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RTC - bike vs lorry - John C. Kirk

Jan. 29th, 2013

11:57 pm - RTC - bike vs lorry

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Cycling home tonight, I was going downhill behind a Post Office lorry. This wasn't a "Postman Pat" style van, it was a much bigger lorry, presumably used to transfer post between depots. I saw the lorry braking, so I applied my brakes too. Unfortunately, these were less effective than I'd hoped, possibly because the road was wet. I had enough time to realise that a crash was imminent but not enough time to do anything useful about it. The lorry stopped, my front wheel hit the rear bumper (bringing my bike to an abrupt halt), and then I smacked face-first into the back of the lorry.

I was wearing my helmet, but I don't think it actually did anything useful: the only effect seemed to be to pivot my head around. I wasn't using my helmet camera for that journey (I need to repair/replace it), which is a pity because it probably would have made quite an exciting video.

I didn't fall off the bike, but I unclipped my feet from the pedals and got off by myself. I later discovered that my chain had derailled itself, presumably related to the impact. I moved off the road and did my best to assess the damage. I could feel blood dripping down, and it's splattered over my panniers, glasses, and gloves. I have a mirror mounted on one side of my handlebars, so I peered into that and I could see that there was a cut above my left eye. My forehead also felt a bit puffy around there, although that seems to have settled down now.

I stood there for a couple of minutes, but the lorry driver didn't come back to investigate so I assume that they didn't actually notice the impact. Given our difference in mass, I probably didn't move the lorry at all and the driver may not have heard the crash if they had a radio on.

When I go cycle touring I carry a first aid kit with me, but I don't normally bother on my daily commute. It's also a bit tricky to deal with facial injuries when I can't see what I'm doing. In lieu of a bandage, I made do with a handkerchief, although unfortunately this was one that I'd already used to blow my nose so I just did my best to find clean(ish) sections of it to dab at my face. Running through the checklist for head injuries, I vividly remembered the impact (i.e. no loss of memory), I didn't pass out, and I didn't have any blurred/double vision.

I wheeled my bike along for a while, then popped into the first newsagent I saw to ask whether they sold plasters. The shopkeeper dug around but the only ones he could find were the fabric type (which I'm allergic to). Another guy was in the shop at the same time, and he advised me to go to Hammersmith Hospital, since that was only a short distance away. In a situation like this I feel a bit guilty about wasting people's time, and I certainly wasn't going to call for an ambulance, but I figured that it was probably prudent.

I wheeled my bike the rest of the way, because I wasn't quite confident about riding it, then locked it up outside the hospital. When I went in, the guy behind the reception desk was talking to a colleague. They both looked up, and visibly reacted. They didn't quite recoil in horror, but there was certainly an element of surprise there, as if I'd leapt out and shouted "Boo!"

Apparently it was very busy tonight (more so than average) and they only had one triage nurse on duty so I was warned that I might have a long wait. That's fair enough, and I wasn't going to complain (unlike some of the other people waiting). However, the guy on reception was able to jump me ahead by phoning the person who was handling minor treatment and asking him directly whether he could see me. Effectively, the receptionist was able to triage me himself, since it was blatantly obvious what was wrong with me. So, I only had to wait about 15 minutes before I saw someone which wasn't bad at all.

When I went in, the doctor (?) cleaned the wound. I've done this several times before on SJA duty, but it's a bit different to be on the other side. When I'm doing (either for myself or someone else), I can see what's happening as I go along, and typically I find that the actual wound is much smaller than the blood-smeared area. In this case, I couldn't see anything, so I had to wait for him to tell me what was happening. He put some iodine in the wound, and warned me that it would sting a lot; I braced myself, but it turned out not to be a big deal. I was aware of it, but since the wound was already stinging it was only an incremental difference. On a pain scale of 0-10, I'd say that it went from 3-4; on a scale of 0-3, I'd say that it stayed at 1.

