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Fragility
By Tom Demerly.

I like Mike Orris. Nice fellow. Husband, father, sales rep, cyclist, survivor. Just barely- survivor.

Earlier this year Mike rode his new bike to a picnic to meet his wife. He was run over by a car. The accident was bad. Short of being fatal, it was as bad as you can imagine. He lay in a medically induced coma while his family and friends… waited. And prayed.

What happened to Mike Orris is every cyclist’s horror: Hit by a car, hovering between life and death in a hospital, utterly uncertain of his future- perhaps not even aware of his present. Locked in. It is also every cyclist’s potential reality. My own best friend of many years died in a similar accident. I’ve been hit twice. Maybe you’ve had some close calls.

Cycling is an intensely dangerous sport. I used the adjective “intensely” for a reason. We ride in settings with drivers not trained in the appropriate way to interact with us. Most drivers don’t know what to do when they see a cyclist on the road, many believe we don’t belong there (they’re wrong- we do). Driver’s education includes instruction on the use of baby seats, towing a trailer and how much alcohol you can legally consume and still drive. Questions about these things are on the Michigan Driver’s Test. There is no instruction on the appropriate response and interaction between a car and a bicycle on the road. There are no questions on the driver's test about interacting with cyclists.

I don’t have children, I don’t own a trailer and I’ve never drank alcohol but I do ride a bike almost every day of my life. As cyclists we’ve largely had to make our own rules: Where to ride and when, how we interact with drivers. It has been up to us.

Mike Orris was a good cyclist. I say “was” because, as I write this, I am not certain if he will back on a bike. His friends held an auction to raise money for his family while he lay in the hospital. They auctioned off cycling clothing donated by local bike shops. When the auction was done many people gave the clothing they bought back to Mike’s wife and told her to give it to him to wear when he recovered. I hope he does wear it someday. I don’t know if he will.

There is a lot to think about concerning the terrible accident that befell Mike Orris. Will Mike Orris recover? What will his family do? How did it happen? Can we avoid the same awful fate? Will this happen to me?

As I finished this editorial my friend Gary stopped by after his daily training. Another accident today. A serious one. Ambulance, hospital… Rider unknown- 60+ years old, nice road bike- Hines Drive. Driver may have fallen asleep and crossed the centerline and hit him. What seems like a healthy form of exercise suddenly starts to feel a little like diving with white sharks, skydiving, BASE jumping or serving in Iraq. What we do suddenly seems so much more dangerous.

Nothing I write here will change the risks we face. It won’t speed the recovery of Mike Orris or bring back the cyclist injured a few hours ago on Hines Drive.

What you do may save your own life though.

Laws and impassioned pleas don’t cut it. Despite the fact that, as a fellow cyclist you have my best wishes for your safety, you are on your own on the open road. The laws (the few there are) won’t protect you. Our deficient driver’s “education” won’t insure your safety. It’s up to you.

Here is some of what you must do, at a minimum, to moderate the extensive risk we face as road cyclists:

    • Ride roads you know well. Understand the traffic patterns and trends on them
      before riding your bike on them.
    • Wear a helmet. You already know this one.
    • Carry ID with contact information. “Road ID” type bracelets are best.
    • Carry a cell phone.
    • Let your friends/family know where you are riding, how long you will be gone and
      when you will be back.
    • Check in when you return from your ride.
    • Treat cars as though they are brainless, unguided projectiles bent on killing you. Never assume intelligence or reason on behalf of a driver.
    • Never make assumptions about a driver’s abilities.
    • Never respond to a driver’s aggression in any way. Simply practice avoidance if
      someone acts aggressively toward you. Never do anything to provoke a driver.
    • Ride in a responsible group whenever possible as opposed to riding solo.
    • Maintain a high degree of vigilance on the road. Remember you are in a high threat
      environment and you are there at a disadvantage compared to cars. A fender-bender
      to a car is a fatal collision to a cyclist.

Please remember Mike Orris and his family when you ride. If you believe in faith and prayer, include this family in your thoughts.

When you ride, remember what you have to loose and how easily it is lost. Remember how frail and fleeting our good health and complete, intact body is. Remember Mike Orris and his long, ongoing struggle to get back on the bike and wish him and his family well…

Update, 7/11/09: Mike Orris’ condition has improved significantly. While he still wrestles with the injuries from his accident and continues a long road to recovery he can stand, walk, speak and is interacting with people well. The future will be a long, difficult road for Mike but his journey down that road has begun. Where it takes him between near death and full recovery is unknown.

The cyclist hit on Hines Drive, initially reported as killed, did survive. Barely. He is hospitalized in serious condition. Local news outlets have reported that a driver fell asleep and hit him.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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