Monday I got hit by a car.I didn’t push a pedal again until Friday, and though I had lots of excuses — my bike was in the shop, I was still sore, etc. — I have to admit I was a little leery about getting back on that horse.Three days sans cycle is an eternity for me. I can’t remember the last time I went so long without riding a bike. Heck, I even made the family ride over the Golden Gate Bridge during our summer vacation to San Francisco so I wouldn’t have to go a whole week without riding.For three days I languished, but by Friday I decided it was time, so I swung a leg over my bike, took a glance at my rebuilt wheel, strapped on my brand-spanking-new helmet and set out for work.It was, fortunately, an uneventful ride in, but I have to admit to being a little jittery on the ride home in the dark. I was half convinced cars were going to roll through every perpendicular stop sign (none did). Every overtaking vehicle seemed a little closer than normal (they weren’t). Every cornering auto seemed to take every turn just a little bit wide (they didn’t). After dinner, I almost didn’t ride back, but managed to convince myself. I approached the fateful intersection with a bit of trepidation, but this time there was no menacing SUV waiting, and I breezed through without so much as a flashback.Fortunately, the rest of the night’s rides went without incident.I figured I’d be a bit tentative for the next few rides after my run-in, but I didn’t know just how skittish I’d be until I got a couple of rides behind me.I imagine my comfort level will climb steadily over the next few days.My goal is to cut down on the “I hope” moments. As in, “I hope that car’s not going to pull out,” or, “I hope that driver sees me before he plows into me,” or, “I hope this doesn’t hurt as much as I think it’s going to,” or, “I hope this recurring headache isn’t a concussion and the lingering leg pain a fracture.”I don’t expect ever to feel invincible. Nor do I want to.But I sure wouldn’t mind if I didn’t feel so vulnerable.
I got hit by a car Monday night, but it wasn’t until midweek that I started feeling really bad.Let me clarify that a bit.Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling — physically — like I’d been hit by a truck. Which, of course, I had. An SUV, at least.Monday night, a little after 9, I was headed back to work after dinner. I approached a T intersection about a half mile from my home. There was a car approaching directly in front of me, several blocks away, and as I reached the intersection to my left, there was an SUV stopped at the stop sign waiting to turn left — so it’d be headed in my direction.I was turning left — onto the street where the SUV was stopped — and had no stop sign.I slowed, signaled, then started to turn. Unfortunately, so did the driver of the SUV. So I went for a little ride on the hood before bouncing off the ground. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that spectacular, but at the time it seemed like a big deal. I hit something so hard, I tasted my teeth.People stopped. I called authorities. As we waited for the cops, the driver and I chatted a bit. Turns out I know him. He’s involved in the local sporting scene, and I ran into him quite a bit during my reporter days. I’ve quoted him in the paper quite a few times.And I remember him to be a good guy.Police and paramedics arrived, took our statements, checked me out, proclaimed me bruised but otherwise fit, and I declined a trip to the hospital.The driver offered me a ride home, but I chose to walk, carrying my bike because the rear wheel was taco’d.The damage to me was minor. I had a pretty good goose egg on my left shin — where I first came in contact with the SUV — and little bits of road rash on both ankles and my left shoulder. My left hand was swollen enough I’m glad I took off my wedding ring. And there was a general feeling of achiness, like I’d been through a tough workout the day before.I walked awfully gingerly for a couple of days, but ibuprofen took the edge off, thankfully.My bike also was relatively undamaged. I took it to the bike shop, and the frame was deemed fine, but the rear wheel was toast. My helmet, too, was cracked where, apparently, I hit my head on the windshield.The total bill will be a little under $200, which the driver already has paid.When I told my wife that, she said the driver was “getting off easy.”My response? I was the one getting off easy.I had been hit by an SUV with only a few bumps and scrapes to show for it. Lucky me.But in the days since my run-in with Joe Isuzu, I’ve started to feel bad that it happened at all.To be clear, the accident was all the driver’s fault, and he readily admitted it. He said he didn’t see me, though I always ride after dark with a bright headlight, blinky tail light and reflective bits on my helmet and spokes and shoes. My coat, though black, also had reflective accents.I know the accident was unintentional, but I also could have avoided it if I hadn’t neglected my No. 1 rule: Ride like you’re invisible.As