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Curse of the Bad Luck Biker

Posted May 22 2011 7:01pm
I, like the great Stevie Wonder himself, believe that superstitions are pretty much a load of bull. They get lumped in that tiny space in my brain where I store memories of religious zealots thrusting fistfuls of pamphlets into tourists' hands at Times Square and those radio loons from California who got the world all riled up about a rapture that never came (go figure).

But if I were a superstitious girl, I'd bet my life that I was doomed with a Bike To Work Day curse. Maybe there's some belief that biking over cracks leads to 7 years' bad biking luck? If that's so, then after traversing these pothole-ridden streets for the past year I'm probably blacklisted for life.

Whatever the case, the reality is that for the past two BTW Days, I've experienced some sort of cycling-related mishap that makes me question whether I should pack it in all together. Obviously not forever, 'cause that'd be like asking a fish to stop swimming, but to at least take a break and regroup.

Last year, I'd only been commuting to work for about two weeks when the day came around. I saddled up and hit the pavement, feeling more comfortable and confident on the road than ever before. As I rounded a corner toward the Queensboro Bridge, I could see volunteers from NYC's Transportation Alternatives greeting bikers and practically taste the free Cliff bars (why are they so good?) they were passing out...

And then I bit the dust. Hard. 

I had been trying to hug the curb closely to avoid traffic to my left and hadn't left myself enough room for obstacle avoidance—a rookie mistake. One unfortunately placed pothole appeared out of no where and I had two choices–veer left and get rammed into by any one of the umpteen SUVs zooming by or curve right and try to hop the fairly low sidewalk. In my head, hopping the curb seemed simple. I'd done it a hundred times as a kid and my bike back then had streamers on it for crying out loud. 

So I went for it and consequently wound up giving several motorists something hysterical to laugh about on the way to work—me, sprawled on the ground with both knees streaming with blood. I looked at the scrapes oozing underneath my ruined pants, felt the burn of road rash pulsing on my skinned palms and picked myself up, thinking, "Of all the days..." 

I've had way worse accidents since then, of course, but no matter how big or small, it still rocks me each time I have a close call.

Last month, I had a particularly nasty accident in Astoria. As I headed toward an intersection on a high-traffic road (no bike lane), a man driving a sedan tried to cut across a lane to make a quick right turn. He didn't see me until it was too late and I had no time to do anything other than scream like a girl when he slammed into me from the left. My bike was sucked under his front tires and crushed and I flew over my handlebars and landed on the pavement. 


For once, I was grateful it's been so unseasonably cold up here. It was below freezing that morning and I was bundled up in two layers of thick tights and a fleece pullover underneath my jacket. All of that helped cushion my fall and definitely played a hand in saving me a trip to the ER. I walked away with a bent front wheel, a badly bruised pelvis and woke up the next morning to purple bruises the size of footballs blooming on my legs. 

Better her than me, right?
Usually when I tell the story I make it sound like he just bumped me and I fell off. It's bad enough having parents worried to death about their daughter cycling in NYC—why add fuel to the fire? But really I think I downplay it to take away from the fact that those kind of incidents really freak me the hell out. Clearly, I love biking, but anything can happen out there no matter how safe I try to be. 

That was less than two months ago and road-sided me for about two weeks. One week to get my bike fixed (the very apologetic driver paid for the repairs) and another before I felt confident enough to get back out there. I also changed my route, going a mile or two out of my way to take one of the few streets in my 'hood with a bike lane. It's worth the extra five minutes and I should have done it long ago. Lesson learned.

It's been pretty uneventful riding since then. That is until May (a/k/a National Bike Month) struck. Let's review shall we? 
First, there was the Five Boro Cluster F--k .

Then, there was the whole lost bike lock key incident  which started like this and ended (D'oh!) like this

Blue's had a rough month.
I'm used to mishaps. Most my friends have grown accustomed to my crazy tales of misfortune and I've grown accustomed to laughing them off. What's the point in harping on stuff you can't change? 

But I had a hard time on Friday convincing myself to laugh off coming the closest I've ever been to seeing the pearly gates. And it had nothing to do with the world's predicted demise on Saturday.

It was a gorgeous, crystal blue skied morning and I was thrilled after four days of non-stop rainy riding . I successfully made it in one, unscratched piece to TransAlt's tent at the bridge. I chatted with some perky volunteers, signed up for a membership and snapped some photos for the ol' blogstead. I hopped back on my bike and hit the bridge, feeling great.