After that, he glued the sides of the wound together and then put steri-strips on it. So, it wasn't deep enough to need stitches, but it did need more than just a plaster, which justifies my trip to hospital. He said that I need to keep that area clean and dry for 10 days, so this delays my swimming plans. I may also stay off the bike for a while, to reduce the risk of getting caught in the rain. I don't need to go back to the hospital (I can just take the strips off myself) so presumably the glue will disappear by itself. The wound is basically along my eyebrow, so there shouldn't be any visible scar. It looks quite swollen at the moment, but I don't know how much of that is from the wound and how much from the treatment:

John's face

There's no obvious damage to the bike, but it's overdue for its initial (free) 500 mile service so I'll book it in for that. In particular, I have to pull the rear brake lever all the way back before that wheel stops, so I think that cable has stretched a bit; that's normal (hence the service) but if it stretches any more then it would be dangerous.

I wonder whether I could have done anything differently in the moments before the crash. More precisely, I wonder what I could do differently in the future if it happens again: I'd rather plan ahead at my leisure than have to improvise on the spot. The only option I can think of is to throw up one of my arms in front of my face to absorb the impact, a bit like a breakfall in judo. The snag is that I'd have to let go of the brake in order to do that, so the bike would immediately start to accelerate. Is a fast impact on the arm better than a slow impact on the face? There's probably some optimal point in between.

Anyway, this collision was my own stupid fault, so please learn from my bad example: if you're driving or cycling, remember to leave enough room between you and the vehicle in front.

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Comments:

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From:Mike Prior-Jones
Date:January 30th, 2013 07:44 am (UTC)
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Looks nasty - I hope it heals reasonably quickly! It's noticeable how much less effective ordinary bicycle brakes are in the wet - I guess you've found this out experimentally now...

My last nice bike (before it was stolen) had disc brakes, which are much more reliable in the wet. I'd certainly have them again for a bike I rode in an urban area where sudden stops are occasionally necessary.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 30th, 2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
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Interesting point - the CRU (ambulance) bikes use disk brakes, and I haven't had any trouble stopping them in the wet. Brompton used to have a section on their website justifying their decision not to use disk brakes, but it seems to have disappeared now; I think they basically said "overhyped". For my touring bike (the one I was riding yesterday), I did discuss braking options but I went with the shop's advice, but I can't remember why they recommended rim braking; possibly reliability, thinking of non-urban cycling.
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From:shuripentu
Date:January 30th, 2013 08:21 am (UTC)
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Ouch; I'm glad you seem to have come out of that reasonably alright.

Arms have the benefit of bending at the elbows, so you can absorb some of the impact that way. Faces have a lot less elasticity to them, and also noses that break relatively easily. Assuming I could get my arms up into a suitable position, I'd much rather take a faster impact through them than a slower one through my face. Alternatively, if you have enough time during the flying-through-the-air stage of the proceedings, you could turn sideways and take it on the shoulder, which has more cushioning than your head does.

Of course, hopefully none of the above will ever be relevant again. :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 30th, 2013 01:21 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - I think the main issue of using an arm would be to avoid locking it (straight out) which would send all the force through my shoulder. Turning sideways is a bit more tricky when I've got the bike between my legs; I'm not sure whether it would have been better to try turning the whole bike but I'm wary of falling on the ground when there's traffic behind me.
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From:sammoore
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:50 pm (UTC)
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Ouch, hope it heals fast.

When I had my face glued (http://sammoore.livejournal.com/38399.html), they said it was okay to shower and swim head up but don't immerse it for longer periods. I don't think the glue dissolves but the skin wrinkles and the glue peels off.

I carry a very small First Aid Kit under the seat of my bike on one of these (https://www.decathlon.co.uk/04l-blue-saddle-bag-id_8166712.html). It's all in a plastic bag and the contents are pretty basic. I think, from memory it has a few plasters, some steristrips, a 10x10 pad (folded), gloves, a large pad, a roll of micropore/electrical tape and a small pair of scissors. Presumably there is also a cas-card and a pencil, but I wouldn't swear to it :-)

They are squashed in but there is everything I might need to patch up a major injury (as long as I have some clothing to improvise) and seal with minor cuts and scrapes. It's nice to know that where my bike goes, so does my kit.

