Hot and Sandy

Travel writing, pictures and stuff for people I know. Quite a lot of cycling talk, and some semi-controlled ranting. Hiking, outdoor and two-wheeled stuff, perhaps a little computing when it's worth talking about. Meandering thoughts.

Wednesday, September 13

Crash Stories

I’ve been riding for a few years now. What follows is an account of one of the most major accidents I've had to date. I had been working as a messenger for at least a couple of years: part-time while I was at College and later as my Job.

It had dawned on me that perhaps I was never going to make it as a Pro cyclist – even a domestique. At the time I was between degrees (students, eh?) and I was riding harder than ever, putting in the donkey-work and making decent money without lying about it. Bayswater to Canary Wharf one-up? Yebo, roger that, pip pip. Late shift again? You betcha.

I would sometimes daydream that I was in a history-making breakaway, belting beneath the “flames rouges” of London’s traffic lights towards a stage victory at 215 High Holborn, dodging spectators and the cars of Commissaires and Directeurs Sportifs. Autumn had started and now I wasn’t on the plot for more than a few minutes at a time – I had the best job in the world. The stable client list we had meant the A-Z stayed in my bag most of the time. Well-worn routes, familiar receptionists, and clients with hot coffee and sweets for the regular riders.

Anyway, it was midweek. Cold but clear, with bright, reddish sun. Probably Wednesday because I didn’t feel fresh. I always used to get a midweek slump: I’d leave my flat on Elephant and Castle and by Waterloo my legs felt like someone had beaten me up overnight. Tight, weak and empty. With a whole day ahead of them. They were long days, but by mid-morning I always seemed to find my second wind, as though my bike simultaneously drained energy and replenished my aching frame.

In common with many couriers, I had a love/hate relationship with my work bike. Some days I felt like you do when you’ve spent too much time with a mate: their habits grate on your nerves and piss you off. Other days I’d be loving the riding, all the way to my door.

I had a large Jiffy full of tapes in my bag, heading to South Bank Studios. I had come from a client on Bedfordbury, so I had no distance to cover. I was hoping for more work from Kings Reach Tower on Stamford St, because their parcels were always small (tapes or proofs) and were often rush (so mo' money for me). I remember thinking how nice the bright sun looked shining on the new Imax cinema on the south side of Waterloo Bridge, as I spun up the small incline to the break in slope. Bridges are funny like that – they work you, but as soon as you reach the crest they roll over, dead and beaten.

Anyway, I was spinning out (as fast as my legs could pedal) as I crested, riding along the paint of the Bus Lane marker because it’s smoother than the tarmac, thinking that my bike was running nicely. It was a Kona Cinder Cone with Project 2 forks. It was set up as a singlespeed by using spacers on the rear cassette body and a single chainring. It was XT and XTR, with a nice USE seatpost and a Flite Alpes saddle. A lovely bike, fast as hell.

There was a bus ahead of me, going pretty fast, sucking up dust and leaves from the gutter as it thundered over the bridge. Behind me there was a vehicle (dunno what it was), too close to my ankles. My radar was going off and I was conscious of defending my space. I was trying to make space for the bus, because there is a series of stops on the southern side of the bridge (here). I didn’t want to have to stop behind the bus, so I was trying to get him to let me move out, as my vision flicked between safeties under my arm, glances at the driver, and an eye on the bus. My road-sense is pretty good, so I was as surprised as anyone when I woke up against the wall on the bridge.

The pavement is pretty wide – at least three or four metres. Around me there were pieces of red fibreglass. Everything hurt: literally every part of my body, from my toes to the stinging stars which swung around in my vision. I could taste blood. I remember seeing a Policeman getting off a horse, which seemed ridiculous at the time. I thought I must have been hallucinating. I had ridden into the back of a stationary London bus. A bus. Jesus Christ.

From people on the pavement and the bus driver, I think I was trying to pull out to overtake, but the driver next to me wasn’t giving me room, so I was looking back when the bus stopped suddenly. The Police told me that his offside brake light was faulty (the one nearest the middle of the road, which I was watching). There was no liability, as the high-level lights and the other side were working. There were no bus skids on the road, so it was tough to prove that the driver stopped suddenly. The busted light, the position of the sun, the selfish driver. The perfect ingredients for my pain cocktail.

I had hit the left-hand corner of the bus as I was trying to bail onto the pavement – it seems the driver didn’t give me enough room, leaving me with a choice between a rock and a hard place. The impact was probably at about 25mph, based on marks from my rear tyre and the damage. Apparently I was very lucky that my head did not hit the back of the bus – my right-hand shoulder took the impact. My radio broke my collarbone in two places. Thanks boss. The front of my bike gashed my leg, and my head hit the left-hand rear side-panel of the bus (which gave me a lovely cauliflower ear and a proper black eye).

My helmet disintegrated. It probably saved my life.

In addition I had a couple of broken ribs, a couple of cracked ones front and rear and a chipped scapula (shoulder blade), probably from my pavement-surfing. My right hand swelled up like a purple water balloon, with bruised knuckles. My right-hand upper arm became technicolour.

The frame on my bike broke. The front wheel was unrecognisable, and my bars and forks were also bent beyond repair. I got a patronising letter from the bus company, stating that they had decided not to make me pay for the damage to their vehicle and wishing me a speedy recovery. I got a letter from the Police, stating that they would not pursue any claim. And I became skint. Two and a half weeks later I was interviewed for the “IT Guy” position at my courier company. I got the job, they looked after me and I rode to work on a lovely Kona singlespeed bike. Kiluea frame, Project 2 forks…

Have a look at the LBMA - if the same accident had happened today I would have been able to recover fully and return to work. Enough from me.


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