Death by Misadventure

September 15th, 2009

I know it may not come across, but the truth is that my greatest fear on the road is not the other people.  I understand human nature, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that the next douchebag is going to act like a douchebag, much like the last douchebag. This is why I’m still alive (knock on titanium). What I fear the most is the great and unexpected Falmunction. The unpredictable structural discombobulation that can happen at any time but most often happens at the VERY WORST POSSIBLE MOMENT, and sends you spinning off into oblivion with no control and no way to save yourself.

This has happened to me a couple times in the past few months. Once while cresting the Harvard Ave. bridge – I was riding my chopper and the internal hub just… disintegrated. leaving me with no forward gears and no coaster brake. I had to Fred Flintstone myself to a stop to avoid coasting right into traffic on frantic Memorial Drive. The second time was just last week, when the gear cable on my Liesurenaught went kablooey right in the center of the intersection of Harvard and Cambridge (the site of another bicyclist’s death, ugh). Luckily I had learned from my last mistake, and my coaster brake and hand brake were in fine condition, so despite my lack of forward momentum I still had enough control to get myself to the curb.
When I read about the death of Tracy Milillo, particularly the statement,

Capt. Michael Gropman said the vehicle may have never made contact with Milillo’s bike.”

I was struck by how many times I’ve hit the bricks… or the curb or whatever, without ever having been threatened by a motor vehicle. Just yesterday, on my way into work I was welcomed into Allston by this little gift, which instantly deflated my tire and sent me wobbling into the right hand lane of traffic.

1 1/2" wood screw. Screw You.

1 1/2" wood screw. Screw You.

Good old Allston, always good for some road confetti.

How many times have people been chucked under the wheels of oncoming traffic because they installed new brake pads and forgot to loosen the calipers? How many cool kids on fixies with no brakes and no helmet (see: me last year and for 3 years prior) dropped a chain and then panicked, rolling right into oncoming traffic? And how would anyone know in the aftermath? How can you check a bike for ‘defects’ if it’s been rolled over by 2 tons of steel?

I used to foam at the mouth over drivers being let go without being charged after having been involved in cycling accidents, particularly when a cyclist is hurt.. but now I’m not so sure of myself. Particularly after my own recent experiences, which all happened, I might add, after I’d gotten my bike worked on by a local shop. Mishap due to pilot error is one thing – you can plan for that, you can mouse around and ride like Grandma taught you. But if your cable breaks, or your ball bearings go ‘KLONK!’ and seize up, or your brake pad shifts and rips out all your spokes… it’s the stuff of nightmares. Better wear your helmet.

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