Is Road Riding Worth the Risk

By Aaron Gulley

After getting hit by a car, our bike-test director comes to terms with distracted driving and a society that devalues cyclists

The impact was as sudden and unexpected as lightning on a cloudless afternoon. One moment I was pedaling on a side road to my house after wrapping up a trail ride. The next I was 20 feet off the road on my back, tangled beneath my mountain bike in a stand of chamisa. People talk about their lives flashing before them in such moments, but for me there was only the sound of breaking glass and a searing pain in my left side as the car hit me from behind.

Short-circuited with adrenaline, I leapt from beneath my bike and sprinted down the roadway toward the scuffed and dented late-model Nissan, which was easing to a stop in the bike lane several hundred yards up the road. I gripped my phone—I don’t remember pulling it from my thigh pocket—to get a photo of the car’s license plate, and I was screaming as I ran: “You hit me! You f*%#ing hit me!” I now realize that, by saying those words aloud, I was trying to make sense of what had happened. To the driver’s credit, despite my rage, he didn’t flee.

It seems like I hear a story of a cyclist getting hit by a car almost daily. Between 2010 and 2016, fatalities of cyclists struck by vehicles rose by 35 percent, up to 840, in 2016. People for Bikes says that increase doesn’t indicate a growing risk, but rather the overall growth of cycling. Yet, cyclists notwithstanding, fatal automobile accidents due to distracted driving have also ballooned during that same period. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that on any given day during daylight hours, some 660,000 people are using cell phones while they drive.

In the past few years, I’ve told my wife, Jen, that as many people as I see texting while driving, it seems almost inevitable that I’d eventually get hit. I routinely watch cars piloted by drivers who are staring down into their laps as they veer into the other lane or off the road. For a while, I started counting vehicles with distracted drivers that passed me. On one road ride a year ago in Santa Fe, in the first hour I tallied 37 people using their cell phones at the wheel before I gave up on the task. I’ve since scaled back my road riding in favor of gravel and mountain, in part because of this threat.

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