Expansion Joints I Have Known
Oct. 13, 2010
Total mileage: 2,943
In the spirit of Octoginta, herewith I relate an amusing story about a crash, a visit to the emergency room, and reflections on riding in a bicycle friendly city.
In case you haven’t heard of it, Octoginta is an annual fall ride out of Lawrence, Kansas. It’s well known in the region as a great wrap-up to the cycling season, taking riders through rolling countryside lit by fall colors.
We didn’t make the ride this year, so this Octoginta story dates from five years back. On that occasion, Mr. Spoked and I cycled through Lawrence proper along with hundreds of other riders, winding our way through town to the southwestern outskirts. The road was crowded with cyclists. Eventually we turned en masse onto Clinton Parkway, and this is where it gets a little complicated. Without going into detail, I’ll just say most of us were forced across an uncaulked expansion joint with very little warning. It was wide and deep and scary. Many people made it, but I was not one of the lucky ones. My front wheel got caught in the joint and I landed hard on my left shoulder, helmet bouncing on the pavement. After the bike and I stopped moving, I stood up slowly and shuffled over to the curb where I sat clutching my shoulder and watching more riders go down. Some were able to get back on their bikes and continue. The rest of us hitched a ride to our cars and considered what to do next.
Mr. Spoked and I decided to visit Lawrence’s hospital because I was dizzy (my helmet had cracked on the pavement) and my shoulder hurt like Hades. We walked through the doors of the emergency room along with several other cyclists, one of whom had a bloodied arm with an unnaturally crooked pinkie finger. He was quickly placed in a wheelchair and rolled down the hallway. Observing the carnage, one of the hospital workers chided us, “You bicyclists! Why do you race?” We described how the accident had happened, explaining that it wasn’t a race but a recreational ride. It didn’t sink in.
After a few minutes, a technician began taking down my insurance information. She repeated the “racing” admonition. Next we were lead into an examination room where a nurse gave me some excellent drugs to dull the pain. I was feeling almost human by the time a young doctor walked into the room. He made the now-familiar remark about racing, then after my explanation asked, “How old are you?” in a way that implied I should have known better. The doctor ordered an x-ray and gave me a photocopied handout on bicycle safety. The handout was written for parents, instructing them to make their children wear helmets and look both ways before crossing the street.
I left the hospital emergency room with the diagnosis of a sprained shoulder, a prescription for pain meds, and the following impressions:
1. Bicycling is an activity engaged in by children. By extension, adults who bicycle need to grow up.
2. If bicycle crashes=racing, and racing=extreme, therefore bicycling=extreme.
3. Bicycles don’t belong on the streets.
All this took place in a city that has been named bicycle friendly (bronze level) by the League of American Bicyclists for a number of years. Don’t get me wrong, I think Octoginta is a great ride and Lawrence is more receptive to cycling than many other places. But maybe there’s more to a cycling city than dedicated lanes, routes, and signs. If its medical personnel don’t understand or accept the basic tenets of cycling, then riders are left wondering how many other residents share this ignorance.
I took the Lawrence handout to a follow-up visit with my own doctor in Topeka. She laughed out loud while reading it, and when I told her the Lawrence doctor’s question (“How old are you?”), she asked, “Did you tell him you’ll still be riding your bicycle when he’s in a wheelchair?” Now, that’s the kind of attitude I want to hear from a doctor. And no, she didn’t chide me for racing.
Mileage update: less than 60 miles from my goal for 2010!