Vive memor quam sis aevi brevis.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A story

An early season club race was scheduled that Sunday. It was March or April. 1974, if i recall. The course was a three mile or so loop along frontage roads along the interstate that was a popular route for the local cycling association's training races and occasionally state championships. Our club would put on our own unofficial meets there as well. At that time urban sprawl hadn't yet taken over the soybean fields, and we were a good four or five miles from any businesses or houses.

Four of us arrived about an hour before the appointed hour only to learn that the event had been cancelled, but since we'd driven that far out of town, it was decided we'd just hold our own ride anyway.

While my then-girlfriend was setting up her bike, the rest of us set out to do a lap. It was a very windy day- the usual early spring conditions out there. 

We set out with the howling tailwind, pushed over the overpass and into a wall of wind along the backstretch. As we rounded over the next bridge into the homestretch, we picked up a great deal of speed.  As we rolled out into a paceline, it was A in the lead, myself on his wheel, and C on mine. We were probably going about 28 or 30 mph. Suddenly, A began to coast, but did not pull off, causing me to touch a brake and move to avoid hitting his wheel. C never saw it coming and ran up my wheel. i barely felt anything, but i'll never forget the sound of him hitting the tarmac and the strangled beep of the small air horn he kept on his bars.

As A and i turned around, we saw C tangled up with his bike, legs flailing wildly, his head thrashing from side to side, and bleeding heavily. i remember asking A if he knew first aid, and when he answered in the negative, i sent him off to call for help. 

What followed was the longest hour of my young life thus far. S, upon hearing the news from A, jumped in her car and zoomed off to us, leaving her bike in the ditch, after telling A to drive, NOT ride to the gas station down the road. We managed to get C untangled, and did our best to calm him-he was convulsing. There was no way to get the attention of the drivers passing not 40 feet away on the interstate, and we could only hope an ambulance was coming soon.

The EMTs asked us where the car was that hit C, or where was his motorcycle. 

In hospital, it was learnt that C had a fractured skull, broken nose, and blood in the spinal tap. He was comatose for ten days, and passed his 50th birthday in his coma. In the ICU was another patient with nearly identical injuries from a motorcycle crash. That young man died. He was 18.

Two days after C regained consciousness, he was sent home. A couple of hours after that, his wife heard him tinkering in the basement, reassembling his bike.

i never saw A or C again. Later i'd heard that C had some cognitive losses, but he went on riding and designing HPVs.

The week following that crash, i got thrown over the bars. This time i had a helmet on. The week before, all three of us had left ours in our cars.


For years since, i have been a firm believer in use of helmets, and especially after the birth of my daughter, never put leg over bike without putting on my brainbucket.

It used to alarm me to hear various people complain about and mock helmets. i couldn't see their problem with them. i felt that anyone who rode without one was a fool.

Now, i'm not so doctrinaire. Would i prefer that folks wear helmets? Yes, but nowadays i won't argue anywhere near as vehemently as i used to.

Last year, i was riding in a large "family friendly" event. Helmets were "mandatory." At one point, a bareheaded rider rolled past. A woman next to me shouted, "Hey, get your helmet!" Then she told me to ride up to him and tell him that. i refused, saying, "He's an adult, it's his head, and i'm not the helmet police."

While i'm a believer in using what some call the "Magic Plastic Hat,". i recognise that not all people need a helmet for all rides. It's an argument i had with my younger daughter recently. She believes that it should be the law to wear one, and at one time i might have thought so, too, but i have read about places that have passed such laws. The results have pretty consistently been a big reduction in bicycle use. i'm not going to go into the facts and figures here- others have done so much better than i ever could, but search around and look up New South Wales, Australia and read up on their ideas concerning helmets, and hope that those ideas don't catch on here.

More another time...

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