Be a Little Gingerbread Man
I am a good little gingerbread man. Whenever someone pulls into my
space, I'm not there. People who have lots of accidents believe in
bad luck; people who don't have any accidents believe in being careful.
Matt Boersma replied:
Ken, while you and Frank are justifiably proud of your bike skills
and safety record, you do us all a disservice by implying that those who
have had accidents on their bikes are themselves at fault.
Do you know anyone who is an experienced bike handler who has
had accidents? Or does the simple fact of them having crashed disqualify
them from your elite club of gingerbread men?
I'm a good bike handler and I believe in nothing so much as being
careful. Like you, I consider myself much safer riding a bike than
driving a car. This despite the now-famous four accidents I've had,
which to me validated my choice to wear a helmet. You can of course
choose to disbelieve me, but you simply don't know. Let's ride together
sometime and see. We'd probably enjoy it more than this pedantia.
don't think I had any intention of sounding elite when I picked the Gingerbread
Man as my symbol. For anyone who has never heard the nursery story,
the Gingerbread Man ran from everyone who tried to stop him until he accepted
the help of a fox and was eaten. Somehow, as a child, I was supposed
to believe that he should have trusted someone before he got to the fox;
if he had done so, he would have lived happily ever after. But let's
get real; what is anyone going to do with a gingerbread man? If,
as a cyclist, you trust no one to be a safe driver, you will never have
the sudden surprise that he had when he got eaten.
I once had a paramedic
friend tell me that there is no such thing as an accident. I
disagreed. I told him that the first time something happens to us, it is
a complete shock, and we're not prepared to react. So, I thought
everyone could have one accident of a certain type, but if the same accident
occurred again and still caught the person by surprise, it wasn't an accident
the second time; it was a case of willful neglect. There are cyclists
who keep having the same accidents over and over again. One fellow
told me about being struck by turning cars five different times, one of
them a police car. I can't believe that he was that unlucky; I believe
he never was paying attention when someone suddenly turned.
require two vehicles. It takes two to tango. One person makes
the mistake (or does it deliberately), and the second is not paying attention.
All you have to do is to let your mind wander for a few seconds, and you're
dead meat! And you can't trust anyone; I have been nearly hit by
old ladies who wouldn't hurt a fly and by friends of mine who just weren't
On the other hand,
even if someone deliberately tries to hit you with a car, if you are on
the ball, he's got a tough job. Besides being a small target, the
bike can make a 90° turn within a few feet, can usually stop quicker
than a car (this is not as dependable as turning), and provides the operator
much greater visibility. And you can always slide the bike if you
should have to hit the ditch. I have experienced having people deliberately
try to hit me, so I'm speaking from experience.
The job then of
a cyclist is 1) don't make mistakes yourself, 2) be visible, and 3) always
be prepared for someone else to do the wrong thing. I sum up the
last in a rule: NEVER TRUST A MOTORIST.
In a science fiction
novel by van Vogt, The World of Null-A, the hero has an extra brain
inside his head that he can set to watch for accidents. Having
such an ability isn't science fiction; your brain already has the ability
to alert you when something is suddenly wrong; you just have to train it
(although you shouldn't be bike-riding on automatic anyway). The
lack of proper training is why some motorists are very dangerous; they
pass you within inches because their brains are cued to looking out for
cars and trucks, heavy things that can hurt them, and not bicycles. Others
will hurt you because once they've passed you, they forget you're there; they
have a fixed notion that a bike moves at 5 mph or so, and the fact that they have
to race to beat you to the turn does not, for some strange reason, alert them that you're
moving much faster than that.
When I'm riding a bike on a solitary road, my mind has the freedom to wander
and enjoy, but as soon as I encounter any traffic (traffic includes cars,
trucks, trains, streetcars, buses, pedestrians, dogs, cats, and even cows),
the alarm in my brain goes off, I get prepared, and I watch very closely
for any surprises. For example, I have had many cars suddenly pull
out so close in front of me that I shouldn't have been able to avoid
the collision, but I always did. Although it takes 3/4ths of a second for
the brain to recognize danger and to react, I had already recognized the
danger, my hands were already on the brakes, my body was already braced
for a sudden, violent turn, and so I didn't even need the whole 3/4ths
of a second.
There are very
good and experience riders who frequently have crashes in races, where
winning is worth taking changes. And off-road riders will frequently
have spills because the challenge is worth the risk to them. But
those aren't car-bike collision, which account for almost all of the deaths.
Cyclists can afford to get skinned up, but they can't ignore traffic accidents:
the injuries will be much worse, and there's too much chance of becoming
As far as riding
with me, I doubt you'd notice anything unusual except I'm a stickler for
obeying the traffic law. Some people won't let anyone ride with them
who won't wear a helmet; I won't let anyone ride with me who won't obey
the law; it's too easy for me to get killed that way. Besides, I want the
motorists to respect me; how can they do that if I'm disobeying the law?
If someone is riding with me in traffic, I prefer for that person to be
in front, so I can watch him/her and everything else at the same time.
I also like to wear bright yellow during the day, and I always have a front
light, a rear flasher, and a rear reflector at night.
But my defensive
safety measures are mostly on the inside where they are invisible.
I don't have a casual attitude towards traffic, I am always alert when anyone
is around, and I'm always prepared to run away so I can cycle another day,
like a Gingerbread Man.