A weird incident

Yesterday I had an interesting experience which I’m not sure how to fully interpret.

I got hit and knocked down by a large SUV while on my bike ride. I’ve ridden unknown thousands of miles in my life and this is the first time I’ve ever been hit. It happened in an unusual way; most riders get hit from behind by a vehicle moving ~ near the speed limit. I was lucky–even though I got broadsided from the left, the vehicle was only going maybe 5-7 mph (but accelerating), and I was just starting from a cold stop, barely moving. But I was also in the act of clipping into the pedals, and thus not freely mobile. I was however able, given that I was looking straight at the oncoming vehicle, to turn slightly to the right and get my left hand off the handlebars just enough to prevent a more serious collision. The impact spun me around about 270 degrees and I landed on my left side. What happened next was the interesting part though.

I wasn’t hurt but was stunned and laid on the ground for a few seconds trying to comprehend what had happened. Cars were lined up at a red light and one of drivers yelled out and asked if I was OK. I said yeah I thought so, although I wasn’t 100% sure. I saw the SUV pull over–no chance for a hit and run incident at a red light with clear witnesses. Then I see someone with some type of badge on their shirt, though not in a police uniform, walk up to me and say “What do you need”? Paramedic, already? I’m still trying to unclip my right foot from the pedal so I can get up off the roadway, which I finally do.

As I get up I notice a gun on his hip and then realize this is the person who hit me. FBI agent, unmarked car [correction: it was a Homeland Security agent]. I sort of spontaneously say something like “What the hell are you doing you idiot, didn’t you see me?“, among other things. His first response is “You’re supposed to cross the street at the crosswalk up there”. Obvious nonsensical bullshit; we were both emerging from parking lots, on opposite sides of the road, and trying to initiate left hand turns onto the road. We were both in the roadway, and he just simply wasn’t watching, presumably looking over his shoulder to see if there was any traffic coming. I’m just lucky the light 30 m away was red and therefore he didn’t accelerate even more.

The several witnesses to the incident were now departing and I realized immediately that this guy was going to try to deny any responsibility. What I said next is more or less unprintable, FBI agent and gun or no. He said some other nonsense, mainly that he was in fact watching where he was going, the logical conclusion from that being that he must then have hit me on purpose, which we can be pretty sure an FBI agent would not do. I was busy inspecting my bike, which since it took the brunt of the collision, I was sure must be damaged. It’s a LeMond, which went out of business several years ago due to Trek/Armstrong’s reaction to LeMond’s doping allegations against Armstrong. So getting a replacement frame is limited to what you can find on E-bay and similar sites, and also expensive. Amazingly, and much to my great relief, the bike did not appear to suffer any obvious structural damage. The front wheel wasn’t even out of true. Apparently the impact point had been the left ram-horn of the handlebars, and it just flipped me around. Hairline micro-fractures in the frame are still a possibility though; these will only become apparent once they propagate and grow under riding stresses.

The Sheriff showed up about 15 minutes later and filled out a report. He seemed like a good guy, and sympathetic to my version of events, but nevertheless he refused to assign fault to the driver, saying something to the effect that the party further out into the roadway–which was the driver–has the right of way. I don’t think this is correct for a couple of reasons, but there was nothing I could do, given that any witnesses were gone. I was just so glad that neither my bike nor I were damaged that I just didn’t want to press it. Plus there was only about an hour of daylight left and I just wanted to get back on and ride, which is what I did. I even shook the agent’s hand before leaving, which kind of surprised me actually.

But it’s incidents like this, among many others, that make me increasingly suspicious of the trustworthiness of human beings generally. On the other hand, it makes me think of friend Alan Reinbolt, who only a couple of years after I did mine, was hit and killed by a large truck on his cross-the-country bike ride, and the two bikers who’ve already been killed in the county by drivers this year. In those contexts, I’ve been very fortunate indeed.


9 thoughts on “A weird incident

  1. Hi Jim,
    I’m glad you didn’t hurt. Not too surprising that a federal agent in an SUV would be aggressive, rather than relieved, but at least he didn’t drive off. Hope you don’t get dunned for damage to federal property.
    Can’t help but compare this to what happened to a colleague a couple of years ago. Like you: bike, car, driveway, splat, and not badly hurt, but the front wheel of the bike got crunched. The driver not only offered to pay for repairs, but took her and her bike home and then her to work, and the same day went out and bought her a new bike and delivered it. Different response could be because they were both Canadian or both women, but that would be speculating without sufficient data.
    Take care.

    • Thanks for the good word and stories Dave, appreciated. And great to hear that first one especially–there really are people who do the right thing.

      I was not aware of Treacher’s incident; definitely far worse and truly awful response by the driver.

      My working hypothesis is that the first thing that goes through these agents’ minds when they do such things is their own job security/record.

  2. Here is something you don’t see in print: an encounter with an American law enforcement officer is one of the most dangerous events that can occur in the life of an average Joe Schmuck, full stop. If the agent had to report the incident, you most likely will get a bill and perhaps even a summons, because otherwise the officer would have to take responsibility himself, and that ain’t gonna happen. Most importantly, though, good to hear you are OK!

    • Thanks Matt, appreciate the good word. I and my bike appear no worse for the wear and I’ve added another learning experience to the list, albeit a highly discouraging one.

  3. Very good to hear you are ok, and hope your bike is too. On my daily cycle ride home from work I breathe a sigh of relief after getting safely across one particular junction (roundabout) – after 25 years it has not got less stressful. Better than waiting for a bus, though…

    • Thanks Ruth, I much appreciate the good word. Urban commute cycling is the scariest and most dangerous type of riding, without question. I hope your commute is in an area where other cyclists are commonly seen, so that the drivers are mentally prepared to deal with cyclists. You are really to be commended for keeping at it for so long.

  4. This is why GoPro is my co-pilot. 99% of people will insist that it was the other person’s fault (and if they have a badge and a gun, their word is what counts). Video solves that problem.

    I’ve had plenty of drivers prosecuted for unsafe driving, but only one minor crash. The guy insisted that he did nothing wrong… Until he saw the video, and then he was quick to write a check and cover damages.

    I’ve been car-free for a few years, but when I do drive a MV I pop a camera in the windshield. If I ever go back to owning a car, I’ll have proper front and rear dash-cams installed.

    I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I think the best way to diffuse a potentially heated situation after a crash is to ask the driver if they’re alright 😉

    • Thanks atom that’s a real good idea. I’ve also read at least one interesting online account of somebody using it to document gross over-charging for a repair, I think at the dealership. The camera was running the whole time, even though the techs new about it and thought it was disabled. Cannot remember where I read it but it was a long strung out battle with a bunch of obvious lying by the dealer. He had telephone recordings and the whole thing.

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