Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma'am!
Geez, two weeks into the 2010 cycling season and there’s already so much to tell…
After a long spell of rain that brought flooding to the area, Tuesday March 16th was a beautifully sunny day, with even better weather predicted for the rest of the week, so I figured it was time to take the bike out of its stationary trainer for some pre-season maintenance.
The first thing I did was replace the chain: a fairly simple repair that I’d never done before. Previously, I’d waited until the chain had worn so much that both the chain and the rear cassette had to be changed at the same time, but this time I wanted to change the chain before it got to that point, hopefully saving myself the additional cost of a new cassette. It was an easy, if messy, swap. I’m looking forward to running my drive train dry again this year, after last year’s successful experiment.
Next I replaced my handlebar tape, which was another first. It sounds easy, but actually there’s some skill involved, and I wanted to be extra careful, since my old bar tape (put on by the bike shop) had unraveled on me. And what a messy surprise of gel, masking tape, and scotch tape I found underneath the surface of the old black bar tape! I replaced it with bright blue cork tape and finished it off with blue electrical tape, hoping it would look good with my blue tires, which it does. So far, I think I did a pretty good job with it, although I’m wondering how long it’ll stay so tight and neat.
Speaking of those blue tires, I also removed the heavy-duty rear tire that I use for the trainer, and replaced it with my regular lightweight blue road tire. But that was a familiar and routine swap. After that, the bike was ready for the open road!
I did all this in anticipation of my first outdoor ride of the season on Thursday, when the temperatures would be in the upper 60s. On Wednesday, after letting the bike sit overnight, I decided that I didn’t want to go on a long ride without first making sure my chain would hold together, so I took the Plastic Bullet out for a very short 8-mile test ride.
I rode out to Brookline and over Summit Ave., then turned home by picking up the Charles River bike path at Cambridge Street. As I rode along, I approached a group of two or three people coming from the opposite direction, either walking or jogging or skating. Just as I got even with them, from behind them another person on a bike veered around them to pass, swerving across the center line and directly into my path. Since she blocked my entire lane and there was a light pole on my right, there was no way to avoid her as this woman slammed her bike straight into me head-on, and I went flying over the bars in a classic Superman pose and crashed hard onto the ground beyond.
On initial inspection, I was bruised all over and in a lot of pain, and bleeding liberally from a deep gouge my left hand. I had to re-center my brakes and straighten my handlebars, but the bike otherwise looked okay.
She was an Asian-American student on a rusty commuter beater that was probably older than both of us put together. While I’d been in no position to see what happened to her in the crash, she appeared uninjured afterward. Several other people stopped and helped me recover, which took about five minutes. After I got her contact info, she went to leave and discovered her chain had fallen off, and that her rear wheel wouldn’t turn because the fender was rubbing. I fixed those for her before heading homeward myself.
That’s when I discovered that her impact had also broken my left shift lever. The bike is rideable, and I can still shift and brake using that lever, although with a broken pivot I have to really fiddle and force it to make it happen, and it’s likely to come apart in my hands one of these times.
Physically, I’d landed very hard on my left knee and upper back, and both were heavily bruised and had some road rash. I have pain that feels like cracked ribs in both the front and back of my chest. The injuries to my left hand featured a deep, inch and a half long laceration in my index finger. I didn’t think it was quite bad enough to get stitches, so at home I took a scrub brush and painfully cleaned the gravel out of it before bandaging it myself.
Looking back on it, it was a stupid idea to go anywhere near the bike path. This time of year, the joggers are all out training for the impending Boston Marathon, which makes the paths more crowded and a lot more dangerous. On top of that, it was the first warm day of spring, so everyone was out enjoying the sun, oblivious to the fact that there are other users on the path than themselves. Having spent the winter forgetting everything they might have known about safety, it is, in a word, Amateur Day. And with so many self-absorbed idiots on the bike path, it is the most dangerous place a cyclist could be. Although my unwise decision to take the bike path certainly doesn’t excuse this woman’s stupid and dangerous actions at all.
