Poor sharrow/pothole placement

I was biking up to Arlinton to check out the black raspberries along the Minuteman Rail Trail (sadly, there are many fewer than a few years ago when I cleared several pints) and was biking up North Harvard Street in Allston towards Harvard Square. I’ve biked this route frequently in recent months, and it’s a very convenient way to get from Brookline to Cambridge. It’s always faster than the 66 bus (I love the 66, but … walking is often faster than the 66) and usually faster than driving since there are delightful bike lanes to slide by traffic in several locations of Harvard Street. And there’s always traffic on Harvard Street.

Anyhow, I was approaching Western Avenue and there was a truck straddling both lanes, so I cut him a wide berth and aimed over the “sharrow” (the road marking of a bicycle and double-chevron) as I slowed towards the intersection. Since I was braking, my weight shifted forwards, and I kept my eye on the truck to my left. All of the sudden, I was looking at the sky, and a second later, I was lying on the ground. In aiming at the sharrow I had inadvertently aimed directly into the six inch deep pothole it pointed directly at (see picture below), and since my weight was already shifted forwards I managed a full-on endo.

I realized I’d hit my head and would need a new helmet, and got up, shaken, but otherwise mostly unscathed. (My most recent bicycle acrobatics involved a swerve around a car pulling out of a parking space on Chestnut Hill Aveune—and in to the streetcar tracks. I came out of that one completely unscathed since I somehow stuck the landing and wound up running down the street as my bike skidded away.) I was shaking too much to ride my bike, but there was a bike shop a couple of blocks away and I went there to buy a new helmet (my current one was only five or six years old).

I settled down and managed to get back on my bike and return to the scene of the crime. Here’s a picture of the offending pothole:

The high sun angle doesn’t attest to its depth. It’s about six or eight inches deep and the perfect size to catch a bicycle wheel and flip a decelerating rider. Like me.

Just as impressive is the fate of my iPhone. I had it in my pocket—and thank goodness the back was facing out. It took a lot of the force, it seems:

The amazing thing is that it works perfectly! I put some packing tape over the shattered glass—which I’m sure absorbed a lot of energy—and it’s good as new. And a new back costs $12 and is pretty easy to replace, so I’ll get around to that. Until then, I have one badass iPhone.

So, I took a picture with it of my old helmet in the trash and the above pothole picture which I sent off to Boston’s bike czar (I have her email in my gmail) and she suggested I contact the mayor’s 24 hour hotline, which I did. We’ll see if the hole is patched; I’m biking that route at least weekly for the next month or so. I’ll be interested to see if there’s much response—it’s definitely a hazard to cyclists.

I am going to take off my amateur planner hat and put on my bicyclist hat (helmet?) to take away a couple of lessons from this adventure:

1. WEAR A HELMET. I am flabbergasted by the number of cyclists I see biking around the city without helmets. I know all the excuses, generally in the form of “I don’t need a helmet because …”

  • I’m a good cyclist, I don’t need to worry. This is the stupidest one of all—most likely you are not going to be at fault for an accident. I can’t even begin to explain the inanity of this notion. I am a pretty good cyclist—I have thousands of miles of city riding under my belt—and I still have my share of mishaps.
  • I’m not biking at night. This accident occurred around noon; the pothole would have been even more invisible filled with water.
  • I don’t bike in bad weather. It was 85 and sunny.
  • I don’t bike in heavy traffic. There was almost no traffic when I was out midday the week of July 4.
  • I don’t ride fast. I was going about 8 mph when I hit this pothole.
  • I don’t take chances or run red lights/stop signs. I was slowing down to stop at a red light and giving a wide berth to a truck.
  • I don’t bike drunk. I was quite sober when I had my little flight here. As a matter of fact, I’ve never crashed drunk.
Basically, I was biking under ideal conditions, and I had an accident where a helmet meant the difference between walking away (and, a few minutes later, biking away) and going to the hospital. Please, please, please wear a helmet!
2. A lot of people are concerned about using clipless pedals and not being able to clip out when something goes wrong. Well, I’ve had two incidents in the past few months (the aforementioned streetcar track gymnastics and perfect landing being the other) and both times the force of the torque of the accident easily got my feet out of the pedals—and by easily I mean I didn’t have to think about clipping out, it just happened. Basically, if your feet go in a direction violently different from pedaling, you’ll clip out. (At least with my SPD cleats which are probably a bit worn down and have a decent amount of play; I’m sure there are pedal adjustments which would yield different results.)

3. Watch the pavement. Even in the summer. Potholes happen.

Happy biking.

(On a very slightly related note: the fact that, nearly 20 (!) years after it opened, there is no safe route through Arlington Center on the rail trail that doesn’t involve bricks and curb cuts is a travesty. How hard would it be to link the two sides of the bike path?)