Friday, December 18, 2015

Be afraid - commuting stories #4

I think the worst position I could put myself in, while commuting to work, is getting a little bit cocky.  Like assuming that since I haven't been in a collision with a car, that I'm smart and I'm a strong rider and I'm very careful and I have a zillion lights on my bike and wear a lot of reflective gear when I ride.  Because that's not always going to be enough if you aren't lucky.  So I ride with caution. Especially at night.  And more so in the rain at night.

So this happened yesterday: I was riding home in the rain.  I was well clothed in waterproof gear from head to toe.  Actually my shoes were covered in neoprene booties, which aren't waterproof, but my shoes stayed dry. I had three bright headlights, including two that are very prominent even from the side (one actually has yellow lights on the side - the Light and Motion Urban 350), and three rear red lights, all quite visible from the side.  I also had reflective stripes on my arms, wrists, ankles, and hands, all visible from the sides, and a reflective vest, not quite visible from the side.  I also have reflectors on my spokes and these have a bright white light that I usually run in flashing mode, like I did last night.  In short, I bet anyone could see me from the side.  So by now you should have figured out that my side view visibility is key in this story.

Getting back to being afraid, the title of this post.  While I do my best to be safe, including riding as slow as I need to, I'm still very concerned about what other people might be doing, or not doing when they are driving.  Like using there phone for one purpose or another (yes, it happens - just ride a bike and look into cars since you have a great view).  Or not paying attention.  Or doing something dumb because they are in a hurry.  So I'm generally very cautious because I'm afraid that I meet one of those drivers.

So the rain wasn't all that intense but I know how it's harder to see in the dark and even harder in the dark when it's raining.  And the rain was enough to make my cantilever brakes that much less effective.  I was heading down Mass Ave in Cambridge west of Porter Square and saw two cars speed across Mass Ave onto Russel Street in front of me. My instinctive reaction was to brake several times to dry my rims so I could stop if I needed to.  Sure enough, another driver thought he could make it through before the cars approaching the intersection made it there.  And he started to speed across the street.  So I braked some more.  Braking wasn't great but, if you've ever used rim brakes in the rain, you know that I could tell that braking was improving.  But the guy (yes, I could see it was a guy, I was almost in the intersection at that point) was moving fast and I wasn't stopped just yet.  Suddenly, the driver took his car to the left, hard.  Right before then, I could see that he could see me and he must have made the decision that, while he was in a hurry, hitting me wasn't going to get him to where he was going faster than if he took that last second detour.  I'd like to think that he saw me because I'm lit up like a Christmas tree (only whites red, and yellow lights but nice blue reflectors on my arms).  I'd be worried if he didn't see me and just turned because he decided that was the best thing for him to do to get him to where he was going in a hurry, because he clearly was in a hurry.

If there is a moral to the story then it's this: assume the worse.  Had I been right in front of him, which I would have been if I hadn't started braking early, then it all might have turned out worse.  Or maybe he would have seen me earlier.  Maybe, but I'm not taking any chances.  So don't take this as 'be afraid and don't ride your bike."  I'm more on the "ride your bike but assume the worst of the drivers on the road.  A little fear keeps you focused on everyone else on the road" side.

The other moral to the story, if there is a first, is to consider getting disk brakes which, I hear, are better in the rain.

No pictures because it was raining out and I really didn't want to get my smart phone wet.

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