By Brendan Moyle 11/06/2019 8


I stood up on the road. This came with a sense of astonishment. All my limbs were still working. Next priority was looking behind me to see if any cars were coming up behind me. And then I saw my crashed bicycle. It was a long way back. Past the car that caused my crash.

A bit earlier

I’d got the chance to leave work in my golden hour. Just after the school rush and before the build up of after-work traffic. The weather was clear and pleasant. Traffic was light. It was good to be commuting home on the bike.

There’s a roundabout by the Stadium on Oteha Valley Road. My approach was at 36kph [1]. Slowing to check the roundabout for cars (Yes! It was empty), I began my circuit. I kept an eye on the road entering the roundabout just ahead. Two vehicles on that road, slowing down. I’m now traveling at 23kph.

Then the blue hatchback speeds up. The driver didn’t look properly, and assuming the roundabout was empty, was going to speed through it. We are going to collide.

MoT report (2017) on fatal and serious accidents with cyclists report that in 59% of the cases, the motorist did not see the cyclist. [2]

The Crash

At this stage I brake hard and turn away from the car’s direction. The bike stopped, but I didn’t. I still had a forward momentum of roughly 23 kph and had lost all control of the bicycle.

The same MoT report notes one of the factors that contributes to cycle accidents is the bicycle’s inherent instability.

I vaulted over the handlebars. This sounds more elegant than it really was. I was coming off the bicycle at an angle and the road was rushing up to me. I had to straighten up as I flew though the air. My hands made first- glancing- contact with the road, but this barely slowed the rest of my body. I was moving too fast and too forward. The next instant decision was to do a forward roll on the road.

A common cyclist injury is broken collar bones where they try to break their fall by bracing their hands on the road. The shock of the impact travels up the arms, which have thicker bones and supported by muscle, to the weakest point. That’s the clavicle or collar bone, which snap [3].

The roll slowed my momentum down by transferring a lot of my kinetic energy to the road. This was done by hitting the road with the back of my helmet and back on the roll. Fortunately I was using a small hydration pack as a cycling pack. Its contents provided enough padding to make the road surface bearable. My momentum is down to 14 kph.

Later I discover a crack in the EPS liner of the helmet at the inside edge of the collision point. The helmet did its job but the deformation wave from the impact point still had enough force to split the inside.

I need one more forward tumble or roll before I can stop. It’s what takes me such a distance from my bike. I don’t recommend the experience. Rolling over a road surface, even with some protection, is a painful experience.

The Aftermath

At this stage I’d done nearly everything right. I’d avoided getting hit by a car. I hadn’t broken my collar bones because of the decision to roll on the road. I kept my balance. I hadn’t broken any legs. Sure, bits are hurting but that’s not as bad as I feared. I’m so astonished I’m alive and can walk, I don’t even feel like berating the driver.

Then I did everything wrong. The blow to the back of my head had left me a bit dazed and in shock. The motorist was very contrite. All I could think of saying was something cliched about watching for bikes. What I didn’t do is get the car’s licence plate number. Or the driver’s phone number, which he didn’t offer either. Doug, who was alongside the motorist at the time of the accident (and corroborated my observation of the events), didn’t get the registration either.

I biked some of the way home. I just wanted to get home. But the crash had also done the bike in. So I had to walk the last part of the way carrying the wrecked bike.

I thought I’d survived remarkably unscathed. But the next day symptoms of a concussion were showing. That led to a stay at the Emergency Department of the Hospital. Apparently hitting your head on the road with enough force to split the EPS liner, has enough force left over to bang your brain around a bit.

Somehow, the accident statistics for cyclists no longer seem like abstract numbers, and much more personal.

Cycling on the Shore

Auckland has a fragmentary cycle system. Some of it is excellent, but for many roads its nearly non-existent or poorly connected. One such road is Oteha Valley. The almost daily commute is punctuated frequently by near-misses at the roundabouts that run along its length. I rarely see other cyclists using it during my commutes.

Oteha Valley Road is the main arterial road connecting the East Coast Bays to the Albany Basin. The Bays have a population roughly equal to Rotorua. The road connects to the Northern Motorway, to the Albany Bus Station, to malls, to schools and workplaces, to the QBE Stadium and Albany pools, and to Massey University. It gets used a lot. It also does not cater well to cyclists. There’s a couple of fragmentary cycle lanes but nothing running down its length. Last year the death of a cyclist and a pedestrian on the road motivated a petition to improve it. It hasn’t changed for cyclists. The road is designed to put cyclists at risk.

