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My crashes and near-crashes
We learn by mistakes. Best is to learn by mistakes made by others - it hurts less. Here's a collection of mine, gathered over many years of cycling.
- Situation: downhill road, counter-banked left turn, black ice.
- Result: skid and fall. Bruised left hip and a piece of left pedal broken off.
- How it could have been avoided: I should have slowed down to a walking speed. But it was my first experience with black ice and I didn't know it's not just a wet road.
- Situation: another downhill, left turn, sand on the road. Suddenly a bus comes from the left, stops and gives me way. But it occupied the only clean asphalt spot in the middle of the road I was aiming for and I have to cross the sandy patch.
- Result: skid and fall. Another piece of left pedal ground off, some little bruise and torn shirt.
- How it could have been avoided: I should have slowed down enough, so that such a last moment surprise would never happen.
- Situation: right turn into a garage, diagonal contact with an ice-covered speed bump.
- Result: front wheel skidded sideways, but I managed to put feet down and stay upright.
- How it could have been avoided: go in a wider arc and hit the bump perpendicularly.
#4 Test fall
- Situation: test ride on a frozen pond. Rear wheel skidded during a sharp turn, I ended up lying down.
- Result: a small bruise.
- This fall was intentional, I was testing the limits of turning on ice. Maybe it saved me some skids later in traffic.
- Situation: ice on the road, speed around 18 km/h, a car is coming slowly from the right, I'm trying to stop and give way.
- Result: rear wheel locked, front wheel nearly too, one foot skidding on the ground, uncontrollable bike keeps sliding directly forward. I came to a halt one metre before the car.
- How it could have been avoided: I should have been going more slowly and look around better. Or use studded tyres.
- Situation: test riding my new Python lowracer, first time with some cargo on the rack. Downhill road, 40 km/h, slight right turn at the bottom of the hill.
- Result: the steering started to oscillate divergently and sent me down. A lot of road rash, but nothing serious. The snarly beast of a bike gets nicknamed The Crazy Mule.
- How it could have been avoided: better brace myself between the seat and the pedals and don't shake. The speed itself is not a problem, I went over 70 km/h several times later.
- Situation: crossroads in a quiet garden district. I'm going straight ahead, another cyclist is approaching from the right (has priority) and I totally overlooked him.
- Result: we both stopped just in time.
- How it could have been avoided: I should have been looking around better. That I haven't met a single vehicle here during the three years of everyday commuting, doesn't mean it can't happen. Unlike cars, bikes are too quiet to be heard coming. Don't expect just cars!
- Situation: test-riding the Mule after front fork modification. Mud-filled ditch across the road. The usual passable spot on the left is gone, I hastily aim for the right side. Speed is somewhere between 20 and 30 km/h.
- Result: I was unable to even it out on the muddy ground, left the asphalt, front wheel bounced and I was down. No damage taken.
- How it could have been avoided: I shouldn't have relied on how the road had been looking a week ago and slow down properly before the ditch.
#10 Almost run over
- Situation: when leaving a roundabout, a big lorry starts to overtake me. The tractor has left enough space, but the trailer's wheels cross the white line. The driver knows about me, just misjudged the turn.
- Result: I left the asphalt for several metres until all the wheels passed me. Fortunately I didn't fall and nothing bad happened.
- How it could have been avoided: I should have stayed in the middle of the lane and keep the truck behind me until the road straightened. Only then it is safe to slink off to the edge of the road and let faster vehicles pass.
- Situation: riding my lowracer along a narrow one-way street, speed is about 20 km/h. Before me is a sharp left turn lined by parked cars. Another car is reversing in the opposite direction and we don't see each other. We met in the turn with no passing space.
- Result: we both hit the brakes and stopped in time, mere half metre from each other. My legs braced for impact and forgot to steer, so in addition I lied down on the ground. No damage except one little bruise.
- How it could have been avoided: lower speed would make the emergency stop easier, but wouldn't prevent the unexpected encounter. If we leave out the "obvious" solutions like no reversing in one-way streets and no parking in places where clear view is necessary, I can see only one workaround: I should have taken an upright bike with better view over car roofs.
- Situation: riding through a parking lot, a car is waiting on my right and starts to move just in front of me. The little corner of my mind that subconsciously evaluates traffic and has never failed me before, produced four wrong results at once: "it's entering a road from a parking lot => you have priority", "it's not moving => it's giving you way", "there's a one-way lane => it can't come out from here" and "nothing has ever come from here since you ride through this place => ignore it". The correct result was of course "it's coming from your right and you're not on a higher-priority road => grab your brakes as hard as you can".
