Bike Racing is Dangerous

Sometimes I wish Sal would pick a safer sport.  You can’t take the bicycle-love out of that boy but there are days when I would sure like to.

I rode 40 miles yesterday out to Gresham, north to the airport and then down on the 205 bike path.  It was a nice ride in mild weather.  I didn’t need the arm warmers or wind jacket that I brought along.  I cashed out two water bottles and came home exhausted.

Zipping along on the fatty four-lane roads I took to head North across Gresham I was reminded about just how precarious it can be to be on a bicycle in traffic sometimes.  I chose wide roads with bike lanes but, even still, you always get an asshole or two who shout or scream at you as they pass by.  Meanwhile, you’re descending in the drops being careful to avoid the nasty grates that interrupt the bike lane about every 300 yards, which means moving left, closer to traffic.

I am good in traffic.  Confident enough to make sure cars can predict my movements, good with hand signals and vocal with appreciation when someone gives me the right of way or stops at a crosswalk to let me pass through an intersection.  I respect cars both because they are made of thousands of pounds of steel and also because I am also a car driver.  I know that it can be challenging to ride near bicycles when they do not use proper signals and it’s hard to predict their next move.

Even still.  It doesn’t matter how good you are, how smart you are, how communicative you are, or how long you’ve been riding.  Accidents can happen.

Every time Sal goes on a training ride I start to worry after he’s been gone for three hours.  He can ride close to 60 miles in three hours, so I know he usually won’t be out much longer than that.  When that number comes around I check the front door every 5 minutes and carry my cell phone in my back pocket, turned up to full volume.  My mind goes to bad places.

And training isn’t the only thing there is to worry about.  Group sprint-finishes in road races are about as dangerous a situation as you can get.  Here you’ve got a pack of 30+ riders barreling into the finish at well over 30 miles an hour (unless it’s an uphill finish).  One squirrely move, one blown tire, one slip on the pedals, one rookie who plays it too close and everyone is going down.  Hard.

There was a massive and extremely serious crash in the Silverton race today.  Because of Sal’s surgery he was not racing and I did not attend without him, opting instead to go to a barbeque up in Amboy, Washington with my softball team.  I got back to my email this evening to see that the OBRA email list is starting to deliver the details of the crash, including the conditions of the three riders who went down the hardest.

This is what I know so far:  The race was so severe that all of the other races for the rest of the day were canceled.  No one can remember a time when a crash has been bad enough to cancel an entire day’s racing before.  One member of Sal’s team has a helmet that is completely crushed to bits, and a concussion to match – he was taken by ambulance to the hospital from the race but has since been released.  Two other members of Sal’s team suffered more minor injuries including strained joints, road rash, and dislocated fingers.

All of our guys were lucky.

The guy who was hurt the worst had to have a breathing tube inserted on-site (performed by Jaime, a member of our team who is a doctor – he worked on the guy for 30 minutes getting the tube in).  Jaime reported that the injured man had dilated pupils and blood coming from his ears.  At the time Jaime was not sure if the injured rider was going to be ok or not.   He was taken from the scene by helicopter.  We are not exactly sure how he is going to be but latest reports indicate his condition is “extremely serious but stable”.

At least two other riders suffered broken collar bones and there was also a broken hip.  These are the preliminary reports and I’m sure there were many other injuries we’ll find out about in the days to come.

These are the moments that cause us all to step back, draw in a breath, squeeze a loved one, and really consider what the hell it is we are doing out here.

This was a Category 4 race – no one is winning any sponsorships, no one is winning any money, no one is going to be on the cover of a magazine.  Still, it has always been my policy to go as hard as you can, no matter what.  Who cares if you’re not getting sponsorships?  Go hard, be your best.  That has always been my way.  Only a few will get paid to perform sport, the rest of us have only guts and heart alone to play for.

But I’m a runner.  And a softball player.  And you don’t crash at 35 mph when you are sprint-finishing in a 5k.  And if you do get hurt playing softball, well, you’re probably not going to have your head crushed or your lungs collapsed.

All I’m saying is that cycling is dangerous.  More dangerous than a lot of other sports.  And the hot-shots in cycling present more of a danger than a hot-shot in other arenas.

Category 4 or Pro Rider?  Doesn’t matter.  This shit is serious either way.

Keep the rubber down and the ego in check.  Remember why we do this in the first place.  It’s supposed to enrich our lives, not put us in the hospital.

Of course, like I said, accidents happen.  Maybe someone blew a tire – what can you do?  Tires blow – you hope it’s not in a bunch sprint-finish but there are no guarantees.

Tonight I’ll light my candles and call my sister to ask her to dedicate some of her alter meditation time this week to Sal’s safety and the safety of all cyclists.  I’ll keep my cell phone in my pocket on high even though I know he’s safe and sound with his parents in San Jose.

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One comment

  1. I’ve been having similar thoughts ever since the big wreck three weeks ago at PIR in the Cat 1/2/3 finish. Scary stuff.

    Then again, the stressed-out, Blackberry reading salesman behind the wheel of a Chevy Tahoe can look down to check an email message and kill me in the Willamette Ave. bike lane too.

    Bicycling is dangerous, no matter what discipline you pursue.

    But all these wrecks worry me too.
    Hope Sal heals soon!

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