New Commute

November 25, 2017 at 12:53 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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So I got a new job. Instead of riding to the wonders of Chatswood every day, I now get to ride to the delights of Silverwater (oh yes, I work in the most glamorous places). Distance-wise it’s pretty much the same as before, but it’s a rather different ride, divided into three quite distinct sections.

The first section is nasty. It’s a narrow, single-lane road which features cycle lanes on either side. The council, however, for some unknown reason allow parking in the cycle lanes. So they are not cycle lanes at all; rather they are a parking area that rapidly fills up. This means you have that dilemma of riding in the door zone and having vehicles squeeze by, or taking the lane and having them harass you from behind. The bicycle symbols painted in the parking area don’t help either, as as soon as there is a tiny gap (eg a couple of cars long), drivers expect you to magically be riding in it – notwithstanding the fact that there’s no way they could overtake me before I reached the end of the gap.

It’s a place where I have already experienced a number of very close passes. At some point, I guess I’ll take them to the cops. Not that they care. I think I’m going to have to find an alternative for this stretch, although there’s no obvious route I can see that’s going to be any better.

The second section is much improved. The road widens out, there’s a good shoulder for much of it, dual lanes for the rest and the traffic is lighter and better behaved. This is OK. Of course, I’d like an off-road solution really, but for a confident cyclists it’s quite manageable. That said, there’s no way a newbie cyclist would ride on it – which I suppose underlines just how bad cycling infrastructure in Sydney is.

The final section is through Olympic Park, and then on through Bicentennial Park. This is lovely. Good cycle lanes to begin, and then a beautiful stretch of off-road path that meanders along Duck River, through the trees and a nature reserve. You can listen to the birds singing, the rustling of animals in the undergrowth and the glint of the sun reflecting off the water as you glide along. Just think if the whole ride was like this. Everyone would be doing it!

The very last bit of path leading out of the nature reserve goes up a bit of a hill. It’s hardly a mountain – about 500m with a 3% incline – but it offers a final sprint up to the road what leads to my new office. I logged back into Strava for the first in in many many years in order to see exactly how long my new commute was, and was encouraged to see that I have the second-fastest time up that hill so far this year. Perhaps I’m not yet completely over-the-hill (pun intended). Or perhaps most people enjoy leisurely rides through the trees, and my gasping, sweaty efforts are just not the done thing in Bicentennial Park…

(The pic at the top is the nice bit of the ride. Below are the OK bit and nasty bit…)

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Going for a ride

November 18, 2017 at 09:08 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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I went for a ride. That might not seem an especially remarkable thing, especially for someone who writes a some-time bicycle blog. But in fact, it is an extremely rare event. Since the junior Chillikebabs came along, I almost never just ‘go for a ride’. I mean, I ride my bicycle a lot. I go to work, to the shops, take the kids places. There’s rarely a day when I don’t ride somewhere. But the whole business of just going for a ride for fun just rarely seems to happen.

That’s not a ‘woe is me’ comment; some kind of misogynist male-entitled rant about how wives and kids ruin your life. Far from it – if I wanted to go for more rides, there’s nothing (much) stopping me. Rather it’s just that there’s lots of other things I’d rather do. Like staying in bed, for example. And playing with the kids. After all, I didn’t become a father just to abandon them every Sunday morning so I could ride my bike. So I suppose what having a family taught me was that I wasn’t really that fussed about going for a bike ride. My transformation from leisure rider to utility rider is pretty much complete.

Anyway, I did go for a ride the other day. I pootled out to Bondi Beach, nurdled around Centennial Park and generally rode around aimlessly.

It just so happened that the day I chose for my ride was the day of the Sydney Spring Cycle, so I kept getting caught up in road closures, police patrols and hundreds of people riding along. Which was sort of fantastic, and also sort of frustrating. I kept trying to get away, and everywhere I rode, there is was again!

Oh, and I found a piano on Oxford Street. So I stopped and played it for a bit. Try doing that when you’re driving a car.

Close pass by police car

May 29, 2017 at 23:00 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Every day on the way to work, I ride up Burns Bay Road. It’s the place I get the most close passes. In part this is because of the layout; the council have in their wisdom decided to stencil bike symbols in the parking area, right in the door zone. Needless to say, I don’t ride in the door zone. If you want to know why, click here.

