Dealing with Recovery After a Bike Accident
She shares her progress and offers some valuable insights into recovering from a bike accident, or getting back on track after any setback that keeps us off our bikes.
As a professional consultant on cycling safety issues, Tracy also offers some thoughts on reducing risk as a cyclist, and dealing with the situation if you end up in an accident despite your best efforts to protect yourself.
By Tracy Flucke, Vice-President, WE BIKE, etc., LLC
Always unexpected – a bike accident out of the blue
My quiet Sunday morning bicycle ride, July 1, 2018, started like any other. My home was busy with company, I needed some me time. I told my husband I was going for a short ride, put on my helmet, bright yellow vest and gloves, checked my bike, and hopped on for a much needed spin.
The roads were quiet and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Three miles from home, I came to an intersection requiring cross traffic to stop. I could see a car approaching, fast, from my right. I wondered if the driver would stop. I covered my brakes, and moved towards the middle of my lane to be more visible and create more space between me and the car.
Unfortunately, the driver ran the stop sign and turned left directly into me. After bouncing off her car’s hood, I slammed onto the pavement, breaking my helmet. Whiplash, concussion, right leg bruising, and left knee torn meniscus were the result of her “not seeing” me. Really!
I’m not special, but there is some irony here. Peter and I run a national bicycle/pedestrian safety consulting business, WE BIKE, etc., LLC, I help people to bicycle safely. I have over 100,000 crash-free miles on my bicycle, and have successfully completed three self-supported cross-country trips on our tandem. We even wrote a book about our trip across the northern USA.
Sidelined by injuries from the bike accident
I was not cleared to ride, due to my concussion and whiplash, until July 20th. When I got back on the bike I was only able to do short rides of 2-3 miles before my head and neck started to hurt. Then my left knee started to bother me. I went back to the doctor on July 26th. He told me I had a torn meniscus which would require surgery, and would not allow me to bike. I had surgery to repair my knee on August 13, and I have not been on my bike since. I can ride an exercise bike now, slowly, but it will likely be at least a couple more weeks until I can bike outside again. Like any journey my progress has been up and down. I am glad I wasn’t hurt worse and should make a full recovery (minus a bit of meniscus), but I miss being outside, biking, and biking with my husband on our tandem. I am trying to keep a positive attitude throughout. This seems to help me both physically and mentally.
Rebuilding confidence after a bike accident
I am excited to get out on my bike again, but I must admit that the few times I did go out since the accident, I was hyper aware of the cars around me. I hope this will fade with time. Plans are to start out with short rides on familiar streets and trails. Once I feel comfortable on them I will venture out longer and further. Just like others who I have trained to bicycle, I will need to retrain myself. I will also work on the skills I learned when I competed the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course several years ago. These things should help me get both my skills and my confidence back.
Ways to maintain a positive mindset while recovering after a bike accident
One of the ways I try to stay positive is acknowledging that it could have been much worse. I really try to celebrate even the smallest improvement and challenge myself to take the next step.The support of friends and family has really helped me maintain a positive attitude. Even someone wishing me luck or encouraging me on social media has a positive effect.
Staying motivated for recovery after a bike accident
My husband and I plan to complete our fourth cross-country tandem bicycle tour in 2019 and I need to be in great shape to do that. Obviously this is a big goal but I stay motivated by breaking it into smaller manageable goals and celebrate completing them (move my leg; strengthen my leg; walk; lose my crutches; ride the exercise bike; ride my bike; ride our tandem; train; complete our longest cross-country ride ever. Rest and repeat!).
The first time I was able to do a full rotation on the stationary bike was a great feeling. Physical therapy can get boring but I look at each exercise as one step closer to getting back on the bicycle and training for our trip.
