I have been an avid bicycle rider most of my life, riding quite a lot when I was much younger, and then taking the sport back up after a long hiatus about 11 years ago. I thoroughly enjoy the sport, with the feeling of the open air and getting to see a lot of territory at a slower pace than what you can experience driving down the road in an automobile. During the past eight years, my cycling experiences have included participating in the annual “Biking Across Kansas” (BAK) ride in early June. This is a wonderful way to see the scenery in our great state and to get together with friends you meet every year on the ride, plus get great exercise to keep fit.
In early May of 2014, I was in the process of training to get ready for the BAK ride. The BAK route is different every year, getting to see a new part of the state and stop at new towns each night. The 2014 route was going to be special, riding from the very southwest corner of the state to the very northeast corner, and it was the 40th anniversary of the start of the BAK rides. Needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating the ride that year!
I do quite a bit of riding late in the evening due to a normal 8-5 work schedule, and because the temperatures are more moderate for riding late in the day. Because I often ride after dark, out on public roads, I have very good lights on my bike to make me more visible to car traffic. My wife and I were out riding after dark on a Friday evening four weeks to the day before the BAK ride was set to begin, riding on South Rock Road adjacent to McConnell AFB in southeast Wichita.
I do not recall exactly what happened next, as I ended up in the hospital for a week recovering from my injuries, but I was told later that we were struck from behind by a motorist who drifted to the side of the road and hit us. I was riding behind my wife and was struck first, and we are unsure if the impact launched me into my wife or if the car struck her also. The motorists said she was retrieving her phone from her child sitting in the back seat. Whatever actually happened, the motorist was not paying attention to where she was driving.
Fortunately, I did not suffer any broken bones that immobilized me, even though I ended up going to the hospital. I did suffer from a concussion severe enough that I was not aware of where I was for three to four days, various cuts and bruises, and was very sore and stiff for a month after the accident. I also had nerve damage in my right arm that made my hand and fingers numb, that eventually had to be operated on to relocate a nerve that had been pinched. My wife has also had a number of issues with damage to her shoulder and knee that required surgery.
We as bicyclists are aware of the potential for accidents when we ride, and try to watch out for each other when we ride in groups, watching for traffic coming up from behind. But a rider cannot watch behind themselves 100% of the time. Unfortunately we have to accept the fact that not all drivers are as attentive as they should be and that accidents do happen.
Since the time of my accident, I have been aware of several other accidents that have happened where the cyclist who was hit died of their injuries. This is a sad fact that someone who was out enjoying their favorite sporting event and staying fit was struck and injured or killed by an inattentive motorist. I was especially fortunate and blessed that my injuries were not more severe, and was able to return to cycling about six weeks after my accident. I have even been able to resume by BAK rides for the past two years, but mostly have no lingering effects from the accident.
As you are out driving in your automobiles, please be aware that cyclists may be out on the same roads you are traveling on. Please be courteous and respectful of them and encourage your friends and families to do the same. Cyclists will be on the losing end of a car/bicycle accident, and we want to return home to our families just like highway workers in a work zone want to.
Don Snyder is the Wichita Metro Engineer for KDOT