Careful on your bikes everyone!

The weather is starting to get nice, but I am wary of breaking out my bicycle.

9 months and 22 days ago, I hit a pothole on my bicycle, flew forward over the handlebars, crashed into the pavement, and broke my collarbone. If I had landed differently, I might have broken my neck. As it was, the recovery was long and difficult and I am still not quite at 100%. This is my third serious bicycle accident in Ottawa. Back in November 2007, a turning car forced me to brake urgently on Rideau Street and made me fly over my handlebars. Another time, a turning black pickup truck actually hit me, as I was headed up Somerset Street.

Cyclists like to pretend otherwise, but cycling in the city is dangerous. Even without the menace of cars, you can kill yourself by hitting a pothole, going over a railing, or getting your wheel caught and being thrown into traffic.

Friends and family members who cycle, please be careful! Wear lights and reflective clothes at night. Avoid the temptation to talk on the phone or listen to music while cycling. Even with a headset on, holding a conversation is as poor an influence on your reaction time as being drunk.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

10 thoughts on “Careful on your bikes everyone!”

  1. I wanted to try biking to work but when I see the traffic every morning I think I’d better not. Even being a pedestrian is dangerous in my neighborhood, there are way too many cars.

  2. Thank you for the reminder. I also have had some accidents in some 30 years of bicycle commuting. The two most common collisions with cars for a cyclist when following the rules of the road are the “right hook” and “being doored”.

    The “right hook” is when a car which passes you or you are passing it and it turns right at an intersection when you are going straight. So be careful of that situation. Do not assume that a vehicle is not turning if it has not signaled.

    Being “doored” occurs when a person exiting a vehicle opens the door in front of a cyclist. Because cyclist are relatively rare, they (and me when I am in a vehicle) often do not think of checking for cyclists. Stay well clear of parked cars – at least one meter.

    Following the rules of the road is a big plus. Drivers do not want collisions with us. I expect that many accidents are our fault as cyclists. The majority of times that I have crashed have been my fault. At least we are now past “black ice” season. My rule on black ice are to avoid cycling when the temperature is 2 degrees Celsius or under. I ignored that rule on Jan 4 this year and crashed on black ice on a turn.

    Despite these concerns, cycling is simply one of the best experiences. I generally throughly enjoy myself. Last year I rode 2863 kilometers on my commuting bike and about another 3000 km my road bikes.

    Safe riding to all.


    Seeing as you’re a cyclist in Ottawa, can you let me know if you find out any further details about this, such as whether or not there were any warning signs to indicate that the manhole was open? This man is lucky to be alive. If there were signs and he ignored them then so be it, but if there were no signs and someone accidentally left such an incredibly dangerous hazard on the road, they are responsible for what sounds like some pretty brutal injuries. Hmm, I did a quick search for news articles, and it’s unclear whether it was a manhole left uncovered, or a sewage drain with a grate that his tire got caught in. Drains with grates scare me for this very reason.

    I am certainly fearful of holes in the road. I know the streets of my regular bikes routes quite well, and I know where the potholes are, but riding down unfamiliar routes (including dedicated bike routes) at night is always a little disconcerting. Was your pothole incident under darkness or in full daylight? Did you see it before you hit it?

    I don’t usually ride in busy traffic (because truth be told it terrifies me), so I usually only encounter cars turning right into my lane when we are sitting waiting for lights. I always make eye contact with them before I go (and they’re pretty much always doing the same with me).

  4. Commuting full tilt for the past week and potholes do seem worse than normal this year… Perhaps it was the thaw freeze thaw freeze cycle but it does seem worse…

    Also as a public service announcement, for those that cross them, the Heartwell locks are closed and crossable at Carleton but open save for one at Rideau (behind/beside Parliament Hill) so for those crossing the bridge from the museum of civ continue on to Rideau St and cross the bridge there, saving carrying your bike up 4 flights to the top lock that is crossable. ;-)

  5. Regarding dangers to cyclist such as potholes and unsafe conditions, also consider reporting them to the Risk Management Departments of municipalities. I remember twice doing so and noticed the potholes fixed soon afterwards. I also remember once two of us crashing on slippery non- abrasive paint on a turn in a crosswalk. I went to the Engineering department and pointed out that for cyclists on a rainy day that paint represented a danger and suggested use of a grittier paint. Four days after I reported the incident, they told me they would change the intersection overall in a number of ways to make it more safe for cyclists. The Risk Management Departments (who also oversee lawsuits) are generally quite interested in preventative measures. Potholes are generally a quick and easy matter to repair. Often they rely on reporting of them by the public to take action more than the municipal inspection process.

    In Vancouver we are luckier than in Ottawa as the winter does not create as many potholes as in Ottawa.

  6. Greenspun points out another cycling risk:

    “”There are two kinds of cyclists: those who are impotent and those who will be,” claimed one urologist and it is common to meet recumbent owners who say that they switched “on the advice of [their] urologist.””

  7. Car safety
    Think before you speak
    Distracted driving is the new drunk driving

    Apr 14th 2011 | LOS ANGELES | from the print edition

    THE driver who killed Jennifer Smith’s mother in 2008 by hitting her car at a crossroads was sober and had never received a speeding ticket. But he was talking on his mobile phone. He was so engrossed that when the policeman later asked him what colour the traffic light had been, the driver said he had not even seen one.

    Her bereavement prompted Ms Smith to start FocusDriven, a group modelled on Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which began in 1980. Indeed, Ms Smith is one of many people who consider “distracted driving” today the direct equivalent of drunk driving a generation ago. This is why April is “distracted driving awareness month” in America, with cops issuing more tickets and more publicity.

    Through a combination of laws, education and cultural change, the struggle against drunk driving has come a long way since the 1970s. This is one reason why traffic fatalities have been falling in America—to some 32,800 deaths in 2010, the lowest since the Truman administration. Other reasons include safer cars (with anti-lock brakes, air bags and such) and stricter seat-belt and speeding enforcement.

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