me back home which required additional persuasion by the drivers daughter. "Mom - he just wants to get home" then - "This is what really scares me about getting my license".

CB2 said...

I don't know if you had any lights on your bike and honestly I don't know if it would make a difference, but Knog has small silicone housed LEDs lights. I use a white one on the front of my commuter when I feel the big lights are over kill.
But when drivers are distracted they won't see you.

Glad you came out unscathed (at least physically)

plum said...

OMFG

Anonymous said...

Wow, glad you survived Doug. My experience is that visibility is a huge factor in accidents. I have enough faith in humanity that almost nobody would hit a cyclist on purpose. Thanks for posting this experience. Maybe it will open the eyes of the racing cyclists who call those who wear bright clothing and tail lights "Freds" think twice about their approach respecting the cycling/motorist community. Heck I even see the tough Harley riders in bright Yellow jackets during the summer months. I've taken to riding my CX Bike with 700x35 tires most often. Only ride the skinny tires on "safe" routes and racing. 700x35 tires allow me to circumvent certain "death" roads and intersections. Also, give me stability to hop off the road when I hear a dumptruck or school bus.
Be safe out there buddy...

DaveP said...

I bet Fat Doug would have been visible, just fine.

Don't die on me yet, we have too many bike trips to still do.

rick is! said...

holy crap. scary shit. clad you made it out ok. I ALWAYS assume that drivers don't see me and usually have an escape route in mind when approaching a car but you never freaking know...

Cary said...

Let's switch to the positive. This is more reason to mtn bike. Glad you are alive. Lost 5 teeth last year when a driver making an unsignalled left turn never saw me.

How are the trails at Musquash? What are they similar to? How much trail is there? Planning to head up soon.

Bob said...

Glad your well and was able to be calm enough to not totally flip on woman.

Hill Junkie said...

Cary, been to Musquash once, did single 8.5mi loop that barely touched back on itself. There were many more trails inside the loop I did, so I'd say at least 15 miles of trails. You could get in a 2hr ride with touching some trails twice. This map is most current I can find online. I think there is additional material off Porcupine now.

The trails have great flow, lots of climbing, but quite technical in spots. I dabbed several times. Think of it as a cross between FOMBA and Willowdale. I hit Betty Mack, White, Ravine, Overlook, Deer and Porcupine, all good stuff.

Cary said...

Thanks for the tip! Saw you had a Strava ride there. I had not found that map but it is the best I've seen. Looking forward to checking it out.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at your calm response. If that had been me, the driver would be in the emergency room, and I'd be in jail on charges of assault, or worse.

Peter Minde said...

When I was hit by a car many years ago, the driver told the police she wasn't looking for anything other than cars. Broad daylight. She ran a stop sign.

Don't trust anyone in a car when you're riding.

solobreak said...

The past few years I've gone to front and rear blinkies more and more. Lately I've been turning on the front light even during the daytime, unless it's so bright that it can't be seen. Always at dusk, and anytime in flat light. I just bought 3 sets of Lightning Bug 3s and the matching tail light. Some drivers are still dangerous as hell, but I have to say for the most part I think I get more space with the lights on, and I've had several approaches to intersections where drivers who otherwise would have pulled right out appeared to stop suddenly upon seeing the flashing light.