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Over the high side

“This is one of the many paradoxes in the Hell's Angels lore. Whatever they lack in personal grooming they make up for in spoades with their bikes…yet any one of them might take a bike he has worked on for six months and destroy it in seconds with a maniacal top-speed run at a curve that's a guaranteed bust-out at anything over fifty.

This is called “going over the high side,” a nasty experience which one Angel supposedly described like this: “We've all been over the high side, baby. You know what that is? It's when your bike starts sliding when you steam into a curve at seventy or eight…She slides toward the high side of the curve, baby, until she hits a curb or a rail or a soft shoudler or whatever's there, and then she flips…That's what you call making a classic get-off, baby.”

There's bit a Hell's Angel riding who hasn't made the emergency-ward scene, and one of the natural esults is that their fear of acidents is well tempered by a cavalier kind of disdain for physical injury. Outsiders might call it madness or other more esoteric names…but the Angels inhabit a world in which violence is as common as spilled beer, and they live with it as easily as ski bums live with the risk of broken legs. — Hunter S. Thompson Hell's Angels

I had my first close-call of the season on Monday. A guy in a minivan, doing the school run crossing 9th St. at Woodland while I held the right-of-way on 9th. I was coming down 9th St. hill, hauling serious ass, as is my wont (I consider the “go-faster” downhill ride to be the reward for fighting my way up a hill in the first place). I saw the man and his van from the top of the hill, approaching that intersection, and I thought, “I hope this dude either gets the hell across the street or sees me and doesn't pull out right in front of me.” Halfway down the hill, he hits the intersection and stops at the stop-sign. I can see his head pivot back and forth. He and his van wait a beat. I think he's seen me, and make no move to slow down, myself. I'm almost to the bottom of 9th St. hill, and Mr. Minivan does just what I had hoped he wouldn't. He pulls right across my path, crossing 9th on Woodland, forcing me to cram on my brakes as hard as I can. I flip ass-over-teakettle over the handlebars. My scream of “Oooooooh sheeeeeiiiiiiiiiiittttt” probably has a doppler effect as I land.

By the time I went airborn and started cussing, he noticed my antics, slammed on his own brakes, stopping dead in the middle of the street. I slid to a stop a good 10' from his van, leaped to my feet on pure adrenaline, dragging my bike behind me toward the demilitarized zone that is the sidewalk. Just like every other time I've had a wreck, I'm up and skittering for the sidewalk before anything else. Before I check my injuries, before I inquire as to the state of my bike…I know the biggest and most important thing is to get my ass off the street before insult is added to injury and I'm run over. Mr. Minivan, not being a veteran of careless-driver close-calls, had kind of locked up at this point, and I called out to him that he should pull the rest of the way through the intersection before somebody ran into him. He complied, then got out of his van to check on me, and see if I was okay, which I basically was. The palm of my right hand is bruised from jamming against the brake lever on my way down. My right forearm sports a delicate case of road-rash. My left knee has a wavery, asphalt-patterned bruise. My right brake lever got knocked out of position, but was easily adjusted with one of the Allen keys I carry in my backpack.

Of course, today, now that the scraped arm has grown a scabby topographical map, people have been asking me what happened, and I'm like, “eh, close call.” Because really, that's all it was. A close call. I've been hurt worse on similar occasions, and I actually was hit by a car once. Plus, I always kind of take notice when I hear about somebody dying or being seriously injured in a bike wreck. I carry knowledge of my mortality with me everwhere I go. I know I am small and squishy, and could easily become 130lb of roadkill with metallic bits. Instead of making me fearful or twitchy, however, this makes me more cautious, yet helps me put shit into perspective. A near miss is WAY better than a collision. A minor wreck is better than a major one. If all that happens is that I lose a little skin off a wrist or shin, a little paint off my bike, or whack my seat out of adjustment, I am doing WAY better than I deserve.

I'm a big proponent of bicycle safety and take pains NOT to get hit by cars, but once in a while, either I disregard something that made my biker spidey-senses tingle, like I did on Monday, or somebody just utterly springs something totally new on me. I reckon I'm doing pretty well in that I've been riding Kansas City streets for going on 5 years, and we're a notoriously bad city for shitty streets and crazy drivers, yet I have not been entirely creamed as yet. It's the whole art of keeping alert, riding sensibly and politely, and making myself as visible as possible. There are a couple of more steps I can take…maybe get a triangle or a construction flagger's vest. Otherwise, I follow damn near everything in the above link to damn near the letter, but even the best laid plans of mice and men can fail. I wasn't careful or visible enough on Monday, and now I have an achey hand and a gross forearm as a reminder to watch out for everyone else, 'cause no-one else is going to be watching out for me.

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