End of Qboro bike path.
The thing about the end of this bridge is that it's a pain in the ass to exit. There's a very sharp right turn at the end of the bike lane and what used to be an opening for bikers to squeeze through and easily continue onto 2nd avenue has been blocked off. Instead, we have to make a right turn and continue down to a traffic light.

Here, you can either turn left and follow the flow of traffic until you can take the first left back up to 2nd ave or you can turn right, walk (although most people ride) your bike along the sidewalk against traffic and take a side road up. 

I usually go with the latter option because I avoid a traffic light and there's far less congestion. But since it was Bike To Work Day, I wanted to be the epitome of the law-abiding biker and went with option No. 1. The street I took (61st) is fairly narrow and lined on both sides with parked cars, leaving space for one-way traffic in the middle. 

Behind me were at least seven or eight cars, with a yellow cab leading the charge. I quickly looked over my right shoulder to see whether the cab driver was going to try and pass me or if I had space to position myself safely in the middle of the road. I turned back around and two seconds later I slammed head-on into the door of a passenger van that had just been flung open. 

For a split second, I thought I was OK. I'd instinctively taken my left hand off the handlebar to avoid crushing it but that meant I had only one hand left steadying the bike and the impact of the door sent me veering right into oncoming traffic. I heard the cab's brakes squeal and his horn blaring but he didn't have enough space to come to a complete stop. He T-boned me on my right side and knocked me onto his hood. 

Green lines = safety.
Obviously, I'm OK since here I am writing to you. Somehow neither I nor my bike were seriously harmed and I walked away with little more than bruises and knees buckling beneath me. And I biked the rest of the way through midtown to work anyway. Why? Because I just might be a little bit nuts, that's why. 

Seriously, I think it was probably adrenaline that kept me pedaling. I pushed the accident out of my head and just kept repeating to myself, "Get to the bike lane, get to the bike lane," like a shipwreck survivor swimming toward land. Thing is, there is no bike lane for 26 blocks after you get off the bridge. And man, when I finally saw that little two-foot wide stretch of green asphalt, I tell you I could have kissed it. 

When I got hit by a car last month, I returned to my apartment and decided to work from home. I spent about two hours at my computer before the pain in my pelvis and legs started to burn to life and I realized I needed to see a doctor. 

This time around, it wasn't the physical pain that took a while to manifest itself but the mental strain of what had happened and what might have happened if that cab hadn't braked or had been going any faster. 

Bright side: a bike friendly office makes
all the difference in the world. 
I told a coworker what happened a couple of hours after I'd started working and all of the sudden I couldn't keep my hands from shaking. So I sought refuge in the only place I could think of. And let me tell you—I've never felt more wimpy as I did sitting alone in a bathroom stall trying to calm myself down with the whole "breathe in, breathe out" exercise. 

I'm sure plenty of you can relate. I have friends who've had bones broken, bikes totaled and their skin splayed open like cuts of meat from accidents. It can always be worse. It's no reason to stop doing what you love, right? 

I decided to bike home after work just to get the jitters out and everything went pretty smoothly. I exited the bridge back in Queens and usually that's the point of my commute when I completely relax. After all my peppiness , the day hadn't been as great as I'd hoped. But home was close and I couldn't wait to shower and give Lil Blue and myself a much-deserved break. 

That was until this happened: 

Of course.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It's just a flat and that can happen any day of the week. But it was the last straw for me after the day I'd had and I pouted the whole mile and a half walk over to the nearest bike shop, painting the streets with a colorful cache of swear words. Not one of my more ladylike moments, I gotta admit.

I hate to be a downer, especially since Friday was such a great day for bikers. Hopefully there will be even more commuters out there on Monday. Despite everything that went down and the fact that I didn't touch my bike all weekend long, I know I'm not ready to pack it in yet. And I truly hope my misfortunes don't make any of you to second guess whether you should start cycling. I know loads of people who manage to do it without any mishaps.

After this month, I still don't really believe in superstitions. But do any of you ever feel like the world is trying to drop hints that it's time for you to slow down? I hope this bike-free weekend was enough of a break and that I'll have a hassle-free commute next week.

And as for Bike To Work Day 2012?

Errr...I think I might be taking the train.
PS: Thanks for your tweets, messages and words of encouragement! They mean(t) a lot.
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