I approached the intersection, I saw how the traffic pattern was setting up, and I remember hoping the SUV wouldn’t try to “beat” the oncoming car to the turn.When he started rolling, I remember hoping he’d see me directly in front of him and have time to stop.He didn’t and, afterward, said he heard me (apparently bouncing off the hood of his car, where I left a cool me-print in the dust) before he ever saw me.But if I’d ridden more defensively, I would have waited until I was sure the SUV wasn’t going to turn. I didn’t, and though I was in the right, I’m the one who ended up on the ground.Curiously, earlier Monday I had written a blog in which I expressed a bit of sympathy for a driver who unintentionally killed a cyclist. Monday evening, on my way to dinner, I almost got T-boned by a driver who blew through a four-way stop sign after I stopped and proceeded through. The near-miss was the closest I can recall in a long, long time, and I rode home thinking I’d paid my karmic dues.Then later that night, I got creamed.That night, as I limped back into the office after ultimately having driven to work, I was all but greeted at the door by a co-worker, who, I’m guessing, heard about my plight on the scanner that runs 24/7 at the News Center.“Is that,” he asked, “the most ironic thing that’s ever happened to you?”I assured him it certainly was in the top five.
"No Justice in Douglas County," blared the Kansas Cycling News Web site."This is (expletive) outrageous," one cyclist posted to the Lawrence Bicycle Club's electronic mailing list.Reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative - at least from the cycling community - to District Attorney Charles Branson's announcement Friday that criminal charges would not be filed against a motorist who allegedly struck and killed a Douglas County sheriff's lieutenant who was riding his bicycle.Quick recap: Back on June 28, Lt. David Dillon was struck and killed from behind as he was riding his bicycle between Lawrence and Eudora in the 1900 section of North 1400 Road (Old K-10) by a car driven by 21-year-old Kyle Van Meter, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.In a news release, Branson said Van Meter admitted to being distracted by his radio and told authorities he did not see Dillon until he hit him.A highway patrol report said Van Meter, of Eudora, also was distracted by his cell phone.But Branson decided not to file charges against Van Meter, and, at first, my knee jerked as quickly as those who found the decision (expletive) outrageous.But the more I thought about it this weekend - and I thought about it a lot, fittingly just about every time I was on the bike - the more I softened.One the one hand, sure, it's galling a man can - however unintentionally - kill another with a car and suffer no legal consequences except for being cited for his traffic offenses.Legally, I've come to learn, Branson's hands were tied. The courts have established that mere negligence is not reason enough for a driver to be held criminally liable for the death of another. So while negligence may have been involved in this case, it apparently wasn't enough to warrant criminal charges. It's not a bias against bikes; case law on the subject has plenty of examples of car-on-car incidents.But even before I learned that, I found myself wondering if a long jail term would do anybody any good in this case.I've ridden my bike on that road many times, in large part because it's long, straight and flat and visibility is excellent. In other words, as a cyclist, I feel safe there.When I first heard of the accident, my first thought was, "That could have been me."But as I turned the latest development over in my mind over the weekend, I couldn't help but think I could have been the driver, too.Distracted by the radio? That's why they're in cars in the first place. Music and talk radio never made anyone a better driver.Distracted by a cell phone? I might be the only person I know who actually has pulled over to have a conversation on the phone, but I've also chatted as I've driven. And I'm not alone. I frequently count the number of drivers on their cells as they drive past me at intersections. Generally, the result is that half are on their phones.And if it's not cell phones and radios, it's meals or newspapers or makeup or : you get the idea. Everybody gets distracted by something, but fortunately the kind of accident that happened in June was a rarity.Should the driver have been put through the penal wringer? I honestly don't know.I think he could become an outstanding resource in the battle against distracted driving. Imagine the impact he could have if he had been sentenced to hours of community services, say, speaking to driver's ed courses about the dangers of distracted driving. There still could be a civil suit, too, so it's not accurate to say he'll escape without any kind of punishment.This weekend, as I mourned the death of a man I'd never met, I couldn't suppress a little sympathy for the man who killed him.
