Returning to the bike after a crash

I got back on my bike last Friday.  The morning was beautiful.

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I felt great during the whole ride, including the bits on the street.  Thank goodness for the Lakefront Trail, where I don’t have to worry about cars.  I’ll be taking this route much more from now on, since my peaceful side-street route turned out to be not so peaceful.

Last night I took city streets home – a similar route as usual but avoiding the intersection – but it was too soon.  I was fearful and started crying a bit for no reason as I went along.  Typing that out is embarrassing, but there you have it.  I’ve always been super defensive and cautious, but now I feel like I cannot trust any intersection situation no matter what.  Plus, I think the night and everything felt too similar.  I’m back on the Lakefront Trail today.

For anyone who’s gone through something like this, how did you feel getting back on the bike?

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45 thoughts on “Returning to the bike after a crash

  1. dukiebiddle says:

    Bully for you! In time you’ll be back to the city streets without thinking twice about it. No reason to hurry that, though. That’ll happen when it’ll happen.

  2. kimfromaustin says:

    But you did have a reason for being fearful. You suffered a major trauma and only with time will the impact of what happened to you lessen. I speak from experience and with the help of a therapist I learned that my reactions were normal. I was not hit by a car, but I witnessed two of my friends being hit by a hit and run driver while we were crossing a cross-walk. It has been over a year and the fear that I felt immediately after the accident has turned to extreme caution when crossing the street and/or riding my bicycle.

  3. Janice in GA says:

    There is NO REASON you should feel bad about being fearful or crying. You are still recovering from a traumatic event. Your feelings are NORMAL.
    I haven’t had an accident on the bike so far (knock wood), but I had a car accident last February. I wasn’t hurt, and the person I hit wasn’t hurt, but I am still wary about getting into a car and driving. That accident shook my confidence really badly. I’m finally starting to get better, but it takes time.
    You’re strong and brave, and you’ll be fine. But give yourself time to get over it.

  4. neighbourtease says:

    Hi Dottie, I got run off the road by a truck about eight years ago. I stopped cycling for two years! I just walked everywhere. I also didn’t cycle through my pregnancy, which I would do now. I was lucky the guy didn’t run me over. Really, the only reason that didn’t happen was that the roads in my neighborhood were so shitty that the sidewalk had eroded enough for me to quickly turn my bike toward it and roll up onto it a bit before I crashed. Otherwise I would surely have crashed in a way that allowed the trucks back wheels to run me over.

    I skidded and fell and was quite bloodied, but was lucky to walk away, truly. The only thing that changed anything about the experience was time. I was always cautious, but am more so now. I also changed the style of cycling I did — I used to be much more boyish and rode a mountain bike. Now I ride an elegant clunker and go slowly and see everything and am seen.I’m so sorry it happened. Crying and fear are natural, healthy responses and they will pass with time. I am no longer scared while cycling but it did really take quite a while. Best wishes to you.

  5. AKA60643 says:

    Allow yourself some time to recover emotionally. That was a real trauma.

    I haven’t been hit in the way that you were, so my experiences have been a bit different. I have been doored twice and also had a traumatic chain reaction crash caused by a pothole. Getting back on the bike made me feel stronger and restored my confidence. I hope it does the same for you.

  6. John Pelletier says:

    It is not a bad thing to show fear. You are justified entirely. I imagine that a trained psychologist or therapist might recognize elements of what you are feeling as PTSD, it might not hurt to talk this over with somebody trained or otherwise… I can still picture the SUV swerving into the opposite travel lane while I was stopped at a red light waiting to turn left, he came within inches of rear ending me at 45+mph on a city street. He blew through the intersection with tires screeching almost taking out a car on the other side and an additional van crossing through with the direction of the green light. It was very very close and I will not stop in that intersection to make a left now, I do a box turn every time. In this case I had a mirror it was the middle of the day and my running lights (hub motor) were on. I could not have done anything it just happened too fast and I was shaking for quite awhile as I started up, made the turn and got into work (incidentally in the building at one of the intersection corners where I was working on sustainable transportation encouragement for the City of Cambridge). The best you can do is be on your bike, even if you have to cry even if you have to stop, even if it takes longer. You can do it, and you know you can.

  7. tc909 says:

    I was sideswiped with a truck’s mirror a year ago. I have tried many times to get back out and ride but the enjoyment I had before is not there now. The same road I was hit on a 22 year old lady was killed riding 14 months ago. My wife rides to work 3 times a week on the same road and if I think about that any length of time I can get into a minor panic attack. I love your blog and take a vicarious enjoyment of riding through it. I hope you recover in all ways and maybe I will too.

