By Jared Ferguson
June 2011 – There it was: “uggggggggfhhhhhh.” You know it as well I; the sickening sound one often hears when the impact of a body hitting the ground is so great, air is forced from the lungs. Ouch. Just seconds before, I was sailing along on my newly built ride, but I was brought to a quick halt. The sauntering couple in the park, along with their small dog, had somehow managed to take up all ten feet of pathway. He on the right, she left of center, and the dog to the far left, its prancing constricted by its retractable leash, spanned the width of the wide pathway. Her lack of awareness and poor judgment on my part forced me off the curb and down I went. She, I assumed, would step right from her stationary position, following her dog as it walked back towards him. Instead, she stepped left and right into my path. The consequences of her lack of attention, my poor judgment, and a stealthily silent fixed-gear bicycle were great: knuckles skinned to the bone, a jammed thumb, a severely scraped left shoulder and knee, a road-rash covered left arm, a possible cracked rib, and – worst of all – a bonk on the head.
“It’s just a quick spin,” I told myself as I headed out for the post-tuning ride. As such, I neglected my usual gear, including my helmet. Dumb move. Truthfully, the bonk to the head ended up being quite minor, but despite my head aching not a bit, I know it could have been worse. I’ve had a number of concussions in my life (8 by my recollection) and who knows what damage one more could do?
Last year, a cyclist many of us know, sustained a traumatic brain injury as the result of an accident. Lacking a helmet, he incurred injuries which have left him permanently impaired and his family irreparably damaged. It’s a sad story and unfortunately, not the only of its kind; there are many others whose own stories end in similar tragedy. Under the right circumstances (or rather, the wrong ones), perhaps I could have been one of those unfortunates too. Two kids, clients, friends, and others who count on me could have been left without a father, therapist, or longtime friend because of my “quick spin.” Of course, the error is not just mine; many of us justify skipping the brain bucket for a variety of reasons.
As cyclists, it is our duty to set the example for not only those who are just learning to appreciate life on two wheels, but those who don’t appreciate it as well. “Was the cyclist wearing a helmet?” is the first question often asked post-accident by many non-cyclists as well as the media. The question often angers cyclists, as it seems to put us at fault, but its valid nonetheless. We simply cannot trust our own safety to those around us who are often oblivious – or even hostile – to our presence. Injury is a risk that comes with the territory of bicycling and the duty to preserve ourselves lies with us individually, despite our pleas for higher awareness and consideration on behalf of the non-cycling public.
In my case, a “share the pathway” campaign wouldn’t likely have changed the outcome; my neck or head hitting the concrete at the wrong angle or with enough force would have. Going into the future, I’m freshly reminded that the bike I’m riding, my speed, or a nearby destination have no bearing on chance; however, my helmet does.