Lessons from a Bike Accident

CycleMAYnia Reminds Us to Stay Safe on the Roads

With knees too worn down to absorb the shock of running, I turned to cycling as my primary physical activity. It served a practical purpose — as a healthy way to get around town running errands, and it also gave me the sense of a sporting challenge. I succeeded in meeting the perils of the road until a year ago, when I rode into the wet and rutty Castillo Street underpass. The resulting crash put me on the DL (disabled list) for three months with two cracks in my pelvis.

During my recovery, I encountered a young woman on crutches and asked her what happened, and she described the same thing that happened to me. An experienced cyclist, she was setting out on a ride to Ventura and took the bike lane on Castillo Street toward the waterfront. She entered the underpass slowly and carefully, she said, but her bike went down on the slippery cobblestones. Her helmet was cracked as well as her pelvis.

The condition of the underpass, which sits below the water table, has been a chronic problem. Caltrans is responsible for the road and has failed in all its attempts to remove water from the surface. The cobblestones have proved to be the least satisfactory solution, being downright dangerous to cyclists. The agency is said to be addressing the issue in the near future. In the meantime, there is a sign advising cyclists to dismount their bikes and walk through the underpass. I choose to avoid it entirely, with a skull-and-crossbones sign in my mind. State Street is a safe detour.

During this month of CycleMAYnia, I commend the safety tips recently put out by the police department, for both cyclists and motorists: Ride and drive focused; expect the unexpected; always wear a helmet or seat belt; know the rules of the road; show mutual respect.

I learned a long time ago the danger of being distracted while riding a bike. I was on my way to a class at UCSB when a comely coed (aren’t they all) caught my eye. The next thing I knew, I was flying over the handlebars, as my front wheel made a direct hit on a post in the middle of the bike path. “Are you all right?” she asked. Instead of lying there, accepting her ministrations and getting to know her better, I leaped to my feet and pedaled off on my bike, its frame now bent, and my forearms bleeding. I made it to my class and never saw her again.

I did thereafter always focus on the road ahead of me, taking special care to steer clear of the stanchions that divided the lanes at the entry points of area bike paths. In recent years, the county has removed those obstacles, which seemed more hazardous than useful.

There are plenty of other obstacles to watch out for. Sharp-edged debris is common at curbsides throughout the town: broken glass, nails, screws, nuts, bolts, razor blades, fuel caps, tools, rocks. I sometimes stop to remove them, like the paring knife I recently claimed.

The most clear and present danger on city streets is motor-vehicle traffic. I’ve seen enough drivers on their cell phones behind the wheel to be wary of every vehicle around me. I implore them to use their signals before turning in front of me. If they have the right of way at an intersection, I want them to take it, keeping the traffic flow orderly and predictable. Not so predictable are cars exiting driveways and doors opening on parked cars.

Of course, cyclists bear their share of responsibility. I hate to see them running red lights in the absence of cross traffic. I take issue with groups of riders who refuse to travel in single file on narrow bike lanes, forcing drivers to slow behind them lest they violate the three-feet clearance rule. An oncoming cycling club recently took up the entire width of the Goleta Beach bike path and forced me to the edge of the pavement to avoid a head-on collision.

I might have taken such incidents as a sporting adventure in the past, but now I’m getting too old for it.

Tour of Pain and Glory

Riders in a professional cycling race like the Amgen Tour of California can enjoy racing on roads that are closed to normal traffic, but they face other risks related to speed and close contact with their competitors. I felt the pain of Latvian rider Toms Skujins when he crashed during a rapid descent in Stage 2, resulting in a concussion, severe road rash, and a collarbone broken in five places. It happens to the best of them.

Stage 4 got off to a smooth start on Cabrillo Boulevard last Wednesday. It ended 99 miles later in Santa Clarita with America’s Evan Huffman striking a blow for the little guys. Riding for Rally Cycling, which did not have the prestige of being a World Tour–classified team, Huffman led a breakaway group across the finish line, much to the surprise of the big-name riders in the pursuing peloton. Usually, the peloton stalks the early leaders like a hungry beast, inevitably catching them in a state of exhaustion, chewing them up and spitting them out.

Amazingly, Huffman pulled off another victory Saturday in the tour-ending Stage 7 in downtown Pasadena. The overall champion, New Zealand’s George Bennett of Team LottoNL-Jumbo, stayed in the pack during the final stage to protect the lead he had gained in a time trial at Big Bear Lake the previous day.

Love and Basketball

Ten new members of the Santa Barbara Court of Champions gave insights into their journeys on and off the basketball court at their induction banquet Sunday night. They were a diverse group — from retired coach George Terzian, who played at Westmont College 60 years ago, to NBA player Alan Williams, just two years out of UCSB — but all were bonded by a game in which building relationships is paramount. Interviewed in seven-minute segments by John Moore, the Westmont men’s coach, each honoree expressed love and gratitude in some way: to their families, to their teammates and coaches, to a supportive community, and to a divine presence in their hearts. Former UCSB star Lucius Davis brought the house down by bursting into a song. You couldn’t find three stronger women than Kayte Christensen, an NBA sideline reporter and talk-show host; Kristin Knapp Cole, a Division 1 college coach; and Lisa Willett Fry, a schoolteacher. Old-school coaches Terzian, Bill Odell, and Ron Mulder — all of them former Westmont players — dispensed their wisdom, while Phil Sherman is still coaching the girls’ team at Dos Pueblos after a stint with the boys, and UCSB grad Josh Merrill is a “sports pastor” in the San Fernando Valley. “Big Al” Williams wrapped it up by saying he was honored to be in such company, and he hoped to return in 15 years with kids of his own.

Game of the Week

5/28: Polo: Ramsey Asphalt Pope Challenge The father-son combination of Luis and Nico Escobar plays for the U.S. Polo Association Team, winner of the first 12-goal tournament of the season at the Carpinteria polo fields. The Pope Challenge, the second of four tournaments leading up to the 16-goal competition in midsummer, wraps up this Sunday. Other contenders are Farmers & Merchants Bank, Klentner Ranch, and Antelope. “Derby attire” is suggested but not required. Consolation: 1pm; Final: 3pm. Engel & Völkers Polo Stadium, Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, 3300 Via Real. $10. Call 684-6683 or visit sbpolo.com.

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