On quitting the road

Today I quit riding my bike on the road.

I announced this via Twitter, but didn’t write a blog post immediately, for reasons which should be apparent from the tweet announcing it.

 

Even as I’m writing this, about twelve hours after I made the decision,  I can feel my chest tightening and my hands shaking, but I think I need to explain this decision in detail.

And to do that, we need to go back in time a little bit.

In 2012/2013/2014 I was doing a lot of riding, often well over 400km a week, as my Strava record will show. Around this time I was hit, while commuting, by two drivers in the space of a fortnight.

  • One was a driver crossing leftwards through a bike lane and over a solid white line, without indicating, into a parking space, cleaning me up. She claimed it had been her right of way, and tried to blame me.
  • The other was an aggressive bogan hoon who didn’t think I deserved any space on the road, close passed me – clipping my handlebars with his wing mirror – and ended up spitting on me for my troubles.
    The police did nothing. Didn’t even send me an incident number as promised.

After that, something started to change. My kilometres dropped. I stopped feeling any enthusiasm for heading out. My weekend rides, which were routinely over 100km and often over 200, got smaller, and started to disappear. I started to feel anxious every time I got on the bike. I bought a Fly6 rear-facing camera and backed the kickstarter for the Fly12 front light/camera combo, thinking this might help get some confidence back together

I tried to rekindle the enthusiasm and on Sept 25th I headed out to do a bunch ride with my club… and crashed on wet, slippery paint before I even got to the start. I broke a rib and have had recurring, expensive shoulder problems ever since. My shoulder is painful right now, two years later.

Every time I got on my bike after these three incidents, I’ve felt more and more uneasy.

The Fly6, I decided, wasn’t helping me at all. It’s not an accident prevention device by any means, and will only modify driver behaviour if they know they’re being filmed -which may very well be too late.

I came to realise much the same about bike helmets – they don’t project a magical force field which will stop a truck rolling straight over me, though they will certainly prevent a given subset of injuries if I do crash. Sure, I may have fatal crush injuries to my torso, I may lose a leg or an arm. But I might not be on the stats sheet for head injuries.

Comforting thought.

Every time I strapped a helmet on from there onwards, it was a reminder that what I was about to do is considered by the Australian Government to be so dangerous, so outside of the norms of normal human activity  that there’s mandatory head protection required. I’ve tried fighting against the feeling, tried motivating myself in different ways, but every time I get on the bike and hit the road I feel a deep-seated, crushing anxiety. And every time another idiot driver close passes me, or drifts into my bike lane because they’re too busy texting to watch where they’re going, or aggressively tries to squeeze past me on a road that’s just flat-out too narrow, I’ve reacted more and more negatively.

This kind of fear often manifests as anger, and I’ve verbally lashed out at drivers and fellow cyclists alike for their attitudes towards safety, especially texting drivers and even texting cyclists. I’ve begun to obsess over things that are seen as “safety” devices but only really aid you after you’ve been scraped off the road by the paramedics, like Fly6 or RoadID. I’ve had angry, incandescent conversations on social media about Australia’s use of mandatory helmets as a surrogate for better infrastructure, better education for road users and, frankly, some sane policy and investment around cycling. I’ve been a very, very angry person on a number of occasions. Most recently, I quit my cycling club after a probably-inevitable blowup – the second of its kind – and ended up unfriended by a rider I respect and would have liked to keep as a friend and peer.

I stopped using the Fly6 camera routinely well over a year ago, because turning it on was an admission to myself that I might be mown down by a hit-and-runner, and the only thing that might bring them to justice would be the video evidence. Everything became an unavoidable reminder of a probably-overblown but still totally unnecessary level of risk inherent in the Sydney riding experience. I stopped seeing the Fly6 as a safety device and started thinking of it as death insurance. A chance to avenge myself on the driver who killed me. On the rare occasions when I did switch it on, I stopped even reviewing the footage, because I could spot things I hadn’t even noticed when riding – like red-light runners charging through intersections behind me. Reviewing the footage, even of innocuous routine passes, would make my heart race and my palms sweat.

Things like Fly6 may eventually cause a generational change in driver behaviour – or not – but I won’t benefit from that if I’m dead and buried due to the driver of a garbage truck who thinks I deserve a punishment pass. A RoadID – or a mandatory ID card as proposed by NSW’s execrable and entirely sub-competent Roads Minister –  will mean that at least authorities won’t have to resort to dental records to identify me.

But I’d still be dead.

And yet things like this are held up as “safety” devices by well-meaning cyclists who presumably aren’t being constantly needled mentally by anxiety, doubt and depression.

Worst of all, Australian policymakers are on record claiming Australia is a world leader in cycling safety solely because we have mandatory plastic hats, not realising for a second what a child of six could tell you – that a helmet will not stop a car driven by an ignorant texting P-plater from mowing you down and maybe maiming you for life. Or just killing you outright.

Above all, the anxiety was driving me insane, on and off the bike.

I’ve tried cameras, I’ve tried denial, I’ve tried changing my training targets. I tried a training weekend away with a trusted bike shop crew. I’ve tried riding only on “quiet” roads and I even tried to take a week off and head to another state for a riding holiday in the Victorian High Country. The anxiety put paid to that particular plan before I’d even started the car.

So today,  on World Mental Health day, I called it quits.

I will cease riding my bike on Sydney’s roads until such time as I can throw my leg over a top tube without fear and doubt being my overbearing emotional reactions.

I’ll probably continue to ride in Zwift, and I’ll try to get out on the mountain bike – off road – occasionally, and I may – may – even participate in some closed-road events. But I won’t be out on the public highway any time soon. I almost certainly won’t be completing the Everesting that I’ve been hankering after for so long.

And yes, I will be talking to a psychologist. I would urge anyone else having mental health issues to do so too.

And if you’re still riding, which I presume most of you are, here’s the last word.

Stay safe.

 

2 Thoughts on “On quitting the road

  1. Andy Johnston on 15 November, 2016 at 10:18 pm said:

    Hi
    Just been reading your latest Strava comment and, being a bit slow, did not connect straight away with your blog which I had read when it came out.

    First I have to say that it’s incredible how the mind works and is affected by incidents.
    Would you believe that I now feel 100% safer on the road now that I wear a faux police Hi-viz jacket whilst riding (you may have seen me in my ‘POLITE notice, think bike’ attire).
    Yes I sometimes feel a bit of a knob wearing it but have not had even a close call since wearing it and even catch drivers hurriedly putting down their mobile phones when they see me (& they do see me and give me plenty of space whilst passing)

    I’ve been off the bike pretty much for the past year due to work stress.
    Thanks to friends (some mutual) I have rediscovered the mojo to ride and am hoping to hit the 200km mark this week.

    With any anxiety, It is a long road back and not helped by some of the people we share the road with but take your time and call out to your friends (direct and via Strava) if we can help in anyway.

    Cheers

  2. Pingback: A quick riding update | The Crankset

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