How to reduce your risk of being in a bike accident
This crash was a direct result of a motorist disobeying a stop sign and failing to yield the right of way. A bicyclist can do several things to avoid this type of crash or at least lessen the severity. When riding, always be aware of your surroundings and scan left /right for any potential conflicts. Be ready to take evasive action. For example, if you see a motorist coming fast on your right and you are not sure they will stop for the stop sign, move your hands over the brakes, begin to soft pedal, move left in the lane to make yourself more visible and get farther away from the car. The bicyclist can also wear bright-colored clothing and use lights, even during the day.
Motorists need to be educated about the importance of following the rules of the road and sharing the road with bicyclists and pedestrians.They need to come to a complete stop and look left-right-left for all road users; motor vehicles, bicyclists, and walkers. If the driver in my crash had done this I would not have been hit.
Education is one of the three E’s of traffic safety and both the motorist and bicyclist need to understand and obey the rules of the road to make it safe for all. Providing education for all road users is one of the reasons we started our business – WE BIKE etc.,LLC and wrote our book, Coast to Coast on a Tandem; Our Adventure Crossing the USA on a Bicycle Built for Two. We are hopeful that we can help create awareness so motorists will actively look for bicyclists and pedestrians.
What to do if you are involved in a bike accident yourself
Always assume if you are a bicyclist and get hit by a car that you are injured – the disparity of size and weight is extreme. Seek medical attention immediately, preferably calling an ambulance, but if not, go directly to the hospital. I should have sought immediate medical attention and gone straight to the hospital. I went to the doctor the next day.
Always report the incident to the police at the time of the crash. Do not leave the scene until an officer arrives and completes an accident report. Get a copy of the report and the name and insurance information from the motorist. Have a plan in case you are involved in a crash, know what you will do, who you will call, etc.
I made the mistake of having the motorist who hit me call my husband, I was not able to do it at the time. The first thing out of her mouth when my husband answered the phone was “I just hit your wife with my car.” I told her to give me the phone and explained to Peter that I was alright and where I was.
Consider hiring an attorney to represent you. It is a difficult time and the last thing you want is to take calls from the motorist’s insurance company. It can be very stressful. After much consideration, we decided to hire an attorney, and are glad we did.
We always say that, despite all the benefits of bicycling, there are two types of cyclists, the ones that have fallen, and ones that are about to fall. It is important to be prepared, if you take a simple fall or are hit by a car, it can make all the difference.
Prepare ahead: sensible precautions to take in case you are seriously hurt in a bike accident
A bicyclist can definitely improve their safety on the road. Before leaving on their ride they should take a few minutes to do the bicycle ABC Quick Check to make sure their bicycle is in good working order. Then, check themselves to make sure they are ready to go, the Head to Toe check is a simple way to do this; do I have my helmet on, is it on properly, bicycle gloves, appropriate shoes, and are the shoe laces secured, etc. It is important to wear bright colors and always have identification with you. It is preferable to have your ID attached to your body, in a crash you may be separated from your bicycle. I always wear my Road ID on my wrist. When I crashed I simply gave the officer my ID and he was able to get all the information he needed, although he suggested I put my birth date on the ID. Finally, take a bicycle safety class, like the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course. The course will help you to ride safely in all environments, it is also a great way to allow you to enjoy bicycling more.
On the bright side: looking ahead after my bike accident
I am on the road to recovery. Good medical care, therapy, and a positive attitude are helping me move forward. If all goes as planned, I will be back on my bike by the end of September and bicycling across the country again in the spring of 2019. We only have 20 states to go. I can’t wait!
Motivation is a huge part of recovery. I think I’ll treat myself to some new biking clothes. After the summer I’ve had, I deserve it!
A note about terminology:
What is the difference between crash and accident and who cares? In professional bicycle and pedestrian safety circles we use the term crash to mean a collision that is predictable and therefore preventable, like my crash. Typically, one of the individuals involved in a crash did something wrong. Education of the motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclists can hopefully reduce the number of crashes. In our professional usage an accident is considered not predictable and therefore not preventable.
The term accident is used in this blog in its everyday sense.
Check out our book “Coast to Coast on a Tandem” to learn more about me and our first big adventure.