Almost Hit

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I was almost hit by a car yesterday while training. It was the closest I can remember in recent history. Maybe all history. It was so strange, because I’d received a call by a reporter from the Lawrence Journal World and been thinking about Cal Melick being struck and killed during the whole ride and then, right towards the end, I have a close call.

I was riding north on a road called Burlingame. I was on the top of a hill, just a little south of 61st street. The road has a dogleg in it there. So, I was approaching a left dogleg going around 20 or so. At the dogleg, there is a side road going off to the east. I was just getting to the left, when I spot a car coming from the north, pretty fast. Then, to my surprise, the guy just crosses the centerline and starts heading for the offshoot road. He sees me, just as I make eye contact. I realize I’m going to get hit, so my reaction is to swerve to the left, over into his lane. But, he does the same, while hitting the brakes and skidding. So I’m head-on again with him, but in his lane. About 10 meters from his grill I swerve to the right, trying to get back over to the other side of the road and I clear the front end of the truck, but he’s braking so hard that his rear end is swinging around and his rear bumper misses my left leg by about 6 inches. Obviously, I was pretty frightened.

I just looked back and he was stopped in the middle of the road. I decided not to go back, but now wish I would have. He and I both know how close we came.

I had been thinking about car/cyclists accidents and realizing that I know more and more people that are getting hit by cars. I guess the older I get, longer I live, it’s just logical that it is case.

I’ve been hit a couple times by cars. Nothing serious. Once in Santa Cruz, CA, I was hit and was knocked unconscious. I tore a pretty big hole in my ear, but other than that, it wasn’t bad. I’ve been fortunate.

But, getting riled about the whole thing isn’t going to solve the issue. Riding is more dangerous now than it was when I first started riding. The main reason for that is that there are just a lot more cars around. More people, more cars. Then 2nd reason, in my opinion, is cell phones. Nearly all drivers are somewhat distracted because of their phone. As a society, we haven’t figured out a way to address that yet, so that is just how it is, for now.

Even with the problem being acknowledged, I’m not one to blame anyone. There are such things as accidents. I hope in my friend Cal’s situation, it was just that, an accident. Someone doesn’t always have to be at fault. Things sometimes just happen and tragedies occur. It is just part of life.

If I would have been hit yesterday, I know the guy would have felt horrible. I could see it in his eyes as he was doing everything he could to avoid hitting me. And if he did hit me, it would have just been an accident, he just didn’t see me. He wasn’t on his phone and didn’t seem distracted, he just did not see me.

I have no desire to die right now, but these things are all assumed “risks” of living. I can’t be worrying about whether I’m going to get hit by a car every minute I’m riding a bike. I’ve that is the case, I couldn’t really ride, at least enjoy it at all. That would be so stressful. And one of the beauties of the sport is the stress relief it provides.

I try to not worry about things I don’t have control over. I do have control over how I ride a bike, most of the time. I don’t have control over how everyone around me drives a car. I understand that and accept it.

Let all try to not get too worked up about accidents. I’m sure Cal would hate it if he knew his death was going to make bike riding less enjoyable, even to one other person. He loved it so much, it would be a tragedy for that to be the outcome.

Stay safe.

Cal, far left, with Brian Koeningsdorf, Dee and Gene Wee.  It was Cal's VW bus.

Cal, far left, with Brian Koeningsdorf, Dee and Gene Wee. It was Cal’s VW bus.

55 thoughts on “Almost Hit

  1. Tom

    Steve, do you think a front blinking light could have helped in this situation? I usually use one if I am riding alone. Glad to read the car missed you. Take care.

  2. Mark Florence


    I appreciate your mature approach to it. Yes there are such things as accidents. I get a little frustrated with some of the “all caps” “pleadings out there, START SEEING blah, blah. The truth is, while driving a vehicle, bikes, motorcycles, etc, just because of their inherent small size and profile, can be very hard to see. It is a chance we all take in the world.

    I still would like to have you on the Podcast sometime if you would be interested.


  3. Steve Tilford Post author

    I don’t know, maybe. But like I said in the post, I’m just going to do my best to try to ride safely. I’m not going to cover myself with blinking lights and a reflective vest everytime I go out.

  4. timm

    ‘I didn’t see you’ is not an excuse. Drivers are obligated by law to see you. The truth is the driver didn’t look. And was probably going too fast. A-pillar, sun, rain, whatever, are not excuses. Do what needs to be done to see vulnerable road users. Or don’t drive.

