Sometimes a thread is all it takes

January 6, 2014 § 43 Comments

Whether you admit it or not, we’re hanging on by a very fine thread.

There’s a regular descent I take to get to work or, actually, to get anywhere, because I live near the tip-top of a big hill. One morning my buddy G$ was coming down the lower section of this descent on a street called Via del Monte. It was just past the stop sign past the 180-degree hook past the sweeping left-hander. There was a car parked on the opposite side of the road, which is narrow and demarcated with a do-not-pass solid line down the middle.

In order to legally turn around go the other direction, the car would have had to continue up the hill and add another minute or two onto his drive, or make a left-hand turn into a driveway on the opposite side of the street, then back out of the driveway and head back down the hill. That maneuver might have cost him an extra fifteen or maybe even, dog forbid, twenty seconds.

But this dude was in a hurry, too much of a hurry to use his blinker even, so he just whipped a curb-to-curb u-turn, and he did it without checking oncoming traffic. The “oncoming traffic” happened to be my buddy, sailing down the hill at a solid 25 mph. It may not seem fast to you, and I suppose it’s not, unless you have to decelerate from 25 to 0, with your terminal velocity terminating in the side of a steel car door. G$ survived the crash with “only” some broken ribs, a totaled bike, a concussion, and a broken collarbone. The driver had some terrible scratches and even a dent on his car door.

And as every cyclist says, lying in the ER with tubes coming out of his chest and dick, “How’s my bike?” followed by “It could have been worse.”

Yes. It could have.

It could also have been better

This morning I was coming down that same stretch of road and thinking, like I always do, “This is not far from the place where G$ almost bought the farm.” Why do I think that every time I go down the hill? Because the injury and near-death of friends is almost as traumatic to me as it is to them.

A big, fat, black Jag had pulled out just past the stop sign and I was about two car lengths back. I love it when I have a big, fat, expensive German or British millionairemobile in front of me, because they clear the road better than a snowplow. On the hill hardly anyone is afraid of hurting or killing cyclists, but everyone is afraid of scratching a 500-series krautmobile.

As the Jag flew past the exact point where G$ went down, an incredible thing happened. One of the women who cleans floors, toilets, shitty diapers, and dog poop for the rich white folks in PVE pulled the exact same curb-to-curb maneuver that had taken out G$. She never even looked.

But I did.

And what I saw was the side of a Honda Civic a few feet from the front wheel of my bike. So, like the pro I am, I did what I always do when confronted with catastrophe on my bike. I screamed.

It’s a scream that people who ride with me have heard before. It’s a throaty, roaring, “Heyaaarrrghhhhaaaaeeehayyyy!” and it’s amazingly loud for such a skinny guy with a big stomach. At the same time I screamed, I leaned the bike over into the oncoming traffic lane in which, thankfully, there was none.

My front wheel and the bumper of her car avoided contact by a foot. She stared at me, gape-mouthed. “Where did that bicycle come from? Gosh, how scary. Gee, he could have damaged my car.” I know that’s what she was thinking.

When I got to the office, my chamois was a tad browner than usual. The thread, however, was intact.


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§ 43 Responses to Sometimes a thread is all it takes

  • printemp says:

    I have 2 video cameras on my bike almost all the time now…. You should do it too.

    • fsethd says:

      I had my GoPro loaded and on the handlebars.

      Switched “off,” of course.


      • printemp says:

        I have a GoPro. Do not use it much. I use 2 Contour cameras on the bike. 720p lasts longer (4 hours battery) With the Contour cameras it is a real fast easy swipe of the on-off switch to operate. Plus they were only $125 each…

  • Jon says:

    “The thread, however, was intact.” Now that’s funny!

    Been in a very similar instance, the stain is still there!!!

    Good you got away clear!

  • Bearclaw says:

    We were just talking about that accident last night! Like you, I ride that road all the time. Funny thing, IMHO the safest drivers in PV are the teenagers! The absolute worst are the BMW moms late dropping Junior or Princess off at school. Glad you are safe, Wanky!

    • fsethd says:

      And there was the nice lady who almost ran over me as I went left after the hook into the plaza. She was importantly talking to someone important about an important something because she was important. But she smiled at me. And there was the lady at Emerald who almost right-hooked me onto Prospect while waiting at the light because she was, you know, in a hurry. But she smiled and mouthed “Sorry!” when I said “Really?” which probably sounded a lot like “You fucking moron.”

    • tunverzagt says:

      No, the worst are the drunks at 8am in the morning (on weekdays and weekends!) when you least expect it.

  • Peter Schindler says:

    I got mine in 1999 when a honda civic turned left onto Century Park West as I headed west on Olympic. Broken L4, L5. We are no match for mindless drivers.