However, this creates conflict with motorists, who think you should be in the the ‘bike lane’. So they pass quite close. I’ve had a lot of close passes on this road. (For a short while, the council removed the white line. It was much better, as I said at the time. Then they put it back.)

However, this one was rather unexpected. Not very close, but definitely inside one metre (the legal minimum), and not very comfortable. And it was a police car.

What to do? I asked my friends at SydneyCyclist, and subsequently went into the police station to complain. It was interesting. For one thing, when I mentioned that car involved was a police vehicle, I immediately got the Duty Sergeant, rather than the usual constable.

He took the still images I had taken from the footage, but oddly declined to take the video file. A day or so later, I got a call from the officer in charge of the traffic division. He went through the scenario with me, and was sympathetic, although I did have to educate him on the difference between bike route symbols (the painted bike symbols, which have no legal standing), and a Bike Lane, which is defined in the Australian Road Rules (and which Burns Bay Road does not have). I would have hoped a senior traffic cop would have known the difference, especially as it has legal implications as to where you should ride your bike.

He ultimately apologised, and asked me what action I wanted. I was happy with an apology and the driver being spoken to about his obligations around cyclists, although some of my cycling friends were not impressed that the cops did not charge the driver with the offence.

This is the same police station who have been absolutely unsympathetic to these types of issues in the past. Somehow I doubt this will be a turning point…

(You can see the video footage here).

 

Tag-a-long on the cargo bike

May 22, 2017 at 14:07 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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As you may remember, over the New Year period we went to the UK, and had a very successful experience with a Burley tagalong trailer. The kids loved it, and it was very easy to ride with it on the bike.

I’ve been thinking about getting one for use at home ever since, especially as the children are really now too big for the ‘two passenger‘ solution I had – their increased weight coupled with the high centre of gravity was making putting them both into the kiddie seats a tiring proposition. If I could put the tagalong on the back of the rack, and leave enough space for another child to sit straddling the rack at the front, I’d have a more manageable solution.

The issue was how to attach it to the bike. I pondered this for a while, whilst doing some internet investigations. And I found a few people who had successfully fashioned a bracket to attached a Burley trailer to an Xtracycle. I reached out to those people, but the information I found was rather old and I couldn’t track them down. But, after some consideration, I figured that I could probably work something out locally. And if not, I’d just have to buy a new bike suitable to fit the Burley to. So I bought a Burley Piccolo trailer, which duly arrived.

The next step was to find someone who could convert the Burley rack into something I could attach to the Radish. The Burley rack as it comes is a well-built steel rack, which fits in the conventional way over the back wheel of a bike. I needed someone who could take the top part of the rack, and fabricate some kind of bracket so I could bolt it down to the rear deck of the Radish. Luckily I had the adapter brackets for the kids seats as a kind of template.

After a bit of ringing around, I found the inestimable Matt Hopkins, of Hopkins Welding. He gamely agreed to have a go at the job, and duly set to with this metalworking tools and welding gear.

I can share a short lesson here if you are every thinking of doing something similar. Don’t simply take the part you need modified to your chosen artisan, along with a rather vague description of what you need. Yes, that’s right; version 1.0 was not quite right. I hadn’t taken the whole hitch mechanism along, so Matt couldn’t see that he needed to avoid some parts of the frame when fabricating brackets, where the hitch slots over them. However, when I subsequently took along the whole thing, he was quickly able to modify it to version 1.1, which worked perfectly. I have to say Matt was very patient with me over what was undoubtedly a much more fiddly job that he at first had imagined, and is a thoroughly nice bloke.

The other requirement was for something for the child sitting on the rack to hold on to. A bit more internet investigation revealed solutions for this too; with an extra long stem, some small handlebars and the correct shim I was easily able to fit some stoker bars behind my saddle, making for a secure ride for the child sitting on the back.

So, with everything fitted it was time for our first ride. We scooted around the block a few times, with the kids swapping places on the tag-a-long and the rack. And it was a great success. The kids love it, and it’s much easier for me to ride; the lower centre of gravity and less weight on the rack makes the bike much more stable. I can also finally do away with the faff of straps and kids seats.

