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The accident site, a year later

10 Apr

Today I got around to visiting the site of my accident, which I had intended to do last weekend. I didn’t want to commit the time needed for a 35-40 mile bike ride, so most of my journey was by BART, with about 11 miles of biking round trip between the station and the site of the accident.

To the extent that this trip had a purpose, it was to see whether the chewed-up pavement had been repaired, and it was this question that left me in some suspense as I meandered my way through the hills of Oakland to my destination, Skyline Boulevard and Grass Valley Road. This time, I approached the spot riding uphill along Grass Valley Road, opposite the previous times I’d been to the spot. A good distance away, the pavement was smooth and clearly relatively new, but when I got closer to the site I found myself on old pavement again.

As I pedaled up the last hill near the spot where I had fallen, I saw a cyclist approach in the opposite direction.  He bounced up and down a few times as he rounded the turn, thus breaking my suspense but fortunately not his jaw.* Soon enough, I could see directly that the pavement hadn’t changed significantly since I was there in July.

Bad pavement

It’s certainly not good pavement, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen. There’s actually a whole block in particular that I ride over pretty much every day, which is probably all a bit worse. It’s also downhill (at least in one direction), but it isn’t on a turn, and (on account of the whole block being bad), I’ve always taken it very slowly.

I don’t know whether the city of Oakland has decided that they won’t fix this or if they just haven’t gotten to it yet. The city certainly has had its share of financial difficulties, so they may not be able to afford to fix this kind of thing these days. As I understand, because they have been notified of the hazard, they are now liable for subsequent accidents caused by the damaged pavement. Of course, there are also signs warning people to take the turn slowly (without mentioning the road hazard), so that might reduce their liability.

I’ll write about the relevant law some time soon. That’s now two posts about law I’ve promised to write. Yawn.

*Let’s just say I’m practicing for a bad syllepsis competition, in case I should ever find one.

The accident revisited

4 Jul

I have to begin with a confession. When I wrote about my accident, I wasn’t entirely sure that everything I was saying was true. I didn’t say anything that I knew to be false, but I didn’t remember all of the details of how I had fallen. When I had no information about something, I didn’t say anything, but there were a couple of statements I made that were guesses based on what I did remember and what seemed to be the best information at the time.

For example, I wrote that I had been taking the downhill stretches faster than I was accustomed, and claimed that this was the cause of my accident. It’s true that I had taken some downhill stretches faster than I would have when riding alone, but I never had any specific recollection of going fast down the particular hill where the accident took place. When I stated that I had been going faster at the time of the accident, I was extrapolating based on what I did remember in a way that seemed to explain why I had fallen. Similarly, when I said that my bike crossed over the center line in the road, I didn’t have any specific recollection of that having happened at that particular turn. I had some recollection of it having happened somewhere, and it seemed reasonable to conclude that it was the place where I had crashed.

Anyway, I needed to make that confession because I revisited the scene of the accident this morning, and what I saw there led me to question both of the claims discussed in the preceding paragraph.

As I approached the turn where the accident took place, I could see that there were plenty of signs warning of a difficult turn. First was  something painted on the street by a well-meaning amateur.


Then there were the road signs as I approached the turns.

Right Turn, 15MPH
I’ve always been a careful cyclist, so this signage came as a surprise to me. I just couldn’t believe that I’d ignored it. The fact that I didn’t remember it being there  might suggest that I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I also could easily have forgotten in my post-accident shock. (It also occurred to me that when the EMT asked how fast I had been going and eventually got me to agree that I had been going 20 to 30 miles per hour, I had admitted to breaking the speed limit.)

When I got to the actual turn, there were even more warnings.

Yellow Light, Right Arrow

I stopped at the corner to reflect on things and examine the scene for a while. Obviously, with the accident having happened 90 days earlier, there were no visible traces of my accident. However, one patch of pavement did catch my attention.

Cracked pavement

With the shade and an unfavorable angle, the photo doesn’t adequately display the magnitude of the hazard that this presents to bicyclists. In particular, it’s hard to see in the picture how deep some of the ridges were. Here’s another shot, which still doesn’t really do it justice, but it provides a little bit more information.

Another view of the cracked pavement

Also, the hill that preceded this turn actually did seem pretty steep, contrary to what I had thought when I looked at it on Google Street View.

Somewhat steep hill

In the hours since my return to the site, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the condition of the pavement played some role in my accident. The evidence is far from conclusive, but my biggest objection to that theory was easily resolved. This objection was that the cracked pavement was only found on the side where I was supposed to be riding, and I remembered crossing over the center line. As I mentioned previously, though, that memory of crossing the line may not be from this particular spot. Moreover, even if it is from that spot, it’s possible that I lost control on the broken pavement and then crossed over the line and fell.

