Cautionary Tales on Two Wheels

Two cyclists

I once came across a stapler in my parents’ den and wondered: What would happen if I stapled my thumb? I inserted my left thumb nail downward, pounded the stapler with my right fist, and screamed as the tiny prongs stabbed through my flesh. I was five at the time, but biking has a way of bringing out that same devil-may-care spirit in me. The results have ranged from minor mishaps to landing face down in the dirt.

The silver lining: Some hazards don’t stem from cars. As biking season kicks into gear, let’s consider my top totally avoidable faux pas:

Phone calls—Drivers aren’t the only ones with phone issues. Biking through Lincoln Park years ago, I strayed off the path and headed downhill over bumpy terrain. It was at that moment that I found the buzz of my phone irresistible. I pulled it out of my pocket and flipped it open right before hitting a tree root. I flew in one direction, my phone in the other. Did I mention my short summer dress?

Dangly stuff—There is nothing I won’t transport on my bike. Deep dish pizza. A poinsettia. My sister. But it was a long U-lock hanging from my handlebar that nearly did me in. I was cruising down Halsted when I flipped the lock over my bike frame to keep it from rattling. This brilliant move steered me to the left against my will. Fortunately, the street was clear as I swerved across and splattered on the other side.

Things have a way of coming loose. My bike has stopped short when a bungee cord or sweater sleeve got stuck in a tire. A small, hanging purse once wedged itself into my front spokes and sent me over the handlebar. I now do a body/bike check before taking off.

Humans—Many years ago I was on my way home from doing good deeds in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I was in San Jose, Calif., but it could have happened anywhere. I didn’t realize how stressful being charitable was until some punk on a banana seat bike jumped in front of me on the road, swerving intentionally to block my path. When he pulled off to the side, I may have responded something to the effect of, “Thanks, you f*king asshole.” He got back on, and a heart-stopping chase ensued. Luckily, my bike had actual gears and I was able to out-ride him.

Night—When your grandma said nothing good happens after midnight, she was half-right. I biked into a dark, narrow underpass one evening and didn’t notice the dude staggering with his pants half off until it was too late. He lurched forward as if to grab me. Being completely plastered, however, he only succeeded in emitting a kind of deranged howl that still scared the crap out of me. My mom suggested it was unwise to put myself in that position. But let’s remember that bike injuries occur most often during rush hour. Fatalities are likeliest at night, before midnight.

To stay on your toes (tires?) at any time of day, I recommend assuming people are drunk, distracted, or about to open their door in your face. You’ll probably be wrong. Drivers and pedestrians don’t want to be in an accident any more than you do. But maintaining a slight distrust of those around me generally serves me well.

When logic asks why, I still sometimes respond, why not? Memories of past calamities and near misses are what help me to, literally, save face.

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Clare Curley writes about biking, business, being a broad and other stuff that piques her curiosity.

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