I’m on the lookout for a cushion and some Edgerunners for the Radish, to finish off the job, but for now it works fine as it is. The dual-kid transport solution is back in action!

Close pass again. Sigh.

April 27, 2017 at 11:51 | Posted in bicycles | 4 Comments
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You may remember a while ago I took some footage of a car passing very close to the cops. The reaction was surprisingly positive, you may recall. Well, it happened again the other day. So I thought I would take it in as well, and also take the opportunity to find out what had happened to my other complaint.

To help with this latest one, I also took some footage of my bike placed exactly one metre away from a parked car, for comparison. And from that comparison, it’s pretty clear the car passed me with only about 50cm clearance – enough to cause a shiver of worry. It’s really unpleasant to have a car that close. I saw a really good picture on social media that summed it up the other day:

So, what was the reaction of the cops this time? Well, rather less good. The officer at first didn’t even want to look at the video. then, after looking at it, he justified the behaviour of the driver, as ‘he probably didn’t want to go over the double white lines’. The fact that he had just gone straight on in a turn right only lane apparently was of no interest either.

Then it got worse. He told me it wasn’t too bad, and that the car couldn’t have been close to me as ‘I didn’t flinch’. He rejected out of hand my picture taken at the one metre distance, and told me that there was no way to tell if it was accurate, and he didn’t think the car was too close. He declined my invitation to go and do the sample one metre distance footage again outside the police station with him watching.

He then told me he would be taking absolutely no action.

I insisted on making a statement anyway, but it was clearly pointless. Here was a cop (Constable Joly, from Chatswood Police Station, for the record) who was justifying the dangerous driving of a law-breaking motorist, and also blaming me (the victim) for not reacting properly.

Oh, and the other complaint? Also dead, with no follow-up done or intended.

Meanwhile, the blitzes on bicycle bells continue. Fines rain down on hapless cyclists for trivial offences. And cyclists continue to die.

 

You can judge the footage yourself here.

City cycling without ID

December 6, 2016 at 11:13 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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cyclewaysIt’s Positive Tuesday again. Eagle-eyed readers will note that I’ve exceeded the initial promise to do six good news stories, but I figured that pushing on can’t be a bad thing. Apart from anything else it improves my mood, even if you are getting sick of the relentless positivity.

And there’s two bits of good news this week. The first is that the NSW government has dropped the requirements for bicycle riders to carry ID. This bizarre law was slated to come in in 2017, but now it’s not going to happen. To be honest, I had a suspicion from the beginning that it wasn’t going to eventuate, given the various legal and logistical hurdles any such legislation would need to overcome. It was always about creating another headline to beat-up cyclists, and given that this desired effect was satisfactorily delivered, I guess the rabidly anti-cyclist NSW government figured there wasn’t anything else to gain and quietly dropped the idea. What has been interesting though is all the cycling ‘advocacy’ organisation who previously supported the law now coming out can claiming they never wanted it, and were instrumental in getting it scrapped (take a bow, AGF). With advocates like these, who needs enemies…

And so onto the other bit of good news. I had occasion to ride through the city at peak time last week, something I now rarely have cause to do. And what struck me was how many cyclists there were. Yes, there have been reports that cycling levels have declined slightly (the NSW government are rejoicing at this, given that have also just dropped any targets they might have had for cycling participation). But when you ride in the city, you can’t help but be struck by how many cyclists there are. The best part about this for me was how courteous the motor traffic was. On my normal route to work I am a lone cyclist, and I experience inconsiderate driving often. But it really seems that, in a place where motorists are used to cyclists and accept that they are legitimate road users, they behave better. This cheered me up no end, and reinforced to me the feeling I had after visiting Manly. In NSW we have the most anti-cycling government anywhere in the world. At every turn they find ways to discourage, punish and harass cyclists. And yet cycling is happening in large numbers, with what feels like unstoppable momentum. Duncan Gay won’t kill it. The best he can do is constrain it a bit, but when finally we get a more progressive government, I sense the cork will pop and suddenly there could be a surge in cycling, benefiting everyone who lives and works in Sydney and NSW more generally.

Don’t get discouraged folks. Just keep pushing those pedals. The revolution is coming.

