Speed

Remember that bike accident? It’s been a month now. I was depressed for a few weeks there and then this weekend, I finally felt happy. Really really happy — maybe my synapses snapped back into place? Or maybe what I think of as “my PTSD” (a small post-traumatic stress response) has lifted a little.

Physically, I’m feeling so much better: my hands and lower back hurt only occasionally, not constantly, and my bruises have faded. But I’m not entirely over the accident. While I’m riding my bike in the city, I shriek when a pedestrian walks out into the street, even if I know they see me already. A car that comes too close makes my heart beat faster, even though my accident had nothing to do with a vehicle and instead only involved me and a pedestrian, whom I never touched.

I find myself obeying stoplights that I might not have a month ago, pre-accident, and slowing to look carefully in all directions at intersections. Anything that might be moving my way — a person, car, dog, bus, bird, anything — makes me pause.

And I’ve been riding more slowly. I’m on my little blue Brompton, a fantastic piece of engineering that goes just fast enough but is hard to propel at high speeds — unlike the speedy Trek with disk brakes I was riding when I had the accident. That bike moves so quickly, it feels like having power. The Brompton, while powerful in its own way, seems to curb my wild riding habits.

For the past few weeks, whenever a slower rider is in front of me, I follow them for a little while, enjoying the laggardly pace, whereas before the accident, I probably would have dived into the car lane to pass them, as quickly as possible. Instead, I pace myself with them.

Speed is my enemy after that accident; I fairly flew down the hill on Odengatan and tumbled at the edge of the intersection with Sveavagen. I cracked my helmet because of the inertia I had from all that velocity. Speed hurts. It literally hurts on impact. And it takes away that window of response time; it makes responding to anything happening in front of you on the road, even a seemingly slow-moving pedestrian, difficult to do.

All of these things are true for a cyclist, of course. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I watch cars go by: what about for a car driver?

I’ve been mulling this over especially as I shrink from automobiles that are far away from me but moving fast. I watch drivers on their mobile phones and slow down so they pass by. I watch them as they skirt around me at high speeds, even as a car is oncoming in the opposite lane, accelerating towards us both.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that cars today make drivers feel invincible. They have anti-lock brakes, air bags, fast acceleration and more. But there’s also something about having a heavy metal carapace and heavy engine that bestows some kind of superpower on a driver, a sense of power. That weight and the fuel behind it contributes to being able to move at high velocities, on roads made for just for large vehicles.

And the kinds of cars that are here in Stockholm — Porsches of all kinds (small and sporty, huge SUVs), the resident Lamborghini in our neighborhood, the old heavy Volvos with excellent turning radiuses driven by old men — mean even more power on the road, somehow, more entitlement paired together with responsive high-end vehicles. But the large delivery trucks too, invariably driven by young men talking on their mobile phones, are also powerful in their own lumbering ways.

I’ve succumbed to that drug as well, driving too fast in sturdy vehicles on California highways, back in the days when I owned a car, in a place that’s the ultimate in car culture. Luckily, I’ve not had a serious accident in a car, where I’ve hurt myself or anyone else. But I’ve had that feeling of superiority — I can beat you! And “you” may be a driver, a cyclist, a pedestrian, a stoplight — that made me drive dangerously. I have just been lucky.

And now that my luck has been tested on my bike, I don’t trust other drivers’ luck anymore!

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