Monday, October 17, 2011

A "stupid me!" crash with the bakfiets

Last Saturday, I had a little crash with the bakfiets. No one was hurt (just a slightly skinned knee for me). The reason I crashed had to do with a screaming infant, the dark, bollards and a junky bike (not the bakfiets, but a different one)... but let me begin from the beginning.

About a year ago, I decided we had to have some sort of schedule for household chores and general pick-up. As part of that, Jeremy and I decided that every evening we would pick up toys, clothes, etc. for a set amount of time (at first it was 30 min., then later on 20 min.) and that if everything was reasonably well picked-up in that amount of time, we'd get a "Great America point". A "Great America point" was equal to one dollar toward the purchase of season passes for our family to California's Great America amusement park. The kids had been asking to go to Great America for a long time, the request seemed reasonable, but we also wanted to make it something special and hard-earned. So, we kept on chugging away at the "nightly clean-up" and began adding up points. After a while, the clean-up became somewhat routine and we didn't keep track of points as carefully, but by this fall it was clear we definitely had enough for the passes. We picked a day-- last Saturday-- for our visit to Great America and made the decision to bike the 8 or so miles there.

After Saturday morning chores (mopping, vacuuming, etc. that we also instituted about a year ago), Saturday morning donuts (the established reward for completing Saturday morning chores), and Joshua's gymnastics class, we headed to the park-- the girls on their own bikes; Jeremy, Joshua and Joseph on the triple pulling an empty trailer (for Jonah and/or Joseph if/when they wanted to sleep); and me, Jonah, and Nathaniel in the bakfiets. The ride there was quick (less than an hour I think?) and uneventful. It was mostly a slight downhill and there is a great bike-path that brings you right to the backside of Great America's parking lot. We rode past all the parked cars and right up to the entrance. We picnicked at some nicely shaded tables by the entrance and found a fence to lock our bikes on (no bike racks; we even asked). Here is our bike menagerie:
The left half of the bike line-up...
And the right half.
Jeremy got locking-up-the-bikes duty. Usually we just use a few cheap cable locks or the simple wheel-locks that some of our bikes have, but we figured theft might be more of a concern at the amusement park, so we brought along all the locks in our garage-- 3 U-locks and 4 (I think) cable locks. It took Jeremy a good few minutes to get everything to his liking.

After the big bike-lock-up, we got the photos for our season passes and entered the park. Here's two very happy girls right after entering:

We actually had a bit of a rough time in the park, however. The kids all wanted to go different ways and ride different things, and most rides had minimum or maximum height requirements that meant only some of the kids could ride. At one point-- a little frustrated-- we let the "big" 8 year-old and 10 year-old go off by themselves for a little bit because they were desperate to go on a few rides without waiting around for the littles. I was relieved when we shelled out way too much money for some funnel cake and then, around 5 p.m., left the park. (We decided that all return visits would involve just one or two kids.)

The return bike-ride took forever. We were tired, it was a little uphill and Nathaniel was fussing. The girls and I got ahead of Jeremy since he was pulling an almost-instantly-asleep Jonah and the two big boys weren't pedaling much. I was focused on trying to figure out what fussing Nathaniel needed. We stopped at some benches in front of a high school and I pulled out Nathaniel to try to nurse and calm him. Jeremy never caught up. He'd assumed we'd gone a different way. After a few cell-phone calls back and forth, and another stop to try to calm Nathaniel we met up at a park. It was almost dark by then, but a little time at the park gave everyone-- including Nathaniel-- the refresher we needed. We headed off in the dark-- all lit up with our collection of dynamos and blinkies.

