Runner's World has carried my columns most months
since 1967. The
magazine allows me to post all but the current month's copy here. These
archived columns, dating from the website's launch in
mid-1998, are my originals. They're slightly longer, slightly different in
wording and often carry different titles than the RW version.
(March 1999 RW)
We runners all know the benefits of bicycling, even of we haven't bought into the activity ourselves. Biking complements running nicely or substitutes for it well. It's a quiet, efficient and cheap (once you've paid for the bike) way to travel.
Having said all that, though, we're left to face the fact that the bicycle can be dangerous even when used as instructed. On a bike, while riding in the direction of traffic, we compete much more directly with cars than we do on the run. We're much nearer to disaster on one- to three-inch wheels than on two feet.
Tragic proof came during a few days of October, when our sport lost a link to its history and part of its future. Beth Bonner, the first woman to break three hours in the marathon, died in New Orleans when her bike was struck by an 18-wheel truck. Chris Severy, a top runner for the University of Colorado, died when he apparently lost control of his bike and crashed.
Runners occasionally die while practicing their own sport, of course. But in nearly all cases this results from their own physical weaknesses and not from accident trauma.
I've lost no friends to runner-auto collisions, though thousands of us have run millions of miles within an arm's length of passing cars. I've lost two friends to bike wrecks.
One wasn't a runner. He was my barber, Ron Johnson, who planned to ride from his home on the Monterey Peninsula to his parents' home in Sacramento.
A short distance out of Monterey he was startled by an approaching semi, looked back and veered into the truck's path.
Ed Jerome was a longtime runner on both coasts. He commuted by bicycle. One evening he was run down by an elderly motorist who claimed to have been blinded by the setting sun.
Two other friends were luckier. Len Wallach, onetime director of Bay to Breakers, recovered fully after being found unconscious in a ditch after a crash. John Keston, the world's fastest 70-plus marathoner, is recovering from a broken hip suffered last year when his bike dumped him.
I'm sometimes a biker, and have been lucky. My two mishaps could have been bad but caused no serious damage.
I don't remember the first. It happened as a kid, when I was told I'd hit a pothole, sailed over the handlebars and spent the night in a daze. Luckily the bike wasn't taller or the speed faster.
The other accident came during a commute from the old Runner's World offices in California. I rode legally and seemingly safely -- in a bike lane, wearing a helmet, crossing an intersection with the green light -- when a car suddenly right-turned in front of me. The driver slammed on his brakes as I ejected from the bike, slid gracefully across his hood and eased down onto the roadway unhurt.
Scott Hubbard's recent spill was more dramatic. The Michigan Runner columnist tells his story:
"I was rolling along with the wind at my back at 20 miles per hour when I heard a yell from my left and saw a dog in my peripheral vision. I had about a second to size up the speeding gray dog before we collided. I flipped over the handlebars and landed hard on my back.
"While lying on the ground, I focused on the potential damage and was relieved to at least be able to move my legs and arms. Later I took a close look at my helmet and saw a seven-inch diagonal crack. My 'brain bucket' had done its job really well."
Scott ended with, "If you think I'm going to urge you to wear a helmet, you're damn right. If you're not doing it for yourself, do it for others who care about you."
I can say the same for taking extra care about where and how you ride your bike. Your friends want you around, not just the memory of you.