Until we get improvements in cycle safety on our roads, it will remain a challenge meeting the various policy goals set on congestion and vehicle emissions. The exhortation to motorists to watch out for bikes, just isn’t an effective policy measure.

 

Notes

[1] My Garmin sportswatch was keeping a record of my speed at each stage. The speeds in this post were retrieved from my Garmin account after the accident.

[2] Ministry of Tranpsort (2017) Cycle Crash Facts

[3] Global Cycle Network Top 1o Most Common Cyclist Injuries YouTube


8 Responses to “I had an accident”

  • Well done on surviving Brendan. Your experience, and especially the bit about being dazed and not getting the details of people, registrations etc are why I now ride with a cheap sport video camera running at all times. It cost next to nothing – $15 iirc – and has a loop function, so it over-writes older video. If I ever have to use it, I’ll only be interested in the last five minutes anyway.

    Of itself it does not prevent any incident, but it is one very small part of being able to identify what happened after the fact and hopefully that information informs everyone’s decisions later.

    I agree about the uselessness of telling people to “be more careful and watch for bikes”. It doesn’t work in any other high risk setting so why do authorities think it might work on the road? Design is the answer. Roads have to have safety for ALL users built in.

  • Hi Ashton- it was both a scary experience and one that had me very focused on staying alive. I had very little control in that tumble. And I’m getting way too old to be rolling on roads.

    I like your suggestion about a small action camera. It is something I’m considering. It would have recorded information about the crash I wasn’t able to.

  • Hi Brendan, I was so sorry to hear about your crash. But glad to hear that there were no bones broken. I am sorry to say that I don’t cycle on any part of Oteha Valley Road! I stick to the foot path – I know its a pain. but I have had so many close shaves on that road. The road is too narrow to allow for 2 lanes of traffic and a bike. Auckland Transport/Council is constantly encouraging us to commute to work on our bikes but it can be far too dangerous. Why don’t they spend some money on driver education? Who knows!

  • Hi Lesley- thanks for your comment. I’ve been using that road for many years and it seems to have got a lot worse. Most drivers are ok. But you don’t need many who aren’t, to feel very unsafe. I can see the value of the footpath- they’re not used a lot by pedestrians anyway…

    Usually I anticipate when a driver is going to do something threatening. This time, I was completely caught out.

    There’s a lot of good reasons to have more people cycling. It reduces congestion and emissions generally, as well as reducing incidence of NCDs. But you don’t get more than a small percentage people cycling if the roads are considered unsafe. Oteha Valley is definitely not a safe one. I believe the original plan was to spend more money on it and have protected cycle ways. But apparently the statistical deaths this would save (estimated at $5m per person) was not enough to justify the cost. The reason we don’t have more cyclists killed or seriously injured on it, probably has more to do (as you point out) it’s not used by cyclists. It’s got nothing to do with it being ‘safe’

  • Hi Brendan,
    I’m so glad you were not injured in a very scary encounter. Yes there is such dissonance between councils exhorting us to cycle to work and the reality of New Zealand roads. I was recently over in Brisbane, and it was such a treat to bike around a city that makes cycling, walking and using public transport, safe, accessible and even inviting. Dedicated walking/cycling bridges across the river! generously-proportioned cycle lanes! Magical stretches with fairy lights at night!

    • Hi Carol- thanks. Like you I’ve been elsewhere where cities are more bike-friendly. The accident hasn’t stopped me cycling (well, temporarily until the concussion faded). I’m now trying the cycle/walkway over the motorway at Spencer Road. It’s wonderful, but works best cycling home. I’ve not figured out a safe way to approach it from East Coast Rd. Every route requires a right turn across the path of cars on a busy road. It is kind of symptomatic of the piece-meal and fragmentary nature of our cycle network. The wonderful parts are punctuated by dangerous bits. The reality is that intersections are the most dangerous place for cyclists and that’s where most fatal and serious accidents occur. Intersections (which includes roundabouts) therefore, are the one segment of road that would offer the biggest safety boost if targeted for improvement

  • Hi Alison- thanks- I was really astonished to discover I could stand up after the tumble. I was really expecting much worse.