Lately, I've been feeling too spooked to ride my bike. Chalk it up to too many near misses, some of which occurred when I was just walking my bike home in the rain. I often think of the shoulder injury my friend has yet to fully recover from or be compensated for (damn those uninsured motorists who skip town) after being doored two years ago. It doesn't help matters that I spent the weekend at an East Bay music festival held annually in memory of Matthew Sperry, a bassist, composer, husband, and dad, whose very special life ended while he was cycling to work at LeapFrog in Emeryville on June 5, 2003. And let's not forget Sarah Tucker (hit and run accident, 1/12/06) and Spider Davila (deliberate hit and run, 12/17/05).
Looks like I'm not alone in my fretting. According to a "report card" issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 13 percent of us are reluctant to pedal around town because we're too scared. Overall, our city got a C-minus in bike friendliness from the 1,151 respondents who filled out the SFBC's online and hand-distributed survey, mostly owing to scary motorists, bumpy streets, and not enough bike lanes (all issues the bicycle coalition works very hard on to make for a better biking city).
Even though I'm afraid of eating pavement while riding, I don't wear a helmet. I used to, but those things never look good with my outfit. Besides, if two tons of car slams into me while I'm rolling down Gough, a little piece of plastic and foam wrapped around my Gulliver won't save my life. Some of you fixies reading this article might be nodding in agreement. Well, that's because your heads are still attached to your bodies.
Fixed-gear bikes do look beautiful, unfettered as they are by brakes, cheap plastic reflectors, and clunky beam lights, but I'm here to say that you don't always have to sacrifice aesthetics in favor of living to a ripe old age.
Here's a handful of ways for you, whether you're a fixie, a chopper rider, a hybrid commuter, a BMX daredevil, or just really vain (like me), to avoid wearing a neck brace as a fashion accessory. Trust me, you and your bike will still look cool.
1. Get a light How many times has a passing motorist screamed that at you? You bitch about it, because every time you buy one, someone steals it, so finally you got one that slides on and off. But it was too big to fit in your pocket, and then some moron decided to strip the light's pedestal still screwed to your handlebars. I solved this problem by getting a Topeak front beam light ($20). It's small enough to fit in your mouth, and it straps on kind of like a wristwatch. No screwdriver necessary, no tacky plastic pedestal marring the sleek looks of your untaped handlebars. I got mine at San Francisco Cyclery on Stanyan across from Golden Gate Park.
2. Don't be a sucker Jerks are also always stealing back lights and reflectors off bikes. Valencia Cyclery sells lots of "lollipop" lights, which are made by Cat Eye and attach with elastic cords — to your backpack, seat, helmet, belt loop. They cost $13 for a red and $17 for a more-expensive-to-make white LED light.