  8. Oh bless you, Dottie. It will get easier, I promise.

    I’ve cycled year round for twenty five years now, and have had two collisions with cars in that time. Once I was doored, and once someone turned right into my path. Like you, I refused to let it scare me away from what I knew was the right lifestyle for me, and like you, I found my self assurance shaken.

    After an unrelated but exceptionally traumatic event, I underwent trauma therapy, and in it I learned a very valuable tool for dealing with the emotional aftermath of a difficult event. When you find yourself re-living it, and feeling the emotional anxiety of the event, be sure to carry your thoughts through to a healthy, happy you. Don’t simply envision the accident, without seeing yourself happy and healthy again after the event.

    Another tool which is extremely useful for fear and anxiety is something which physically reduces the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in your blood. All you need is bi-lateral movement, which means you move first one side then the other side of your body. Kundalini yoga uses several different exercises to achieve this pattern of brainwaves, but you can do it by simply making a fist and then releasing first one hand and then the other, and repeat. It’s simple, it’s effective, and you can do it anywhere.

    Be well, beautiful Dottie, and ride on! Thank you for facing your fear, getting back on your bike, and daring to share your experience with us. You rock, girl. Keep it up!

  9. jack says:

    Whoa! The Windy City without a puff of wind?! That’s beautiful.

    Way to get back on the proverbial Horse.

  10. jack says:

    Whoa! The Windy City without a puff of wind?! That’s beautiful.

    Way to get back on the proverbial Horse.

  11. Steven Vance says:

    After some of my crashes (only 1 by car, thankfully not a hit-and-run, the person actually stuck around and tried to visit me in the hospital) I avoided the intersection, took different routes. Does this have any basis in logic? Not really. The circumstances are almost random and unlikely to happen in the same place with the same people again. I understand how locations gain a weird, new meaning.

    My first crash after moving to Chicago was actually my wheels slipping on a huge salt pile a city truck dumped there (salt can be hard to see because it’s the same color as snow, and it was under a viaduct). I was so mad, I would curse the location every time I went by.

  12. Jan says:

    Dottie,

    I have been hit by cars several times. Once I got hit twice in less than a month. My wife got really scared that first time around (I went flying across the hood of a taxi-cab who cut in front of us, my wife was right behind me), but the second time really scared me.

    I almost ended up underneath that car and could do nothing to avoid being run down.

    After that last one, I parked my bike for several months. It really got to me. It took time to feel at ease on my bike again.

    But I did eventually did get on my bike again. And got sufficiently secure (and MAD AS HELL) that when being the victim of road-rage a couple of years later (deliberate hit-and-run) I chased the car down, smashed the side-window, removed the key from the ignition and got the police on the scene (and there were a TON of witnesses).

    I got a lot of anger out of my system on that last one.

  13. splendorofmorgan says:

    Good for you for getting back out there, and let those emotions flow! I was in a car accident 6 weeks ago and get PTSD-like flashbacks a few times a week, which usually ends with me in tears. There is nothing wrong with the way your body is processing the trauma (and I’m so sorry that you have to).

  14. Daniel says:

    I crashed (self inflicted, no one else around, early AM – 1.5 hours before sunrise) and was on the bike at the same time a week later. I was still hurting (bruised ribs, helmet dented instead of my head so no headache) but needed to get outside, get exercise, and exorcise the demons. I powered through it, if only with much more care and a slower speed. It was important to get back to it quickly but it was equally important to take the lesson seriously. Having a bad driver involved would make me even more cautious around cars and I am already very cautious around cars. Good luck and always assume that drivers aren’t paying attention and/or not following the rules. That’s always my commuting strategy.

    And don’t worry over tears. Getting hit is pretty traumatic (from my experience in a car accident – lucky enough to have avoid cars so far) and trauma isn’t brushed aside quickly.

  15. georgina ormrod says:

    Glad to hear you’re back out on the bike so soon. Probably the best thing – rather than leaving it for a while. Most drivers are safe, but here’s hoping for safer cycling infrastructure in the future.

    • I agree that it is best to try and get back on the horse (so to speak) as soon as possible, as hard as it may seem. Otherwise the anxiety festers and it gets harder and harder to return. In my experience anyway.

