Wednesday, May 16, 2012

a driver's guide to national bike month, with a dose of drama for good measure

riding over the potomac river toward the lincoln memorial. 
a big safe sidewalk!
photo taken by my friend, lisa

I know I already hit you with the get on your bike message last week.  This week I’m calling on drivers to do their part for National Bike Month. 

What can a driver do?  It’s simple and easy, really.  Just show cyclists a little love.  Look for them on the road; give them room; let them cross; pass them slowly; give them a thumbs-up for getting out there in the sun, the cold, the traffic, the rain—whatever.  Be a bike friendly driver!  I promise, cyclists will appreciate you for it.

I think it’s easy for drivers to forget that cyclists are human beings because, I know, we dress like aliens.  A person wearing a loud, multi-colored jersey, freakishly tight shorts, clunky clip-on shoes, an aero-dynamic helmet, and bug-eyed sunglasses that obscure the face, looks more like a hornet than a person.

Insects are creepy and crunchy.  Many of us kill them without a thought.  But a cyclist?  Under all that shiny paraphernalia, we are soft and huggable (and breakable), just like you.  

To drive that point home, I want to tell a story.  I hope it will teach a lesson to bikers and drivers alike, about sharing the road. 

One day, I ironically sought the safety of the sidewalk as I rode to meet my friends.  With the blessing of that little crossing guy blinking my passage, I began to cross a large intersection.  The driver closest to me, in the right hand turning lane, was not looking to his right (where he would have seen me approaching on the sidewalk).  Rather, he only looked intently to his left as he waited for a space to open in traffic.   I broke my cardinal rule (never break this rule!), and I crossed in front of his car without making eye-contact with him.  I was in a rush.

When I was directly in front of him, he started to pull out. 

What happened next must have occurred in a matter of seconds, but I can only remember a long drawn out series of events that don’t fit into a specified frame of time.   I yelled, “no!” as the grill of his SUV pressed against the left side of my body.  I tried to get his attention by banging on the hood of his car with my left hand, but I found my hand pinned between his car and my bike.  I screamed a more shrill “Stop!” as he kept coming.

I started to go down. 

I put my right foot on the ground to keep from completely disappearing under his car.  I yanked desperately on my left hand without luck.  I felt the power in the car increase and knew he was still looking left, and just one milli-second from peeling out into traffic. 

As the car accelerated, I went completely to the ground, screaming in a primal way that could only be rivaled by the sounds I made when pushing my daughter into the world.  I suppose we only scream like that when life is crossing over.  I’ll tell you, however, it has an entirely different tone when you’re fighting to keep that from happening instead of fighting to make it happen. 

I heard my bike crunch; I saw the wheels of his truck coming, my screaming went sonic, and then, he stopped.     


This is by far the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. 

And that poor teenaged driver.  I know I damaged that poor kid with my ranting and raving after I scrambled on all fours out from under his car—a spidery mad woman on the loose.  Did you know you could lose your mind on adrenaline?  I paced around the intersection waving my arms, holding my head, crying, raving, laughing maniacally.  I had nearly been run over by those tall treaded wheels, in slow motion.  

I think I did an Exorcist-head-spin right there in the middle of the intersection.

Then, I did what many cyclists apparently do.  I hopped on my bike (which had miraculously survived) and fled the scene. 

Distance.  I needed distance between myself and those events.

I don’t know.  Am I scaring everybody from riding their bikes, right in the middle of National Bike Month?  Well geez, that’s hardly in the spirit of things!

i am not a risk taker, and i would never give up my adventures in cycling. 
here we are caked in mud after 60 miles on the C&O Canal trail.
(i'm in yellow looking like some sort of herculean statue!)

If you’ve ever biked in traffic, then I’m sure you already recognize the dangers. (Just remember to make eye-contact before you cross)!

But if you are a driver who sometimes gets frustrated when you’re forced to share the road with a biker (you know, like when you’re stuck behind a cyclist going 20mph in a 40mph zone—I know it’s happened to you; it’s happened to me too!), try to think about the person under all those slippery clothes and wait for a safe moment to pass.  Chances are, no matter how much we slow you down, you’ll get there before we do!

And if you really want to contribute to a happy and safe National Bike Month: when you’re turning right, remember what we learned about crossing streets when we were kids:  Look Left, Look Right, then Look Left again!   


  1. helluva story. that's quite a close call. i once slid into the street head first. car missed me...statement of the obvious, eh.

    glad you're alright!

    1. "slid" into the street? i'll need to hear the rest of that one!