Dealing with Recovery After a Bike Accident
It took just one awful moment for a pleasant Sunday morning spin to turn into a long road to recovery for Tracy Flucke.
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.
Crash, not accident.
Tracy Flucke says
Yes, we typically use the word crash in professional circles. But the word accident was used by the editor presumably because it is more common vernacular. We call these crashes because they are predictable and therefore preventable. If the motorist would have stopped for the stop sign no crash. Also typically if one person – the motorist or bicyclists gets it right the crash will not occur, unfortunately in my case even though I did everything correctly the motorists turning left was more than I could compensate for.
Suzidee Hansen says
Wow, I’m going to reread all of this . My husband and I have ridden tandem since 1999 and live it .
We did 3,540 mikes from Roberts, MT to Buzzard’s Bay, MA in 2011. We were self contained and unsupported and loved it.
I am difibtely going to check out your book ‘ Coast to Coast on a Tandem.
Instead of starting on the Qest coast we left our back door and rode down to Yellowstone and up to Glacier then across and up into Canada before coming back down through N Y and onto MA.
We have done shorter rides since then like RAGBRI and a ND tandem ride and a NW Tandem Rally and a Santana Tandem tour doing the San Juan islands 2017. Tandem riding is our love!!! Thank you for your article/story and we wish you all the best as you continue to heal and get out there fully on your single and tandem.
Tracy Flucke says
Thank you for your comments.
We have enjoyed riding tandem and have completed two other trips since – Mississippi River – 2015 Green Bay to New Orleans/ Gulf of Mexico and Route 66 in 2016 Green Bay to Chicago IL, to Santa Monica, CA
As a fellow tandem rider you will enjoy and be able to relate to our story, look forward to receiving your order, if you want it signed or personalized let us know when you order. Would be happy to do that for you.
Gretchen Loo says
Thank you for your story, I too sustained a bike accident where I fractured my pelvis. Staying positive helps but can be challenging. I am hoping to be back on my bike soon so I can ride over the holidays in Chile. Physical therapy is helping and I hope to make a full recovery .
Tracy Flucke says
Good luck with your recovery, I hope you are able to ride on holiday in Chile. Stay positive and continue to do your therapy and you will be back on your bicycle soon.
Anne W Withrow says
Luck and encouragement to you. I wish your recovery to be faster than you expect. Please have many more safe, enjoyable, even challenging miles.
Tracy Flucke says
Anne: Thank you for your words of encouragement, much appreciated. I can’t wait to get on my bicycle again.
Rachel Pousson says
My sympathies and encouragement go to you. Thank you for writing this. I have not fallen (on my bike) in a long time (maybe because I barely rode for 35 years – ha!) – but live in NYC and know a lot about car drivers’ mentalities and proclivities: I drive too. I am unceasingly aware of the possibility of being hit when not on a protected bike path. Because of your article, I am going to look into the safety course you mentioned; I might learn something. Good luck in your continued recovery, and with the strength of body and spirit you have, you will make your way back to relaxed-mindset cycling. By and by, you’ll claim new accomplishments and enjoyment in our great sport.
Tracy Flucke says
Thank you for your kind comments, they are greatly appreciated. I would highly recommend the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling Course, it will definitely help you feel more comfortable riding in traffic.
I feel I am well on my way to “relaxed-mindset cycling”. It sounds like a great place to be!!
Happy bicycling to you.
Today is 2 years sine my accident. Cracked my helmet in 2 places. Went to the ED for a CT scan immediately and other than a ankle abrasion that took 6 weeks to heal, thought i was ok. Was not told about post concussion care by ED. But i learned within a day all was not ok. Please educate yourself about post concussive care.
Tracy Flucke says
Barb: Sorry to hear about your bicycle crash – nothing is scarier. Hopefully you are back on your bicycle and enjoying your rides.
I received great medical care for my concussion, my doctor is the concussion specialist for the Green Bay Packers. You are definitely right it is nothing to take lightly. For at least a week I was not able to work for more than 20 minutes on the computer. I am doing well now.
Thank you for your comments about concussion care and the importance of getting checked after a crash. Very important and another reason to always wear a helmet when bicycling!!
Karen Chickering says
Tracy, I am glad to read you’re recovering and rehabbing. I do not mean to criticize, but I do have an objection to one point in the article: when a car is approaching that can easily kill you if they continue on their trajectory, please be proactive and protect yourself (STOP!!!!! or aim for the the ditch) instead of asserting your right to the road. as you point out, the difference between human being on a bike, and a lethal motorized killing machine is huge, and the wiser choice would be to argue who was right in court, not in the middle of the intersection. I speak as someone who hasn’t biked in over 3years after 4 deaths in my area of Vermont (I knew 2 of the bikers and all the routes.) the following January, my best friend and biking buddy was killed in Tucson, obeying the rules of the road and the bike lane markings on the pavement. right DOES NOT MATTER when the bike meets the car.
I am just starting to ride again, but only on dedicated bike paths. I miss the freedom, the satisfaction, the variety of the road immensely, but I have no stomach for it at this time.
I wish you a complete recovery and many more enjoyable miles on the road. please be safe.
Tracy Flucke says
Karen: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I have had those concerns as well. But, I have made the conscious decision to get back on my bicycle. For me, the benefits you mention (plus many more) far out weigh the risks. I understand that they do not for you at this time, although I am happy you are venturing out to the dedicated bike paths. Maybe, some day, you will once again have the stomach to ride on the open road.
I will definitely be safe, hopefully the other road users will as well and we will all be able to safely share the road.
