A bicyclist, John Lacaillade II, 38, from Meredith, NH, was killed yesterday on Route 25 in Porter, Maine, when he lost control of his bike and fell under the rear wheels of a tractor trailer.
Read the news account here on MaineToday.com. Read a more detailed article here.
I know that section of highway. It has a shoulder, though not a wide one. Pulpwood trucks do use it, along with every other imaginable vehicle headed east toward Portland. It's never been as scary as certain sections of Route 25 on the west end of Lake Winnipesaukee between Lacaillade's own home town of Meredith, and Moultonboro.
It's always frustrating to hear fragmentary accounts of an accident like this. The pilot often can't give an account of the actions that led up to the crash. Bikes have no voice or data recorder to verify the typical motorist-centric report. No charges will be filed against the truck driver. But did he make every effort to give the bicyclist room? Or did he play tag, the way drivers sometimes do? Some drivers state very plainly that they put the burden on the cyclist to stay out of their way. I've had them throw high, inside pitches at me a number of times. The so-called professional drivers can have a very proprietary attitude about the road.
The driver in this case, Renald Morin, 30, of Quebec, may have given the cyclist a couple of feet and the cyclist could have actually deflected sideways far enough to go under the trailer. But any long-time road cyclist has had large vehicles go by way too close. The drivers don't think, don't care or trust their luck and the skill and cool nerves of the cyclist to prevent tragedy. Large vehicle drivers are quite confident they won't be charged unless witnesses can testify that they made an obvious swerve toward the bike. Such witnesses never appear.
As distressing as this recent accident is, crashes of this type are rare. Cyclists are not commonly struck by overtaking vehicles unless the vehicle makes a sudden turn in close proximity or the cyclist rides erratically. That doesn't mean it can't happen, only that it usually doesn't. Cyclists are more at risk in intersections where they or other vehicles are entering or leaving the traffic flow, and most at risk when they ride against traffic or maneuver haphazardly.
The worst part about Monday's accident, aside from the death of a human being and the loss to his family, is that non-cyclists will see it affirming their view that you have to be crazy to be out there at all. Those big trucks really will just crush you because they can't avoid you and shouldn't be expected to. The last part calls for only minor speculation, because I hear people say things like it all the time in the bike shop. Customers looking for a bike for exercise often declare that they have no intention of doing something as irresponsible as riding on the road.
On a highway like Route 25 a rider will not be able to herd traffic except possibly in the sections through towns, where the speed limit can drop as low as 25 miles per hour and the highway becomes a street. Even then, through-traveling motorists have their highway mind set and can't wait to resume their headlong charge toward the coast.
Route 25 east of Ossipee is actually a pretty bike-friendly highway. It does not have a full breakdown lane the whole way, but it usually has a foot or two to the right of the fog line. Porter is one of the places where it narrows, but not even through all of Porter. Other roads cross it, giving access to miles and miles of hilly but scenic touring. Some roads are better than others, but that's true anywhere.
Mourn the loss of one rider, but keep riding. It really is the best that we can do.