I went into this summer as a brand-new grad school graduate. I had so many plans, quite a few trips planned and I had just booked a week-long vacation in Istanbul to ring in my 27th birthday with an old friend and a new friend. I spent Canada Day with a good friend of mine and had such a great day at her cottage, despite the rain. We even managed to get back to watch the fireworks and head out with Matt and J. Since Canada Day was on a Friday this year, we had a long weekend. The rest of the details are fuzzy.
Summer was here and it was going to be epik.
And then it wasn’t.
On my way home from work, a 12-minute bike ride that I do every single day, twice a day, I was hit by a cyclist from behind on the bike path and flung into the busy bridge. I hit my head twice on the pavement, and the second time, my helmet had broken off.
I’m not sure what happened next, but someone who had seen what happened, stopped and called an ambulance. He talked to me in French since I had lost all ability to form any type of sentence in English. My hands and feet weren’t working and I could feel blood rolling down my arms and legs. My head was pounding and rocks were falling out of my hair. I tried to scream but only tears came. Mes mains ne bougent pas. Mes pieds ne bougent pas. Pourquoi est-ce que je ne peux pas bouger mes mains?
As a result of the concussion, I had to take a full month of rest. No exercise, no drinking, no extraneous activity. It was difficult, scary and lonely. It hurt my eyes and head to watch TV, I had trouble reading and my shoulder was in so much pain, I couldn’t tie my hair.
I was lucky. I know that. It took me a few weeks but I got back on my bike. I still bike to work everyday, but it takes me a bit longer and I am hyper-aware of everything that is going on around me. I constantly check behind me, I slow down if I see something in front of me that might move, and I hold my breath every time I pass by the scene of the accident. And some days, I pull over to the side and cry.
I am lucky. A few weeks ago, running late to work because I couldn’t find my pass, I biked my normal route. I stayed on a bike path, and I cautiously approached my intersection. On that September 1st morning, my intersection was blocked off by police, ambulance and a truck. My heart caught in my throat. Please don’t let it be a cyclist.
I locked my bike up and checked the news. It was a cyclist. A young woman in her twenties had been hit by a truck driver as she was biking to school. She was pinned underneath. She was 23. Her name is Nusrat Jahan.
Everyday that I bike to work, I feel a sense of dread. More, and more and more accidents are happening. My own soccer teammates tell me how much they hate sharing the road with cyclists. My friend R tells me to be agressive. And some days, I go home and cry. Or I decide to never ride my bike again.
Here’s my take on this:
Be agressive. Be a cyclist. Share the road. Wear a helmet.
Here’s some additional advice.
Tell your friends, teammates, colleagues and family who complain about cyclists about your fears. Tell them that you’ve almost been hit, how cars come up to you and honk when you’re on the bike path, how a driver drove onto the sidewalk and honked at you when you were using the sidewalk to get to your underground parking and almost hit you. Tell them that if they hit a cyclist, they will probably get a dent, but the cyclist might get death. Maybe if they understand that fear you have, someone they love and care about, they will think twice.
Wear a helmet. I see people biking without helmets and it makes me angry. Trust me, that helmet might save your life when you get hit from behind. And not only that, take those earphones out. I use to bike listening to music, but I no longer do that. On the day of my accident, I wasn’t listening to music because I couldn’t find my earphones. I haven’t done it since.
Look at Kate Hudson. She landed Matthew McConaughey with a helmet. Wear a fucking helmet.
Be agressive, in that you take up space, you cycle while checking everything around you and that you follow the rules of the road. You are entitled to your space. Use it, but be careful. And sometimes you could a hundred things right, and you might still get hit. It’s not your fault. This one is a big one I had to remind myself.
This is one from my good friend Tara who is a cyclist as well. RING YOUR F****** BELL WHEN YOU PASS. Look, you may think it’s agressive. You may think there is no point because you feel there is enough space to pass. Ring your bell anyways. Ring it. Ring it before. Ring it during. If you don’t have a bell, scream out “left.” (If you don’t know how this works, watch Tea Leoni run in Spanglish.)
Beyonce has a bell so that means you can ring your bell.
Use your hand signals. Signal where you want to turn right or left. I don’t care if you bring a cardboard sign in the shape of an arrow and show where you want to turn. Here’s a handy guide to cycling hand signals.
Here’s a more advanced one. You don’t need it and I’m not aware of a few of these, but here they are:
Stay safe. Please.
The cycling community is a wonderful one – look after each other.