My greatest fear about commuting to work by bike, curiously, is not that I'll slip underneath a passing semi and have my head crushed like a grape.Although, now that I dwell on it, that certainly ranks in the top 10 or so.No, my No. 1 fear - rational or not - is that I'll go to work at night feeling fine, but sometime, as the night wears on, I'll be blindsided by an insidious stomach bug.You know the kind, the one that sneaks up on you. First your stomach starts growling. Then it gets a little louder. You start to feel a little : off. Before long, your mouth waters. Your senses, cruelly, heighten. Then you're praying to the porcelain god as you puke up your toes.Gastroenteritis wipes you out. A couple of bouts of hurling, and all you want to do is sleep. I can't imagine a worse commute than one done in the throes of the stomach flu. Pedal, hurl. Pedal, hurl. No thanks.I thought about this phobia this week, when another kind of illness knocked me out of the saddle.It masqueraded as a simple cold. It started with a nasty sore throat, followed by a runny nose. It then somehow managed to knock me flat on my, er, back for three days. I believe I slept about 16 hours the first day, 12 the next, then another 14 or so for good measure on Day Three. Fortunately, I only was scheduled to work one of those days, and I didn't even consider riding to work, I was so wiped.I never felt all that badly. My sinuses hurt. My head ached. My nose was sore. But the biggest symptom was the fatigue.Fortunately, I'm on the mend and back on the horse. I rode to racquetball, then rode to and from work on Day Four, and though I still tuckered out more quickly than normal, it felt good to be back.Now if I can just keep that stomach bug at bay, all I'll have to worry about is that semi making a grape of my noggin.
As far back as I can remember, I've always been a bit of a collector.I collected baseball cards, Star Wars cards, coins, stamps, nuts and bolts, wheel weights (insert lead-poisoning joke here) and, for one period as embarrassing as it is inexplicable, dental floss. Used. Don't ask. I really don't know.Though I still have my baseball cards, coins and stamps, all the other collections - yes, even the floss - are history.Now the only thing I really collect is bikes.Truth be told, that's not really fair.Generally, a collection is something squirreled away, enjoyed occasionally as a collection - you don't spend you coin collection, for instance, or use your stamp collection to pay postage on your bills. My collection, at least, gets used for its intended purpose.I have my regular fixed-gear commuter bike, a sporty road bike, a mountain bike and a cyclocross bike. I also have two beater mountain bikes, one of which spent most of its time on the trainer in the basement. The other was a pack mule to which I attached the kiddie trailer then, later, the trail-a-bike. I also have two old - er, I mean, vintage - steel frames in the basement I intend to build up into fixies someday, and another cheapo road frame in the garage I'll build up with castoff parts to replace the cross bike that has replaced a mountain bike on the trainer in the basement.It's not the full Roy G. Biv, but I have an orange bike, a green bike, a blue bike, a black bike, and two gray bikes. And a silver bike.I had a red hybrid bike - one of my first big college purchases - but a few years ago I gave it to a down-on-his-luck guy who was going to use it in place of the car he couldn't afford. I'd like to think it's still being ridden today, but I have no way of knowing.I know I don't need so many bikes, but I justify them because I don't spend much on my car, and because each bike is suited to specific purposes.My commuter is low-maintenance and tough, up to the rigors of daily and sometimes foul-weather - riding. My cross bike is my back-up commuter and better suited to really sloppy conditions, like snow or mud. It's also a sacrifice to the hamster wheel in the basement. My mountain bike is a truly bad-weather commute-bike backup; I'm thinking of investing in a set of studded tires for riding in the snow and ice. And if I want to go fast (by my standards, at least) and far, I swing a leg over my roadie.The to-be-built-up frames might be a bit superfluous, but I figure there'll be a time and a place for them, too.That said, I'd like another bike or two - if only I could afford it. Or them.I keep hoping I'll stumble upon a nice vintage steel fixie to commute on. I've had my eye on an off-the-shelf single-speed crosser. Vowing to spend more time off road, I've noticed some nice new mountain bikes. And my sporty road bike is starting to get a little long in the tooth.There's an old joke that the amount of bikes a person needs is a formula: N+1, with N being the amount of bikes a person already owns. By that formula, I'm due for a new ride any day now.But what do I know? At least I'm not jonesing to add to my floss collection.