I supplement it with a handful of other stuff if I am headed off road or to remote areas.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 30th, 2013 01:23 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - I'd forgotten about your injury. From what the guy said yesterday, he seemed to be more concerned about the steri-strips than the glue inside the wound, so he gave me some spares in case the current strips do get wet and fall off.

I did ponder head-up breaststroke (particularly since I'm currently missing goggles) but I might still get splashed. Still, maybe worth a shot.
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From:shuripentu
Date:January 30th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
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Steri-strips are excellent when freshly applied to a dry wound. Given some time and/or a bit of moisture, however, they fall off. (They are borderline useless on still weeping wounds, and in a fight with a properly bleeding wound, the wound will merely glance disdainfully at the steri-strip and the steri-strip will run home crying.) So that'll probably be the main reason you've been told to keep the wound dry, and you've been given more because I will be quite surprised if they manage to stay on your head for much longer than a couple days, even with extremely careful avoidance of water.

Depending on how deep the cut was, how quickly you heal, and how much you care about scarring, you can probably become a lot more relaxed about looking after it in a few days when the flesh has had a chance to start knitting together. If you run out of steri-strips, thin strips of micropore tape make an excellent substitute (the main thing about steri-strips is that they're much harder to stretch or tear than micropore tape, but that's not as important later in the healing process). Alternatively, I can see if I can figure out where I've packed my stash. I have so many steri-strips I could run a shop.
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From:sammoore
Date:January 30th, 2013 08:58 pm (UTC)
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Steristrips are also a couple of quid from any chemist/Boots
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From:karne_k
Date:January 30th, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
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Ouch :( Glad to hear you're ok!
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 30th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - it's a nuisance, but it could have been a lot worse.
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From:susannahf
Date:January 31st, 2013 08:28 am (UTC)
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My usual instinctive reaction in a situation like this is to bail sideways onto the pavement (assuming I'm not in the middle of two lanes of traffic, which is a very rare occurrence). I've never had to do this due to brake failure, but had to a few times due to buses / lorries forgetting how long they were when passing me and pulling in too soon. Basically, I fall sideways while braking and trying to jump off my bike. It hurts, but it mostly hurts your shoulder and hips, which are big lumpy bits of bone which are hard to break, rather than your face, which is made of small thin bits of bone that are (relatively) easy to break.
You sometimes get road rash (if not wearing clothes on all exposed body parts) and bruise like hell, but I've always walked away sufficiently undamaged to get back on my bike and cycle home.
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From:johnckirk
Date:February 1st, 2013 01:09 am (UTC)
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That's an interesting tactic, thanks. Have you done that when you've been in "primary" position (i.e. in the middle of a lane)? I assume that you'd ideally want the left pedal to be at 12 o'clock, so that you can push off against it to get a bit further? I suspect that this would be a bit more tricky with SPD pedals, but it should still be feasible: I'd need to unclip, then put my toes against the pedal (to avoid reclipping when I push against it).
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From:susannahf
Date:February 1st, 2013 08:20 am (UTC)
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No, I've only ever used it when a metre or so from the kerb. Oxford traffic mostly moves fast enough that being in the centre of the lane is a good way to make the people behind you very very angry indeed, which tends to make them drive stupidly and dangerously.
I tend to worry less about where the pedals are, and more about launching myself away from the few tons of metal that are forcing me off the road. I don't use SPD pedals, but yes, I assume it would be harder to disengage from the bike. You could still do it by taking the bike with you (expect more bruises and potentially more bike damage).
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From:sammoore
Date:February 2nd, 2013 09:20 am (UTC)
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This is also a mountain biking tactic, "when you are coming off, come a long way off". If I find myself coming off I tend to try and kick the bike away from me as best I can.

The theory is if I hit the ground at 30mph I'm more likely to roll on my own then if I am tangled up with the bike.

Not sure how it would work in traffic unless, as susannahf says, you are headed for the pavement.

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