More bike stories

In summary, in order:

  1. We rode to Napa from our place in the City and back over Valentine's Day weekend– about 120 miles in two days.
  2. I got doored for the first time in my life yesterday in the Mission.
  3. We sold my blue Trek bike this morning.

Napa was interesting and terrible and gratifying. I had it in my head that "biking to Napa!" would be a romantic countryside stroll. I was thinking of that scene in "A Good Year" where Marion Cotillard is biking down a winding lane in the hills of Provence, her front basket full of fresh produce and maybe a baguette. Or that scene in "City of Angels" where Meg Ryan is biking through backwoods roads in Tahoe with a small paper bag of pears, and the sun is shining on her face and she closes her eyes and spreads her arms out like she's flying.

Incidentally, those scenes conclude with the female lead being forced off the road and down the hill in order to avoid being hit by a car, and being killed by a logging truck. I did not think of these facts while I was busy idealizing our northward journey. I also did not think of the fact that it is still winter, nor was I aware of the fact that the highway routes to Napa are often two lanes wide with little (and often no) shoulder.

So there were issues, of course. My derailleur and shifting cables developed problems right outside of Novato, so we stopped at a bike shop Noah found on his phone and lost an hour getting that resolved. We left San Francisco way too late– past 1 p.m., I think– so it was dark as soon as we passed from Marin County into Sonoma. Cars didn't appreciate our presence and let us know by honking angrily, and it was near impossible to see the road conditions; the quasi-shoulder would drop at random from paved asphalt down a few inches to dirt and gravel, then hiccup back to asphalt. We stopped at a gas station about 10-15 miles from our destination and there was a motel right across the street, and I was so tempted to just call it a day. I was exhausted and my nerves were frayed beyond belief. But Noah refused to let me give up, so onwards we went, and then about a mile later, his tire got a flat.

We'd been smart enough to bring spare tubes with us, so the worst part for him was having to make it to a safer, hopefully somewhat-lit stretch of road to change the tire. He was practically riding on his rim by the time we found a spot like that, but then a car with two very nice people in it stopped to ask if we were okay and if they could do anything to help, and then a police car stopped and stayed with us until we were good to go again.

The stay in Napa was short-lived; we left shortly after waking up (so, around eleven) to avoid having to do another round of night-riding, and man, biking through wine country in the daytime is exponentially more enjoyable than at night. Beautiful weather (for winter season) and not much car traffic– I was positively giddy all the way to Novato, singing and dancing as much as one can conceivably do while pedaling past farms and fields, everything bathed in that clear, golden sunshine that never manages to permeate city limits. It was a good ride.

Then Noah's tire– the same tire– got a flat. Replaced the tube, chugged up the hills from Sausalito, painfully made it up the Presidio hill, and then we were home. Home! And we hadn't killed each other, though we both certainly had moments (most of them being mine– I have openly questioned whether biking together is a healthy choice for our relationship). Next up: Santa Cruz (about 70 miles one-way).

*****

Mostly, though, what's really been on my mind has been bike safety. Or, rather, bike dangers. We were riding through the Mission on Saturday morning to check out the hyped-up Dynamo Donuts, and at about 24th and Florida, I got doored.

Now, look. I am all too aware of the dangers of cycling, especially city cycling, and especially San Francisco city cycling. If I ride at night, I have lights flashing at both front and rear, I try to always wear easily visible clothing, and I'm overly vigilant about my surroundings: cars behind and in front of me, cars in upcoming intersections, road conditions– and, yes, parked cars. I have always been paranoid about getting doored, probably because of this post that Megan wrote nearly two years ago. "DO NOT RIDE WITHIN DOOR RANGE." She even wrote it in all-caps! How much more could she have emphasized the importance of that directive? I suppose she could have bolded it, true, but as-is, the message was firmly imprinted in my mind… only, it was the wrong message. What I took away from the post was more along the lines of, "The risk of getting doored while riding is high." In other words, I would still ride within door range, but skittishly so. I would glance suspiciously at the cars parked alongside the curbs, making sure there were no oblivious drivers (or backseat passengers) who were about to swing open their doors and take me out.

Why not simply ride out of door range? Cyclists have the right, up here at least, to take the full lane, even if there isn't another lane for cars to pass. But while laws are nice in courts and legal paperwork, I don't have to ride on the street with laws. I have to ride with cars, cars that honk and crowd and swerve. So I stay to the right and obsessively keep an eye on parked-car-door activity.

Sometimes, though, vigilance isn't enough. 24th Street is a narrow, two-lane road with just enough space on both sides for cars to park parallel to the curb. Had it not been so narrow, I suppose I wouldn't have instinctively gotten so close to the parked cars, but regardless, I was riding with maybe only a foot, max, of clearance. And then right as my front tire came in line with the rear tire of a giant green Ford truck, the driver opened his door, and all I had time to do in reaction was cry out. Boom. Girl and bike go flying to the ground.

