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What I Learned From My Bike Accident

I heard on the news this past weekend that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry broke his leg in a bike crash outside of Geneva. His bike apparently hit a curb and he fell. Last fall, U2 lead-singer Bono was involved in a bike accident when attempting to avoid another rider. He sustained multiple fractures. Grim news indeed. Unfortunately, most riders, and non-riders would agree, that accidents are a very real possibility.

Five years ago, I was commuting home when I was hit by a car door that opened right in front of me. It all happened so fast that I had no time to react and I hit the car-door full speed. The impact crushed my right hand between the door and my handlebars, my right shoulder smashed into the window frame and I flew over the top of my bike. Amazingly, I was able to get up, pick up the bike with my left hand and get to the sidewalk before being hit by a moving car. It was all very scary.

Lessons Learned From My Bicycle Accident

The woman who "hit" me drove me to the hospital. My writing hand was broken in five places requiring surgery. The surgeon inserted two pins to hold the bone fragments together; the pins were eventually removed. It took several months to physically recover from the experience. As you can imagine, I am not quite the same rider psychologically. Nowadays, I am a bit paranoid and more aware when riding in traffic.

Despite the ordeal, there were some very clear lessons from the experience:

  • Slow down - I was riding too fast along-side parked cars. It wasn't my normal route and I was running behind schedule. Yes, the driver should have been looking when she opened her door. But the accident would have been far less serious if I was riding just a little slower. ​

  • Leave more room - I have talked to riders who say they look at the side-mirror and know when someone is in a parked car. Well. I'm not good enough to do that and be watchful on a busy Chicago street. My solution instead is to give parked cars a wide berth, which of course requires a trade-off of riding closer to moving traffic and is not the best of situations. However, I am relying on the driver of the car moving behind me to pay attention instead of the driver in the parked car.

  • Be more empathetic - losing the use of my dominant hand was a significant set-back and very humbling. For instance, buying morning coffee required asking a stranger to open the sugar packet since I was incapable. Most meals required getting help since someone had to cut the food for me. And if you are guy who shaves with a razor, try using your other hand sometime - I had visions of cutting my carotid artery. Yes, it was humbling.

But I was very lucky since my hand eventually healed with no loss of motion and for that I was very thankful. Although my setback was temporary it made me realize that someone with a long-term health problem has a lot more daily challenges to overcome than I will ever fully appreciate. And while I knew this on an intellectual level, it was not until I experienced a set-back that I gained a deeper understanding This was the biggest lesson from the accident.

In retrospect, I'd like to say that I'm now more patient and empathetic with others, and a better rider. And perhaps at times that is true. But most of the time, I think I'm still a work in progress, still absorbing the lessons from my accident.

So what about you - have you ever been in an accident or a close call? What did you learn?

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