So that’s why you ride with your mouth closed

January 21, 2009

So there I was this morning, doing about 25 as I cruised down Ocean in Santa Monica, just trying to get a quick ride in before the weather turned.

But as I rode, I suddenly started having trouble breathing, as if something was blocking my airway. A quick personal inventory revealed something was stuck on the back of my throat. And being a semi-frequent practitioner of good dental hygiene, I quickly concluded that I must have inhaled something.

I observed that there was only a slight breeze, so using my brilliant powers of deduction, concluded that it probably wasn’t anything blowing in the wind. Not even an answer, with apologies to the formerly young Mr. Dylan — although I have choked on a few of those over the years, now that I think about it.

That left an insect, most likely of the flying variety.

Could have been a ladybug. Might have been a house fly. Or it could have been just about anything with wings, with the possible exception of the sea gulls and pigeons that frequent the area.

Of course, my fear was that it was a bee, since I didn’t get stung during the infamous beachfront bee encounter, and so still have no idea if I’m allergic or not.

So as I struggled to clear my airway, I anticipated a stinging — and I mean that literally — pain in my throat, followed by the inevitable swelling that would leave my airway constricted and unable to breathe. As well as the risk of anaphylaxis, leaving me a spasming heap in the middle of the roadway, and wondering if the paramedics would arrive before I suffered an inglorious death, surrounded by vegetable-carrying tourists from the farmer’s market.

Not that I tend to be overdramatic, or anything.

Fortunately, nothing happened.

Unfortunately, my instinct to swallow proved stronger than my gag reflex, providing me with an early, unplanned lunch. And with it, any possibility of discovering just what it was

And yes, I finished the rest of my ride with my mouth closed.


The cross-country Obama biker completes his trip — and I read about it first in a publication from Qatar? C.I.C.L.E. announces this weekend’s L.A. River ride. Bicycling talks to the CEO of Lance’s new LiveStrong foundation. Tips for Texas bike commuters. Timor has a brush with the law. And finally, Brayj starts a conversation about suing the MTA for more bike funding, and the Rearview Rider suggests starting a biking legal collective, ala NYC or Portland. Count me in.

Learning the hard way

September 11, 2008

Gary made a good point the other day.

For all my bitching and moaning about careless, angry and/or indignorant drivers, not to mention the appalling lack of bicycling infrastructure and planning around here, riding in L.A. is usually a pretty ordinary experience. With a little care and caution, most problems can be avoided. And those that can’t usually offer a way out if you can just keep your cool long enough, or react fast enough, to find it.

Still, in all the years I’ve been riding — here in Los Angeles and around the county — I’ve only had four accidents serious enough to require medical care. And at least three of ‘em were my own damn fault.

Like my first serious accident, for instance, back when I was riding 50-miles a day in training for a planned solo cross-country ride from Denver to Key West.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon following a rainy morning, and I was feeling good, supremely confident in my bike and my own skill as a rider. I approached a busy intersection, paying close attention to traffic conditions; in fact, this day, I can still tell you the location of every car, truck and bump on the road, as I leaned into a sharp right turn well north of 20 m.p.h.

The only thing I didn’t see was the puddle of water directly in front of my wheel.

I was leaning so far into the turn that my knee was just inches off the ground as I hit the puddle. Both wheels instantly slid out from under me, sending me skidding across six lanes of traffic with my bike still tucked firmly between my legs. Somehow, I managed to avoid the cars — or more precisely, they managed to avoid me — and smashed into the curb on the other side with enough force to crush both wheels.

My clothes were completely shredded; my jersey was falling off my shoulders, and only a few loose threads held my shorts and protected me from a complete loss of dignity. Of course, I just wanted to get back on my bike and keep riding, nearly naked or not; a few of the drivers who’d stopped to help convinced me it would be smarter to let one of them drive me to the hospital.

I ended up with severe road rash from my ankle to my chin, along with a broken bone in my right elbow, and my sister gave me my first helmet the next day, which I’ve worn ever since. Of course, that cross-country ride was officially canceled; I ended taking a job in San Diego, instead, while I recovered from my injuries.

And I learned that nothing is more dangerous than overconfident rider.

My next accident came a few years later, as I was riding along the bike path on Coronado Island. A small boy suddenly darted across my path just feet in front of me, and I instinctively laid my bike on its side, since there was no way to stop in time.

That worked. He wasn’t hurt — terrified, maybe, but okay. And his parents couldn’t stop thanking me as I rode home more road rash and another broken bone, this time in the other elbow.

The next incident occurred right here in Los Angeles, when a driver following behind me on a quiet side street started honking her horn for me to get out of her way. She could have easily gone around me, but for some reason, it seemed more important for her to go through me.

Rather than let her jam me into the parked cars, I took the lane, which pissed her off even more — much to my satisfaction, I have to admit. I stopped at the stop sign on the next corner, then just as I started to make my turn, she gunned her engine, lurching to a stop just inches from my wheel.