I've ridden my bike to work in all kinds of weather - summer's swelter, winter's chill, rain, snow and just about everything in between.Of all the elements, I have to say I like wind the least.At least the strong kind.I can always throw on another layer when it's cold. Seam-sealed jackets and fenders on the bike keep the wet away. But there's no defense to a really bad blow, like that which has been whistling around on all the organ stops the past couple of days.I know this is Kansas. It blows all the time. But even by Kansas standards the past couple of days have just, well, blown.Tuesday, as I made my way south to racquetball, I found myself standing up and grunting into a 20-plus mph headwind - downhill - and barely making any headway. I even considered hopping onto the sidewalk, since I was progressing at such a pedestrian pace.The only upside: My ride home was a breeze.Thursday was even worse. I thought I'd be blown off my bike as I trudged along into a wind the Weather Channel said was gusting well into the 30 mph range.The wind's a vindictive witch.I once read somewhere that a blow only benefits a cyclist when it's in a small triangle extending 20 degrees to both sides of directly behind the bike. In other words, wind coming from 320 of the 360 degrees does no good.Of course, a headwind's the worst, but a bad crosswind can be just as tiring - and more dangerous. Nothing like the threat of an unexpected gust blowing you into traffic to keep you on your toes. Even more exciting is getting used to leaning into a crosswind, only to have the gust blow itself out, causing the unsuspecting cyclist to veer into the void.Whenever the wind kicks up and I find myself grinding along, I can't help but remember the line of a fellow cyclist who cleverly declared that the wind doesn't blow, it sucks.
One of the perks of working at a newspaper that publishes 365 (or 366) days a year is that I get the opportunity to work when most of the rest of the world is languishing at home.I have worked on every major holiday, and most of the minor ones, too, and, thus, have ridden my bike to work on most holidays.Each holiday ride seems to have its own character and obstacles; I've had fireworks thrown at me on Independence Day, for instance, and had folks offer me rides on Christmas.The holiday on which I least like to ride just passed: Halloween. I like to ride on All Hallows Eve about as much as I like to lash on antlers and prance about in the woods during deer season.For kids, Halloween is about costumes and candy.For adults and near-adults, it's about costumes and adult beverages, and the costumes are optional.Don't misunderstand: I like adult beverages as much as anybody. Heck, one of my neighbors kindly dished out candy to my kids and a beer to me, and it was the best treat I can recall, going back at least as far as the time I was handed a fistful of Zotz as a precocious youngster.As much as I like beer, the streets tend to get a little risky when they're bumper-to-bumper with tipsy drivers.This past Halloween had the makings of a doozy - it was a Friday, after all - and I should have known it was going to live up to its billing when I walked out work early Friday morning and encountered a young woman stumbling around the sidewalk outside the News Center.As I prepared to leave, I saw her lurch to and fro before face-planting on the sidewalk. She stayed down for a while, got up, stumbled into the street, navigated back up the curb, then body-surfed the concrete again. She got up, then stumbled into the grass for a little nap.I asked if I could call her friends or a taxi, but she was incoherent, so I called the authorities. The next day, I learned, my wife and her co-workers debated whether I did the right thing, and curiously (to me, anyway) it seems the office was divided on whether I should have "turned her into the cops." (Feel free to let me know your opinion in the comments section below).Regardless, that was just the start of a wild Halloween on two wheels.During the day, I took a recreational ride around Clinton Lake. Without thinking, I rode to Stull. Yep, the purported Gateway to Hell. On Halloween, when the devil himself is said to make an appearance at the haunted old church. Ol' Scratch was a no-show, though, at least in the middle of the day, so I pedaled on home.My ride to work Friday afternoon was uneventful, but on the ride home for dinner I was: yelled at and almost hit by the parent of a cute pirate trick-or-treating downtown; nearly sideswiped by a car turning left in front of me; nearly hit by a car backing out of a parking spot; nearly ridden into the curb by a car pulling into my lane; and, oddly, offered a watermelon by the passenger of a passing car. I declined.Then on my return to work Friday night, I tried to thread my way between a slutty nurse and an escaped convict and almost ran into Moses. The prophet was crossing against the light. Sounds like there should be an 11th Commandment.My next holiday ride should be Thanksgiving. I expect a less eventful ride, though I might encounter an inordinate number of stuffed, sleepy drivers.