- Result: the driver managed to brake in time and I'm really, really grateful for it.
- How it could have been avoided: I should have been looking around better, even here, far from busy roads. And by the way, the lane is not one-way and the not having ever met anything there was just a coincidence.
#13 Collision with a... you know
- Situation: summer, Sunday afternoon, I'm doing slightly over 20 km/h on a shared path, just wide enough for two people abreast. There's a pedestrian on the right side in front of me. I look back, there's nothing in sight (cca 50 m far). I move to the left and begin passing him. A bell dings from behind. A bike? I ignore it. The rider must see I have nowhere to dodge, and I'm not so slow to be a roadblock, so I continue the maneuver - at worst he will have to brake a little. Another second passes and I start turning back to the right side when suddenly something pushes on me from behind and curses: an inline skater.
- Result: at least he knew how to push a cyclist without knocking him down, so there were no other consequences than a brief synchronization of velocities.
- How it could have been avoided: by me, not at all. By him, simply by not riding a brakeless vehicle this fast on paths this narrow and crowded (given that he closed a 50 m gap during those few seconds, he must have been clocking more than 30 km/h).
#14 A very near miss
- Situation: sunny May afternoon, excellent visibility (at least for me - sun is in my back). I'm coming slightly uphill to a crossroad in a village, there's a park behind me. I'm going straight and have priority, a car coming from ahead suddenly turns left without warning. The only thing I remember from the next few seconds are two headlights on a collision course few metres ahead. The driver probably didn't see me at all. Braking was not an option, I would stop right under his bumper. Luckily the car wasn't going very fast, so I floored it and managed to escape to the right into another street.
- Result: if someone saw this, there's going to be one more rumor about recumbents being invisible and dangerous. I wonder if an upright bike would make any difference.
- How it could have been avoided: undoubtedly by me switching my lights on. Sun in your eyes sucks, even when it's still quite high. Hiding before a dark, broken backdrop, plus climbing from below a horizon, is looking for trouble. From now on, I'll keep my high beams on all the time during daylight. And the driver? If he/she indicated the turn in advance instead of after turning the wheel, I would probably have figured out what was going to happen and yielded.
#15 Railway siesta
- Situation: rainy evening, very oblique railway crossing with protruding rails and wide grooves. Of course, there are cars both in front and behind and they seem to be going to pass each other right on the crossing at the exact moment when I get there. So I'm afraid to swerve across the whole road to get the crossing angle as right as possible and aim "safely" no further than the left edge of my lane. The result was the worst possible combination of oblique crossing, leaning and turning.
- Result: front wheel got caught in a groove, slipped on the wet rail and slid sideways so fast that I was down before knowing I was falling. Luckily the bike is designed for this. The driver behind me had no trouble slowing down to wait before I get up.
- How it could have been avoided: it's indeed a stupid idea to swerve in front of an oncoming car - even if it's relatively far - and I'm glad I didn't do it. The only 100% safe solution would be to stop and wait for all cars to pass, or to get over the rails very slowly close to the edge of the road with feet on the ground.
#16 Collision with a car
- Sitution: Prague at night. I'm going downhill along a main street (straight, well-lit, clearly visible and empty except me and a car far behind me), speed about 40 km/h. A car comes from the left from a lower-priority street and stops before the crossroad - good, the driver gives me way, I can go on. After a few seconds the car starts inching into the crossroad - good, with our current speeds I'll pass just before it and then it finishes the crossing, as usual. I'm going on without slowing down to avoid delaying both of us. When I'm about ten metres from the crossroad, the car suddenly accelerates and gets in my way. There's no space or time to dodge, so I hit brakes hard (they managed to swallow about 20 km/h). Now the driver notices me and floors it, but it's not enough, I hit the car at its rear axle level. My bike disappeared to the right, I keep on flying just behind the car's back and end in a pretty cool tumble over left shoulder. Later when I asked the driver what he had been doing, he told me he had looked around, but had looked just for cars, not for cyclists.
- Result: for me, just a little bruise on left knee. For the bike it was worse, but mostly just repairable bends and crumples (I was able to limp home and then spent two evenings fixing it). The car looked more or less intact. Biggest shock was the driver's, so I hope he's going to start looking for single-headlight things too from now on.
