I have been hand cycling for over three months and lucky to come home after each ride in one piece. Close calls happen regularly because hand cycles sit low to the ground for better aerodynamics. Safety has been replaced by aerodynamics so that athletes can perform better. This makes the sport more competitive and I believe the athletes would pick competition over safety.
Yesterday was a day I wished safety were the most important factor in hand cycling. I was hoping to go for a quick ten-mile ride from my house in Salida around Ripon and back. I was crossing the Stanislaus River I thought to myself I should do my usual lap around the first neighborhood in Ripon. At the end of the bridge, I saw two cyclists talking and wanted to stop and talk, but I knew I needed to keep the pace I had, so I kept going on my ride. I should have stopped.
I was at my last turn to exit the neighborhood. I looked left and it was clear so I looked right and I saw a car but since the car was in the right lane and I could see the rear of the car I figured he was driving away from me. I always double-check and look left again while entering an intersection and it was clear. As I looked right, I noticed the car was closer to me so I grabbed my brakes, but it was too late. I was already turning, so when I grabbed my brake hard while swerving, my bike rolled on its side. As I was skidding, I saw the reverse lights and then brake lights. I was lucky the driver saw me and was able to stop his car, but momentum had a different plan for me. My front wheel smacked the bumper causing the bike to stop, but my body kept going. The Velcro holding my feet to the cycle ripped and my legs went flying. This accident was surprising, even though I know I am taking the chance of it happening every time I go for a ride.
There are horror stories about hand cycle rollovers and crashes that have spread around the hand cycle community. I have read about many and witnessed a friend roll over while he was racing at Lodi Cycle Fest. Rollovers are not fun when they happen to you and are not fun to watch live but it’s the risk we take. I refuse to let fear control my lifestyle no matter if I am in a wheelchair or not.
The driver of the car was an old man in his sixties. As he came running out of his car, I noticed he had the “did this really just happen?” look on his face. Our conversation was comical. Here it is:
Old Man- Are you ok? I am sorry I tried to stop!
Me- I think so, hold on let me lay here for a minute.
Old Man- okay, don’t get up. Do you want me to call the police or an ambulance?
Me- I’m paralyzed. I can’t get up. No, don’t call anyone I think I’m fine. I need a minute to realize what just happened.
Old Man- (had a strange look on his face) you are paralyzed? Are you sure you are ok?
Me- (trying to roll my bike back to its wheels) I am fine.
Old Man- Let me help you stand up.
Me- I am paralyzed, remember?
Old Man- (crosses his arms) oh yeah, are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance?
Me- (I started laughing because I wasn’t sure if he thought I because paralyzed from this accident or if I was paralyzed before this accident.) I became paralyzed five years ago you don’t have to worry.
Old Man- (he had a look of relief) I am sorry to hear that. How did it happen?
Me- I was in a car accident that’s why I need a minute to relax after what just happened. That was scary!
Old Man- I understand, I’m very sorry.
Me- It’s ok but, why were you going in reverse around a corner so fast?
Old Man- I was taking my wife to an appointment and my son yelled something to me so I was going back to see what he said.
Me- Oh, are you late to your appointment?
Old Man- Yes, we’re already late.
Me- You should leave then.
Old Man- What? Are you sure I can’t help you or call for help?
Me- I need to strap my legs back to my cycle so there’s nothing you can do to help but thanks. Old Man- Umm okay (he started to walk away then stopped turned looked at me for a few seconds) Are you sure you don’t need anything?
Me- Yes, I’m fine. We don’t need to involve anyone else. Accidents happen and we are all fine. Use this as a lesson every time you get in your car. Pay attention to what’s around you and make smarter decisions while driving. If I need anything I now know where you live.
Old Man- Umm Thanks.
As he drove away I could see his wife looking at me in the side mirror. I could only imagine what their conversation was like on the way to her appointment. I double-checked my cycle and body to make sure I could continue my ride. Some stuff was a little bent but I knew it was fixable when I got home. I wasn’t angry this happened to me, but I was sad I forgot to pause my cycle app that records my speed, time and distance. Now I have a nine-minute mile on my record. My bikes damage is mostly cosmetic and now it has character. I figure I will have many more rollovers in my future, so I will leave the scratches to remind me about how drivers don’t pay attention.
Safety is important even if we are low to the ground. I use a tall orange flag that is over 7 feet tall. This helps people see a lot better. I also have a very bright head light and a couple taillights. I am saving up for a better light system at the moment. No matter how safe you are accidents are going to happen. Don’t let the fear of an accident control your life. Get back on the cycle and ride with pride.