memories of a collision
I ride an electric bicycle. My present version is a deep purple, street-scarred, pedal-assisted type that I bought over a year ago. When I'm on the road, I ride it safe and slow, with both eyes wide open and alert. I also wear a helmet, just to be sure. But I do have accidents.
A bike accident while riding on the street is probably something most people have experienced. In New Zealand, tumbling my mountain bike was par for the course, and I have the scars to prove it. Like a rite of passage, you truly haven't earned your cycling stripes unless you've shed blood on the concrete.
Riding an electric bicycle around Chendgu is a pretty cool experience, and, in my opinion, there are some considerable differences compared to riding a normal bike. First up, an electric bike weighs a ton. When you are moving at speed, you have a significant amount of momentum. Secondly, you have an accelerator. My electric bike in particular has three speed settings—"dangerous," "more dangerous," and "ho yeah." I normally stick to the first setting, unless I'm going up a hill. Thirdly, most electric bikes unfortunately come equipped with standard-bicycle brakes—almost completely inadequate for stopping, especially if the road has been slicked by a street-washer.
I tend to coast when on a downward incline as many electric bikes—mine included—come with a recharge function, i.e., the battery charges as the bike moves. Downhills are useful in this regard, but, bearing in mind the quality of the brakes, are also freakin' dangerous. As such, my worst accident so far happened on a downhill.
I was heading into town. Chengdu doesn't have many hills, but I happen to live at the top of one. I was coasting and had reached the base of the hill, wherein lies an intersection. The lights were green, and I had right of way. Of course, here, vehicles are entitled to turn right on red lights. As an experienced electric-bike rider, I was aware of this, and I knew how to deal with it—slide around the back of the vehicle, and keep on going. Nobody gets hurt.
Unfortunately he vehicle was not turning right into traffic, as I was predicting. The vehicle was, in fact, making a U-turn into a driveway that happened to be on the same corner as the intersection. Thus, sliding behind the back of the vehicle, like I did, was a very dangerous thing to do. Throw in two more factors—the vehicle in question was a truck, and my electric bike hadn't had its brakes serviced in a while. I hit the truck side-on. It happened so fast I didn't have many options, except to steer my bike, as much as possible, in the same direction the truck was going. I body-slammed the back tray anyway and ended up sprawled on the ground, arms and legs outstretched on the dusty concrete. My bike disappeared under the truck altogether.
Someone had spotted me, and yelled at the truck to stop, which it did. I got up, dusted my pants, and told everyone that I was fine, that I was OK, I wasn't hurt, no problems, etc. The occupants of the truck didn't seem too concerned—until I magically produced my bike out from under their vehicle, and then they looked a bit shocked.
And indeed, I had come out OK, albeit lightly grazed on one hand and knee and trembling like a leaf. I was—and still am—grateful for the helmet I wore that day. When I hit that truck, my head bounced off the side of the tray, and if it hadn't been protected, well, who knows.
This article by Andrew Lucas was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 23 ("Streets"). Photo by An Linan.