What Happens When the Passion Is Shattered?

Lance Armstrong has said that, “if you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on.” But what happens when you have gotten on a bike… for 15 years and loved every minute of it—the physical activity, the camaraderie, the pure joy of experiencing new sights and sounds—and then you fall…and are seriously injured? What happens when that passion for cycling is eclipsed by fear? Fear for your own health and safety and fear of the possibility of putting your family through another touch-and-go trauma?

Krepak with some of the winners of the Brentwood Grand Prix Bicycle Race.
Krepak with some of the winners of the Brentwood Grand Prix Bicycle Race.

This is exactly what happened to a client of mine. Although he has recovered well physically, he has not been on a bicycle since his accident and doesn’t think he’ll ever ride again. That is a drastic change; one that has implications for all aspects of his life and that of his family.

My client is an experienced, skilled bicyclist who always rode with safety front and center in his mind. His injury wasn’t caused by him, but rather by the car-centric mindset and bureaucratic red tape that has often turned our streets and highways into danger zones—places where accidents are just waiting to happen.

On the day of his accident, he was riding on Pacific Coast Highway, a route he had taken many times before. Because road work was being done, a lane was closed and cones were used to guide motorists into the one “active” lane. But, what about bicyclists…where were they to ride? Should they have entered the lane of traffic where vehicles were moving 40 mph or more? Was the shoulder safe?

The cones served motorists, but not bicyclists. The public authorities who were overseeing the project, and whose job it is to preserve public safety, used bureaucratic procedure—not the realities of the situation—to guide their actions. A “Bike Lane Closed” sign was not used because the powers that be said PCH was a bike route; there is no bike lane.

Because my client took the same route safely a day or so before by riding on the shoulder, he decided not to take the lane, and stuck to the right. What he didn’t know, however, was that on this day there was an open trench with no warning sign on the road ahead. By the time he came upon it, it was too late. The result? He fractured his cervical spine and his passion for bicycling was shattered.

So, what does he do now? How does he fill the missing puzzle piece in his life that bicycling has now become?

Sadly, I have no answer. Only the hope that one day he may feel safe enough to ride again.

(The law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP is dedicated to protecting the rights of those who have suffered serious injuries on or off the job. Partner Howard Krepack, an avid bicyclist, leads the firm’s bicycle accident practice. For more information about our firm, call us at 213-739-7000 or visit our website: www.geklaw.com.)

  • Anonymous

    A tragic story indeed, but thanks for bringing it to light, Howard. It hadn’t really registered with me that the procedures for doing road maintenance might completely ignore cyclists needs, and prove to be so costly.

  • Marcotico

    Once I was riding up an incline and came across a Bike Lane Closed sign in the bike lane.  It occurred to me that the sign as placed seemed to be telling the cyclists something they would soon find out, and couldn’t really do anything about.  The signs should be placed in the right hand lane to indicate that motorists should slow down and be expecting cyclists to take the lane. 

  • Jbrooks

    My friend Johan said the pain and horror of insurance and medical bills was about as bad as the actual injury.

    He was back in the saddle 6 months later.

    His advice. Make sure you are properly insured.

    http://www.planbike.com/2010/04/bike-vs-car-survivor-talks-cycling.html

  • Trevor

    Experience and skill in handling of the bicycle are only about half the recipe for happy road cycling. The other half comes from realizing that you should drive your bike just like you would a motor vehicle. A car driver would never think of driving onto the sidewalk when they see a “lane closed” sign.

    Orange cones serve the people who see them and interpret them correctly. In this case, they meant “hazard, go left”. Arguably an “open trench” sign would have been a useful addition, but hazards require critical thinking and cautious operation in order to bring the safety level back to the same level it would be without the danger. If a bike rider has not realized that they belong in the roadway, at least they should be comfortable to get off and walk when that is the other safe alternative.If a cyclist who has experienced a trauma learns from their experience, they may be able to go back onto the road with less innocence but more confidence. I suggest a traffic skills course such as those offered by bikeleague.org, or just read a good book by Franklin, Schubert, or Forester.

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