In September 2010 I picked up a 1983 Cannondale, my first touring bike. With the cooling weather (north American Fall) and working long hours I was not able to take it out on any long rides (and thus, nothing noteworthy to post—I may in the future reflect on my experiences all-weather commuting through the Canadian winter). As the weather warmed in 2011, I was finally able to take this bike out on a few rides, and to prepare for a longer trip. As part preparation, I rode from St Catharines to the MEC at Burlington and back. Riding along the Waterfront Trail becomes very enjoyable from around Stoney Creek (heading north-west), as you move from back streets, on the multi-use trail running along the edge of Lake Ontario all the way to the Burlington downtown. With temperatures exceeding 30ºC, many people were enjoying the lakefront, and the ride was a good test requiring a lot of fluids. The ~140km round trip was my longest ride on the ‘dale. Unfortunately, it was one I would not surpass.
With the trip pending, planned to retrace and diverge from my route to Farm Sanctuary in 2006(riding my XC MTB and using my Yakima Big Tow trailer), I purchased a set of GT-54 rear panniers and a Big Bar Bag. I had long wanted a full touring set of Arkel panniers, with the GT-54’s and handlebar bag adding to my existing Arkel gear: a TailRider Trunk Bag, Seat Bag, Briefcase and a single GT-18 (I plan to get a second, and a Arkel Randonneur Rack for the Tail rider and my MTB). I already had a Old Man Mountain Red Rock rear rack and added an AC LowRider for the front.
I headed out on the trip on August 4, stopping for a quick look at the Falls before the border crossing. I was pleased to find a very low number of vehicles, anticipating a short wait to get my visitor visa. After more than an hour wait, with some confusion amongst staff given I did not have a vehicle registration, I set out for what would be the last few minutes on my ‘dale.
After leaving the customs area I proceeded up Niagara St and turned right into Rainbow Boulevard. Aside from a people mover around 100 meters ahead, there was no other traffic on the road. Almost before I was aware of it, the people mover was somehow right in front of me. I initially thought that I must have not paid attention, somehow unable to fathom the disconnect between a car being 100 metres ahead moments before. One of the witnesses told me, soon after, that the van had reversed back up the road, clearly not seeing me behind them.
I went over the bars and face planted into the rear window of the van, with my helmet taking some of the impact. The left side of my face and jaw felt (most of) the rest. I remember a loud crack and before I knew it I was surrounded by people. I was upright with both feet still clicked in to my Shimano PD-A530 pedals. What kept me from toppling over was my front wheel jammed under the rear of the van. Very surprisingly, it was still straight and the tyre fully inflated.
The first voice I heard asked ‘do you want me to call the police’. My initial reaction was ‘I am OK, why call the police?’. This turned out to be an error on my part for a number of reasons. Despite the pain I felt in my face and the blood coming from my mouth, I did not consider myself to be hurt. I thought my bike had survived (relatively) unscathed—I could not see any damage in that (obscured) moment.
The occupants of the car emerged and apologised, seeing if I was OK, and stating they had not seen me. With the shock of it all, before I was aware, they had left without me obtaining their details. I rationalised (as much as I could) hat this would be OK as I had purchased travel insurance, and the police should be able to track them down from the cameras at the border crossing (I noted Ontario plates as they drove off).
In the haze as I pulled my bike out from under the back of the van, with a dozen or more people probing me with questions, I noted a large crack almost fight through the top tube and compression buckling in the down tube. There was no coming back from this for my trusty, and until that time in excellent, almost original, condition, 1983 Cannondale.
After some time sprawled out on the side of the road, a level of clarity returned. As I dragged my bike to a nearby small park my front tyre blew. I made a call to a friend and arranged to be picked up back on the Canadian side of the Falls for a trip to the emergency clinic. If my off-the-cuff comment about the police had not been made, I would have been in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.
My decision, if it can be called that, not to have the police called had a number of implications. In later reading the fine print on my travel insurance, I became aware that it covered medical only. I had questioned why it seemed so cheap: I could not have my bike replaced this way. I did visit the local police the following day to see if they could assist in tracing down the driver, and was directed to call Niagara Falls Police. I did make the call and was pushed onto someone else and told to call back the following week.
Another direct implication emerged when visiting an emergency clinic in St Catharines. Thankfully, there was a short wait time. Unfortunately, the doctor did not seem too interested in my injuries. My jaw was very sore, with a hole through-below my bottom lip, I had a constant headache and my left shoulder — which hit the rear of the van after my face — was a bit stiff. After a number of x-rays, I was effectively sent home. There was only brief mention of my concussion.
I spent the next week lying on a couch, a headache for 2 weeks, and for the next 3 or so weeks I spoke little given the wound to the inside of my mouth (it was painful to speak, with laughing hurting so much more). The impacts of my concussion were soon obvious. I was having trouble forming sentences and thinking of appropriate words. In the wake of this and the run-around I had been given by the police, I gave up on them following up on the incident. I still have scare tissue inside my lip (more than 3 months later) which continues to produce discomfort.
What I have learnt is not to trust my judgment following an accident. The police should have been called.
As I save for another touring bike I am still deciding on what will work best for me. I am strongly leaning towards a Surly Long Haul Trucker — and trying to decide on the standard or S&S coupled frame. I have also considered internally geared hubs (Rolhoff) and possibly the Gates Belt Drive system.
I have looked into some riding in Oz for when I return, including a 7-day ride I was looking into in early 2010. My first ride will be in Dharawal State Conservation Area, slated to become a National park. I would like to get out there another time before the changes happen. On all my trips into the area over the last 10 or so years, I have probably bumped into people once or twice and would like to get out there again without the noise of others disturbing the tranquility or other animals...