  16. Heather says:

    Everyone has already spoken about how normal your reaction is right now, and it truly is. Patience. I was in an accident and became nearly paralyzed in fear when going downhill (especially over 15mph). So scared that I thought I would lose control, even though it didn’t make sense. My hands would get tingly. Here’s what I did. First, I gave myself permission to be scared and to only do what made me comfortable. Baby steps. That was hard, especially when you ride with others. I hated having to explain why I was slow downhill, even though they said they understood. Sometimes I’d have to stop and walk my bike, which was embarrassing. You feel dumb and frustrated, and unlike other things in life, you can’t seem to change it. You want to return to normal quick, and that’s just not going to happen, so give yourself a lot of time – it could be a month or it could be a year (or more). Second, my main route to work goes down a big hill, and while I just avoided it most times, I started to ‘practice’ by going down slowly, assuring myself that I was fine and giving myself a little pep talk about how great I was doing. I even did this really weird thing – I would (either out loud or in my head) say ‘wheeeeee!!’ to pretend it was fun instead of scary, and that helped a lot (odd, I know). I actually still do that sometimes when I feel a little scared or out of control.

    It does get easier, but I’ve found that it’s never really left completely (~4 yrs ago). That hill still bothers me every now and then, but now I’ve gone down it so many times that I am 95% fine. That’s Ok I think. I can live with that. =)

  17. Heather says:

    Everyone has already spoken about how normal your reaction is right now, and it truly is. Patience. I was in an accident and became nearly paralyzed in fear when going downhill (especially over 15mph). So scared that I thought I would lose control, even though it didn’t make sense. My hands would get tingly. Here’s what I did. First, I gave myself permission to be scared and to only do what made me comfortable. Baby steps. That was hard, especially when you ride with others. I hated having to explain why I was slow downhill, even though they said they understood. Sometimes I’d have to stop and walk my bike, which was embarrassing. You feel dumb and frustrated, and unlike other things in life, you can’t seem to change it. You want to return to normal quick, and that’s just not going to happen, so give yourself a lot of time – it could be a month or it could be a year (or more). Second, my main route to work goes down a big hill, and while I just avoided it most times, I started to ‘practice’ by going down slowly, assuring myself that I was fine and giving myself a little pep talk about how great I was doing. I even did this really weird thing – I would (either out loud or in my head) say ‘wheeeeee!!’ to pretend it was fun instead of scary, and that helped a lot (odd, I know). I actually still do that sometimes when I feel a little scared or out of control.

    It does get easier, but I’ve found that it’s never really left completely (~4 yrs ago). That hill still bothers me every now and then, but now I’ve gone down it so many times that I am 95% fine. That’s Ok I think. I can live with that. =)

  18. steve_a_dfw says:

    I feel fortunate to have never been hit by a car after more than 50 years of cycling. I know it is partly luck and partly good management. Consider that if you can now go the same time without another close contact, you will be well past your prime. After that, you’ll be on your own…

  19. Scott UK says:

    Listen to what your mind is telling you. Reduce the risk of this kind of accident by not riding with cars whenever you can and being as careful as you can.

  20. Dennis Hindman says:

    I was hoping that the cycle track on Dearborn St could be part of your route to work to make at least some of your ride more comfortable. To give you some encouragement that cycling will be safer and more comfortable in Chicago in the near future, if you haven’t seen it already, on page 52 of Chicago’s Street for Cycling 2020 plan for bicycle infrastructure installations there is a map of projects to be completed by 2015:

    http://chicagobikes.org/pdf/2012%20Projects/ChicagoStreetsforCycling2020.pdf

    Women are a key barometer I use to weigh how safe it feels for most adults to ride a bike in an area. You can focus on different age groups, but women make up at least half of all of the population and most prefer to ride separated from motor traffic.

    They are also much more concerned with how safe it feels in their surroundings. There are several popular bike paths that run along flood control channels in the Los Angeles area and they are surrounded by fencing with limited access points. Women, in general, do not like to ride there at night, even if it is well-lit. They have a sense that they would be trapped and t hidden from public view if anthing goes wrong.

    I assumed that it was very comfortable to ride a bike along the Orange Line BRT mixed use path in Los Angeles. Then I noticed that the bi-annual Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition bicycle count that was done at two locations along this path had a total count where women made up just a slightly above average percentage of 19%. I later came to the realization that it was not very comfortable to ride to this bike path for most people as I starting noticing that most of them were leaving the path by way of a sidewalk. That’s partially due to this BRT line running along what used to be a streetcar line where only major streets cross it.

