Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2021/ Sideswiped


I probably should not be writing about this so soon after the event, but I have been procrastinating on releasing entries to my website, so maybe it does not matter. Yesterday I was on a bike ride and I got sideswiped by a car.


I was on Old Beverly Road in Cambridge, which is a narrow one lane road with no paved shoulder and a dirt shoulder. I was cycling on the side of the shoulder and from time to time cars would pass. Some big black car decided it did not want to swerve to give me space (probably because there was oncoming traffic), and it did not want to slow down, so it pulled a "squeezy-squeezy" and slipped past me without warning. Unfortunately the squeezy-squeezy squeezed a little too closely, and the passenger side mirror hit me in the elbow. The car did not care ad did not stop, despite the loud thud and me pulling to the dirt shoulder in pain.

I did not look at my arm until after I got home, but it hurt. Fortunately I was still able to move my fingers, and it did not seem that my elbow was broken, but putting any pressure on the joint hurt. But what could I do? I kept cycling towards home the best I could. Cycling was not awful, but it hurt when I started pedaling because then I would need to push on my handlebars for leverage. I could put my arm in a fixed position but moving my arm was painful. Getting my backpack on or off also hurt.

When I got home I saw that my arm had been bleeding and my shirt was ripped a little. It looked as if the arm was swelling up, and I could not carry much with the arm, but I could put my arm into position to use my computer keyboard, and I could type without too much pain.

Today my arm still hurts, but it is much more functional than yesterday. I still cannot put pressure on the elbow, and my backpack is still painful to put on or remove. I do not know whether there will be lasting damage or not. My left shoulder had already been giving me pain problems, so I bet this did not help.

I have not seen a doctor and don't know that I will. I will wait a few days to see what happens first.


This experience has not been fun, but boy howdy could it have been a lot worse. My impression was that the car was travelling at "country road" speeds, but clearly it was moving more slowly, or the mirror could have easily broken my arm. If the car had been a little worse at the squeezy-squeezy it could have hit me or my bike directly and sent me flying.

It would have been a lot worse if my right elbow had been injured, especially since my left shoulder is not working right these days. As it stands I have one arm that is in pretty good shape and one arm that does not work well at all.

If the car had impacted my left knee (or leg) that could have been catastrophic, because then it would have been much harder and more painful for me to get home. I do not have a working cellphone, so I would not have been able to call for help. Maybe somebody would have stopped to help me, but I look sufficiently homeless that this was not guaranteed. I would probably have tried to get to the bus station and take a bus back to Kitchener if I could, but I was pretty far from any bus route at that point.


I feel angry that the car did not even stop to check if I was okay. Maybe they did not hear the thump of my elbow hitting their mirror? That is tough for me to believe, but who knows?

I feel angry that this car made the decision to pull a squeezy-squeezy, but as I will explain below, this is nothing unusual. The Highway Traffic Act says that you are supposed to give cyclists one metre of space, but I guess this doesn't apply if doing so would be inconvenient for the car. Usually cars pulling a squeezy-squeezy get away with it; this time the black car did too. I was the one who didn't.

Fear and Risk

This is not my first bad interaction with a car while riding my bike. Several years ago I (or my backpack, I think) was hit by a car turning left at University and Weber without noticing me or my bike lights. Maybe it was my fault because it was nighttime and I was wearing a dark sweater, but I did have my lights and I did have the right of way. The car knocked me off my bike to the middle of the road. That time the occupants of the car stopped long enough to see whether I was okay and whether I needed to go to hospital. Soon after that I resolved to wear only light-coloured clothing when cycling at night, which is why I wear two shirts and not a sweater or jacket when cycling in the winter. (I tried a high-viz vest for a while, but that did not work well with my backpack.)

I doubt this will be the last bad interaction I have with a car. But I do not feel that afraid to ride on the road. I have been cycling for well over a decade now, and I have been in two mishaps. Thousands and thousands of cars have passed me safely. Even those cars pulling a squeezy-squeezy have gotten past me okay. I tend to be much more frightened of cars turning into me at intersections than I am of getting clipped, which is one reason I have been critical of a lot of bike infrastructure.

Even though my arm still hurts, I went out on a short bike ride today to confirm that I am not yet afraid of riding in traffic. It was fine, even going down Highland Road which doesn't even have a painted bike lane. A bunch of cars passed me and I did not feel unsafe.

Cycling is a high-variance form of transportation. It is pretty much always better exercise than taking public transit or riding a car, which is important for a fat sedentary slob like me. Almost all interactions with motor vehicles are peaceful and "safe enough". Almost all cars know how to drive safely around cyclists. Unfortunately, "almost all" means there will be rare occasions when there are conflicts, and such conflicts tend to end up badly for the cyclist. Since I cycle as my main form of transportation, there is a reasonable chance that one of those rare events will end my life or severely injure me. That is a risk that you take by choosing to cycle. Driving is probably safer for the driver, but it is not order of magnitudes safer. How many drivers (or car passengers) do you know who have been involved in serious accidents that resulted in lasting injury? Even if driving was strictly safer then the downsides (cost, stress, lack of exercise) make it is a bad tradeoff for me.

Road Infrastructure

Now that I have had a second mishap, do I now advocate for separated bike infrastructure, for 40km/h speed limits everywhere, for cyclist-only bridges in the sky? No. Maybe I am naive, but I do not feel this experience refutes my positions on safe(r) bicycling:

In this case I was not in a safe cycling situation. The road lanes were too narrow to accomodate both a bike and a car. There was no paved shoulder which would have let me ride off to the side safely, and the dirt shoulder was slippery for my thin tires. Because there was only one lane of traffic the cars needed to cross the yellow median to pass me safely, and since there was oncoming traffic, the black car was not willing to give me that space, and was also not willing to wait until it was safe to pass. So the car pulled a squeezy-squeezy. This happens all the time when I ride on narrow roads, so I try to avoid them. I failed to do so here.

What am I supposed to expect? Should I not cycle unless there is a separated bike lane? Should I stop riding in rural areas? Maybe, but that does not sit well with me. In fact, rural drivers tend to be more conscientious about giving me space than urban ones -- for no good reason, they will tend to swing all the way into the oncoming lane. That actually scares me, because one day a car is going to swing out too far to give me space, and will hit an oncoming car. (Come to think of it, there was another situation earlier in the ride when a car who was swinging to avoid me got honked at because there was oncoming traffic.)

About the only thing that really scares me on rural rides is when one car tries to overtake another by crossing the median and driving really really fast. I have been terrified by an oncoming car rushing to me right in my lane on more than one occasion. But other than this I feel that riding on country roads is safe most of the time, especially since country roads around here tend to be straight and parallel -- if one road is very busy, I can usually find another (paved!) road going in the same direction a kilometre or two away.

If I had one criticism of the biking infrastructure in this case it would be that the shoulders were not paved at all. Leaving half a metre of pavement to each side of the white line helps so much (and a metre helps even more, obviously). I did not have that in this case; if I had then I probably would not have been sideswiped. Unfortunately, even modern paving operations are not leaving sensible shoulders on country roads; the pavement between Shakespeare and Stratford on Highway 7/8 was recently repaved, and they left barely any shoulder at all, even though there was plenty of space to do so.

I do not feel that establishing safe, simple bike infrastructure is that much more expensive than what we are currently paying for roads. Unfortunately I am in the minority position on this, and the bike zealots are vocal, which is why we can expect much more dysfunctional, unsafe bike infrastructure going forward.