A Short History of Bicycle Accidents in North America

They put a bike-share station right outside my San Francisco office the other day and I’m seriously considering giving it a try. Now it has been reported in the media that I am a portly fifty-something man with back trouble and a fairly large belly scar that makes it painful to bend over. And that is true. Also, it is said that I haven’t been on a bicycle in 35 years. And that is true as well.

But I ask you: should this stop me from following my dream – to totter dangerously down a busy city street on a rented bike, bouncing randomly off of the busses and pedestrians who don’t get out of my way in time, maybe taking a spill and enjoying some of that sweet, sweet Obamacare?

Of course not.

I had many fine adventures on a bike just like this, except with more blood on it.

I had many fine adventures on a bike just like this, except with more blood on it.

I must admit that I have not had the best luck with bicycles in the past. As a kid I had one of them banana-seat bikes with the high handlebars and a cool swooping rear fender made out of the sharpest aluminum known to science. I remember this one time I rode it down a steep driveway and directly into a tree at top speed.* It takes guts to ride your bike down a steep driveway and directly into a tree at top speed, let me tell you. I do not recommend it for the squeamish.

Did I have a bike helmet on? Don’t make me laugh. In those days “child safety” meant smoking only filtered cigarettes.

Later that summer I remember hopping off of the bike in a hurry and neatly slicing a 5-inch gash in my leg on the super-sharp swoopy rear fender, which I didn’t realize until people started complaining about the bloody footprints I was leaving everywhere. This was pretty much the end of that bike, because of mothers.

As a teenager I recall riding a different bike to swimming lessons in Columbia High School, South Orange, NJ**. I had my suit and my towel in a wire basket hanging from the handlebars. Unfortunately, they weren’t in a bag or anything, so over time the towel worked out of the basket, coming in contact with the front wheel’s wire spokes – at which point it became firmly entangled in the wheel, bringing it to an immediate halt.

Sadly, the rest of the bike continued to move.

So, to my great surprise I found myself rising rapidly over the immobile front wheel, flying through the air and doing a magnificent face-plant onto the asphalt.  This was pretty bad. I didn’t die or anything, but I certainly could have.

And if not then, I certainly should have perished when I did the exact same thing again, months later. This second spill was in slo-mo, and I had what felt like an hour*** to curse myself for being a goddamned idiot before the really crunchy and awful impact sped time up again.

Any accident you walk away from - twice - is a good accident.

Any accident you walk away from – twice – is a good accident.

So I was a slow learner as a kid. Sue me. But I sure was bouncy, because I walked away from both incidents unscathed.

On consideration, maybe I should stay away from the bikes. I may be marginally sharper than I was as a child, but I’m sure as hell not half as bouncy. I should probably rent a Vespa instead. Or learn how to ride a motorcycle. What could possibly go wrong?

Anyway, I miss the slo-mo.


* I bet I had a good reason.

** Roar, Cougars, roar!

***Because of relativity.


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6 Responses to “A Short History of Bicycle Accidents in North America”

  1. Greg Costikyan Says:

    Well… I’m a 50-something who commuted by bicycle for two years in SF, and am no longer portly because of it. Given your history, yeah, you should take it slow. But you know…. come on in, the water’s fine.

  2. Lance Says:

    Blood loss is one of the most reliable ways to lose weight quickly–in a matter of minutes. So, I agree with the other commenters who say it is a great way to lose weight.

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