My list of reasons to ride my bike is considerably longer than my list of reasons to drive, but the latter grew by one the other day: altruism.Let me explain.I gave blood Wednesday, and I let the vampires talk me into a double-red-blood-cell donation, or, as it's innocuously described on the facility's big board illustrating just how dire the blood straits are in this town, a "2RBC" donation.Normally I give whole blood, and the side effects are minimal. I tend to be a little light of head for a day or two, but that's about it.This time, however, I relented and agreed to the 2RBC.The difference between the two, I was assured, was small. In the 2RBC, twice as many red blood cells are harvested, but - bonus! - the rest of the blood, plus a little saline for good measure, is returned to the donor. In your arm, I might add, not a doggy bag.Quick biology lesson: Red blood cells transport oxygen to the body tissues. The donor center's literature pooh-poohed any serious effects, suggesting only high-end aerobic exercise should be avoided, and on the day of donation only."If you go for a run," I was told, "you might feel a little out of breath for a couple of days, but that's it."So I gave in, let 'em stick me and hook me up to a whirling, clicking contraption. Less than half an hour later, I was out the door and on my bike, feeling pretty much the same as I had going in.The feeling lasted about two blocks.The road was flat, and I had a tailwind, yet two blocks away, I was sucking wind. And it didn't get any better.So I went home and took a nap.Afterward, I jumped up and headed to the kitchen for a snack, and : let's just say it's a good thing the stove has a handle, because I was headed to the floor faster than a seventh-year senior at a graduation-day kegger.That night, after a few more near-fainting experiences, I turned in early - about six hours early - and woke up feeling great. Until I headed to the basement for a half hour on the bike trainer. The legs felt great, but the lungs felt like they belonged to an asthmatic pack-a-day smoker in Beijing.So rather than ride as usual to my racquetball game, I drove, and I'm sorta glad I did. I sucked wind through two-plus hours of racquetball before heading home for another nap.I did ride to work twice Thursday, and I've held up OK. I've only nodded off a couple of times at my desk.And I expect tomorrow will be better still as I regenerate those lovely red blood cells.Do I regret giving blood? Of course not. It's the gift of life. And the life I save might be my own. And all that.But after my 112-day waiting period, I might go back to twice-as-frequent whole-blood donations instead of the big double-red enchilada. Now I just need another nap.
I never could live in San Diego.I'm sure I'd enjoy the beautiful, sunshiney weather for a while, but the lack of variety would get to me eventually.I'm a seasons kinda guy.I like the extremes of summer and winter, the crispness of fall, the promise of hope spring brings. I like the circle of life.That said, we're smack-dab in the middle of my least favorite time of year, and I'm not talking fall.I'm talking tweener season.As a year-round bike commuter, I detest tweener season.I like that the leaves are turning and falling and, as was the case Sunday, blowing down the street at 70 mph and turning into serious projectiles.But tweener season is a tough time for bike commuters, especially those of us who work bad afternoon-night split shifts.The problem? Wildly varied or just downright unpredictable weather.Case in point: Friday, I left my house for the five-mile commute to work wishing I had worn shorts. It was sunny and warm. About halfway to work, I felt a couple of sprinkles. A mile down the road, the sky opened up. By the time I made it to work, the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees, and I was soaked by an unforecast squall. Case in point two: Sunday, I left my house for work wearing shorts. It was sunny and warm, but a bit breezy. OK, more than a bit; more like, blow-me-off-the-saddle windy. But warm. By the time I went home for dinner, it was considerably cooler. My return to work after dinner was cold. My ride home mandated a coat, hat and gloves, and I was still cold.Hence, tweener season: considerably cooler than summer, not as cold as winter; warm during the day, chilly at night.At first, I considered my dismay to be a reflection of human nature. That is, the nights provide a glimpse of the stark, cold winter to come. The spring tweener season, by contrast, previews glorious spring warmth just around the bend and, thus, is more uplifting.But upon reflection, I've decided what I like so little about the fall tweener season is that, for the first and only time of the year, I have to consider my wardrobe.Anybody who has seen me knows I don't put a lot of thought into my attire. But tweener season demands attention to dress. I spend even more time on weather.com. I have to carry gloves or pack a coat. I squirrel away extra layers at my desk, just in case. Sometimes I have to improvise with what I have on hand: shorts paired with gloves, for instance, or a stocking cap with short sleeves. I've considered liberating one of the many blazers the TV guys leave around the office, but even I'm not ready to take dorkiness to that extreme level. Some old-school cyclists, I'm told, stuff newspapers down their shirts to stay warm, but I have no idea where I'd find a newspaper down here at the newspaper office.Other times of the year don't require such deliberateness. When it's hot, I wear as little as I can get away with; when it's cold, I wear as much as I can. Now it's a crapshoot, and sometimes the proper attire can mean the difference between a good bike ride and a miserable one.But I also realize it's all relative. A couple of months from now, I'm sure I'll be grousing that it's just cold - albeit a consistent cold - and chiding myself for bemoaning a relatively balmy 40-degree bluster.Maybe San Diego wouldn't be so bad after all.
