What Crash Said

By Maynard Hershon

I went on a ride with a normally very safe motorcycle club last week. We were on a narrow, two-lane road at a stop sign. We intended to turn left onto a wider, faster, busier road on which the traffic did not have to stop. I was maybe fourth in line. No different than a line of cars, really.

The first, second and third riders made the left onto the crossing road and so did I — after I’d stopped and looked to make sure I had time — before traffic from either direction reached the intersection.

Behind me, guys did not check to see if they had enough time. I don’t believe they stopped.

I think they just followed the rider in front of them. They figured that if that guy had enough room to be safe from intersecting traffic, so did they. But they didn’t.

A couple of guys entered the intersection too late, tangling with a camper truck towing a large, square-ish, outboard-powered boat. The truck, coming downhill too fast, to no surprise, tried to slow and pull over to avoid hitting a rider. Its driver veered onto the dirt shoulder. He hit a road sign, taking the sign off the post.

The rider hit the truck anyway, knocking a mirror off his bike and toppling it over in the road. He jumped up, unhurt. Remember, unlike pedal cyclists, safety-minded motorcyclists wear “armored” clothing, usually made of leather or Cordura fabric, which is far more protective than the cotton or lycra outfits we wear.

Another rider went wide onto the opposite road shoulder, tried too late to turn his motorcycle and fell over in the gravel. He too knocked off a mirror but was unhurt, thanks in part to his clothing.

I have two reasons for telling you about this little motorcycle incident. First, I want to caution you about yelling or signaling to your riding friends that the way is clear so they can safely pull out or enter an intersection.

Secondly, I’d like to warn you about drivers who will follow the car in front of them without stopping or looking to be sure it’s safe.

Years ago, a friend of mine (who calls himself Crash) from Baltimore wrote an article for his bicycle club’s newsletter about yelling “clear” at road junctions. I suppose he must have had someone in front of him yell “clear” when the road wasn’t clear at all. I’ll bet it scared him terribly.

In his article he stated that he vowed to never again yell “clear” and that he, as club president, wanted his clubmates to stop saying it also.

“How would you feel,” he asked, “if you told riders behind you that it was safe to pedal out into a cross-street, and you’d missed something or misjudged the speed of oncoming cars? What if something awful happened….?”

I think Crash was right. I’d like to join him in asking you to refrain from assuring riders behind you that they have a safe, empty road to enter. And I’d like you to resist believing the person in front who tells you you can ride right out there ... and all will be well. If something happens, what will that person do? Apologize to you?

“Gosh, I didn’t think that cement truck was going that fast…”

If you can’t see all around you, if you can’t look both ways as your mother told you to do, slow way down or stop. Verify for yourself that entering the intersecting road is safe. And even if you believe that it is indeed safe, let the person behind you make that decision for themselves.

There’s too much at stake.

And if you’re on your bike or in your car or on your motorcycle or scooter, and you see a car pulling out from a side street in front of you and there’s another car behind that one, please be aware.

Even if the first car has time to cross your path and get out of your way, the second car may blindly follow the first and end up right in front of you. As you probably know, this sort of incident is super common and the cause of thousands of injuries and damaged vehicles.

In the UK, those crashes are called SMIDSY crashes: “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you.” Hearing that tired line is cold comfort as you wait for the EMTs or check out your broken bicycle. Or both.

As you may remember, I found a copy of my first book, Tales from the Bike Shop, in one of those tiny take-one, leave-one libraries across the street from our home. I found the book’s original owner because he had embossed his name and “From the Library of” on that blank page inside the front cover.

He told me he’d given (or loaned) the book to a fellow employee at a Madison bike shop. After a good bit of trying, I reached that worthy individual, still in Wisconsin, via email. He could not remember what he’d done with the book, and (sigh...) may not have remembered reading it.

He suggested I contact his ex-wife, Erin Dunkelberger, who may, he said, remember what happened to the book. Erin, he told me, had moved from Madison to … sound of trumpets ... Portland, Ore. Why, that’s Bicycle Paper country!

I have no idea if Erin is involved with cycling on any level or what she does for a living. If you know Erin Dunkelberger, please ask her if she recalls what happened to her ex’s copy of Tales. Did he give it to someone? Did she? Did that person move away from Madison? How did that book find its way to Capitol Hill in Denver, Colo.?

You or Erin could email my esteemed editor, Claire Bonin at Bicycle Paper’s world headquarters.

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