Never mind cars and trucks – far greater dan­gers lie in wait on the high­ways and by­ways

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by James “Cranky” Ram­say

The real haz­ards of the road

We cy­clists are a care­ful bunch, at least in some re­spects. While many of us (present read­er­ship ex­cepted, of course) roll through stop signs and treat traf­fic lights as colour­ful dec­o­ra­tions rather than in­di­ca­tors of rights-of-way, we nonethe­less tend to­ward self-preser­va­tion. This in­stinct leads us to be right­fully fear­ful of other users of the road, par­tic­u­larly when those users are driv­ing cars, trucks or buses. And with good rea­son. Any­one who’s rid­den a bike on city streets more than a hand­ful of times has ex­pe­ri­enced a close call with a driver. Some of these near misses are the driver’s fault. Some, if we’re be­ing hon­est, are our own. Re­gard­less of where the blame lies, we know all too well not to bring a bike to a car fight, as the old say­ing goes. But I’m here to tell you that the real haz­ards of the road take a dif­fer­ent form – and that by fo­cus­ing on cars and other ve­hi­cles, we are un­wit­tingly blind­ing our­selves to far greater dan­gers. You may think I’m talk­ing about pedes­tri­ans, and I am, though not the hu­man kind. Yes, it’s true that a per­son step­ping into the path of a cy­clist can be dis­as­trous. But I’ll save that topic for an­other col­umn. To­day I’m talk­ing about a dif­fer­ent type of pedes­trian: the an­i­mal type. Yes, an­i­mals are in fact pedes­tri­ans (at least when they’re walk­ing or run­ning), and based on my own and my friends’ ex­pe­ri­ences, an­i­mals are far more dan­ger­ous than peo­ple. Let me share a few ex­am­ples to il­lus­trate my point. First, there’s the squir­rel. This an­i­mal, though ar­guably cute and gen­er­ally non-threat­en­ing, can cause life-chang­ing dam­age through its er­ratic ap­proach to cross­ing the road. We’ve all seen them – run­ning part­way into the road, stop­ping, look­ing about as though they’ve for­got­ten where they’re go­ing, and then dart­ing off in some ran­dom di­rec­tion. A few years ago, one such in­de­ci­sive spec­i­men sud­denly changed course and ran right un­der­neath the front wheel of my bike. The re­sult was a con­cus­sion, a bro­ken col­lar­bone, a cracked pelvis, and 10 weeks of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion – and not for the squir­rel. I’m still ter­ri­fied of them to

this day, as are all my rid­ing bud­dies.

It doesn’t end with squir­rels. It turns out that even man’s best friend can be a cy­clist’s worst en­emy. One of my for­mer team­mates hit a dog while rac­ing down Mount Royal in the 1980s in an elite men’s road race. He woke up in hospi­tal the next day to learn that a team of sur­geons had re­paired both his legs with metal pins. He now sets off metal de­tec­tors ev­ery time he goes through air­port se­cu­rity. On the up­side, he can stick fridge mag­nets to his kneecaps – a party trick that never gets old.

It’s not just the an­i­mals of the land that we need to worry about, ei­ther. A cou­ple of months ago, while rid­ing in the west end of Toronto, I passed some road con­struc­tion in the curb­side lane. Sud­denly, a Canada goose took off from be­hind a safety py­lon. (I must have star­tled it awake from ei­ther a nap or a man­dated union break.) As it took flight, it came within about 2 cm of my face. Now, I like a face full of goose as much as the next Cana­dian, but I’m sure it could have knocked me flat off my bike, and then at­tacked me for good mea­sure.

These are only a few of the ex­am­ples I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced or know of, in which an­i­mals have posed a grave dan­ger to cy­clists. A quick In­ter­net search will yield hun­dreds of hel­met-cam videos of ter­ri­fy­ing in­ter­ac­tions be­tween rid­ers and wildlife. One of the worst I’ve seen fea­tures a kan­ga­roo at­tack­ing a cy­clist in Aus­tralia. Now you may say that we don’t need to worry about kan­ga­roos in Canada – and for now, you’d be right. But we all know that global warm­ing is ac­cel­er­at­ing, and with Trump in the White House and the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency now headed up by a friend of the oil and gas in­dus­try, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore these nasty an­i­mals are hop­ping along in a bike lane near you, box­ing gloves at the ready to take you out.

With spring com­ing, soon an army of furred, feath­ered and beaked ag­gres­sors will be emerg­ing from their slum­bers – and you will be fixed firmly in their sights.

“Now you may say that we don’t need to worry about kan­ga­roos in Canada – and for now, you’d be right.”

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