Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Danger ...From Us and From Them

I try not to dwell on the dangerous aspects of riding and racing, but really, they're never very far from my mind. Over my lifetime I've descended roads like Gibraltar, Painted Cave, OSM, Figueroa Mountain, and Mt. Hamilton, surely a thousand times or more. Often I find myself really railing the corners and enjoying the thrill of speed, only to think later about the catastrophic consequences of an ill-timed tire blowout or unseen patch of gravel. Or an oily road! Mostly though, I feel in control and tend not to obsess over those low-probability situations.

Of course it helps to keep your equipment in good shape. Don't ride worn tires, and fercrissakes, tighten your skewers properly. Years ago I was in a three-man rotation coming down the 101 at 25 mph when the guy in front decided to bunny-hop a little lip in the pavement at the Refugio bridge. His front wheel came off. Can you imagine the terror in that split second between seeing the wheel come out and planting your fork into the pavement?! His face and teeth got the worst of it. I also remember a local rider losing his front wheel when trying to hop a cattle guard coming down Figueroa Mtn. He got beat up pretty badly. Personally, I don't file off the nubs on my fork-tips because of those incidents.

Racing is a bit different. We all rely on each other in the pack, and whether it be benevolence or self-preservation, 99% of the time things run smoothly. Pretty remarkable when you think about the physics of it. All those bikes, with their sharp metal parts, moving fast in such close proximity ...each piloted by an independent-thinking rider whose primary objective is to force his front wheel ahead of all the other independent-thinking riders trying to do the same thing. All this with near non-existent communication.

But 99% is not 100%, and when things go wrong it can be disastrous. Earlier this year, a rider from Schroeder Iron crashed in a mid-week training crit and a finger was severed off of his hand. Just a random and unfortunate placement of a body part in all that metal and mass. Sometimes the results are more tragic, as was the case with a young rider from Santa Barbara named Barrett Holmen.

Bicycle racing is risky and I think in some twisted way, that's part of the appeal to many riders. We knowingly take those risks and experience some level of exhilaration when we survive.

It's an altogether different risk we take when training out on open roads with vehicle traffic. Indeed the vast majority of drivers are courteous to cyclists and they exercise appropriate caution when encountering us. But make no mistake, drivers do not share the "we're-all-in-this-together" mentality that fellow racers have in a pack. Drivers do not risk injury or death if something goes wrong or if they use poor judgment in the presence of a cyclist. There have been a couple tragic incidents recently that show how one-sided the danger is, with cyclists being run over and killed by inattentive drivers.

Worse yet are the sociopath drivers whose behavior is egregiously irresponsible and dangerous. Long time SB riders remember the horrific tragedy when six of our fellow cyclists were mowed down by an intoxicated driver up by Gaviota. One was killed, and another literally had his leg ripped off his body. I'm still haunted by what I saw a few days later at the scene. Police markings along the highway showing where bikes and bodies and been thrown, including a chalked outline of a detached leg. Every visit to the Albertson's on Calle Real is a grim reminder because the widow of the rider killed manages the produce department.

So I have no tolerance of idiot drivers who like to harass cyclists with their vehicles. Anybody who's been riding long enough knows the split-second terror you experience when a fast moving vehicle passes by deliberately close, literally threatening your life. Sometimes it's a bunch of high school kids who think it's funny; other times it's an old codger with deep-seeded prejudice of people in colorful lycra clothing. It doesn't really matter who they are, if they misjudge the distance between you, their 6,000 pounds of glass and steel means you're dead.

I'm sorry to write such a downer blog post. My lunch ride yesterday had some bad-mojo vehicle incidents, leaving me too depressed to ride today. First a huge black truck drove unnecessarily close by me, and then felt the need to gun its absurdly loud, gas-guzzling engine. Next I get the finger from some middle-aged loser for absolutely no reason. Hey, I'll admit if I do something stupid on the bike and interfere with traffic, but in this case all I was doing was innocently using the same road, well to the right of the white line. Then while riding with the group, a car full of high school kids must have thought we were poor because they threw a handful of coins at us. What other reason could there be?!

Please ride safely out there.


Manley Man said...

Yeah, reality sucks sometimes. I was on my way home today through Los Gatos and a guy driving a Subaru WRX decides to turn right w/out using a blinker. After a sweet power-skid of my own and some choice words (which of course fell on deaf ears) I was ok, but spooked. I later saw the individual at a light a few blocks later. I have him the classic WTF look and went on my way. I'm typically a kick-back type B personality, but cross me like that and I start to speak in the 3rd person and use my 6'9" frame to intimidate fools.

Marco Fanelli said...

Glad to hear you're okay from your vehicle run-in. My problem is that in my mind I have your 6'9" of intimidation, but in reality my 5'9" and a buck-thirty will get me in a lot more trouble! Sux to have confrontations at all...

Steve Weixel said...

I don't remember coins being thrown at us yesterday... when was that?

Marco Fanelli said...

A little past DP high school... you were probably off the front! I didn't know what it was until TnA and Seth said it was coins.

Dave Jacobson said...

I agree with everything here....Sorry to be the ignorant Socal guy, but what is "OSM?" Just curious....

Anonymous said...

$12K plus change dreamer?

meh-wee-uhn said...

After getting beer bottles thrown at me through ElSob & getting hooted & grabbed at in some of the less savory parts of the East Bay, I no longer eff around.

Get the license plate number, call the cops, sound concerned: "They were swerving all over the road. Isn't it early in the day to be drinking?"
I suppose this works better for women, but you get the general picture.

Also, I don't mention that I'm on a bike unless they ask as so many people, including cops, think cyclist/bike rider=batshitcrazy wingnut.

Dave Jacobson said...

So what's OSM ferchrist?

From the maps up there I saw San Marcos....Is it "Over San Marcos?"

Marco Fanelli said...

OSM is for Old San Marcos Rd., a favorite climb for a lot of us here in SB. It's 2.9 miles and climbs 1,200 feet. It's a different road than hwy 154 which goes over San Marcos Pass, which is probably what you saw on the map. I see you ride with SC Velo... say "Hi" to Josh for me.

Hahaha... 12.00007K dreamer!! Maybe they were trying to sponsor us!

Oh you're just so rational! We talked today about what might happen when we find the car, as in, super-glue the coins back onto it with a note saying, "Hey, you dropped your money", or something like that. (Ooops... I shouldn't have said that. Nevermind!)

Anonymous said...

I still get nervous just with the sound of certain vehicle engines...and it's damn hard to just relax and enjoy a road ride at times.

I survived motorcycle racing and a number of crashes unscathed only to have my back broken by a motorist on State St. I since took up surfing to at least get to a place I could relax, at least on not so crowded days.

This today in the LA Times just brings home what we all encounter a number of times each time we head out on the streets. Some fool using thier vehicle as a weapon....,0,7055825.story?track=rss


Marco Fanelli said...

Hey John-

I know what you mean... and I'll probably end up as one of those old dudes with a helmet-mounted mirror because I'm so paranoid about cars.

Thanks for passing on the latest info about that LA incident. I've raced with one of those guys (LRon) a bunch and he's always struck me as a very level-headed and calm rider. That idiot driver must have really crossed the line to provoke Ron in the first place. But then there's no excuse for using his vehicle like a weapon. I hope they throw the book at him, or at a minimum, revoke his license permanently.

Greg Knowles said...

I'm not going to let my wife read this post Marco, but I do agree we need to be careful and do what we can to watch out for one another.