  5. Bryan

    Close calls with cars is a riding hazard for sure. I’ve had two incidents that damaged my bike. In both cases, the drivers made a sudden, unsignaled (OK, that isn’t a word) left turn directly in front of me while I was crusing along at around 20mph. The first time cost me a fork, front tire, helmet, seat, and a visit to the dentist. His insurance company refused to pay a dime. The second time cost me a front tire, but the guy paid out of pocket so his insurance company would not be involved. I also had somebody pull over onto the shoulder right in front of me, hit their brakes and make a sudden right turn – AFTER I bounced off the SUV rear window face first. That little incident is why my frame has a little “crumple” in the down and top tubes. By the time I came to my senses they were long gone so I couldn’t even get a plate number – but they had a perfect imprint of my face on their back window.

  6. Vincent

    I think the solution to distracted driving is coming sooner than we all realize in the form of self driving cars.

  7. donkybhoy

    Steve glad he missed you.

    If i were you I would consider front and rear bullet cameras due to the amount of road miles you ride.

  8. Brent W

    Totally agree Timm. Not seeing a cyclist due to rain, A-pillar, or sunshine are good reasons why an incident occurs, but not a good excuse.

    I was just left-turn hit, and the reason she didn’t see me was because of sunshine glare. Great reason, but if she couldn’t see, why did she not stop or slow down to get a better look? Poor excuse.

    There are no accidents. Only good reasons and poor excuses for not being careful.

  9. Tom

    Many years ago when started road riding I asked a friend who had been riding for many year what advice he had for me – “be seen” was his response.

    “Never saw the guy” is the common refrain of the survivor in the vehicle who just killed the biker.

    A blinking light front and rear and a bright jersey will help you be seen – It’s function before fashion – it’s life vs death. End of story.

  10. OGS

    I agree and was going to post something similar until I saw your remark.
    Being hit by meteorite while riding is “just an accident”. Everything else is probably preventable – and saying “accidents just happen sometimes” is a cop-out. No, accidents don’t happen by themselves, if both driver and cyclist do their jobs and pay attention and follow the rules of the road all the time 100% of the time, the accident/death rate should be zero – why not? In many countries like Netherlands where everyone bikes all the time the accident rate is a small fraction of US – and death rates rapidly approaching zero.

    Too many drivers drive too fast, distracted, not looking, not checking mirrors, not signaling, underestimating their own speed and the bicycle speed. Generally just not paying enough attention and not taking their driving seriously. Sometimes cyclists are at fault too, but I would say 90-95% of accidents and close calls is entirely due to driver’s errors. “Sun glare”, “I just didn’t see him”, “he came out of nowhere” are excuses for what should be “I am just a negligent, incompetent driver who wasn’t paying attention”.
    I am guilty of being sometimes distracted while at the wheel of the car too, but I work hard to be more attentive and not drive recklessly, and take my driving more seriously. But I still present much more danger to myself and people around me when I drive, than when I am on the bike, even if I “roll” through stops (when there is no cars around), or bomb down 40mph+ descents. But most drivers would never understand this. They see a rider with no helmet on or someone rolling through the stop sign at like 5 mph and they think to themselves: “What a arrogant jerk, he will get killed and he deserves it too!”. Then they go back to checking text messages while driving at 60mph, making sudden turns without signaling and passing cyclists with less than 1 foot to spare and they don’t even think twice that what they are doing is so much more dangerous to others – and themselves.

  11. Francisco Mancebo

    in addition to the cell phone and the increased number of drivers – there is more going on in the drivers seat. All the accessory controls and obscured vision in the name of safety. Someone gets too warm and they can run you down while screwing around with the AC.

    Aging drivers are a problem too. Tons of them where I live and the mentality is way different than with younger drivers, they expect you to politely get out of their way if they are making a left turn or put the squeeze on you at a stop sign. Different times

    I think I’m going to ATB all weekend

  12. Steve Tilford Post author

    Guys-Sure real accidents occur all the time. We, as Americans, tend to always assign fault to each and every incident. There are tons of examples.

    Staying on topic, let’s use an accident cased by a flat. A small sliver of metal gets embedded in your front tire, so you have a slow leak. You’re riding along, thinking everything is fine, turn a corner and your tire folds over and you fall and slide underneath a car. Who’s to blame there? It’s just bad luck, an accident.

    There are millions of examples of things like this that could happen everyday.

    We need to quit assigning so much blame all the time.

  13. Doubting Thomas

    I read once that flashing lights attract drivers- they see you but can’t figure out what you are and end up hitting you, especially drunks…

  14. VCScribe

    I was thinking while reading your comment, “Did you lawyer up?” but as I continued I realized you hadn’t. Why the hell not? Protect yourself, sue the negligent drivers (and their stonewalling insurance companies). Follow through!