The evening before, I'd been looking through Freecycle posts and noticed one for a 24" mountain bike. I didn't think anything of it. (Don't we have enough bikes and why would we want another junk one anyway?). Jeremy saw the post, however, liked it (he seems to be enjoying honing his fix-it-up skills) and sent an email off right away. We "got" the bike and agreed to pick up Saturday evening. The pick-up place was just a block off our route home from Great America, so we figured we'd head by there. We hadn't quite figured out if/how we would get the bike at that moment, but went anyway. The bike was in semi-rideable condition, but we had no one to ride it, so I strapped it to the back of the bakfiets. I rode very carefully the first few blocks and then, seeing the strapping job was fine, just headed happily along. The weight was no big deal. I just had to remember I had a really wide load. But I kind of stopped thinking about that when Nathaniel woke up from his nap and started screaming again. I stopped at a park to feed and calm him and Jeremy went ahead with the big boys to start cooking dinner. The girls wanted to stay with me. I thought that was sweet. We actually had some nice time to chat. Gabriella was super-excited about the roller coaster she'd gone on (a first for her) and Daniella had interesting things to say about the birds she'd seen in the creek that paralleled the bike trail. I honestly hadn't noticed the birds at all, but she gave some detailed descriptions-- including a little demonstration with her arms about how the "white birds" (herons, maybe?) flapped their wings slowly. After a bathroom break for the girls, we started off again... and Nathaniel began screaming again. We pushed on again and then stopped at the park close to home. I couldn't stand hearing poor Nathaniel crying again. After a little calming time, I put Nathaniel back in the bike and we headed through the park toward home with Nathaniel immediately beginning to scream again. I was focused on Nathaniel, rushing just a little bit to get home, and not thinking when we came to the row of bollards (several short poles spaced a few feet apart) on the edge of the park that are meant to keep cars out. I've become pretty comfortable maneuvering the bakfiets, so just picked two poles and aimed between them, and then-- bam!-- the bike stopped, fell to the right, and dumped me off. I realized then that-- oh,yeah-- there was that junky bike strapped to my rack; it had gotten caught on the poles. After the moment of surprise at the fall hit me, I focused immediately on Nathaniel. He was totally fine. He was crying in just the same tone as he had been before the crash (the hold-me-nurse-me-I'm-grumpy fuss). I tried to lift the bike upright, couldn't do it then, so removed the car seat (still well-secured to its base, which was still well-secured to the bakfiets), set the carseat on the ground and removed fussing Nathaniel. He stopped crying when I bounced him a bit and I handed him to Gabriella and then tried to get the bike in order. It was really dark and even with Daniella's blinkie focused on the little crash-site I had a bit of a time untangling the bike from the bungees and poles and strapping it back on the bakfiets. A guy walking his dog stopped to ask if we were fine. I'm not sure if he saw the crash or just a bunch of bikes and people stopped in a strange place, but either way I felt quite stupid and embarrassed, told him politely that we were okay, and he went on his way. I got the bike strapped on and baby back into his carseat, rode back home, scooped dear Nathaniel into my arms, and went into the house for an 8 pm dinner, getting the kids to bed, etc. Some time later, Jeremy and I went  into the garage to fully assess any damage to the bakfiets. I wrecked up the rack just a little bit and knocked loose the leads to the rear light:

I will try to bend the metal back to shape, though it might require more strength than I have. The junk-bike that caused all the trouble ended up with a broken water bottle cage:

Of course, I don't wish we crashed, but there's a few things I'm glad I learned from the experience. I learned-- even before the crash-- that evening biking with Nathaniel right now just isn't a good idea. He's fussy at home at that time and, apparently, being out just doesn't change that pattern (he was fussy on Friday evening too on the shorter ride home from church). More importantly, I learned that our carseat-in-the-bike set-up seems to keep Nathaniel safe in relatively low-speed (i.e. the speed I always travel) crashes. When we originally set up the carseat, I did intentionally shake the bike up a bit, tip it sideways, etc. to try to figure out what might happen if it fell. I also knew from past experience that when an infant is securely buckled into an infant carseat and you (I mean, your toddler) turn(s) that carseat completely upside down, the baby isn't harmed. This is why I felt comfortable toting around such a precious little being in the bike the way we do. My biggest concern was actually the road vibrations, which we damped with a chunk of old crib mattress under the carseat base and which, as Nathaniel gets bigger, is becoming less of a concern. One thing I do wonder about is what would have happened to Jonah if he was sitting on the bench (he was with Jeremy in the trailer). None of the sweaters/kid books/snack wrappers, etc. in the box fell out when it tipped. Would Jonah have just stayed in too? Would the seemingly useless and annoying three-point harness (a post for another day) have helped? Would it have mattered whether Jonah was wearing a helmet or not? (He always does.) What if he was laying down on the bench to sleep like he sometimes does?

The little crash also made me reflect on bike crashes in general. When talking to people about biking, the concerns about safety always seem to be about traffic-- the ultimate concern being injured or killed by a car. Yet despite riding almost daily in traffic, all of the bike falls Jeremy and I have had did not involve cars (moving ones, at least). Jeremy has run into a parked car (looking at his messed-up kickstand instead of the road), slipped on loose gravel (while trying to set up a hands-free device on his cell-phone so he could listen to a conference call while commuting), and slipped on mud. He's also caught the bike trailer on a curb and tipped the towing bike. I've slipped on ice and wet leaves. None of these falls resulted in more than a few scrapes and bruises. Jeremy and Gabriella, if I remember correctly, were slightly tapped by a car on the trail-a-bike set-up a few years ago, but never even came close to falling. Thinking hard, I know of no one personally who has been hit by a car while biking (though I believe my sister was "doored"). Do most bike accidents not involve cars and do most bike accidents involve just minor injury? I definitely hear and read about tragic fatal bike/car crashes. How common are they, and when they happen are the often fatal? A little googling brings up some studies, but I think I'll leave analysis (it seems difficult) for some other time. If anyone (of my near-zero readers!) knows of a great summary of biking risks/types of accidents, I'd love the link!

And that's all for this post... I'm off to living my life of being "mommy".

1 comment:

  1. Like you, I don't have good stats, but I know in our own experience, all crashes have been minor, and have not involved cars.

    I think most also involve some sort of lapse in judgement (forgetting about the junky bike, or in my case, thinking I could walk away from our Xtracycle up on it's double kickstand for "just a second" with the kids loaded). Lapses in judgement are inevitable, so I think you're right to think through what would happen to a kid on the bench, and to make sure you are riding at times you are more or less confident in your control of the bike (e.g. adjusting so as not to take the baby out in a fussy time when he'll distract you). I do think these scares are good for reducing lapses in judgment though. We've certainly been more conscientious since our fall.

    So glad to have you in the family bike blogging circuit!