The other day, as the family and I finished up a short bike ride around the 'hood, my 10-year-old daughter, Carlyn, announced she was signaling a right turn.Her left arm was out, her hand pointing down.I pointed out that, technically, she was signaling for a stop.She asked how to signal a right turn, and I said the driver's handbook says it's a left arm out, hand pointing up, but I told her I usually just point with my right arm."I can't do that," she said. "I can't take my right hand off my handlebars."Coincidentally, that same night I received an e-mail from a co-worker who said on his way to work he was behind a cyclist who was "doing rather crazy gestures, and I had absolutely no idea what he meant by any of them." He wondered if signaling from the saddle was a potential blog topic.Given the coincidence of my little talk with my daughter and that e-mail, I figure it was a, ahem, sign I needed to blog about signaling.Now, I have to admit I'm a bit of a signalholic. I signal just about every turn on my bike. I signal in broad daylight and in the middle of the night. I signal in traffic and when there's not a car within miles. Sometimes, when I catch myself signaling a left turn at 1:30 a.m. with not a car in sight, I feel kinda silly, but not nearly as silly as when I space off and signal a turn while pushing a cart in the grocery store.Heck, I sometimes even signal when I run.But I'm not a by-the-book signaler.First of all, I haven't, in all my adult cycling life, signaled a stop. I stop, mind you. I just don't signal that I'm stopping.I know plenty of cyclists do neither.But I stop, even in the dead of night with no one around. When it comes to signaling a stop, however, I just figure the stop sign or traffic light should serve sufficient notice that I'm coming to a halt.When it comes to signaling turns, I learned in driver's ed about the left-arm signals, and even then I confused stop with right turn.Of course, in a car, it doesn't do much good to signal with the right hand, unless you want the person in the passenger seat you just whacked to know you're turning right. Hence, the left-hand signals.On my bike, however, I point left to go left and right to go right. Sometimes I just make a subtle little wag of the fingers. And I've even signaled with a nod of the head.As far as I know, no one ever has misunderstood one of my signals.And I've never been ripped (again, that I know of) for failure to signal.But I have, interestingly, been yelled at for signaling.I was headed south on Vermont, between Sixth and Seventh streets. Because I wanted to make a left at Seventh, I looked over my shoulder before changing into the left-turn lane. A car was coming up, so I slowed down, thinking I'd let him pass before changing lanes behind him.I waited. And waited. But the car wouldn't pass.So I sped up, signaled a left turn and pulled in front of the car, at least three car lengths ahead.As I came to a stop at the red light at Seventh, the car pulled alongside on my right, the window went down, and the driver started to criticize my riding."I didn't know what you were going to do," he said. "I waited for you to pass. You didn't pass. So I signaled and changed lanes," I replied."But I didn't know what you were going to do.""Did you see my signal?""Yes, but I didn't know what you were going to do.""Well, a left-turn signal generally means somebody's about to - I dunno - turn left?"The driver then told me how many thousands of miles he rides his bike every year, and I'd be smart to listen to him.Fortunately, the light changed before I had to get so smart, and I turned onto Seventh as the driver turned the opposite direction.I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure he didn't have his turn signal on.