Monday, November 4, 2013

Whose Fault Is It?

This past weekend while bicycle riding along in what most people would call a very aggressive paceline at around 28 mph two guys right in front of me got tangled up and crashed. It looked like one of those peloton crashes you would see in a pro bicycle race when bikes go flying into the air, people are sliding across the road, and then there is the sickening silence of someone not moving. And, as soon as people know that everyone is going to live the blame game starts. Why?

We had just left a regroup point at a local gas station, market and bathroom. There were three tandems and a group of about six riders on regular bikes who were pushing the pace. First everything is nice at around 21 mph and people are relaxed. Then it gets a bit more serous at 23 mph. The third tandem in line threw a chain and had to stop. That turned out to be the precursor of the crash - or was it really?

A gap opened up and the group behind the third tandem now had about 50 yards to close. The front six bikes and two tandems were really moving. It was taking a major effort of around 28 mph to see the gap start to close. I was on the front for a minute and then maxed out. A couple guys go by and then a few more. I bridge to them for about a minute and then realize it ain't happening for me so I start to back off. My unwillingness to go anaerobic for a longer time turns out fortuitous because a 15 foot gap to the small chase group in front of me has opened providing precious time for what comes next.

Then I hear that horrible sound of bikes on pavement, people yelling, and see the mayhem a half second away. While slamming my brakes on and skidding through the off-pavement gravel in-between the two guys and bikes on the ground with both wheels locked up the strangest thing happens. My right elbow seems to twitch ever so slightly and I get this message it does not want to be scraped up. Very weird.....

That forgotten, I slide to a stop and survey around me. One guy is laying on his back holding his wrist and people are asking if he is OK. It is obvious he is not and he has already immobilized himself. He is talking about what happened and that people were in that pace line that should not have been and answering questions about his well-being. One guy who acts like a medical professional is attending to him and asking him not to move until a better assessment can be made of his condition.

The other guy is walking around a bit dazed with blood coming out of his chin and elbow. All of sudden there is a loud bang. His front tire had rolled off the rim and the tube blows while we stand around trying to figure out what happened. That is when the blame game starts.

And, I am just as guilty as anyone saying something or silently thinking it. It seems obvious that someone was sort of maxed out physically trying to keep the acceleration. A little thing at 21 mph that would have been adjusted for and no one would have given a second thought to, now conspires at 28 mph to cause an accident because reaction times were slowed just that wee fraction of a second due to exhaustion and a faster speed necessitating even faster reactions.

If only the lead folks had not surged. Why did everyone have to push it just a couple miles out of the rest stop? Why didn't the lead group slow down? How come people obviously over their head did not pull out of the chase group? On and on and on.........

Only a few hours later when replaying the whole scene again did I realize my own compulsion to affix blame. And, it made me sad to think maybe someone accepted blame and then was feeling guilty. One guy ended up with scrapes and bruises. The other guy has a separated shoulder and a fractured wrist and supposedly will need surgery on the wrist. So, everyone lived but one has semi-serious injuries that he might bounce back from in a few months or could be dealing with for a longer time. Everyone on this big club ride of around 45 people was at least in their 30's with the majority in the 50 - 60 range. The guy that broke his wrist was probably in his late 50's around my age and I felt badly for him and part of me wanted to find someone to blame, like that would help him. Now I feel so stupid.

Is there a correct way to deal with these kinds of events? Do we accept it as fate? Should we figure out who to blame and then either educate them or ostracize them from club rides? Is it OK to just accept it happened and not think about it anymore? Why did my elbow talk to me while both brakes are locked up and I am thinking I am going to crash? Do we handle the next club ride differently by maybe setting up three groups to ride at different paces? Why are we taking bike riding so seriously?

Bike riding is supposed to be fun and this makes you question that. In the end, while eating my Italian dinner and enjoying the endorphin high of a 88 mile ride I felt guilty for not feeling guilty. What kind of mind game am I playing with myself? I don't have any answers right now.


6 comments:

Rachel said...

I am so glad you are not hurt and that the other guys are not worse off. It is so easy to look for blame in life's mishaps, it is human nature to need an explanation for everything, to justify what happens. It gives us a feeling of power over something that we could not control. Humans must be in control, there is ego backing this idea, if we can justify, then we can feel in control and then our ego has been stroked and we feel satisfied that nothing got by us - so to speak. Well this is my 2.5 cents anyway and I hope your bike is not injured!

Sojka's Call said...

Hey Rachel - thanks for the perspective on the human ego. So true! The only thing on my bike that could have suffered were my tires from skidding to an emergency stop. So far, I have not seen anything of concern but will be checking them more closely soon.

Tim said...

Hard to blame anyone without being there, but clearly being maxed out did not help things. Over the last two years I've had 4-5 people crash behind me when I was leading a pace line. No one mentioned that I did anything wrong during any of the events.

Sojka's Call said...

@Tim - so have you done anything different because of those mishaps? Such as talk to all the group, or people you are concerned are not as skilled, or some other subset before rides now setting group expectations, etc about how to handle a paceline... Or, have you just chalked it up to fate and "accidents will happen"? I am not advocating anything but trying to understand how you personally dealt with it, if at all.

Tim said...

3 of the people rode of the road behind me. I try to point out to those behind me when the road might pinch a bit or the shoulder disappears abruptly. I usually ride the line pretty close but do not swerve so it's up to them to be attentive. 1 of the riders was on a tandem and pinch flatted on a large concrete / asphalt lip that could not be avoided. The final crash was a touch of wheels at the end of a 8-10 person pace line. All of the riders where very experienced and I ride with quite frequently so no need to get into expectation or behavior.

Sojka's Call said...

@Tim - that helps me understand this better. There is a definite risk/reward of riding in a paceline. By engaging in this people are increasing their risk of a crash due to many factors. I should not be surprised when something happens. Interesting because I had not fully realized the risk of pace line riding. I always thought of it as rather benign in the grand course of riding a bike. I always caution clients in tours I lead about wheel overlap, pointing out hazards, and other precautionary advice about pacelining but have not stated that, bottom line, they are increasing their risk of an accident - the only debate is how much.