Crashing is Part of Riding

It was a December to remember. In one week, three Timbuk2 employees suffered serious bike crashes. Carlos got doored a block from our office and picked up a wooze-inducing concussion plus grotesque bruising. A few days later, a car pulled in front of Jared, causing him to go over the handlebars and break his collar bone. It was our second broken collar bone of the year; Alex got hit by a car and snapped his collar bone in September.

Jared's post-surgery Colar Bone
Jared’s smashed into a car and then operated on collar bone.

Unfortunately, I was part of the Decembrists. I got doored for the first time on December 1, and my beloved Bianchi got crunched out of commission. But thanks to my snow-bunny fortified Bern helmet, full-finger gloves and tough-as jacket, I suffered no serious damage.

We thought our bad luck had ended, but last weekend our head of product and design washed out on gravel and road-rashed his arm and entire right side.

Road Rash
Greg’s gravel-induced road rash.

Greg said of his crash, “I hadn’t crashed in ten years so . . .” He implied that if you ride, you will crash. While I’d prefer not to admit it, it’s true. And I think it’s important to accept. Crashing is part of riding. Does that mean you shouldn’t ride? No! And it doesn’t mean you have to ride scared. It means riding like you expect something to happen. Riding slowly or at a moderate pace — you catch all the losers that race past you anyway — wearing a helmet and gloves, using lights and turn signals, being alert, and generally being defensive. If you ride like drivers are hunting you and train tracks are trying to eat you, you’ll be more likely to avoid serious damage if (when) you crash.

In four years of 60 minutes of riding through San Francisco every day, I’ve crashed three times. The first two crashes were 110% my fault. Crashes one and two involved train tracks — the beloved cable car on Hyde Street and the old-school trains that run down Market Street — and no other cyclists or cars. They were “good” crashes because no one was injured and they got my attention. Crash three was a “bad” crash because it actually hurt and wasn’t my fault. But like crashes one and two, it was “good” because it got my attention. I’d done almost everything right — rode in the bike lane on a highly-ridden street at a slow pace with lights and a helmet — but I still got doored. Legally getting doored is not the cyclist’s fault, but if I hadn’t snuggled up next to the car, the crash would have been avoided. Cyclists often have to choose between potentially getting doored and riding in traffic. It’s not a great tradeoff because both options can be very dangerous, but if you’re highly visible (i.e. lights, reflectivity, hand signals) it’s usually safer to ride in traffic.

Getting doored taught me about about the tradeoffs of lane positioning and has made me acutely aware of where I ride. Crashing helped.

This crash report is not intended to intimidate or scare away future bike commuters. Rather it’s meant to share the realities of urban cycling. Defensive riding, just like defensive driving, is crucial for safety. And in an ironic way, crashing keeps you safe.

Comments

  1. Chloe Black says:

    Just wanted to mention, although sometimes we do all we can, there is a lot we, cyclists, can do to increase our safety. LAB has a great Traffic Skills class. As a veteran bike racer of 24 yrs, I think every cyclist would benefit from this class. Door zone, their fault, we can be sure not to ride there. (this is an example of how we can take our own safety to heart). I teach bike racers & rec riders bike handling classes in parking lots & grassy fields. It all helps! I feel for you all, and I agree….we can only do as much as we can do….and then, sometimes crashing happens. I sure have once or twice ;) Heal quickly!

  2. Thomas Skibinski says:

    Glad to hear that you guys are alive. I pray/hope for a qwuick recovery. Be safe.

  3. Spreng says:

    Wow, that sounded like one hectic week! I hope you all are recovering well.

  4. terry says:

    hate to admit it but, if you’re me, crashing is also part of walking. glad everyone is patched up! those are some gnarly looking stitches!

  5. Ryan says:

    I worked at Golden Gate University from ’93 until ’00 and I just want to say that SF cyclists deserve a ton of credit.

    A great woman/friend/bike commuter I knew there (Christine) inspires me to ride now, with her great quote regarding riding in the rain, “I’m pretty sure that rain is just water”.

  6. Alex says:

    Yup I fractured my collarbone in October. I am now riding my bike once again. I have crashed and had many spills but what doesnt kill you only makes you stronger. Bicycles are fun so keep riding!!
    Jared is going to heal quickly so once he does long rode rides are being planned! YAY!
    P.S : We should do an employee Timbuk2 group bike ride. Just saying
    A.

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