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Cars Versus Bikes: Mishaps

This second of a three-part series by NB Indy writer Richard Simon – a veteran cyclist – explores the challenges of staying alive while bicycling the streets of Newport Beach. Read part one on the Indy website at NewportBeachIndy.com.

Bikes on PCH (2)

Bicyclist on Coast Highway in Corona del Mar
— Photo by Lawrence Sherwin

Most cyclists can relate to at least one memorable two-wheel mishap, but retired dermatologist (and NB Indy Photo Editor) Larry Sherwin, sheepishly admitted to two.

“I fell off my bike twice on PCH, while trying to enter the same driveway at the Chevron station,” he recounted. “A two-inch lip must be bumped-over or approached at the correct angle, or the front wheel catches and over you go.”

Both times, his biggest injury was to his ego, because those less-than-gymnastic tumbles happened in front of gawking strangers as they filled their gas tanks.

Humorous? Perhaps, but even the most simple of bike accidents may cause serious injury.

Entire medical books could be written about physical injuries resulting from bike accidents. An article by Matthew J. Thompson, M.B., and Frederick P. Rivara, MD, in “American Family Physician,” discusses bicycle-related injuries in depth, and it’s not pretty: Most injuries occur in males, and are associated with riding at high speed. Most serious injuries and fatalities result from collisions with motor vehicles. Superficial soft tissue injuries and muscle and skeleton trauma are the most common injuries. Head injuries cause most fatalities and long-term disabilities.

Not all injuries stem from accidents. Experts suggest that over-use may contribute to a variety of musculoskeletal complaints, compression neuropathies, and perineal and genital complaints. Simply adjusting the fit on the bike and the components could eliminate many of these, they have stated.

Lycra and Asphalt

Like oil and water, “Lycra and asphalt are incompatible,” said 55-year-old Mike Lee, former president and current spokesman for the Orange County Wheelmen, the county’s largest bike club with more than 500 active members.

Lycra is that shiny fabric from which most skin-tight cycling pants are fashioned, and which contributes both to the “slipperiness” of a rider battling those pesky, speed-resisting air molecules, and prevent chafing of the inner thighs (and elsewhere).

With nearly 30 years of serious road riding atop his 17-pound road machine, which carries him at least 200 miles a week, Lee knows bikes. More importantly, he’s a student of the road and its dangers. In fact, Lee and three others in the club are the only members certified by the Cycling League to teach biking behavior while in traffic.

Club newbies (and optionally seasoned members) are required to take a four-part road-riding course, Lee said, which covers such topics as Rules of the Road, Lane Placement or Position, How to Navigate and Negotiate with Vehicles on the Road, and Bike Handling Skills. Most students report a new confidence in their abilities upon graduation.

In the OC Wheelmen’s cleverly named newsletter, “Chain Reaction,” Lee consistently repeats the mantra of “Ride Safely” and “Ride Predictably.”

The club membership averages one serious crash a month, Lee said, and for a variety of reasons.

“There are crashes on the supposedly protected Santa Ana Trail, where the danger is its multi-use from cyclists, joggers, skaters, moms with strollers, and pedestrians.” In fact, “most serious cyclists steer clear of the trail,” for there’s a tortoise-considerate 10 MPH posted speed limit, which he admitted “many don’t pay attention to.”

Lee said that accident blame rests on everyone’s shoulders, even the experienced Class 3 and 4 (advanced) cyclists who seem dissatisfied unless they’re followed by a sonic boom.   Bunched together in a group called a “peloton,” they can reach sustained speeds of between 30 and 40 miles per hour.

Like a ravenous pride of pursuing lions, they’ll overtake anything weaker, envelop it, digest it, and expel it in a proverbial cloud of dust.

The whoosh-whoosh of high pressure tires driving and spinning on the asphalt, the riders’ grunts and screams, stressed inhalations and forced expulsions, curses and warnings, can cause a muscle-stiffening, uncontrolled reaction from amateur riders out for a gentle family spin.

Read the first part of the series here.

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