A cycling suburb

November 29, 2016 at 14:10 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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manly-bike-rackI recently had to go to Manly for a meeting, so rode my bike into the city to catch the ferry. This is really a great way to start the morning – a ride, followed by a harbour cruise. Taking bikes on the ferry is very easy; access is flat or via ramps, there are wide gates and plenty of room, and bikes are welcome on Sydney ferries. The Manly ferry has dedicated bike storage places near the gangway. (Sydney Trains could learn a thing or two about being bike friendly from the ferries).

And when I got to Manly, I was struck by how many bikes there were. bikes-on-railingsLots of people riding – a diverse group, with plenty of women and people in regular clothes. This is a good sign of a healthy cycling culture. I also happen to know that Manly has a very low (by Australian standard) rate of helmet wearing – something not entirely unconnected to this. In the past, Manly police have publicly said they do not focus on helmets, as it is not an important issue. A rare example of sanity on this issue. More recently the government-sanctioned police harassment of cyclists over the new rules has occurred to a degree in Manly, but I was pleased to see cycling is still apparently thriving. The bike racks around the ferry wharf  were completely full, with bikes locked up to every available railing nearby – it was a positively Dutch scene. The insouciance of cyclists blatantly ignoring the directions to not put bikes on the wharf was also heartening to me.

There is no doubt that the current NSW government is doing their best to remove cyclists from our streets. And this can be depressing sometimes. They will not succeed. They may try to hold back the tide, to cling to a 1950’s car-centric world view. But it is futile. Around the world, and in Manly, that tide is turning.

T1 bike trailer / towable luggage…

August 23, 2016 at 11:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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trailerPushy’s had a mid-season sale recently, and there were some bargains to be had. And given that the objective of buying things ins a sale is not to buy things you actually need, but rather save as much money as possible by buying things you probably don’t need but which are heavily discounted, I found myself purchasing a DOM T1 bike trailer – reduced from $650 to $99. I mean, who could pass that up?

It duly arrived, and my initial impressions were favourable. It’s well made, with a high quality finish and some nice design touches. It hitches to the bike via a small loop / hook which bolts onto the rear axle (an extra-long QR skewer is supplied for those needing such a thing).

So what it is? Well, it’s advertised as a trailer, but to be honest ‘towable luggage’ would be a fairer description. It’s a large-ish suitcase with oversized flip-out wheels and a towing handle that can be attached to the back of a bike. The wheels are pneumatic, but are small and skinny – think pram wheels, rather than bike wheels.

hitchIt’s perhaps for this reason the instructions stress that the maximum recommended speed is 25km/h – less if you are riding on uneven surfaces. A ‘go anywhere’ adventure trailer this is not. It’s not really a touring trailer. It’s for doing short-ish flat-ish slow-ish rides. Think riding to the station or airport (when folded down, it can be checked in as hold luggage – it comes with an external cover to protect it in transit).

I think it could actually be quite useful for me; I’ve been looking for a solution to allow me to cycle to the airport when I travel on business, and this might just work – as is for longer trips, or for shorter trips I can put a smaller cabin bag into the trailer for the airport trip, and leave the trailer locked up with my bike whilst I’m away.

I’ve never ridden with a trailer on the bike before, and it does feel a little odd – you feel it kind of tugging at the bike as you pedal. But overall it goes along quite well. The warnings about excessive speed and bumps are necessary though – I manged to tip it up on the first trip. Admittedly this was with it empty, and it bounced around much less when loaded. However, it does underline the need for caution – if it hit a pothole, there’s a risk it could go over – which might not be fun if you were in heavy traffic.

trailerfoldedThe only aspect of the design I think could do with a rethink is the way the wheels fold. It’s all very cool they way the fold away (they work as pull-along wheels when folded in), but they fold up kind of backwards. This means that when you are riding, the pressure on the wheels pulling them backwards makes them want to fold up – especially on uneven surfaces. This means you have to do up the quick-release cams super-tight to ensure this doesn’t happen, which makes folding and unfolding harder than it needs to be. Some sort of locking mechanism to prevent the wheels folding when in use would be handy,

Anyway, I’m very excited about my new purchase. A genuine bargain for $99! Now we’ll see how often it actually gets used…

 

Here’s a video of me riding with it, and tipping it over going up a pram ramp…

trailervid1

Addressing the Senate Inquiry

March 4, 2016 at 17:17 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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parliamentWell, goodness, hasn’t it taken a long time to get around to writing this. For whatever reason, life seems to have been getting in the way of blogging recently, and whilst I carry around with me umpteen ideas for interesting items (using ‘interesting’ in the loosest terms there), I’ve struggled to actually put fingers to keyboard to make them real.