    A couple of days ago, I spoke with a wife of local bike advocate who said that she stopped riding her bike from her home in Santa Monica to work at UCLA because of the yelling and honking from drivers on Ohio Ave that runs parallel to and between Wilshire Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd. One of the problems with this two lane street is that it is in a area that has the most traffic congestion in Los Angeles, and since there is not enough room to ride comfortably to the side of cars, she would take the lane. Another difficulty is that it is one of the few streets that will get you past the I-405 freeway. The alternative choices are Wilshire Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd which are major arterials.

    I had already made a suggestion to a city planner to make Ohio Ave a one-way street to that there would be enough room to put in bike lanes. Even with crappy bicycling conditions, this street had a bicycle count about equal to the Orange Line bike path. I figured the trade-off could be cyclists replacing most of the people traveling in cars.

    Here is a link to a study done by the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose California that used the Dutch criteria for designing bicycling infrastructure to a level of stress that would be acceptable for most adults. A result of the study was a map that was created for a connected network of low-stress bikeways in San Jose. An interesting point this report makes is that whatever the highest stress is along a persons route for cycling , then that is the level of stress for the entire route:

    http://transweb.sjsu.edu/project/1005.html

    There is also a recent University of British Columbia study that indicates the preferences for where most people prefer to cycle is very similar to the places that have the lowest injuries for cycling:

    http://cyclingincities.spph.ubc.ca/injuries/the-bice-study/

  21. Sarah W. says:

    Hang in there, Dottie.

  22. I salute your courage Dottie, after my accident it took me several weeks to get back on my bike and even more time before I felt comfortable riding again. I even had a huge breakdown after a (not so) near miss, it was the first (and only) time I actually thought about not riding my bike anymore.

    Continue riding! And continue biking !

  23. Karen Voyer-Caravona says:

    I was hit by a car a few months ago. The driver was coming out of a grocery store parking lot on to a busy street and didn’t look to her right to see me crossing. I was riding on the sidewalk, which cyclists are allowed to do in Phoenix when there aren’t bike lanes. I have never like biking on the sidewalk and the experience reinforced just why it is not recommended – people don’t bother to look properly when exiting a parking area. I was not hurt and amazingly my bike wasn’t damaged but it shook me up considerably.

  24. Guy says:

    Dotty, Glad you are back on the bike. I found a couple of pics from the Grid Chicago, saved a couple as I believe you are trying out the new Dearborn path?

  25. CyclinMissy says:

    After I got got hit by a car on my bike, I was nervous during my first few post-accident rides. I made extra effort to check that auto drivers saw me before I entered intersections and generally paid more attention to traffic around me (it seemed like I paid a lot of attention before, but somehow it still increased). Over time, the fear faded and I thought to myself that I would not let the possibility of an accident stop me from doing what I love. I would not stop living my life. I would be smart and careful, but I would ride – come what may.

    I’m so glad that you were not seriously injured, Dottie! Hugs as you work through these first few weeks back in the saddle. You WILL be ok!

  26. Scott UK says:

    Dotty, you could try a riding technique I learnt from motorcycle riding lessons. When your passing side streets have a quick look down them as you move into the field of view. This means you are often scanning and may have to slow. This may feel laborious at first but becomes quite routine. My instructor used to call car drivers, “pencil heads” because their necks never moved!

  27. G.E. says:

    I have not been hit (yet) by a vehicle, but have come very close a handful of times. I think as others are saying, your reaction is completely normal. I’m guessing the tears are just a way of working through all of it – after all, this was a traumatic incident! Keeping good thoughts for you, and am glad that even though it was a rough ride, you’re back on your bike. Take it easy on yourself, and know that there are many supporting you – both close by and a bit farther away.

  28. I had an accident kind of like yours where I was struck by a car but not seriously injured. I found myself ultra-timid and cautious afterwards. Like, stopping at an intersection while the light was still green because I didn’t want to risk crossing and having it turn yellow. Or screaming as if an axe murderer was about to attack me if I saw a car creeping into my path. It took months of frequent riding before those feelings started to go away but they did. Keep at it!

  29. Jim says:

    I habitually get right back on it, even with broken bones.

    Look, it might be that you won’t get over it. That’s just fine. Nobody said you had to. I know lots of people who’ve been injured, maimed or killed on a bike. For that matter in cars too.