Noah would tell me later how loud the collision was, that even though he was farther ahead at the time and listening to music, he'd heard it and thus had looked back to see what had happened (I remember nothing except seeing the door and then being on the ground). I was on the ground for a while, stunned and shaken, and then Noah arrived and pulled me to him, and as I caught my breath, the tears came with it. As a general rule, I dislike crying; it puts a damper on my pride, so I was a bit infuriated that I was crying uncontrollably after being knocked down by a car door.

A stranger who had seen what had happened also came to my rescue– he fixed my handlebars (the stem had twisted almost 90 degrees) and made sure I was okay, wrote down the truck's license plate and gave me his name and number, "in case" I needed him as a witness in the future. The truck driver was less compassionate– an older Mexican man who spoke little English, who was "poor, with kids to support" (as he described himself to us). I could have been angrier; even Noah admitted that he felt he should have been angrier because I could have been seriously injured (luckily, no cars were behind me when I got hit). But I was alive with minimal harm (bruises on my shin and knee, some cuts, some swelling) and my bike was still functional (the tape now needs to be replaced, but I'd been thinking a few days ago of replacing it anyway, and my rear brake cable is dinged but working). I have such a full and privileged life; I would have gotten zero satisfaction out of taking anything from that man.

Except maybe a sincere apology. What bothered me the most about the entire situation was that he wouldn't admit to what he'd done– he insisted he never opened his door, insisted that I hit his mirror. I'd rather have had someone be an asshole and blame me for getting hit because I was riding too close, because at least that's true; if I'd taken the lane, I could have swerved out to avoid the door, could have shouted an alert and had extra time to prevent an impact. But this guy refused to own his action, and though I have my suspicions why, it still annoys me. I didn't clumsily hit a mirror and tumble to the ground.
I had a door open in front of me right before I was about to pass. Huge difference.

Either way. I'm fine (I think), the bike is fine (I think), and I finished our ride out to Embarcadero and back to Haight, so I'm clearly not too scarred to ever ride again. And I was already super aware of my surroundings and potential dangers before getting doored, so it's not like I can walk away from this saying, "Well, now I know to pay more attention to parked cars." Because honestly, the problem with the dangers of biking is that there is no end to the list. You can get doored and thrown into moving traffic. You can get hit by a drunk (or simply inattentive) driver. You can get hit by another cyclist and then run over by a car. Your tire can suddenly blow, causing your bike to swerve into moving traffic where you get hit. When we were riding to Napa, I remembered how my windshield has been cracked twice because the vehicle in front of me shot out a rock from under one of its tires, and the thought occurred to me that a passing vehicle could easily spit out a rock in a similar fashion and take out my eye. My most active fear while riding has been that my tire will catch on an uneven clump of asphalt (so prevalent in these streets) while I'm going downhill, and I'll fly over the handlebars and break my neck and then get run over.

There is truly no end to the potential risks. And this applies to driving, to walking, to flying– anything, really. I'm intelligent and imaginative enough to be a little too well-suited to visualizing all these dangers, but in the end– or at some point– you have to take this leap of faith that nothing will happen. Be prepared, sure, so that if something happens you're not completely taken by surprise, and be proactive in doing whatever you can to prevent something from happening. But what more can you do? It gets boring inside, and even inside there are countless hidden dangers. At least out there, there are Dutch windmills and buffalo and cheesecake brownies and sailboats.

*****

And my blue bike is gone. Sold, I mean, not stolen. My pretty Trek 7.5 FX which I rode fewer than 10 times in the 18 months I owned it. Still: That bike revived in me a love of riding, without which I might not have been prompted to seek out a road bike upon moving to the City. 

I was sad to see it go this morning, but the lovely couple who bought it– the woman didn't seem like she had much experience riding a bike. So I'm hopeful that my Trek will help someone else discover the joy and satisfaction of riding that it unlocked in me.

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3 thoughts on “More bike stories

  1. It’s a shame many in society feel that motorist convenience should trump your personal safety. I’m glad you weren’t too seriously injured.
    It seems like you’re pretty well informed, but there’s a pretty cool video demonstrating lane taking at Commute Orlando Blog. The situation is somewhat different than yours (high speed multi laned highway versus 2 lane narrow streets), but it’s still fun to watch.

  2. “To accuse a cyclist of being militant, selfish or rude for riding in the lane is nothing more than car-centric bias assuming the bicycle driver is of lesser status than the motor vehicle driver…”
    What a great post/project/site! Comments are great, too (I love it when a quality site is backed by quality comments). Thanks for the link!
    Steve A.’s blog (http://dfwptp.blogspot.com/) also has some good posts on where to ride in a lane… but it seems most of the situations widely discussed deal with multi-lane roads. Maybe I just have to steel myself against feeling guilty for holding up traffic? Then again, it’s not like cars should be hauling 50 down two-lane city streets anyway.

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