Being hit by a car going 50 mph is a story no cyclist wants to tell about. Yet, if it happens, everyone wants to know how that cyclist is even here to relate his story. And, everybody should pay attention to the circumstances to learn and hopefully avoid their own living story, or worse.
Dr. Russell Rooks was given his Bacchetta Recumbent bicycle by his loving wife, LeLe, about a year ago. He had test ridden the Giro 26 at our shop, RideSouth, and told her which one he wanted. This bike is a steel frame, high racer style, short wheelbase recumbent bike with a Recurve seat. The Recurve seat is wider and used for touring.
Russell was enjoying his bike, and a few weeks ago came in to purchase a phone holder, handlebar mount and additional mirror from us on a busy Saturday. The next time we heard from him was a Sunday message on our phone that he had been hit from behind traveling north from Clinton to Ridgeland on the Natchez Trace the previous day. He told us the bike was damaged, but he was ok except for a few bruises, especially one on his left shoulder. A return call Monday morning set up a time to bring his bike in and reveal his story.
At 4:58 PM, August 11, Dr. Rooks, a trauma surgeon, was riding alone on the Natchez Trace near the highway 49 exit headed north. He had mounted the phone holder on the left handlebar and an additional mirror in the bar end. The Trace was busy and three cars came up behind him. There was a flock of large birds circling overhead, he and the driver who hit him recalled. The first car passed and the second car plowed straight into the bike, shearing off the rear wheel and hitting the left side of the wide Recurve seat. Car parts, bike, and still clipped-in rider, flew through the air and landed on the side of the road.
The lady stopped her badly damaged car and waited for the ambulance. The Park Ranger was amazed at Russell still being alive, he said. Russell is a fit, middle-aged man who enjoys cycling as a release from his busy surgery practice. He was taken to a local hospital, treated for a few small cuts and bruises, and released. We are still evaluating the bike’s condition. The driver was charged with violating the three-foot-rule.
We are happy Russell is physically ok. He said the emotional healing will take some time. The larger seat back on his bike may have saved Russell from much worse injury to his head and upper extremities. We have suspected the recumbent position may be safer in a crash. Staying clipped into the pedals may have helped as well, as the bike offered some protection from the crash. Of course, every accident is different but we are thankful this one turned out without serious injury, or death.
We continue to lobby for laws against distracted drivers. Many other states have them. No reason for us to be last on this matter. Unlike war stories, where we rarely learn not to repeat the same act that led us to the war in the first place, let’s learn from this story. First and foremost . . . PAY ATTENTION! This goes for drivers and cyclists! Somebody’s life depends on it. Natural distractions happen, so we must all eliminate man-made distractions when operating any vehicle, anytime. If the car ahead of you is moving over, assume it is for a reason and prepare to react. Blindly following the leader can get you, and a vulnerable cyclist, in trouble in all sorts of ways!
We preach to our customers to BE VISIBLE! While recumbents are more visible than uprights because they are different; being wider, a bit lower, and having a bit more lateral movement, it is still very important to make yourself as visible as possible with bright clothing and bright flashing lights. Flags are not necessary and are not seen on the road until it is too late. Russell will be installing those lights on his repaired bike. He was wearing a white shirt. We gave him a bright yellow tee-shirt for his next ride. The reflective yellow triangle is also a good bet on visibility.
Hindsight is always true, someone said. ALL CYCLISTS SHOULD USE MIRRORS! Russell had two mirrors on his bike handlebars. Mirrors are best used to judge the reactions of the second car in a passing group of cars. Mirrors can help avoid bike-on-bike accidents as well, for the same reasons. Avoid any distractions near the left mirror location, even on a recumbent bike where the mirror is at eye level and easily seen. Be ready to turn if a car looms large! The bike mirror is the most important equipment on your bike or helmet, and its proper use can save your life!
Yes, there are many lessons for us all to learn . . . again. We will renew our efforts to encourage cycling visibility and preach “riding like you are invisible.” Choose your time and place to ride wisely. The Natchez Trace is a wonderful asset we have in the Jackson area. It can get busy at rush hour, so extra caution is advised. WE DO NOT ALLOW HEADPHONES on any of our rides. Please put your phones in your bike bag and stop to make or receive a call! We will discontinue selling handlebar mounted phone bags. We have always provided a free mirror to all new recumbent bike purchasers and will continue to do so. Often, high-vis, free tee-shirts are available as well to new bike purchasers.
We have the right to ride on the highways. Driving is a privilege that can be taken away. Some drivers should have that experience. Cycling is a growing activity in our country for all the right reasons. Participating in it safely is the responsibility of us all! We will insist that our riders remain focused on riding as if your living story depends on it . . . because it does!!
SEQUEL: BACK ON THE HORSE
Here is Dr. Rooks on his new ride three days later!