How to wipe that smug smile off my face

In which our hero learns that one problem with smugness is that too much of it can lead to some serious come-uppance.

If you read bike blogs, or talk with avid cyclists much you’ll know that there are three topics that never fail to bring out people’s opinions. I’m not talking boring technical roadie stuff like steel vs. carbon vs. titanium or Campy vs. SRAM vs. Shimano. The topics I’m talking about are Critical Mass, Bike lanes (and other infrastructure), and the advisability of everyone wearing a helmet. Here are (briefly) my takes on the first two. I’m rather grumpy today, so I’m prone to extreme positions. Also, I’m now incapable of shrugging my shoulders, which means I can’t really equivocate. I’ll explain my grumpiness when I get to helmets.

Critical Mass: (wikipedia if you need a definition). I participated in two CM rides in Edmonton. At first, it was kind of fun, riding in a big group, letting most of the traffic go by. Later, it seemed like the mass was just there to block traffic and piss people off. The most often expressed point of CM is that it is a “celebration of cycling.” I suppose that’s true in the same way a loud, drunken tailgate party is a “celebration of school spirit” in that it makes everyone who’s not on your side hate you even more, and embarrasses the people who are ostensibly rooting for the same team. If you go with the “spontaneous protest” justification and the point of CM is to convince people that “bikes are traffic” it’s a stupid fucking way to do it. Instead of CM, ride your bike everyday, everywhere you need to go. Encourage other people to do the same. CM is for bullshit wannabe revolutionaries.

Bike Lanes: Some bike lanes are good, some bike lanes are bad . I don’t need bike lanes in order to feel comfortable riding in the street, but it’s kind of nice to have them. I’ve biked in cities that have more lanes than Providence and it was pretty sweet. I’ve biked in cities with hardly any bike lanes and while it was certainly manageable, the worst part was the 45 MPH speed limit on some streets. A grid street pattern allowed me to stay off of those streets for the most part. Bike lanes (when constructed properly and kept clear of debris), can encourage more people to ride. When built incorrectly, they are a hazard. And the Park Slopers suing to get rid of the lanes on Prospect Park West are full of shit because those things make everyone safer.

Helmets: If you read about biking much, you’re bound to come across the “great helmet war.” The anti-helmet crowd says stuff like, “The Dutch don’t wear helmets, and they have some of the best cycling safety statistics.” Good for them, they also have the best cycling infrastructure and culture in the world. “That one guy in England found that when he wore a helmet, cars passed closer to him” Nice sample size there. “Bike helmets aren’t designed for the common types of accidents” Well then, let’s make them better. “Requiring helmets convinces people that cycling is unsafe.” Some people are stupid, what are you going to do? I’d keep going, but I think that this post does a better job of breaking down the arguments for wearing a helmet.

In the last year, I’ve sort of skirted around the edges of the “helmet wars” as I’ve read various bike blogs. I’m a bit conflict-averse, so I’ve avoided reading much of it. But I’d heard some of the intriguing counter-intuitive arguments and I’ll admit that they appealed to my scientific curiosity. Earlier this week, I found the video below on a bike blog called DFW Point-to-Point, and I thought, “well, maybe I’ll take a look at this anti-helmet stuff.”

I’d proceed with my usual frame-by-frame mocking of the video (a skill I picked up by spending too much time watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 in my youth), but I’m typing with one hand and don’t quite feel up to it today.

On Friday, I wiped out while riding my road bike on the East Bay Bike Path. It was a beautiful day, with a high predicted to be in the upper 60’s. I had a comp day coming to me, so it seemed like the perfect time to take the day off and enjoy a casual ride with Spouse. I even wore shorts. We were on a flat, straight section of the EBBP, completely  devoid of any gravel, twigs or debris. I had just mentioned to Spouse that we could ride side by side since there was so little traffic. I took a swig from my water bottle, and as I replaced it, I lost my balance. My bike got sideways, and I hit the ground hard, mostly on my left shoulder, but also on my left hip. My head also hit the ground, but I’m not certain of the sequence. I heard a snap, at the time I thought it was my helmet, but it was most likely my collarbone. I didn’t black out, but the pain took a few minutes to catch up with me. Spouse kept a level head and helped me get to the side of the path. She called our friend (and faithful commenter) Vanessa to help with the bikes, then we decided it was best to call an ambulance.