  30. Julia Ringma says:

    Lots of good advice and comments here! I echo the one who biked more slowly. I have slowed down too and I see more and am seen more. Interestingly, it hardly takes me any more time to get where I’m going, so it’s almost a state of mind, than a speed. I recommend it for driving too. I call it “zen driving”. You just relax your foot on the accelerator, and let people go ahead.

  31. Deb says:

    Don’t worry you will gain confidence to ride that route when you are ready. It took me a few months before I was ready to go through the intersection where I was hit. It helped having a loved one there for support. There are still the occasional moments of fear and tears but I do my best not to let it discourage me. I wish you the best!

  32. Wow, congrads on having so much courage. You’re having some PTSD I bet — a free opinion from a clinical social worker who (1) bikes to work, and (2) yes, has been hit. It takes a bit, but it does get better.

  33. Wow, congrads on having so much courage. You’re having some PTSD I bet — a free opinion from a clinical social worker who (1) bikes to work, and (2) yes, has been hit. It takes a bit, but it does get better.

  34. Bill says:

    Getting back on my bike after my accident — which, not incidentally, involved a serious heart attack — wasn’t hard. After a couple of months of recovery, I really missed riding. Riding past the place where I was pretty sure I was going to die, however, was eerie — but only the first time. Now when I ride past that spot, I feel grateful to be alive, and very lucky to be above ground on my bike. In other words, that very close call wound up making me happier and, oddly, less scared of dying. I’m no risk taker — my riding preference is long and slow. But since my attitudes and emotions are pretty much mine to control, I figure why be frightened and worried when I can be happy? This probably won’t help you much, but I offer it on the off chance it might.

  35. Emma Bc says:

    Greetins from Europe (Madrid, Spain) Dottie take your time but please keep on writing for us, I love your blog, last Summer I was able to ride a bike on a skirt thanks to your advices!! you’re my cyclechic guru!

  36. […] a ‘it’s hard to get back on the bike‘ post and realized I’ve never been that nervous about riding my bike. I’ve been […]

  37. Valerie says:

    Dottie and other fellow bike lovers,
    I can very much relate to being fearful after a bike accident. I haven’t been back on my bike since my accident almost a year ago and it makes me very sad. I was lucky as to not being injured too severely but the accident was very, very scary and the “could have beens” are plenty. I was biking down a trail, was distracted in conversation with a friend and missed the sign that said “Get off your bike, steep hill.” The steep hill was not in sight, as the trail turned abruptly and the hill was right there and winding in sharp turns. I ended up on my left side, with my bike on top of me and my right foot inside of the frame. I caught my fall with my left hand, fingers. Big puddle of blood. Very traumatic for me.. Had a pretty nasty situation with all of my fingers, lost nails eventually. Probably should have gotten stitches on one finger but did not. My entire left side was black and blue and road rash but all and all, I was extremely lucky. There was about a 10 foot drop off about one foot away from me as well so I could have fallen down there had I not stopped where I did.
    Anyway, I love bike riding. I really need to conquer this fear. Just thinking about getting back on makes me nervous. But I intend to make it happen.
    Any tips or advice? Are there other safety precautions I can take to help me feel more secure? Like gloves? Or a bike safety class perhaps? I just feel sad because not riding is like a loss.. I miss it but it scares me.. I need help :)
    Thanks a ton!

  38. Geoff says:

    I’ve recently been involved in an accident on my bike. I was hit by a car coming onto a roundabout that I was already on, my right of way. I dislocated my left shoulder and broke the right one, it was pretty nasty but I feel relieved to be alive. I’m still recovering so haven’t been back on my bike yet, some of the stories on here have made me more optimistic that it may happen at some point in the future, I love riding and miss it badly, so thanks everybody for giving me the inspiration to actually believe I can get on my bike :-)

  39. I was hit by a car a few months ago. The driver was coming out of a grocery store parking lot on to a busy street and didn’t look to her right to see me crossing. I was riding on the sidewalk, which cyclists are allowed to do in Phoenix when there aren’t bike lanes. I have never like biking on the sidewalk and the experience reinforced just why it is not recommended – people don’t bother to look properly when exiting a parking area. I was not hurt and amazingly my bike wasn’t damaged but it shook me up considerably.

  40. Guy says:

    Dotty, Glad you are back on the bike. I found a couple of pics from the Grid Chicago, saved a couple as I believe you are trying out the new Dearborn path?

  41. guy says:

    Ooops, that’s Dottie, sorry.

  42. LGRAB says:

    Yup, I was there. :) I love that new protected lane, although it is not part of my commute.

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