  15. James

    Pretty old school there Steve. As you say, things have changed. More cars, more distractions & I’ll add more aggression towards anything on the road that is perceived as slowing down the driver’s A to B.

    So with all that has changed, a modern hi vis/hi powered LED light is too much?

    Strap one of these quick disconnect 50 watt & up devices on & your visibility goes from 1/8 mile to 1/2 & up. I think that puts me at better odds with the text & look up cycle. Or if I am popping over hills the driver gets a shot to say “what is that three hills” out instead of coming over the last one & on me.

    Anecdotal you say? Not. Ride w a mirror & watch what happens without light vs with one on same road/same traffic conditions.

    A mirror? Oh my yes on long solo days you betcha. Get one that works & watch the crap that goes on behind you. You just don’t know how many close calls you have. And the ridiculous arguments that one wont make any difference.

    More vis x more info might just keep you out there riding as well as alive. You’ll just have to get used to not being ‘cool’ with your blinky lights.

  16. John

    Just got back from San Diego where I grew up. I couldn’t believe all the huge bike lanes on every kind of street. It was a huge change.

    Bicycling mag just ran some stats on deaths/10000 bike commuters (?accuracy), but the results weren’t surprising. The safest states seem to be the ones with a strong cycling culture. While I think things have improved a little, Kansas and Missouri have a long way to go.

    Maybe it will take $5/gallon gas prices before we get serious in the Midwest about good cycling infrastructure. Those beautiful country roads will never have bike lanes though, and cyclists will continue to get hit as long as distracted driving occurs. Some of the new auto tech is cool as far as detecting drifting, pedestrians and cyclists, but stupid people can’t be fixed. Maybe Vincent’s post about self-driving cars is the only real solution.

    Nice post Steve. My condolences to Cal’s friends and family.

  17. orphan

    Mortality smacked me in the face when my 6 month old son died from SIDS. I struggled big time with riding on the road after it happened. I was constantly concerned I was going to get hit from behind. I think it was the fact that I had to except that some things we can’t control. I’ve over come it for the most part but still feel like I’m more sensitive of my surroundings then most people I know. From my perspective people in general, riders and drivers could do a much better job of not being reckless and be aware. We would have a lot fewer “accidents” on the road. Of course I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone but I know I’ve changed and am constantly aware of my surroundings while living life to it’s fullest. You could put lights all over your bike and do all sorts of steps to try and protect yourself but I totally agree with you but where does it stop. Just be aware and enjoy life and hope others will do the same. Great post Steve. I hope your friends family can find peace with his passing.

  18. Bob

    After forty years of riding I would agree “accidents are just accidents”, but I would say most of my close calls have been when the driver makes that fast right turn in front of you. They squeeze or pinch you off the road if you can stop or bail out. I just don’t think they can calculate the distance, speed, bikes can travel. Unless of course they’re just assholes who want to screw with someone.

  19. mark

    Steve- Glad tragedy missed you by 6 inches and you are able to continue your recovery. Please consider lights since next time my not be so fortunate. Perhaps this was your guardian angel’s way of telling you to change some old habits. I had a few similar experience’s and have started using lights front and back. That was a year ago and have not had a problem. Worth the peace of mind.

  20. James

    Not mine, but makes the point perfectly. Difficult lighting. Hill. Narrow road.

    So youv’e got three 16 yr olds in a car, thumbs going crazy and Jill sticks her phone in Jackie’s face and screams look what Johnny said about you! Oh Jackie is driving. With the light Heather says “wtf is that? Oh just another gay biker…”

    Jackie looks up & swerves over. You live. Or you can worry about being “covered” w lights…

  21. vtguy

    Glad you weren’t hurt. The last few years, I spend much more time on gravel roads and trails. Even in my under-populated corner of the world, there are way too many distracted drivers.

  22. Bob

    Timm, unfortunately accidents are sometimes just that. Accidents. Drivers are obligated to follow the laws. There are no laws that obligate a driver to see anything. You don’t know that the driver didn’t look because you were not in the driver’s car. Sometimes there are viable excuses for accidents. Sometimes there are viable reasons for accidents. Sometimes preventable and sometimes not. Sorry, but that’s life. As a cyclist, it’s your responsibilty to be safe just as it’s a driver’s responsibility. We share the road.

    Of course there are lots of irresponsible and bad drivers. We see them every single day. It’s your responsibility as a road user to understand that fact and to take appropriate actions. Don’t expect drivers to do the right thing. You will be disappointed and possibly hurt. A cyclist is always going to be on the losing end of a car/bike incident. You need to ride safely and hope that drivers do the same. If you want to ride your bike on the road, there are no other options.