  • LM says:

    Glad you’re OK. This is why I descend extremely slowly in training and on open race courses. Folks assume it’s because I don’t know how to descend (which, I guess, by cat 1 bike racer standards, is not entirely false). However, my main concern is being unable to react to idiot drivers. Even on open race courses I’d rather lose the race than take the even minor risk that some car will pull in front of me. One person I know died by hitting a car in a race, and another friend nearly died the same way. Countless other acquaintances have collided with autos in training. Descending fast is not fun enough for me to risk my life, but I sense that I’m in the teeny minority of people who feel this way. Maybe there’s something I’m not getting.

    • fsethd says:

      It’s really hard to slow down with the wind in your face and the glide of the tires on the road and the increasing speed and the “fuck you” feel of effortless dropping down a road and feeling like you’re on the edge of the world’s thinnest and most exciting razor blade until “splat.”

  • John says:

    Those illegal U-turns really are dangerous. I guess people feel like if they can really whip it around fast no one will notice, sort of like the 5 second rule for food on the floor? It makes it super hard to anticipate.

    I imagine the issue is a cognitive thing, near vision vs far vision, so the driver really can’t see the bike, child, or old lady in the crosswalk that they are about to cream. I’ve had enough close calls like these in the last year that I’ve been fantasizing about a PSA campaign aimed to prevent such things, the voiceover going “When you decide to make an illegal U-turn, please PLEASE take an extra second to actually look and see if anyone is coming”. Ugh, it’s pathetic.

    Anyhow, I’m glad you came out okay.

  • Jay LaPlante says:

    OK… I see it a differant way… You were not going fast enough! If you had passed the Jag this whole blog would not have happend and Woody would have gone right to the police! None of this would have happend.

  • Dang it. Soooo happy I didn’t have to come visit you in the hospital…I’m super lazy…unlike you, who DROPPED EVERYTHING and came right over to see if I was still alive…thanks buddy…still makes me cry a little when I think about it…I was so relieved to talk to you and know someone had my back…I mean REALLY had my back.
    We are all so self absorbed…driving or riding…the big stuff in life is actually the small stuff…like being there for your friends.

    What the hell is a bradandtink anyway?

  • spinner says:

    You live to ride another day, congrats!!!
    Glad you made it!!!!

  • New Girl says:

    Wanky ~ so glad you & the thread made it. Thank you for writing.

  • Gary says:

    Good to hear you avoided contact.

    In a residential district, U-turns are legal almost anywhere. Even across a double yellow line. But you must be able to see at least 200 feet in each direction (and signal your turn) which I assume is not the case at this location near a 180-degree bend

  • steven says:

    cognitive vision, my (big) ass…it is a question of THREATS.
    People see motor cops…people do not see me on MY MC.
    I once had identical MCs. One civilian stock, the other an ex-
    Long Beach PD number, with the whole black-n-white motif.
    And me in the black leather and white brain bucket.
    NOBODY sees me on the stocker.
    EVERYBODY clears the left lane when I am on the PD bike.
    It represents a threat…sorta scientific results and all.

    People do not see us on our bicycles because they do not feel sufficiently threatened. That is all there is to it.

  • steven says:

    John, the PSA has to be “Run over a cyclist and do thirty days in the county lockup, plus pay for the damage. More if they are severely injured!” There has to be a threat involved or it doesn’t happen.

  • Amsterdam Hammer says:

    had that happen in Italy three years ago, I was hauling ass along Lago di Lugano with a buddy in tow, it’s a slight downhill stretch and it was drizzling. A Mercedes was parked some 50 yards ahead but from a stand still checked a U-turn. I managed to stop in time but my buddy ran into me and the car from behind. Not much physical harm, some scratches for Ronald and I got tendinitus in my left knee from the impact, a bent front wheel and broken watch. I assessed the damage and driver (Italian living in Germany) gave me 100 € to fix it, was very apologetic and we parted on good terms… Could have been dramatic though !

  • Erik says:

    “…hardly anyone is afraid of hurting or killing cyclists, but everyone is afraid of scratching a 500-series krautmobile.” This sums up the entire predicament in car vs. bike.

    • fsethd says:

      If we could only come back as ghosts and haunt their PTA meetings or their morning coffee klatsches at Starbucks. Then we would have power.

  • Doug Reichardt says:

    I’m old school ….where can I send a check to register? Thanks

    Doug Reichardt


  • Brian Crommie says:

    Very true about the thread, glad yours did not break.

  • blinky says:

    I now make it a policy to ride with a blinking Light and Motion Urban 550 on my handlebars. OK, I look like a dork on a bike, but at least I am a dork .. on my bike. And i notice that drivers actually behave differently. “What the f__ is that blinking thing coming at me?”

    • fsethd says:

      It works. A bright blinking headlight during the day and a bright blinking red taillight at all times work. They ward off the cars, or at least warn them. Really good idea when riding solo.

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