If you cast your mind back, you will recall I was asked to give evidence to the Senate inquiry into ‘nanny state laws’, following my submission to the same. The date unfortunately fell during the Chillikebab annual holiday, and initially I said I wasn’t available. However, Mrs Chillikebab, being a rather good sort, told me that I should go even if it meant interrupting our holiday. I guess she was worried that if I didn’t go I’d feel forever bitter and twisted that I missed my opportunity to actually do something vaguely useful in the field of cycling advocacy.

So I booked a ticket, and duly left the rest of the Chillikebabs lounging around the pool at our holiday home on the Sunshine Coast and flew to Melbourne for the day.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and when I got to the parliament building and explained I was there to give evidence to the committee they seemed rather nonplussed and didn’t know what to do with me.  Luckily I made contact with a fellow free-cyclist, and he kindly showed me to the committee room.

I was just in time to hear the evidence from the medico-safely lobby. A whole bunch of worthy doctors, professors and road safety experts all intent on ensuring Australia remains one of the very few places on earth where it is illegal to pedal along a cyclepath with the breeze in your hair.

They started predictably enough, with little speeches emphasizing how well helmet laws were working to reduce injury, and how Australia led the world in such safety initiatives, and how many lives were saved every minute of every day due to these wonderful laws.

Then the Senators started to question them. There were just two senators – the maverick David Leyonhjelm (the only elected representative of the tiny Liberal Democrat party), and Mattheew Canavan, from the governing LNP alliance, and a member of the smaller National party.

I have to say, the Senators were superb. They were across all the material, all the science, understood all the shonky arguments put forward by the medico-safety lobby and grilled them very effectively – pulling apart their arguments and reveling the lack of substance in their submissions. It’s rare the medico-safety lobby are ever held to account, as they avoid public debate, and tend to shut down any attempts at dialogue with high-handed appeals to authority. In this forum, however they couldn’t hide, couldn’t bluster, and couldn’t walk away. They had to admit that the evidence for the effectiveness of MHL was ‘mixed and contradictory’, they had to take endless questions on notice because they were not really across the material, they floundered badly on many very basic points and got extremely rattled and aggressive.

It was terrific. I enjoyed every moment of it.

senateThen, after a short break, I was on. I shared my slot with Nic Dow, of the Australian Cyclists Party, a cycling freedom campaigner I have corresponded with online, but never met. Indeed, one of the nice things about going to the inquiry was meeting up with so many people I have either emailed or corresponded with online but never met.

We made our opening addresses; I had some illustrations of motoring helmets that have variously been proposed, and I used them both to highlight some of the contradictions in the medico-safety folks comments, and also to show the inquity of forcing helmets only on cyclists.

Nic was all over the science, and outlined some of the most recent research that directly contradicted the ‘expert’ evidence from the doctors.

Then we had some questions from the committee. I outlined some of my experiences with going to court and so on, and spoke about bicycle hire schemes. Nic spoke more about different types of cycling, noting that a (helmeted) Neurosurgeon out for his high-speed Sunday morning bunch ride was at far higher risk of head injury than an unhelmeted cyclists on an upright bike pootling along a cycleway.

A few points I mentioned that they seemed interested in; one was my proposal to decriminalize helmetless riding by making the penalty $0, but maintaining it as an ‘advisory’ law. Thre was quite a bit of discussion about this; both Nic and I made points about the political nature of the debate – however much we might want to, a full repeal of the whole helmet law is unlikely to happen, so we explored various options for staged withdrawals and compromises.

Finally I spoke about my framework for assessing helmet laws (and similar nanny state legislation), making further points about  the inequity of MHL.

It was sort of fun, although I felt I didn’t really express myself the way I would have liked. It’s a bit hard to do when you are being questioned, rather than following your own agenda. But I’m very glad I did it.

It was also noteworthy that not one of the ‘pro helmet’ lobby stayed to listen to any of the other evidence. They all trooped in prior to their session, and then all trooped out again immediately afterwards. Symptomatic of their closed minds and unwillingness to engage in any debate, I think.