I’ve spent a good amount of time examining my injuries and the scratches that the bike acquired in the accident, trying to figure out exactly how I fell and whether that might convey any information about the quality of the pavement I was on. The main way that such information might arise is if the bike were scratched in places that wouldn’t touch smooth pavement when I fell on it, but might have been able to touch pavement that was sufficiently uneven. Indeed, there are some scratches in places that seem like they shouldn’t have made contact with the road, but it’s not clear to me that the scratches could have come from falling on the ridged pavement either. The only other possibility seems to be that these scratches predated the accident (but I didn’t notice them until afterwards) or that they were acquired while the bike was at the fire station.

Since the morning, I’ve also had flashbacks of falling from my bike towards badly cracked pavement. I suspect that this isn’t an actual memory but something that my mind has fabricated to support my new theory of the cause of the accident.

Of course, all of this speculation on what happened that day has only minimal practical value. Determining the cause of the accident isn’t going to change the fact that it happened. Nor would it change the fact that the worst effects of the accident have, by all indications, passed. The only possible benefit from knowing why I fell would seem to be liability purposes, and not only does it seem unlikely that I’d be able to build a strong enough case, but I have no interest in pursuing litigation against a city that is broke when my insurance companies seem to have picked up most of the tab for my bills. I’d much rather see money go to fixing road hazards, which is why I reported this spot on the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s hazard reporting site. Much to their credit, Oakland’s Public Works Agency apparently does a good job of fixing hazards quickly after they are reported, according to an article in the East Bay Express.

Bike maintenance

21 May

I took my bike in for a tune-up (which is covered under the one-year maintenance warranty from Missing Link, where I bought it) yesterday. I was told that my rear brake pads needed to be replaced. This was somewhat surprising in that I had only ridden the bike for about two months. My old bike had been going on the same rear brake pads for about five months, and weren’t at the point of needing to be replaced. I’ll never know for sure, but it’s quite possible that the condition of the brakes played some role in my accident. I’ll have to watch my brake pads more carefully from now on.

The old bike

9 May

When I left home for the office riding my old bike on Thursday morning, I immediately realized that the seat was too low for me. This was the bike that I used all of last semester, and I didn’t adjust the seat after I stopped using it, so it occurred to me that I must have ridden it with the seat too low all of last semester. On Thursday, I was in enough of a hurry that I didn’t want to stop to adjust the seat height, so I left it the way it was. If I could ride the bike that way for a whole semester, I could do it for another day. It wasn’t easy, though. I huffed and puffed my way up hills that I had easily climbed on the new bike. On Friday, I raised the seat a few inches, which made things noticeably easier, but I still found that I had to keep the bike in the lower gears.

When I returned home from the office this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my new hanger had arrived already. Within a couple of minutes, I had installed it on the new bike. I took a test ride down the street, and the derailleur seems to be working smoothly. The brakes could use a quick adjustment, but I’m looking forward to taking it for my commute tomorrow.

The bike

6 May

Monday morning as I was running to catch a bus to class, it occurred to me that I might be better off biking at a leisurely pace than chasing after buses. After buying a new helmet last night, I left home this morning on my bike about twenty minutes before class started. This allowed me plenty of time to get to campus even though I was leaving close to twenty minutes later than I would have to catch the bus.

Things didn’t go quite as planned. As soon as I shifted gears, I started hearing the chain rubbing against something. The sound seemed to be coming from the rear, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell much. I stopped a few times along the way, but the noise persisted, except at the highest gears. Fortunately, I was still able to get into class almost on time.

I had previously given the bike a cursory inspection and concluded that it hadn’t been damaged in the accident, but this morning, I noticed that, in fact, the derailleur was badly scratched. The scratches, I reasoned, wouldn’t be likely to affect the functionality, but if the derailleur scraped against the ground, something could easily have bent and caused the chain to come in contact with something it wasn’t supposed to. A quick look in a bike maintenance guide suggested that it was probably the hanger that was bent.

I ordered a new hanger after some unsuccessful attempts to bend the hanger back into shape. Until it arrives, I’ll be using my secondary bike or taking the buses.

The accident scene revisited

28 Apr

This morning, before catching a bus to the office, I revisited the scene of my accident, thanks to the wonders of Google Street View. I hadn’t expected to be able to find it, partly because I wasn’t sure of the location, and partly because I didn’t expect to remember the scenery. However, I did have a map of the route for the ride I was on that day, and the accident scene turned out to be in the place along the route that I guessed first. The scenery, it turned out, was actually quite memorable, perhaps because I spent plenty of time staring at it while I waited to be taken to the hospital.

The most surprising thing about the scenery, aside from my memory of the view, was that it looks like it really wasn’t much of a hill I was coming down. I knew it wasn’t one of the steeper hills I’ve experienced, but I was still surprised at just how slight the incline was. Although the possibility occurred to me that incline may have just been difficult to detect in the pictures, Google’s terrain map suggests that the grade might be a little above 5%. My walking map of Oakland puts the grade in the 6% to 9% range. This is not steep enough that it should have been problematic had I been paying full attention to what I was doing, so I have to suspect that I was not.