And that’s when I did the stupidest, most idiotic thing I’ve ever done on a bike. Which is saying a lot, to be honest.

I stopped, turned around and looked her right in the eye, then flipped her off. The next thing I knew, her bumper was going through my back wheel, throwing me to the ground. The result was yet another broken arm, permanent vascular damage to my right calf, and a failed court case that kept me off my bike for over a year.

And teaching me the hard way that some battles just aren’t worth fighting.

Finally, there was my infamous bee encounter, exactly one year ago Friday. I’m still dealing with the last, lingering injuries. And I still don’t remember what happened.

Still, that doesn’t seem too bad for nearly 30 years of riding. Only one of those incidents involved a driver, angry or otherwise. And not a single one was caused by poor planning by anyone other than myself.

So maybe the lesson here is that safe roads and educated, courteous drivers are important.

But nothing beats a safe and careful rider.


Gary encounters a wrong-way rider with an attitude, while Will gives new meaning to getting doored. Outdoor Urbanite presents safety as fashion statement. Courtesy of C.I.C.L.E., we have an Introduction to Bicycle Etiquette, and a cyclist t-boning a bear. No word on any possible ursine injuries. A Petaluma writer calls for licensing cyclists, for our own good. The Feds are looking for a biking bandit. Kansas cops are cracking down on non-stop cyclists. How’s that for alliteration? And finally, my old home town is telling cyclists to dismount and don’t be that guy. Hey, I said I was sorry…

Rider on the swarm

July 25, 2008


I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I’m focused on getting back into shape after a bad riding accident last year. So maybe it’s time I told you what happened.

It was one of those perfect L.A. days. The kind people back east think we have everyday, and we hardly ever get in real life. I was just relaxing with an easy spin along the coast, when something zipped past my face. Then another…and another.

And I realized it was the leading edge of the biggest swarm of bees I’d ever seen — at least 30 feet wide, with thousands, or even tens of thousands, of bees buzzing around in every possible direction. And I was already inside it.

I had no way of knowing if they were angry or docile, and to be honest, I have no idea if I’m allergic to bees or not. But I figured this wasn’t the time to find out. So I just put my head down and pedaled as if my life depended on it. Because for all I knew, it did.

Then just as fast, I came out on the other side, thinking that I’d made out okay, when I looked down and saw that I was literally crawling with bees everywhere I could see. And I could only imagine what there was where I couldn’t see.

And then, nothing.

The next thing I knew, a lifeguard was placing an oxygen mask over my face and asking if I knew where I was.

Fortunately, I’d picked a good place to land, just a few feet from the new county lifeguard headquarters next to Will Rogers State Beach, right where they used to film Baywatch. They’d found me unconscious, off my bike and laying flat on my face, and said I’d been out at least a couple minutes.

Of course, all I wanted to do was thank them for their time, get back on my bike and finish my ride. But by then, the paramedics were there, and I was on my way to the ER at St. Johns.

I still thought I was fine. The docs in the ER thought otherwise, though. That led to a couple nights in intensive care, as a result of A) a moderate concussion, B) a bulging disc in my neck, C) a massive hematoma on my right hip, literally the size of a football, and D) major blood loss due to the hematoma. In fact, my blood pressure crashed three times that first night, dropping as low as 56 over 38 before stabilizing at around 90 over 60 — still too low, but just enough to avoid a transfusion.

So if I had gotten back on my bike to ride home, chances are, I might not have survived the night. Even if, by some miracle, I actually managed to get there. And if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

They sent me home with firm instructions not to leave the house for next two weeks, and no exercise — at all — for the remainder of the year.

I remember reading in Bicycling that it takes about two weeks of rehab for every week you’re off the bike due to an injury. By that standard, I should be back where I was by the end of this month. And yes, I’m close, but I’m not there yet. I still find myself struggling at times — though I often look down and see that at least I’m struggling in a higher gear now.

And I still have no idea what really happened, though. My injuries suggest that I must have fallen hard to one side, flipped or rolled over to hit the other side, and somehow ended up doing a face plant on the asphalt. But hey, your guess is as good as mine.

For all I know, Godzilla could have risen up out of the blue Pacific and slammed me down, before slinking off to ravage Tokyo once again. Though you’d think something like that would have made the local news, at least.

I keep trying to figure it out whenever I ride past that spot, but they tell me those memories are probably gone for good. Which, all things considered, could be a good thing.

Oh, and the bees? Not one sting.

Go figure, huh?

A big thank you to the L.A. County Lifeguards, the EMTs from L.A.F.D. Station 69 in Pacific Palisades, and the ER staff at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica — you guys are the best. Streetsblog reviews Dodger Stadium’s new combination bike rack and smoking lounge. The Times’ Joel Stein misses the good old days of bikers on dope. And finally, Councilmember Tom LaBonge is big on bikes, as long as their riders aren’t into holiday lights.


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