We will see what comes from this inquiry; whilst the final report is not due for a while I think it will be quite critical of MHL. What impact that has, of course, remains to be seem. But perhaps, just perhaps, in ten years or so when MHL are finally banished and we look back at the fight, my small contribution to this small process might just have played some part in that achievement.

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If you want to read the Hansard transcript (yes, I am now in Hansard!), it’s here.

It happened.

July 16, 2014 at 06:31 | Posted in bicycles | 4 Comments
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headlightsLife flashes before your eyes? Everything goes in slow motion? Those are the clichés, but in reality it all happened horribly quickly, with no time to think. The sudden realisation that the car was heading straight towards me. That it was not going to stop. The mad scramble to get out of the way. The crunch as it hit me. Feeling the bike momentarily pinning me to the ground. Desperately pulling me legs away from the rear wheels as they passed. Me getting to my feet and realising I was OK. All over in less then three seconds.

I was waiting to turn right from a side turning; the last turn into my street just a short distance from my house, positioned as you would expect towards the centre of the road. I was waiting for the ute coming up from the left to go past, then the road was clear for me to get home. He indicated right just before the junction, and as he started to turn in I thought his line looked loose. Surely he’s going to go a bit wider around me? Then the headlights were pointing straight at me, and the horrible realisation dawned. Fortunately, I was able to get out of the direct line, so it was the side of his vehicle that impacted me, pushing me away and outside the track of the rear wheels.

The driver stopped, and rushed out, clearly shocked. SMIDSY, of course. He kept repeating it. ‘I just didn’t see you, I just didn’t see you; just heard the bang.’

It’s strange; the recent spate of incidents involving cyclists being hit by cars has spooked us all a bit, and coupled with my new commute on much busier roads the thought that it could happen to me has been on my mind sometimes. I didn’t think it would be on a quiet residential street, metres from my house, though. Short of cycleways on every street those kind of local roads are always going to be shared by all kinds of vehicles.

I also, of course, in my over-analytical way, wonder what I could have done differently. I had the handlebars pointed to the right, ready to turn, so  my light would have been pointed away from the driver as he turned (although not so much it was not visible, I’m sure). And whilst I had reflectors on my ankles and bag, I wasn’t wearing my reflective sash; it went awol in the recent house move move I haven’t replaced it. Would it have made a difference? Possibly, although as he turned I was directly in front of him, fully illuminated by his headlights, yet by his own admission he still didn’t see me. That said, I will get a new sash, and perhaps even consider my headlight positioning in similar situations in the future. Not, you understand, that I believe that these things should be necessary, nor absolve the driver of any responsibility. Looking where you are going is after all probably the prime responsibility when operating a motor vehicle.

kneeAs for me, well, I have a bruised, swollen knee that is stiffening up; I’m sure it’s just a bruise to the muscle as the joint is fine, but I’ll get it checked out just in case.  Funny how you don’t notice these things until afterwards; the effect of the adrenaline I guess. Not sure how I’m going to ride to work in the morning; could be interesting.

I have no idea how the bike is. I wheeled it home, so I know the wheels go round, but I’ll have a proper look in the morning. Ironically its not actually my bike, but a loaner bike from the bike shop whilst mine is in for repair.

And I guess finally I have to decide if I go to the police. I know I’ve always urged others to do exactly that in these situations. When it actually happens, and you are OK, it’s less straightforward. The driver seemed like a nice guy, and was clearly shocked; I daresay he learned a lesson tonight. I doubt that a call from the cops will make any difference to how he feels or behaves in the future, and I also doubt the cops will be very interested in following it up anyway, from past form. But then again, it was blind luck that I wasn’t seriously injured or worse, and the driver was clearly negligent. And in any case, reporting it means it will be recorded in the stats, if nothing else.

For now, I’ve poured myself a glass of shiraz, talked it through with Mrs Dan and got a bit teary. Two little girls nearly lost their daddy tonight. But then I feel melodramatic and self-indulgent; I’m absolutely fine, all is well, and compared to others it was really a minor incident. Such is how these things affect you.

Tomorrow is a new day. If you need me, I’ll be riding my bike.

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