Two Wheels Can Kill

June 8, 2010

Two days ago, along with thousands of other cyclists, I braved a downpour as well as a nasty wind to cycle across parts of the Gardiner and up and down almost all of the DVP. The car-free event, called Ride for Heart has been an annual tradition in Toronto, this year being its 23rd. The popular fundraiser raised an estimated 3.3 million for heart and stroke research. A close family member recently suffered a second stroke, so the ride and its purpose resonated even more powerfully for me this year. Given the tenacity, perseverance and courage my family member has demonstrated in recovering after the latest stroke, it seemed the least I could do was endure a bit of wetness and cold to raise awareness and cash. Given how well the event is organized and run each year with excellent, exuberant volunteers and copious water, fruit, and snacks at hand, I and the other cyclists were certainly well supported during the 25, 50 and 75 kilometre stages.

The constant rain and relatively strong wind before and during the first hour of the event made the route very treacherous however. Oil leaks from motorized vehicles, whose domain normally these routes are, combined with water made for a very slick surface especially during the downpour. Prudence and defensive riding techniques were clearly required by all riders.

Sadly, this was not to be the case. Within a few minutes after the commencement of the event, riders on higher-end ‘racing bikes’ broke out of the assembly of the riders to illustrate their need for speed. No matter that weather conditions made riding quite treacherous. Or that one could clearly see that the participants in this worthy cause demonstrated various levels of riding skills from novice to very proficient. And no matter that many families were participating with their children riding beside them on small bicycles or young ones being carried on the adult bikes in appropriate, safe ways.

No sooner had the ‘Lance Armstrongs’ of my particular group commenced breaking out when sirens of an ambulance and police motorcyclist were heard behind our group of riders, raising within me and some others around me feelings of anguish and concern. The emergency vehicles screamed past us as our pack of riders did our best to get out of the way without colliding with the motorized vehicles or each other. Within a minute or two, I came upon a very unsettling scene. A number of bicycles, four or five, lay in the centre lane of the eastbound Gardiner, tangled into each other. Two stretchers were being loaded with injured riders. One male rider seemed to be in great discomfort though his injuries were not readily apparent as we all endeavoured to ride around the collision scene as quickly but safely as possible. After hoping that the injured cyclists would recover quickly, I and others vocally stated the obvious to one another: The road was slick and caution was needed. And yahoo bicyclists, seeking a speed thrill despite the weather conditions and various experience levels of the other riders, should have done us all a favour and stayed at home before imperilling the ride participants.

It is true that I was not at the scene of the collision as it happened. And maybe it was not caused due to excessive speed and bravado though given the tangled bicycles and riders I suspect it was. But for whatever reason the accident may have occurred, it is amazing there were not more of them during the ride given the attitude of some of these two-wheeled speed freaks whipping in and out of packs of mostly family bicyclists out for a Sunday ride supporting a great cause.

I realize it must be a huge temptation to treat this annual ride by some very physical, aggressive cyclists as a ‘Tour de Toronto’ event akin to the popular French annual event, especially given the beckoning route which can only be ridden by cyclists once a year. The glaring difference, however, is that the French event is a competitive bike race involving prize money. The Toronto event is a charity event involving, as stated earlier, riders of all ages and proficiency and meant to be a pleasurable non-competitive event. If you Lances out there want to race against each other, by all means do. But do it on a course set up for that purpose that you have arranged yourselves with municipal approval.

Our bike paths and city cycling routes are not meant to be two-wheeled raceways. Often while cycling, I encounter bicyclists decked out in colourful riding wardrobe on expensive racer bikes hugging my rear wheel of my inexpensive but reliable bicycle and hurling insults at me to get out of the way as I am ‘slowing them down’. News flash to you dudes (they are almost always male): the paths are recreational ones, not high performance racetracks so don’t get your spokes and mine into a twist, literally.

I know, I know, you pay taxes and should be able to ride as fast as you want. But safety is an obvious issue. Cyclists are not licensed and therefore harder to police or fine when safety, speed or traffic common-sense is wilfully ignored. Also, riding on sidewalks where pedestrians could be injured, ignoring traffic laws and riding like a mad person in all environments is just plain dangerous. Pedestrians such as Cheng Li Jiang nor other riders should not have to die in senseless accidents involving two wheels. It should be remembered at all times that bicycles can severely injure and kill others, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

We cyclists will not receive respect from car drivers, pedestrians or municipal politicians if we continue to witness crazy yahoos speeding and biking recklessly. Please, slow down out there and remember the bikeways are for every one! Biking is fun but it needs to be safe. The need for speed on two wheels, unbridled and wanton, can kill! 

– imploringly submitted by Distant Cousin