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.
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.
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.