This is a call to action. As a community of triathletes/cyclists, we must join together and make a change.
If I haven’t caught your attention, let me borrow the words of a close friend who has spent the past month in the hospital:
“I have a fractured hip, cardiac contusion, and fractured elbow which was … fixed with plates and pins. I was in the cardiac wing for almost a week, then acute rehab … and was transferred to secondary rehab since. I am moving in with friends who have a one level condo. I lost my job and have had to push back my move … at least a month… The doctors say it will be more than a year before I am fully recovered… Relearning to walk was quite humbling.”
Was this a car accident? A nasty fall from great heights? Far from it. My friend was hit from behind by a triathlete on a bike.
My friend was walking on Hains Point at the time. Admitting to inattention, the triathlete was openly apologetic as my friend lay immobilized on the ground. I am certain this triathlete had no intention of hitting a walker, certainly did not see her, and would relive the moment in any other possible way given the chance… but two people’s worst nightmare for a morning of exercise came true because of too much inward focus and a lack of consideration.
I admit I could have been that cyclist. I can recount numerous instances of distracted cycling, more than likely obsessing over the numbers on my power meter or enthralled in my imagined race situation, inner focus translating to a lack of alertness. In fact, often I avoid riding on the W&OD trail because of the stress involved in looking out for pedestrians, animals, and occasionally reckless cyclists… I prefer to ride roads, ironically, because I feel safer from the world and from myself.
I have been that pedestrian, too, in fact. A few years ago while I was running along a path beside Lake Michigan in Chicago, a cyclist-commuter hit me from behind. My injuries were nothing like those of my friend, however – the worst of it was major road rash on my face and limbs. So consumed by her own disappointment at crashing, that cyclist did not even ask me if I was ok. I know she was trying to avoid another runner coming toward us from the opposite direction, and likely was not being reckless at all, but learning of my friend’s accident makes me more acutely aware of what could have happened had that cyclist been going just a touch faster or if I had been going just a tad slower.
As a coach, I send people to Hains Point to ride. I have ridden there innumerable times myself. Many cyclists use the park for cycling, both easy rides and intervals. Unfortunately, the busy area littered with walkers, runners, Frisbee golfers, fishermen, and a whole host of other active people does not present a danger-free zone for cyclists. It’s not a velodrome where we can just put our heads down and ride.
Thankfully I have not caused an accident thus far. I am sure some of you read the opinion pieces in the Post a few weeks ago about terrible DC cyclists. I had a mixed reaction because I know our community gets a bad rap based on the actions of a subset I do not consider to be the majority. That said, my friend’s suffering serves as a wake up call: WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR HABITS AND PUT SAFETY FIRST. Not only our own safety but the safety of all of those around us.
So what can we do to improve this situation?
1) PURCHASE AN INDOOR TRAINER TO USE FOR YOUR KEY SESSIONS. High intensity riding outdoors is dangerous, no matter how you slice it, especially for triathletes unpracticed at handling. I urge you to use an indoor trainer for any session that will compromise your ability to attend to your surroundings. I know a number of cyclists/triathletes, myself among them, who will warm up and cool down outdoors but save the high intensity riding for the controlled environment provided by an indoor trainer.
2) CHOOSE ROUTES THAT INVOLVE MINIMAL OTHER TRAFFIC. In our area, this option may be difficult or impossible, but even picking off-peak hours to do anything but easy spins would be helpful.
3) WHEN RIDING OUTDOORS, ALWAYS PUT SAFETY FIRST. OK, sometimes we do need to choose unsafe or populated routes. Sometimes we do want to ride in a group. That’s fine – just keep your head up at all times. Remember that fitness comes not from speed generated but from the intensity required for that speed. Sit up a little higher, sacrificing aerodynamics, and allow the speedometer to read a half-mile per hour slower. Keep your head up even if on race day you intend to drop that chin. You’ll achieve the same fitness if the appropriate intensity is there, and you’ll increase safety dramatically. No level of post-workout report data is worth risking a life.
4) FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE ROAD. I am as guilty as anyone else here – I can admit to cruising through stop signs or making the occasional illegal u-turn. But these very behaviors are what give us such a bad name as a community. We must commit to showing pedestrians and drivers that we abide by the same laws as everyone else, even when on two wheels.
5) PURCHASE INSURANCE. If you do not already have it, get it. A combination of medical insurance, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, and possibly a rider on your current policy should cover much of what you need, should you be a victim or cause an accident. But check with your insurance company to be sure. A good article to help when considering potential situations: http://303cycling.com/what-cyclists-should-know-about-insurance
6) BE A GOOD SAMARITAN. If you see someone acting reckless, speak up. Not long ago I was riding on the W&OD and cruised through a stop sign I deemed clear. A cyclist rode up behind me and asked me why I hadn’t stopped. At first I was fuming in my head (“WTF+#()@* who are you to tell me how to ride?!?!”), but after a number of minutes thinking it over, I turned around and rode back to him, and I thanked him for reminding me to ride safely. Who knew that this incident occurred within days of my friend’s accident.
Cycling is an amazing way to see the world, to build fitness, and to get from point A to point B. Let’s all do our best to keep the sport safe and, most especially, keep the world safe from recklessness.