Friday, December 2, 2016

In Which We Hear Seven Hard-Earned Lessons

The bike helmet Dr. Bryan Cross was wearing when he had his accident. Glad it was his helmet that got cracked and not his head!

Call them the seven tips to stay healthy, or how to avoid the seven deadly sins of bicycle riding.

Last year, Dr. Bryan Cross was on a bike ride in the countryside north of Cedar Rapids. He was with a group of experienced and speedy bikers—his average speed on the return loop of a 60-mile ride was over 20 mph. And he was getting a bit tired and inattentive, putting his head down and not watching the road ahead.

Then, while on a fast stretch where his speed was about 30, he hit the crack. The front wheel started to wobble, and he lost control.

Bam. Road rash. A ripped off finger nail. A broken collar bone.

And, luckily for the assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University, a broken helmet, too. It was lucky, because, as he said when showing the two pieces of his ruined headgear: “The EMTs told me that if I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, this would have been my skull.”

Cross shows helmet.
Cross spoke at a bike safety seminar this afternoon at Mount Mercy University. The event was sponsored by the MMU Bike Club, of which I am the faculty advisor. The seminar was well attended, with maybe around 20 people, mostly students, in a conference room at the Sisters of Mercy University Center.

As Cross spoke, his arm was in a sling—not as a prop, but because he has suffered a more recent bike accident—a less serious one, but a crash that nonetheless caused a broken arm.

More on that later. For now, back to the seven lessons Cross emphasized that he learned from the summer accident, otherwise known as the squashing near Quasqueton:

1) Always wear your helmet when riding a bicycle. As Cross noted, your forward biking momentum can be translated in the blink of an eye into a skull-shattering pavement encounter. He had the same experience I’ve had in a much more minor bike accident—when something goes wrong on a bike, it’s instant. Bam, you’re down and wondering what happened to you—so always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
2) Keep your eyes on the road. You need to have your head up, your mind in the ride. I am guilty of occasional distracted biking, and it’s not a good habit—but for the most part, I have a biker’s sense, an ability to look both far ahead and nearby. Roads are maintained for cars, and obstacles or flaws that won’t bother a car can flip a bike, so it behooves a bicycle rider to have her or his attention on the road. Cross noted that sometimes he’s been guilty of looking down rather than ahead, and he attributes the accident partly to that.
3) Wear the correct glasses. He has prescription glasses, but was wearing nonprescription sunglasses the day of the accident. I do think sunglasses are needed for biking, but I either wear clip-on’s with my regular glasses, or, despite the incredibly dorky look, nonprescription sunglasses over my prescription glasses. Cross is right. You need your best eyesight for biking.
4) Ride a road slowly before you ride it fast. You need to be familiar with the features of the route. I think that applies to night riding too—ride a route in daylight before you ride it in darkness. It’s true that I still bike in winter when it’s full dark by the time I get off work—but I ride the same streets in sunshine and in darkness, and I would not ride an unfamiliar route in the dark. And I agree, if you feel the need for speed, ride on a route that you already know.
5) Be extra careful when you’re tired. Cross noted his accident was on the return leg of a long ride, and he was a bit spent by that time. Based on my extensive RAGBRAI rides, and training rides for RAGBRAI, I would have to say “amen.” I have not had an accident on RAGBRAI yet (knock on wood) but close calls are more common later in the day. Everyone is not the best biker when they are a tired biker.
6) Don't "buy" an expensive bike you never get to ride. An ambulance ride from Quasqueton to Cedar Rapids costs $1,600. That would pay for both of my bicycles and leave some change left over. Makes me again glad I’ve never ridden the cherry-topped taxi (knocking once more).
7) If you have an accident, have it in Iowa. Iowans want to help. At least eight people stopped in the immediate aftermath of his accident to lend aid, Cross noted. In particular, there was a lady who stopped to pour ice cold water on his road rash. He found out she is a cook at St. Pius X School in Cedar Rapids, and during his presentation showed a slide of him later giving her flowers at the school, which was nice.

Mark Mettler, president of MMU Bike Club, listens to seminar (above). Other students were also attentive (below).

Well, it is quite a list and quite a lesson. But as they say, wait, there is more. Last week, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Dr. Cross was riding his bike home by way of a new trail in Daniels Park in Cedar Rapids. The trail has just been installed, and the city blocked part of it to put in a pad for a bike rack. But the blocked part of the trail was over a hill. Cross was cycling home at night, topped the hill, and didn’t see the orange fencing until too late. He tried to stop, but skidded into the fence and spilled, breaking an arm.

Which led him to give use some additional, bonus safety ideas.

One is, ride more slowly at night. “It’s better to go slowly and arrive safely,” he said. Another is just keep in mind that road maintenance crews tend to think of cars and their needs, and don’t always anticipate or understand bikers’ needs. A warning sign before the hill, or a “trail closed” note at the entrance would have been helpful.

Well, it was quite a presentation. Thank you, Dr. Bryan, for sharing your pain in the hopes that we other bikers won’t have to feel the pain ourselves.

The presentation Dr. Cross gave was preceded by an interesting presentation by Derek Stepanek, owner of Northtowne Bicycling and Fitness in Cedar Rapids.

Stepanek showed a number of safety products, including bike and helmet lights, but noted the most important safety equipment is the helmet, which he said every rider should have on any bike ride. He noted that many injuries he hears stories of are from bike trial rides—even if you are on a trail where there are no cars, an accident with an object, other biker or pedestrian can happen.

Derek Stepanek, owner of Northtowne Biking and Fitness store in Cedar Rapids, covers the ABCs of a pre-bike ride bicycle safety check.

He also covered the “ABCs” of checking a bike before a ride: the air, brakes and chain. A bike ride is more efficient, and thus more pleasant, with enough air in the tyres, and bike tyres loose air more quickly than car ones do. Brakes are a pretty obvious point—make sure they work. A rider needs to ensure that the chain isn’t “chunking” if using a new bike.

It was an afternoon well spent, a nice culmination of the semester for the bike club. Cross further noted that he is still a biker—he says he can’t let the accidents take away the joy of biking. I admire that spirit.

Arm in a sling from a recent bike accident that caused a broken arm, Dr. Bryan Cross describes an earlier, more serious, bike accident that could have broken his head, but for the helmet he was wearing.

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