Freak Cycling Accident

As Daughter and I were riding along the Coast Road cycle path last week, one of the many people who use it as their commuting route overtook us. I’d seen him coming up behind, and were were in single file on the left to let him pass. For some reason, he took the far right of the path, actually passing between a lamp post and the crash barrier.

Then something unusual happened. He was riding so close to the crash barrier that his front wheel glanced off one of its steel uprights, and this metalwork jammed between his bike’s fork and the wheel. The rider was catapulted into the ground, landing squarely on his head.

The only visible injury he sustained was a cut to the bridge of his nose where his helmet’s shell had hit. The helmet though was a total write-off, in about four or five pieces. I couldn’t get him to stop and sit down to recover, but checked his bike over for him before he set off again.

The bike was in dire need of some TLC, and not from the crash – I’ve rarely seen so many nuts, bolts, bearings and brakes so loose!

I told him he should probably go to A&E after the bang on the head he’d sustained. But he pointed to the shattered helmet, and said that he didn’t need to – the helmet had done it’s job.

Talking with Daughter about it later, she siad that it seemed like a good reason to wear a helmet more often. Is that a conclusion that fits the observation? Because the thing is, how you viewed all this would very much depend on where you stood:

Cycling is DANGEROUS. Something bad could happen at any moment, but technology will protect you”. This is an exaggeration, but how I’d characterise the guy who’d had the accident. He will probably keep that helmet as an heirloom and proudly bring it out to ward off bad things, declaring that the helmet obviously saved his life: “Look, IT broke, so my head didn’t.”

Sometimes shit just happens” is the view of the fatalistic who see road traffic “accidents” as inevitable – nobody is to blame, and there’s nothing to be done. Because of this, everyone should do everything they can at all times to avoid the consequences of capricious fate. Wear a helmet, wear hi-viz, flashing arm-bands, and blow your whistle, because if someone drives into you IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT.

Most accidents are due to avoidable errors” is closer to my view of the world. In air accidents, some are described as a “controlled flight into terrain”, in which for some reason, the pilots ignore the instruments, or common sense, and fly into the mountain. Not colliding with avoidable scenery is a basic skill.

Is there any other way to view this?

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Posted in Bike Culture
4 comments on “Freak Cycling Accident
  1. Sam Saunders says:

    Knowing that our own concentration as cyclists or the vagaries of the environment around us will eventually and inevitably lead us into conflict with other objects, people or surfaces we just need to make a routine of some things that are likely to reduce the harm done when it happens. A well-fitting viable helmet would be one example. A decision to always moderate speed when passing others on narrow paths would be another. Perhaps a frank chat with an experienced friend after a bump could help to remove the levels of bravado/self-justification that tend to reduce ones own responsibility for what happens could help too.

    And maybe all three of your explanations are true – to some degree. Luckily for us the degree is fairly low, and much compensated for by all the extra good health that comes from cycling.

    But thanks for the story. I have been leaving my old and failed helmet in the shed for some time. A new one would do me no harm.

  2. miketually says:

    If the helmet broke into pieces, it probably didn’t do it’s job.

  3. Adam J says:

    Personally, I wonder whether there’s much of a gulf between 1 and 3. Yes, just about all non-act-of-god accidents (read: unintentional injuries) are due to avoidable errors. But… what should be done to prevent these?

    Looking around the world, don’t we have a mass experiment running to answer this?

    Helmets? We’ve tried that. Makes people ride faster (and drivers pass closer) and heads more likely to hit ground in a fall, therefore causing more injuries. Fail.

    Asking people to ride/drive/share better? How rosy your world must be! Human psychology is not so simplistic. Fail.

    Designing bicycle infrastructure (especially on-road) so that small errors on the part of a rider (or driver) doesn’t lead to serious injuries? Seems to be working a treat in the Netherlands, and Denmark, and in NYC,…

  4. Koen says:

    I happened to be in just such a crash yesterday. A cyclist crashed into the rental bike I hired for a trip to Amsterdam. I was fine, but the guy (speaking English btw) had toppled over and must have had some bruises. When I tried to readjust his handlebars, they spun round like a weathervane, and I gathered they had alreay been too loose. Combine that with a steep Amsterdam bridge, a sharp turn and a tourist in front of you slowing down for the view, the outcome will be pretty obvious!

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