    Ride defensively. Ride as if your life depends on it. Because it does.

  23. Mike

    First, I’ve been hit by a car that did see me, just didn’t understand how fast I was going, was bad enough to require 3 separate surgeries. As she was turning into the highway patrol parking lot (!!), yes she was ticketed and yes I collected some insurance $ to cover my medical bills.

    That said…

    As a cyclist, it’s a fact that I am choosing to engage in a high-risk behavior by riding on open roads with moving cars. Like any high-risk behavior, I have to accept the responsibility for the consequences of my choice, not blame other people excessively.

  24. channel_zero

    I’d be very interested to hear opinions regarding average speeds on roads. They have gone down in my area, only because of congestion.

    I’m just one place though.

  25. steve

    i agree with you steve. i don’t worry about getting hit. it would take away from the joy and relief i get from riding and i mainly road ride around plano, richardson, allen, mckinney down here in texas and there are a shit ton of cars and distracted drivers. i believe that what is meant to be in life is going to be.

  26. John

    Not sure what he’s using in the photo. But I’ve been using the Serfas USL-TL60 this year. Super-bright. I do most of my riding before or after work, in the suburbs of Boston; as fall rolls around I always feel like the frequency of near-misses increases. It feels totally dorky using it during daytime, but my perception is that cars leave me a bit more room – some sort of cognitive difference for the driver, if you’re as bright as a car they leave you as much space as they would a car? I run it in the normal, non-flashing mode, which runs the battery down more quickly but I think it’s a bit less confusing/annoying to people.

    I had a bus driver pull up to me at a traffic light one time just to tell me that he found it to be really helpful. So that’s something, I guess.

  27. timm

    Bob I ride over 4000 miles a year, just to work. rain or shine. day or night. I use lights, because they work. I never said anything about accidents. But I will. If I cause a crash, I’ll own it. I know when someone sees me, because their head turns in my direction. If the head doesn’t turn, they didn’t see me. Happens all the time. You are obligated by law to operate the vehicle safety. Your are obligated by law to look.

  28. Mark Florence

    Thanks. I will have to get me one. Funny thing about lights and being visible, my perception is that whenever I use a light or wear bright clothing traffic seems to get closer. This may be in my head though. My thought is they can see me better, so feel they can pass closer as they can see more precisely where I am. I told this to someone who studies it once and he said that actually studies prove the opposite.

  29. Dan Fox

    Most of my miles are done commuting these days and I use very bright LED/USB flashers front and back. They help — people rolling in from a cross street stop more often. I think it is a subconscious thing, their brain picks up the light and tells them there is something coming (had they known it was a bike, assuming they saw me in the first place, they probably would have kept rolling).

    Sometimes I’ll have people going the other flashing their lights at me because they are annoyed that mine is so bright. All I can think is “yeah, so you see me!”

  30. Adam

    Cars are part of the reason people are so fat in this country. The fact that cars are so easy to drive along with smartphones just makes it that much easier for these sloths to be on the roads. They hate cyclists because they’re ignorant and can’t ride 5 miles much less 50 or 100. Car makers and insurance companies have have everything to lose and nothing to gain by Americans getting a clue and changing their behavior. This is not a progressive society and it’s only a matter of time before this country goes the way of the dinosaur. Bicycles are the solution, not the problem!

  31. Nathan stover

    Accidents which have a root cause due to eating/texting/etc. ….. ie distracted driving, are not accidents. They’re a choice someone’s made that the minutia of their life is more important than paying attention to driving and someone else’s life….. And in a way an unconscious choice that they don’t care if they kill someone……Accidents due to mechanical problems/weather etc in my opinion are more forgivable/understandable. Just my 2 cents after 25 years in the fire service/EMS.

  32. Bill K

    Even the best riders, let their guard down, once in a while, a forget that drivers will often do the unexpected……You hit the lottery yesterday.
    The chances of that happening again are minimal.

  33. Tom

    Here’s the lights we use – awesome.

    While I agree that many fun things in life, such as biking pose a risk we must accept we should make informed decisions on how to ‘manage’ those risks.
    Like – look both ways when crossing the street for example or as my friend told me – when bike riding be seen.

    I was in a situation exactly like your friend who died last week – a car passing coming at me head on – because of my front light during daylight hours – it was obvious the guy saw me and consequently avoided me.

    I ride for fitness, health and fun with the hope that it allows me to live a long and active life – I’m going to do everything I can to reduce my chances getting
    killed – the best I can do is ride cautiously and be seen.

