Sticks and Stones will break my bones...
Editor's Note: Cycling isn't (and can't be) perfectly safe-- but neither is driving, walking, or sitting on your couch. I don't write stuff like this to scare anyone or to try to prove anything-- this is just about a real experience with a real person (me) under real Memphis conditions-- nothing special. It has never happened to me before, and it may never happen again-- but it is important to be aware that it can, and does, happen.
On the evening of Tuesday, January 29th, 2008, I was riding home from work on my $500 Redline steel fixed-gear commuter bike. You might remember that stormy evening—there were major winds, with gusts up to 55 mph. There were a lot of storm-related incidents- trees down, etc. The events of the 29th were eclipsed the following Tuesday, February 5th, with the devastating tornadoes that killed many people including several in the Memphis area.
So, on Tuesday, January 29th, I was, as usual, riding my bike home from work. I left the office around 6 pm or so. As I ventured north on Yates (my office is at Poplar and Yates) I noticed that there was an extraordinary amount of debris on the road—a lot more than normal. I thought that I should write something in the Tailwind to alert readers to the increased danger that exists from storm-related debris.
So this is that article—watch out for debris like sticks. It can hurt you.
Here’s an example—
After contemplating my future bike safety article for the Tailwind, I turned left off of Yates to cut through the pretty, residential area there that connects with the Wild Oats-Cinema Paradiso shopping area. I turned onto Spainwood. I was having fun—the wind was reported to be up to 45 mph at the time, so I was riding a reasonable 15 mph—slower is more stable. I had never ridden a bike with panniers in that much wind—I thought “this is fun”.
I noticed that there was a lot of debris in the road-- it looked as though a big tree limb had fallen and shattered into countless pieces.
Suddenly my face/head/chest suddenly hit the pavement. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, people were crouched around me asking “Are you ok?”
That is never a good sign, to wake up with people standing around asking if you are ok.
I remember moaning, and I remember some guy calling 911, telling them something about a bicyclist who had crashed and has possible facial, head, neck, and spinal injuries.
Then I realized he was calling them about me. Bummer. That is never a good sign, when you discover that you are the one they are calling 911 about.
I moaned some more—I felt like someone had hit me in the chest and back with a baseball bat or two. Gradually, through my concussion-induced fog, I came to realize that I was bleeding a fair amount and I was lying in the middle of Spainwood with a couple of guys standing around me.
One fellow asked me a few questions about sensations, pain, moving my toes, etc. I recognized that he was doing some sort of medical evaluation.
He decided I should get out of the street. I crawled to the curb, laid down there, and moaned some more.
He asked me about my family. I gave him my home phone number and he called Carol, my wife.
Later I found out that the guy who had found me in the street was a neurologist- how lucky is that? When you are unconscious in the middle of a street, you can’t do much better than to be discovered by a neurologist. It helps to ride through wealthy neighborhoods.
Eventually a fire truck arrived—it was from the fire station on Mendenhall, in front of the Kroger grocery store. Some nice fireman carrying a big metal first aid kit box talked to me for awhile. I was lying down in the grass by this time.
I remember turning my head at one point at seeing my bike illuminated by the headlights of the fire truck—it looked like it had a really big piece of wood was stuck in the front wheel.
An ambulance arrived at some point- I didn’t notice when. I was somehow strapped to a backboard. Someone put me into the ambulance.
My wife Carol arrived. She knocked on the back door of the ambulance. We talked some about something- I cannot remember what. We departed for the Med and Carol followed in our car.
I was at the Med about 11 hours. A woman in the trauma bay next to me had a badly broken arm- a tree had fallen on her while she was a passenger in a car just driving down the road. Some storm!
The rest is just medical history— Basically, I was ok—no stitches, no fractures, but I did lose one tooth, which will cost me a lot more than my commuter bike. I was out of work for a week. I had a bad black eye, a lot of pain, but it wasn’t anything that Percocet could not handle.
A resident of the Spainwood neighborhood had taken my bike and stored it until I could pick it up. I picked it up a few days after the accident. There was a stick in the front wheel. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, a piece of storm debris lodged in my front wheel. It was a decent sized stick—perhaps 2 inches or so in diameter. The down tube was bent and the front fork was bent- not a good sign.
When the stick entered the spokes, the front wheel stopped but the bike rider (me) did not stop—thus, what is known as a face plant happened-- 15 mph face-first onto Spainwood. Ouch!
The bike is totaled but I am not. I am not paralyzed, I am not fractured, I am not stitched. I am alive, living, and breathing. I will ride again, but not on that bike.
Watch out for sticks.