Debbie Tripp says
Yes, coming back from a bad accident is tough, but if you love riding, like I do, you will do it for the love of getting outside and enjoying the ride and everything that comes with riding a bike. I also had a really bad bike accident on September 2018 (almost 1 year ago). I was by myself on a trail, which I don’t normally ride on my road bike. I hit something and went down hard. I broke my helmet in two places, had a concussion. road rash from head to toe and broke my left collarbone, which required surgery. I now have a plate and 8 screws in my collarbone, but after several months of healing, I’m back riding again. In the beginning it was a little scary, but two months ago, I completed a 260 mile ride in Minnesota. I also try to wear bright colors when riding to be more visible and I always carry my cell phone and a copy of my drivers license. Take care of yourself, but take time to heal.
Tracy Flucke says
It is difficult coming back from an accident, which you totally understand. Glad to hear your love of riding has got you back on the bike again. I am concerned about being scared at the beginning as well and hope I am able to overcome it as you have.
Congrats on your 260 mile ride in Minnesota, it is definitely something to be proud of.
Keep enjoying everything that comes with bicycling, as I will hopefully soon.
Becky Louton says
Thank you for sharing your story. It is encouraging to read that you got back on the bike. After our crash, many of our non riding friends believe us to be a little crazy to even consider riding on the road again. I can see their point. My husband and I were riding our tandem in Madison Indiana two years ago and were hit from behind by a car going 50 mph who “saw us and thought he could get around us”. My husband sustained many bruises and I had a broken back, scapula and ribs and sustained major whiplash and a concussion. We left the accident in an ambulance and then airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indy. We were cleared to ride again 5 months later! I thank God for the body’s ability to heal!!! However, PTSD is what I am still working to overcome. It is a challenge every time I get on the road bike. Nevertheless, biking has become part of who I am, how I stay fit and enjoy the outdoors. I have to say that we have taken up tandem mountain biking and I find it challenging but more relaxing. We hear it said, “get back on the horse” but when it’s a bike, few people truly understand. Thanks for sharing your story as it encourages me to always get back on the bike!
Tracy Flucke says
Thank you for sharing your story, what a terrible crash. It truly is amazing how the body can heal and I bet it was your hard work and positive attitude that made it happen.
Amazing that you have found tandem mountain bicycling, but relaxing? I can’t even imagine the concentration and coordination needed. So glad it is filling a need for you.
As fellow tandem riders, you would probably enjoy our book about our 2014 cross-country bicycle adventure, I think you would relate to much of it and get a good laugh as well.
Keep riding and always keep the wind at your back.
J.R. Stark says
Six months ago, while stopped and waiting at a red light in the bike lane on my 7:00 a.m. commute, I was struck from behind by a speeding drunk driver and thrown across six lanes of high speed traffic. I sustained a brain hemorrhage, neck injury, dislocated shoulder, smashed right leg, ripped forehead flesh and five broken bones in the face,, plus other soft tissue damage. There was nothing I could have done to avoid this disaster. I have done little else but work to recover since then, but the experience leaves me with three suggestions. One, wear some good wrap-around safety glasses when you ride. Mine saved the sight in my right eye (the deep gouge in the lens would have been through to the eyeball with anything less). Two, a MIPS helmet is certainly worth the trouble (I’m lucky to have no permanent neurological effects thanks to mine). Third, check your auto policy and be sure you have good uninsured/underinsured coverage. I faced about $200,000 in medical costs and months of lost income, while the driver had only $15,000 in liability and no assets to recover in court. My auto policy makes all the difference, picking up what health insurance won’t. If you are truly determined to recover, it is possible to overcome all sorts of damage with discipline, dedication, and the support of friends and family.
Tracy Flucke says
Glad to hear you are on the mend after your terrible crash. Thank you for sharing your story and the three suggestions, all very important. Luckily the woman that hit me had sufficient coverage. But after discussion with our attorney we have increased our uninsured/underinsured coverage as well. For an additional $88.00 a year we are now covered up to 1 million. Very important to have this to protect yourself.
Keep working at your recovery and continue to seek the support of family and friends- it makes a huge difference.
John Adler says
Tracy, I truly hope you have a full a speedy recovery.
As a fellow cyclist and a truck driver for 40 years I’d like to offer two thoughts on being safe on the road.
Let me start with she was clearly in the wrong to run a stop sign. Period!!!
You write that she said “ I didn’t see you”
The reality is, she may not have.
When a small vehicle ie. motorcycle, cyclist, even a jogger or small car is approaching an intersection from a drivers left side, the object can end up in a blind spot caused by the drivers door post. As the two vehicles approach each other, the object on the left remains directly behind that blind spot.
This leads me to a principle I live by and I taught my two daughters to drive by. – never assume the other person is going to do what they’re suppose to do.
If you can, make eye contact with the driver.
Wait for the vehicle to actually start to do what you think they’re suppose to do.
I am responsible for my safety. I don’t let the fast pace of this world rule over me and force me to do anything I’m not in control of.
Stay safe out there!
Tracy Flucke says
John: Thanks for your kind words. Your comments about motor vehicle drivers being obstructed by the door post is very true and something we talk about when teaching motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and law enforcement officers. Encouraging motorists to completely stop,look left, right,left helps with this problem. We always teach bicyclist and pedestrians to try to make eye contact with the motorist.
We live in a very fast paced world which can lead to inattentiveness. We all need to do our part to make it safer for all users.
Enjoy the next 40 years on your bicycle!!
I’m glad to hear that you recovered Recently I had the same Bike accident on May 10th I had a scratched face and I hurt my pinky fingers It does take time for the body to recover from accidents and trauma like that.
Keep your mind on Good thoughts
Rest and Heal your Body.