Speeding cyclists are no match for slower cars. Sometimes we start to feel a little invincible — even on a bike — and then reality throws us to the asphalt. That's pretty much what happened on a recent Sunday afternoon on a downhill stretch of Chinoe Road that I had sped through hundreds of times. Only this time, I didn't make it.
About six weeks into some intense training for Eagleman 70.3 (Ironman) in Maryland I had what appeared to be a routine ride for the day. I took a nap, but I was still out of sorts and not feeling very awake.
Fifteen minutes into the ride, I was coming down Chinoe like I always do — very quickly. I knew where the manhole cover was, kept at least five feet from parked cars in case a door opened, looked over my shoulder for cars, and watched ahead for more traffic.
That was when I saw it. An SUV on my left side pulling out of Coltneck onto Chinoe, but doing it too slowly for my speed. I remember thinking, "I'm going to be on him fast." Sure enough I found myself almost next to him, and my last thought was, "I can't pass this vehicle."
The next thing I remember is the sickening feeling of skidding across the asphalt. I don't remember hitting the brake hard or flying over the front aero bars and landing on the right side of my face. But it all happened in an instant.
I do remember somehow standing up, and dragging my bike over to the sidewalk and collapsing next to a small tree. Blood was coming down into my eyes, and I was shaken to the core. Normally when cyclists go down in a fall, they first think, "Is my bike OK?"
I had no thoughts of that. Instead, I was pretty sure I had done some major damage to my body. I had taken a huge hit to my face and immediately wondered if I had broken bones. My right shoulder was also battered. What may have saved me was the fact I always ride with my helmet on and securely fastened.
Quickly, people who had witnessed the accident were next to me, keeping me from getting up and moving around, calming me down, and calling my wife. I knew this was serious. Soon police and firefighters were helping me into an ambulance and securing me to a board. I was in pain, but more than that, I was disappointed in myself for going so fast and crashing.
So now with a black and purple eye, a deep cut above the eyebrow, a concussion and a very deeply bruised shoulder (but thankfully no broken bones), I must evaluate what happened and why. I could have suffered much more serious injuries. The helmet might have saved my life. Wearing a helmet while cycling is a requirement for me. That has only been reinforced.
Most accident experts will tell you that not one single thing leads to a crash. It's usually a perfect storm of mishaps.
First I might not have been totally focused and mentally prepared for this ride.
Second, I was going much too fast in a high traffic area.
Third, I assumed the driver of the SUV saw me speeding toward him.
Finally, I probably could have started to slow down when I first saw the SUV pulling out. Too aggressive on my part? Too confident? Probably — and, at that speed, waiting until the last second to make a decision to slow down cost me dearly.
I still think drivers and cyclists can share the road safely. I think Lexington is moving in that direction with more bike lanes and general awareness of cyclists.
But cyclists must do our part: wear helmets, obey traffic laws, remain alert at all times and ride defensively.
The last part is the hardest for me because it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of carefree protection. And a bike is certainly no match for a car, much like the body is no match for asphalt.