The scene of the accident

5 Apr

Unsurprisingly, the fall left me in a state of shock, and if not for the other cyclists surrounding me and telling me to sit down, I just might have gotten back on my bike again. Waiting at the side of the road, I realized that I was bleeding in at least a few places, at least one of my front teeth was chipped, and the left side of my jaw was sore. The bleeding didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I’ve always been the sort of person who is getting scrapes here and there, and they’ve always healed quickly enough. I was rather disturbed by the idea that my teeth had broken, having had a longstanding fear of breaking or losing teeth. I wanted to look in the road for the pieces that had chipped off, but I knew that others would restrain me if I didn’t restrain myself. Instead, I contented myself with a hope that a dentist would be able to replace the lost pieces with something artificial.

The ride leader made a call, apparently to an emergency number, and a few minutes later, a fire truck arrived from the fire station that I was told was just down the street. A firefighter looked at me, asked me some questions about the accident, and somehow determined that I had full recall of the event and no loss of consciousness. He asked whether I had somebody who could drive me to the hospital, and I answered in the negative. In truth, some of my friends would have been able to do it, but I always tend to be averse to asking people to do things for me, and I wasn’t going to overcome this weakness while in a state of shock. As the ambulance arrived, one of the other cyclists said to me, “We’ll see you back on the bike soon!” I reacted with some skepticism, not because I didn’t want to ride my bike again, but because I didn’t see any reason to hurry back to the club.

An EMT got out of the ambulance,  examined me and asked me a few questions. Most of the questions weren’t any trouble for me to answer, but when he asked how fast I had been moving before the collision, I couldn’t say, not having a speedometer. He asked if I had been going 50 miles per hour, and I couldn’t imagine that I had been moving that fast, so I said I hadn’t. He asked me which hospital I wanted to go to. I  explained that I was new to the area and wasn’t familiar with the hospitals. He again repeated the question about my speed, this time emphasizing that it was actually fairly important. He didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t have any way of knowing this information, and the fact of it being important wasn’t going to change this. He asked if I had been in the 20-30 miles per hour range, and I said that I probably had been. He decided that this was slow enough that I could be taken to Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.

At this point, the EMTs had me lie down on a stretcher (which seemed wholly unnecessary to me given that I was able to walk), and the ride leader said that he had talked to my father (whom I had listed as my emergency contact for the ride). The EMT relayed this information to me, saying, “You hear that? Your Dad’s going to meet you at the hospital.” I told him I was doubtful of this claim and explained that my father lived in Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, I was loaded onto the ambulance and on my way to the hospital.

A bike ride

5 Apr

Note: Recent events have led me to doubt some of what is written here. For an explanation, see this post.

I woke up this morning faced with a decision. I had planned on going on my first ride with a local cycling club that I had joined, but a couple of things had given me second thoughts. First, my seasonal allergies were flaring up, and I was concerned that this might interfere with my ability to ride my bike. The other problem was that I didn’t really have proper cycling attire. I had clothing that I was comfortable wearing on a bicycle, but it wouldn’t make me look like a cyclist. I actually bought a pair of cycling shorts yesterday, but I was overwhelmed by the price and choice of shirts and decided against buying one. I’m always more than a bit shy about introducing myself to new groups of people, and looking different wasn’t going to make it any easier. After a few minutes of deliberation, though, I decided to put on a shirt I had that was made of some sort of athletic fabric and go.

When I arrived at the starting point of the ride, I could see that my choice of clothing wasn’t the only way in which I stood out. I was also one of only two cyclists without drop handlebars. When I had purchased my bike two months earlier, I had balked at the price of drop handlebars, opting instead for a cheaper commuter bike, which I had come to like very much. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that my bike was probably the cheapest one there; it was just that the difference in construction was another thing that made me feel I didn’t belong.

After  we started moving, I became conscious of yet another way in which I didn’t fit in, although this one was decidedly more subtle. I’d always been a cautious bicyclist, and so I’d tend to use my brakes as I’d go down hills. As I braked my way down the hills, I found that the other cyclists were pedaling past me. Uphill was a different story. Living in the Berkeley Hills, I had biked uphill almost every day for several months. Over the course of these months, I had managed to cut my evening commute (the uphill direction) in half. With my youth and my comfort with hills, I found myself passing many of the other cyclists on the uphill.

As the ride progressed, I began taking the downhill stretches a bit faster. I started out braking less, and then even started pedaling a bit.  I didn’t feel a need to be going faster than anybody else. It was just my paranoid fear of not fitting in. In fact, I still found myself taking the hills a bit slower than many of the others.

About a third of the way through the ride 43 mile ride, I neared the bottom of a hill along a quiet road. The road veered off to the right, but I did not. My bicycle crossed over the center line of the road, and I tried to turn back onto the right side of the road. The next thing I remember, I had fallen and gotten up again, and people were crowding around with concern.

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