I was at the end of a short bike ride near home on Moraga Way, a road I’ve very likely ridden thousands of time, so familiar to me that I know just about every one of its idiosyncrasies. I caught up with another cyclist at a stop light. The light changed and on the gentle downhill I rolled behind him. He wasn’t going very fast and I thought for a moment that I would pass him but I wasn’t in a hurry either. Out of courtesy I stayed well behind his wheel, about 50 to 100 feet, not wanting to intrude on his ‘bubble’.
There was nothing unusual about the day or traffic on the road. Moraga Way has the commuter traffic from Highway 24 in Orinda to and from Moraga. But today the traffic was perhaps just a tad lighter than usual even though it was getting close to the afternoon commute period.
Suddenly a black car jetted out from a side street. The driver was a young boy. He had a stop sign but I saw that he made no effort to stop—he foolishly jumped out into the street without even slowing down at the sign. There was no time for the rider in front of me to do anything more than reflexively turn his handlebars in a futile reaction to avoid the inevitable. The mouth of the boy driver was agape. There was a sickening crunch as the cyclist slammed into the side of the car. He flew over the hood and landed on the other side. Surprisingly he bounced up and stood—I was sure he was going to be seriously injured. He was screaming at the driver who by now was out of the car and profusely apologetic. I had barely two seconds more time to react and I heard myself scream “Oh shit!” as I slammed on the brakes and steered to the right. I barely missed the rear of the car and was shaking. (This is a situation where disc brakes really helped!) If I had passed that cyclist and been in the front it would have been I rather than he who would have been hit.
The cyclist was extremely lucky. He was able to walk and talk and didn’t seem to have any broken bones. His left hand was bleeding. His helmet appeared undamaged.
It turned out the boy didn’t have his drivers license and furthermore didn’t have the insurance papers with him. Strangely his father turned up; I wasn’t sure if he was walking outside or happened to pull up in another car. The bike had an ugly crease in the seat tube. By the looks of the bike—Zipp carbon wheels, Italian carbon, full Dura Ace, carbon everything—this was a $10,000+ bike. It wasn’t totaled but the frame was seriously messed up.
Seeing that he was okay and handling the situation I gave him my phone number and told him I had a front row seat to the whole collision.
I was shaken up partly because a seemingly minor decision to take it easy and stay behind resulted in my escaping serious injury. But this near-accident pierced that false veil of control I don every time I go for a ride. No matter how vigilant and careful I am what happens to me on the bike is not completely under my control. Whether you realize it or not we put our lives in the hands of car drivers, who treat vulnerable road users indifferently, thoughtlessly if not hostilely.