Bowled over

June 6, 2010 0 Comments


So there I am, just two weeks into my new job, walking up the road with two colleagues on our way back from getting a sandwich in the local convenience store. We navigate the busy junctions with no pedestrian lights and stroll back up the hill towards work – what will no doubt become a very familiar routine. Coming around the corner in the distance is a young girl on a bicycle. I exchange a couple of comments with the guys and glance up to see that she’s already halfway down the hill, picking up speed. In fact, she’s flying along considering the crowded footpath and traffic congestion on the road we’ve just crossed. Picking up on the sense that something’s not quite right about this picture, we all individually find ourselves slowing down and warily eye the kamikaze cyclist who within a blink of the eye is now almost upon us.

Suddenly we’re running out of space despite the empty cycle lane to one side, and a good gap between me and the wall on the other. It’s for that reason that although there were about five seconds between first sighting the bike and it bearing down on us, we only took note of it instead of considering immediate evasive action. After all, this is what brakes were invented for. If you’re needlessly cycling on a pedestrian walkway then logic dictates you make good use of those brakes to ensure you avoid the pedestrians, rather than the other way round (unless you’re in Japan, but that’s a whole other story). Yet unbelievably this girl is literally staring us in the face as we watch her high speed approach in disbelief. She seems to have absolutely no recollection of where the brakes are, or what you use them for.  In fact she’s continuing to pick up speed as she flies past the entrance and exit of the petrol station, lucky that no vehicle is currently emerging.

As soon as I draw the inevitable conclusion that there’s no way she can now stop in time before she reaches us, I find my impulse of dodging counteracted by the way she’s wobbling madly from side to side. There’s a high probability that at this point I would only move into her path going on the assumption that surely at the last second she will at least try and avoid me. Trying to dodge something moving at high speed is harder than letting the faster object move around you. Yet I find myself face to face with her and there’s a split second before impact where my brain is still rationally telling me not to panic, she has to have hit the brakes by now. Nope. Logic has no place in this situation.  After what seems like a very brief moment of contact with the front of the bike, I find myself flying backwards through the air. Next thing I know, I’m on the ground just in time to watch as the force of the impact sends her soaring over the handlebars and doing a textbook nosedive to land, face-first, straight onto the pavement beside me. Just the kind of maneuver they’d love to get on video for a “why you should wear a helmet” demonstration.

There’s silence for a couple of seconds. My brain is still trying to process the illogical notion that someone just knocked me over at full speed without even attempting to limit the damage. The guys are standing on each side with a similarly confused expression on their faces. The silent plateau is broken as a wail pierces the air… “My nose!”.  My assailant commences rolling about on the ground clutching the aforementioned nose and regularly reminding us that her nose hurts. As no one seems to be reacting much, I gingerly pick myself up off the ground, experimenting to see if anything feels seriously damaged. Who would have thought a bike could pack such a punch? I successfully get myself upright, dust myself off and even retrieve my scattered objects. Now we wait to see whether this idiot is hurting badly enough to require us finding some assistance. With the lack of a sympathetic audience, the performance eventually subsides and she manages to mention that she’s really very sorry. I’m pretty sure I look completely unconvinced about her sincerity. In fact at this point my body is coming out of shock enough to start registering that there are an awful lot of aches and pains requesting attention. Now that she seems to be in one piece, I have to admit to a strong feeling of disappointment that she hasn’t at least come out of this with a broken nose. It’s not even bloody for all her wailing.

Something else descends upon us from behind. A young boy dives into the midst of the group to pick up the bike, and an irate mother starts berating the girl at the top of her voice. After the first few lines it’s loudly established that the girl was already going too fast before she came around the corner and started her race down the hill. Serves her right that she fell off her bike, apparently. Without so much as a pause to consider just how her daughter came to such an undignified halt, off the group goes down the road in a blaze of noise. Just like that, it’s all over. I’m feeling like I inadvertently volunteered to take the stunt double part in a bad action movie. I’m also a bit surprised that I’m still mobile afterwards. If I’d had the chance to consider my chances in advance I would have been expecting more obvious effects from a high speed collision.

There’s nothing left to do but to limp the rest of the way up the hill and go see what the damage really is. I find myself extremely glad that I was wearing jeans as I view the state of my legs. My knees are swelling up – evidence of what took the full force of impact. An odd striped pattern of nasty scrapes makes it look like I got savaged by a short, but vicious cat. The bruising below the surface is harder to assess. For now it seems like I got off lightly all things considered, but I find myself repeating the journey out to the store to pick up some antiseptic cream in the hopes it will do some good in speeding the healing process. This is what I will smell of for the rest of the week as it slowly seeps into my clothing.  Apart from that, I can look forward to limping for a couple of days until the swelling dies down.

A lesson I wasn’t expecting to learn in my first two weeks in work:  If you see a cyclist moving fast along the footpath on a collision course with you although there’s a perfectly good cycle path available to them, your first mistake will be in assuming that they are in any way sane.  In fact, you should assume they are actually mentally unbalanced and out to kill you if at all possible.  Seek a large solid object to hide behind and hope for the best.  Can’t wait to see what I learn next week – what it’s like to get hit by a bus, or maybe a train?