X-rays confirmed that my collarbone was broken on my left side. I won’t bother you with the details of the ER right now (I have 4-6 weeks of no riding ahead of me, so i’ll need to stretch out the stories). I’ll just say that I’m glad I always carry with me: my ID, credit card, and insurance card. I didn’t have anything with emergency contact info on it, but I’ll be adding that to my kit for my next ride. Something else I always have with me: my helmet. Did it save my life yesterday? No, that would be an exaggeration. But it probably saved me from a concussion.


It's hard to see the crack, but it goes almost all the way through.

Fortunately, you can’t see the crack in my clavicle, but I can assure you that it is protruding much more than the other side. I’m not sure why I’m smiling, maybe it was the percocet.

Do you think it's kind of flirty how one of the straps keeps falling down?

I’ll be wearing this for the next several weeks, thus the one-handed typing. And one-handed eating. And one-handed just about everything else.

At the end of my recovery, i’ll get to buy a new helmet. They’re not perfect, but they’re the best thing we have for protecting our brains (along with not riding like an idiot). I can’t blame this accident on anyone but myself, really. I suppose I could try to blame it on the extraordinarily strong pull of the lunar perigee on the water in my bottle.

The so-called “Supermoon” woke me up around 3 AM this morning just to mock me as it passed across my window.

I’ll try to keep up with the blogging in the next few weeks, concentrating more on walking and transit. Until then, ride safe!


17 responses to “How to wipe that smug smile off my face

  1. Oh man! Collar bone fractures SUCK! I’m so sorry to hear about your accident!
    My dad broke his collar bone skiing once. He had simple fall, the kind where you think, “oh I’m a little off balance. Whatever, I’ll just fall down.” The landing unfortunately was on a block of ice next to the soft looking pillow of snow. Xray. Sling. Shoulder-brace. Beer.
    If it’s any consolation, the weather looks like crap for the next week. Maybe in addition to the new helmet you can speed your recovery by switching to a recumbent. 🙂

    I fell off my bike on the EBBP once. It was right by that ice cream shop in Riverside. They had just repaved that part of the path, so there was a curb-like edge to it. This was my first ride with the future fiancée. As we were heading north, I heard a little girl scream like she was about to get hit by a car (turns out, she was just excited for ice cream). I turned to look, and my front wheel went off the edge of the path/curb. Instinctively, I tried to get it back on the pavement, but instead rubbed the edge of my tire against it and fell over, rolled, somersaulted, and jumped back up out of embarrassment before I could identify if I was hurt… luckily, just the ego.

    Sorry, this is your blog. I’ll stop typing. Heal fast!

    • thanks matt. i’m afraid i’ll be out for more than just the sucky weather of this week. i think this is a perfectly acceptable place for other tales of cycling accidents. Another Matt (from Bikes Can Work) had an accident similar to yours: going off the side of the road and then coming back on and falling. Sometimes I think that it’s sport/leisure cycling that is more dangerous than commuter cycling!

  2. I think that’s very true. The speed and the skinny tires makes it a lot trickier. I would never not wear a helmet on my road bike.

    • Spouse and I were out walking around Brown yesterday and saw many cyclists – most w/o helmets. Spouse asked me if I wanted to yell at them about that. I’d have to say no. I’ll continue to be a pedantic bore about salmoning, lights and flagrant law breaking, but if somebody is out on their bike, I’m happy for them almost no matter what. (unless they are going the wrong way on a one way – then I’ll play chicken with them.)

  3. Sorry to hear about the colar bone. I hope the recovery goes smoothly.

    For emergency contact info, I really like using
    I have the wrist band, my wife prefers the shoe one, and my dad (a triathlete) likes the dog tags. The only time I know personally the info was used was when my dad was training with a friend who wrecked. The info was right there for them to use. We’ve been sold on it ever since.

    Have to say I agree with your rant on Critical Mass, bike infrastructure, and helmets. Didn’t think I’d ever see that in an on-line post.

    • Thanks, jdg. I’ve heard of roadid before. I think I’ll just write it on a card and stick it in with my other stuff. Maybe get it laminated.

  4. Sorry to hear about your spill! It’s been several years since I was last on the East Bay, but I remember a really bad section of roots and frost heaves in Barrington. Maybe they’ve gotten around to fixing it.

    • there are roots and heaves on a few sections of the other paths, but the ebbp is mostly smooth. at least the section where i fell was completely smooth, i’m embarrassed to say.

    • youch! How can i start scoring those sweet bike review gigs? i’m sure i can wipe out at least as well as he can.

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