- How it could have been avoided: neither a bright yellow jacket nor the most inoverlookable lights in town helped me. A horn wouldn't help me either (if I had one) because I wouldn't have been able to honk before it was too late. I could have slowed down, but why, it looked like the car was yielding. I think safety in numbers is the key: you can only learn proper subconscious reactions to cyclists if you meet them on the roads regularly.
#17 and 18: Pinched
- Situation: in first case it happened at an ascending right turn in distribution lanes before a crossroad (Prague), in second case it was a blind left turn on a narrow country road (somewhere around Rakovník). The procedure was the same in both cases: a car approaches from behind just a little faster than me, the driver sees me and begins to overtake even though there is no chance to finish it before we get to a place where we don't fit in one lane. So we reach the place side by side, I vanish from his front window and mirrors and he immediately pulls to the right.
- Result: collision prevented by immediate hard braking.
- How it could have been avoided: on my part, no way; all I could do would be to install a horn and honk "never do this again!" when the situation was over. On the driver's part, it would help to realize that a cyclist is not a stationary object of zero width and that it is not mandatory to overtake them immediately at any cost.
#19 Skid and fall
- Sitution: steep descending sharp double turn, smooth new asphalt, speed between 20 and 30 km/h, and rain. I went safely through the first turn and then skidded when leaning into the second one. Laying on my side, I slid all the way to the ditch where front wheel turned backwards and handlebars ploughed quite a furrow.
- Result: several new abraded spots on both me and the bike, shredded T-shirt, handlebars full of dirt and jammed shifters, but luckily nothing torn or broken and after one afternoon all was repaired.
- How it could have been avoided: slow down to actual walking pace - the smoother the asphalt, the more slippery it is when wet, and there could also be an invisible muddy spot. And maybe change tyres to something less infamous for bad grip on the wet than Schwalbe Marathon. And when already fallen and skidding, hold the handlebars firmly to prevent damage (of course, this only applies to "hamster" bars and similar types which don't crash your fingers to the ground).
#20 Almost collision with a car
- Situation: in a town, sunny afternoon, perfect visibility, sun at my left. I am going downhill along a main street at a speed of about 40..45 km/h (legal limit is 50). A car comes from the left from a lower-priority street (exactly like #16) and turns left in my way. I have no time to turn somewhere, there is not enough space to squeeze between the car and kerb, so I grab the brakes hard and try to steer a bit to the right to avoid direct impact. I would have probably made it if I didn't hit a white stripe at a pedestrian crossing where both my wheels locked. So I skidded, fell and stopped with my right side on the ground, half meter from the car.
- Result: several harmless abrasions on me and the bike (at last on the right side too - symmetry is good) and some skid marks on the road. The driver was polite enough to not drive away, but didn't look very concerned either - "You were going fast, weren't you? I didn't see you." Many thanks to the two nice people who stopped by to offer me help and first aid (fortunately, it was not necessary - road rash is best treated at home under running water where I arrived several minutes later).
- How it could have been avoided: on my part, no way. On the driver's part, all he had to do was to look properly. I could have avoided the wipeout if I managed to get between the slippery white stripes - front wheel probably wouldn't lock on asphalt.
#21 Almost rear-ended
- Situation: late evening, dark, busy shoulderless road. I'm on my trike, taillights set to middle intensity (well visible, but not blinding). Three cars from behind, three oncoming with the front one's headlights shining very bright and high. The two columns meet at my level and I hear skidding tyres behind me. Hard to say if the driver was blinded by the oncoming car and didn't see me, or if they interpreted two lights 80 cm apart as a wider vehicle further away.
- Result: nothing happened (not even honks), but I could have been run over.
- How it could have been avoided: there is no viable alternative route which would avoid main roads completely, even at the cost of detour, steeper hills and very bad surfaces. Maybe it would help if I set my taillights to full power (daytime/fog mode), blinding or not. Or if I rode a singletrack bike which fits the road with two cars side by side if necessary.
#22 Yet another wipeout
- Situation: 1 °C above freezing point, slightly foggy, sharp right turn under a hill over a stream. The road looks just a little moist, so I carve the turn at my usual wet asphalt speed. But it's actually frosted, so I skid and lay down.
- Result: bruised elbow and a ten-centimetre gash in my trousers, plus some more harmless scratches on the bike (I already lost count of them). But it could be much worse if there was something driving in the opposite direction - I skidded all the way into the left lane and there was nothing I could do about it.
- How it could have been avoided: by slowing down. Elementary, dear Watson.
If we leave off test rides where falling was more or less expected, most of the dangerous situations were caused by going too fast or not looking around properly. That's the most important lesson you can learn from this list.