Tanya Connolly, 37, crushed under a tractor-trailer in South Boston last Monday. Doan Bui, 63, killed by a speeding pickup truck on a busy Dorchester thoroughfare the Friday before. Alexander Motsenigos, 41, victim of a hit-and-run in surburban Wellesley late last month.
In major metropolitan areas like Boston, it often seems as if every week brings news of another bicycling death — or, as in this past week, more than one — usually in an unequal clash between vehicle and rider. Biking experts say that as more people take to two-wheel travel — surely a good thing — more accidents are also likely. Below, writer David C. Holzman describes his own bike crash, and shares a key safety technique that many riders ignore: Helmets save lives, but they have to be worn right.
By David C. Holzman
The treetops seemed far away, as if through the wrong end of a telescope. They were all green, leafy, and dreamlike — like my memory of Seattle before I moved away at age eight.
The dream quickly soured as it began to dawn on me that I might have had a bicycle crash. But that didn’t make sense. Even in my stupor, I remembered that I was a very experienced cyclist, and very safety-conscious.
I began trying to wake myself up, as I’d done so easily in the lucid dreams of my early childhood. But it wasn’t working, and I couldn’t even shift the scene. Shock was cushioning me, like emotional Novocaine; nonetheless, I could feel the fear growing ominously more perceptible.
“When you are hit by a car, if your helmet can move, it will.’
Now I saw two women standing over me. “Am I dreaming?” I asked, fully expecting I was. (I had to be. Crashes didn’t happen to me.) “No, honey, you not dreaming,” one of them said in a dialect common in northeast Washington, DC.
I took five or ten seconds to grasp that I really was lying on my back in the street, and not in a bad dream. Once I did, I thanked the women “for watching over me,” actually thinking that they had come to protect me, the feelings of gratitude washing over me like an ocean wave on a beach.
Then one of them asked me for two dollars. Heretofore, I hadn’t moved a voluntary muscle outside of those involved in speech, but now, almost as if her voice was a hotline to my motor cortex, I pulled my wallet from my pocket, opened it, found a twenty and two ones, and gave her the latter. Had she asked for the twenty, I probably would have given that to her.
Memorial for a bicycle crash victim in Cambridge (Rachel Zimmerman)
Soon the women had disappeared, and a crowd gathered. I asked someone where I was. I was able to trace the route in my mind from my home, at 1200 Jackson St. North East, two miles to Rhode Island Avenue and First Street North West, but I still didn’t know where I had been going, or even whether I still worked at Insight Magazine, or whether I had been laid off, an event which had occurred four and a half months earlier.
Then someone informed me that my face was “all messed up.” I don’t understand why, but suddenly my head was much clearer, and I knew I would be fine.
I looked at my watch. It was 8:20 a.m. on September 6, 1991. I realized I’d been on my way to the doctor’s office, for an annual checkup. I’d crashed about 10 minutes earlier. I’d have to reschedule the appointment.
The guy who told me my face was messed up was partially correct. As my then-four-year-old niece, Beth, said with obvious bemusement when she first saw me the next day, “Uncle David, you need to wash your face!”
I’d been going around 15 to 18 mph when I hit a large bump in the road that I hadn’t seen, wrenching the handlebars out of my hands. That’s the last thing I remember. Despite the tight chin straps, the force of the crash on my helmet had pushed it so far askew that my cheekbone had kissed the pavement, acquiring an impressive bruise, and a laceration which I think had to be taped shut. Luckily the straps had been tight enough to keep my helmet on my skull, or I probably would not be writing this warning.
So I’ve been appalled to see air between the chin straps of helmets and the chins of about one third of the cyclists on the Minuteman Trail, where I run or ride my bicycle just about every day. Chin straps on helmets should be snug, like one’s shoe laces. Continue reading