The next day was Thursday: the day I’d planned to take a big ride. It was just as beautiful as predicted, and I still wanted to take my first real ride of the season. Aside from a lot of pain in that left knee, my legs were mostly uninjured, so I decided to take it real slow and easy, and see how far I could go.
I didn’t know if I would make it two blocks, but once my legs loosened up, I found I could manage. The only problem was that my knee would tighten right up again if I stopped for very long, so I had to limit my rest stops to a couple minutes each. The spring winds were very strong, and once I was out of town my route was repeatedly blocked by floods of the Sudbury and Concord rivers. I even stopped and chatted with one of the DPW crews who were erecting barriers across Sherman’s Bridge Road, where the wooden bridge was at least eight feet underwater!
By the end of the day I’d actually racked up 71 miles, which is about twice what I’d normally do on the first ride of the year. Naturally, my average speed was way down, but that also kept me at an aerobic pace, rather than pushing and working myself too hard. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel too bad, at least while I was in the saddle. See the ride map.
On the way home, I stopped at the LBS and had the bike checked out. The lever definitely needs to be replaced, and the part alone is going to cost me $290. I decided I’d hold off on that for the time being, until I’d at least talked to the girl who hit me to see if she was going to do the responsible thing and compensate me for the mechanical damage she caused. Since I was in the shop already, I made an appointment to have my simple annual tune-up performed on Monday.
When the weekend came, Saturday was a gorgeous day, and I would have liked to have rode with my buddies at Quad, but by then I was just too achey to endure another long ride, so I reluctantly gave it a pass.
However, it was also the vernal equinox, which is a big deal for me. So I decided to ride a few miles down to Castle Island and back, simply to observe the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere. But just as I wheeled the bike out of my apartment, my old inner tube gave way at the valve stem, giving me a flat tire; then I popped (literally) the replacement tube while levering it onto the rim. Finally I got a patched tube onto the rim and completed my little equinox ride.
Monday’s tune-up was quick and painless, with the only surprise being a needed tightening of my front hub. I’d hand-trued my rear wheel after the accident, but apparently I did a good enough job that the mechanics didn’t feel it needed any further attention.
Wednesday, a week after our collision, I finally emailed the girl who hit me. I was especially calm and nonconfrontational about it, but told her about the $290 cost of a replacement lever and suggested that “as the responsible party I hope you will offer to foot a decent portion of that expense” and that “I am relying on your sense of fairness”.
It took her only half an hour to reply with her refusal. Despite admitting that she had crossed the center line, she maintained “that doesn’t make me completely guilty”, and the preposterous assertion that “I would consider myself to have been a fairly safe person in this situation”. Besides, she said, as a student, she doesn’t have any money at all. Yup. It’s all about her, and how could anyone expect her to take responsibility for the damages and injuries that her dangerously oblivious riding caused? Thanks, Nikki, you’re all heart, and I’m screwed out of $300 I can’t afford.
The next day, Thursday the 25th, I did my second long ride of the year, doing a few more random roads around Concord (ride map). I also stopped at Quad Cycles to see if Rustem could repair my bike for less money, which he could not. By the end of that 61-mile expedition, my legs were cramping from too many hills, but it still felt good to be back out on the bike again.
Today is Monday the 29th, and this morning I trudged into my bike shop and reluctantly ordered a new brake lever. While it’s the same style (Shimano Ultegra), the newer model is going to look and feel quite a bit different from the older, undamaged lever on the right, but that’s the breaks, right?
Now that it’s been twelve days since the accident, my hand has begun healing, although it’s unclear yet whether it will bear a permanent scar or not. My knee is mostly good, but I still have weakness and twinges of pain whenever I climb stairs. My ribs remain a constant pain, especially at night. I’m more convinced than ever that I might have broken one or more ribs, rather than cracked them, but it’s mostly an academic point. As with all rib injuries, they’ll heal at their own slow pace as long as I don’t re-injure them.
But my injuries and the cost of fixing the damage to my bike are ultimately temporary issues. Beyond those problems, what will stay with me long after this incident is a lingering mistrust of bike paths and other path users, and a reinforced belief in the selfishness and self-centered callousness of the younger generation. And I think that’s a horrible thing to take away from something as ennobling as a simple springtime bike ride.