Saturday, December 08, 2007

Update: Another Casualty (from November 27)

On Tuesday, November 27, I reported sketchy details of a cyclist-motorist collision which left the cyclist with unknown injuries. I finally had a chance to talk to him and find out how it all went down.

Peter was riding down a hill with traffic when a gold Lexus SUV tried to yank a left in a small gap between the oncoming cars, ignoring the cyclist. Peter T-boned the SUV. His bike was destroyed, but he got away with a broken collarbone.

Yes, this was in eastern Massachusetts.

"I scratched the SUV," he said. He also wrenched some muscles around his rib cage on the left side. The collarbone is broken at the medial end, not out nearer the shoulder. As often happens with sudden impact crashes, he had almost no road rash.

"At least I was on my city bike, not my Litespeed," he said.

I did not ask him whether he knows and practices Pilot Fish Technique, by any name or no name at all.

Pilot Fish Technique borrows an idea from the fish of the same name, widely known for consorting with sharks. The stripy little guys ride the pressure waves around the big predator, in effect drafting it. As other fish give the shark a wide berth, they create a safety zone for the little pilot fish. Within a certain speed range, cyclists can use the same methods to gain safety from large, dangerous motor vehicles. It requires absolutely no cooperation from the motorist, just as the pilot fish demands no special accommodation from the shark. The rider just has to stay within the area around the motor vehicle, so that when other motor vehicles avoid it, they accidentally avoid the cyclist as well.

Like drafting, it has its hazards. You can't space out and daydream the way motorists do when you're manipulating them for your own gain. It is your responsibility to avoid getting killed by your protector. You are more agile and have better contact with the surrounding environment. The motorist is half blind and almost entirely deaf to the outside world. It's kind of like following a near-sighted elephant.

Sometimes you find yourself in danger and can't do much except hope or pray. That may have happened to Peter. I didn't have time to get into that much depth. At certain speeds, the motor vehicles are moving too fast for a cyclist to stay close, but the cyclist is moving too fast to stop or swerve quickly to avoid collisions with oblivious bison who blunder into their path. At that point it takes more wisdom and self control than many of us possess to slow down more than the terrain demands, for the sake of preserving maneuverability in case an inconsiderate or unobservant driver shoots for an empty space that actually contains us. You just have to try to develop a fine-tuned paranoia that alerts you to situations like that. Or you can go for it and take your chances.

With snow here for a while I will be posting on Explore Cross-Country. Check it out.

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