So, on September 12th, a fine clear late summer day, I was minding my own business enjoying my ride home on my bicycle:
Mid-1980s Sachs road bicycle
A nice Sachs road bike I rescued from rusting oblivion, abandoned for seven months on the bike rack where I work. Technically, I probably stole it. If the owner ever shows up and asks for it, he can have it back (after paying for the bits I replaced). But, I digress.
There I was, no shit (that’s how you tell the difference between a story and a fairy tale). Just starting my ride home down the Rue Grande, leaving SHAPE in the direction of Mons. This is one of the short stretches of my 8.5 km ride home that is on a road. And, it’s a nice downhill run. Since I was on my road bike, I was riding at a good speed. Probably approaching 60 km/h.
Near the bottom of that hill, on my right, is a small shopping center. The two lanes in my direction are split into one through lane, and one right turn only lane. On the uphill side, there is a left turn only lane, where cars wait for the downhill traffic to clear before crossing the downhill lane and entering the shopping center. That’s the idea, anyway. Here’s a diagram of my crash, drawn from my perspective of riding downhill:
Diagram of my bicycle crash
Here’s what happened: At time T1, the three involved vehicles were in positions A1, B1, and C1. Vehicle B, an Opel station wagon, saw car A clear the intersection. He saw no more traffic coming downhill, and began his left turn into the driveway of the shopping center.
Except I was still coming downhill, and damned fast. The driver of car B didn’t look for any other traffic except car traffic. Realizing there was no way I was going to avoid this impact, my best course of action was to get on the brakes as hard as I could and bleed off as much speed as possible before I hit. Force is a product of mass and velocity squared. So, half the speed is a quarter of the force of impact.
At T2 the three vehicles are in their postions A2, B2, and C2. This is when I hit car B at roughly 30 km/h. That’s a wild guess, I just know it was less than my full downhill speed, because I was able to get some braking before impact.
At time T3, I was in position C3. That bubble over my head in the diagram is a dialog bubble. You can imagine what I said and fill it in yourself. I remember no details of the actual impact, it was too fast. I heard a really loud bang as my head hit the road. I think my head hit first, then my right shoulder.
Anyway, I was ambulatory, sat up and looked around, then got the hell off of the road. I sure didn’t need some car driving over me to boot. There was a surprising number of people who saw this happen, and were there to help me. One was an off duty pompier (fireman for the provincial people who don’t speak French), and he insisted on calling an ambulance.
So, away I went to the emergency room of Ambroise Pare hospital. Where, after a bunch of radiographs, I found I had a broken clavicle and three broken ribs. Which would explain the pain. After a couple hours of lying on a table staring at the ceiling, the doctor finally got back to me and put a figure of eight sling around my shoulders. I couldn’t reach him or I’d of punched him. That hurt like hell.
The next Monday, I saw the orthopedist, who gave me a sling to hold my arm down. It helps with the pain in my shoulder, but does nothing for the broken ribs. Sleeping isn’t so good, there’s no comfortable position.
The following day, we went back to one of the stores in that shopping center to pick up my bike. It still rolled. The only visible damage was the rear wheel was knocked out of true by about six millimeters and the spring for the clapper on my bell was gone. Wierd. I’d have expected the front wheel to be mangled, but it was undamaged. Regardless, I dropped it off at my local bike shop to have all the spokes replaced and true that rear wheel up if possible. When I rescued that bike, all the spokes were quite rusted. I sanded the rust off and painted them white, as you see in the above picture. It looks nice, but it’s not durable.
Yesterday, I had a closer look at the helmet I was wearing, a 2000 model from Giro, the Terramoto. You may remember last year, I got car-doored near my house. I didn’t have a helmet on that day, and my head did hit the street, but not hard. Nevertheless, I re-evaluated my continued exposure to risk since I commute daily, and decided a helmet at all times was appropriate.
On first glance, the damage to my Terramoto helmet seemed superficial. The scuff pattern on the shell is barely visible:
The shell of my crashed Giro Terramoto helmet
That section of the helmet is the front right quarter. You can see the vertical scuff marks and the cracked section of the shell on the bottom edge of that vent. Doesn’t look so bad. But something made that loud bang when my head hit something.
Further inspection on the inside of the helmet reveals a crack and displacement completely through the helmet:
Giro Terramoto helmet after a crash, cracked through.
Clearly, I hit something with my head, and damned forcefully. Have you ever tried to break one of these helmets? That foam is pretty tough stuff.
Next, I removed the helmet shell to have a look underneath it:
Giro Terramoto helmet, deformed in a crash.
That’s some pretty significant deformation, over a large area. The foam of these helmets is quite stiff. To put dents of that depth over that large of an area of impact took some considerable force.
I doubt I’d have survived that impact without that helmet on my head. I’ll repeat that thought. I’d be dead now without it.
Don’t be an ass. Don’t be a dumbass. No justification exists to not wear a helmet on a bicycle.
The crash I experienced is a common type of crash. It is also common with motorcycles, and I knew this. I saw where this car was positioned, and I saw what could have happened before it happened. I had good momentum, and just wanted to get home to supper. I pushed a bad position. Even though I had priority, and made no mistakes, I’m still the one with broken bones. I was wearing a bright yellow jacket, I was in the correct lane position.
The thing to do would have been to bleed off some speed until I was either clear of the danger or could stop if I needed to. It would’ve cost me 15 seconds in time of my ride. My judgment a year ago to always wear a helmet was sound. My judgment of this little traffic situation, not so much.
Learn from this. Save you, it can.