  34. mark

    The serfas t60 is great but I’d not very weather proof, buy replacement straps, they break, but if you ride in rain it will die. Try light in motion, they have a$50 one that is great and has great side visibility, which the serfas lacks. The$100 light in motion is twice as bright, and all metal. Hot shot is also a great usb rechargeable for $35 with great side exposure. 250 watts plus front white on blink does wonders.

  35. OGS

    the blind spot on your retina (where the nerves connect) is irrelevant for driving or other types of common vision tasks – like reading or watching sports or movies. Your eyes are trained to scan the environment to cover a fairly large “cone” of vision, including periphery. The cyclists are hit most often simply because the drivers don’t look at all (distracted, for example), or when they look, see you and drive too close or turn anyways – but definitely not because they look right at you, but you happen to fall exactly on their blind retina spot. In fact in most car-car accidents the driver of at least one car driver never saw it happening until it actually happened.

  36. H Luce

    Use lights. Please. In Lawrence last week, there was this guy riding on the side of the road, no street lighting, I had a car on my left side so I couldn’t swerve, saw him silhouetted against other cars, hit the brakes, slowed down, changed lanes, but it was a little bit close for comfort. If he’d had a tail light, I would have seen him a lot sooner…

  37. Skippy

    Francisco , you may remember that we met during your Pro Cycling Career ? At that time i would have been primarily interested in helping ” HandiSport ” find more ” Sponsors ” !

    Both of the catagories of problem drivers that you specified , create the ” Climate of Danger ” that ANY Cyclist faces on a daily basis .

    As a former ” Pro Racer “, and having read the comment i made in the previous post ( Cal RIP ) , could you tell me WHY , current Pro Racers , show little or NO interest in the SAFETY of their Cycling Fans , or indeed their Colleagues ? Even Ced Vasseur seems to pay no heed to the ” Placard ” from Vision Zero WorldWide /540123632761709 !

    With the UCI Congress about to take place , it is time to get ” Cycling Safety ” on THEIR Agenda so as to assure a World Wide Solution !



    When UCI acts to create the FRAMEWORK for a SOLUTION , then perhaps the ” IOC ” will become involved ALSO , sincee Cycling is the favoured Cross Training method of so many other SPORTS ?

    Steve in answering a comment above , i felt that you lent over backwards , to be kind to drivers ? We are ALL drivers ? We as Cyclists when driving , are also more aware of Cyclists ? Even when i am coming up on a Cyclist ahead , i am deciding the best option for a ” Safe Pass ” , OR , easing my speed so as to allow arriving behind without jamming on the brakes at the last moment . If more Vehicle Operators drove with 100% attention , that is with their EYES on the road and ensuring that they were complying with road conditions , there would be fewer ” Incidents ” and fewer casualties ?

    As stated above , a meteorite is an ACCIDENT , hitting another Road User is due to a Human ERROR !

    My 2nd May Traffic Violence Incident has resulted in a variety of reports of Accepted Liability . The Met. police sent me this GEM :

    ” I am writing in regards to the accident you were involved in on 2nd May 2014 in Wandsworth Road, SW8.

    Evidence suggests that the bus driver was at fault for the incident. It has been decided that the bus driver will be offered a place on a driver improvement course. If he fails the course or declines to attend we will proceed with court action against him for driving without due care and attention.

    Please see attached letter. I have also posted a letter to you.

    Kind regards

    When you consider that i suffered for 6 weeks , THIS response sends a message to that TFL Driver’s Colleagues ! ” YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH MURDER “! Well you may have to endure a boring Day(s) of being talked down to by a ” Know nothing ” , telling you what you should already know ! But will it hit YOUR Pocket , or delay your days duties ?

    This result reminds me of those Charity riders that were Hospitalised in the UK on the start of their World Charity Ride . THEY also were advised of the same result for the SLEEPING DRIVER !

    Quote from FM :
    ” Whenever a car pulls into my lane to pass in a situation like this I drop a water bottle on their windshield, then pull off and stand behind the largest guardrail to await their return. Makes for some interesting conversation. Thankfully it only happens every few years ”

    That they return , or , that you have to opt for this solution to their wanton disregard for others ? Even spit on their windshields , is enough to infuriate some , who were in NO Hurry , but exercising their stupidity !

  38. Bill Stevenson

    I have always felt that the hi-vis stuff and extra lights and such (during daylight) does not really help. If it does I would like to see a study or two. I know riders who swear by it and honestly feel that it is just a false sense of security.

  39. Tom

    Sense of security on the road? Never. Not when you don’t know what goofball is bearing down at you with speed.

    Extra lights and bright colors during daylight – I think most emergency service worker will tell you lights get folks attention.

    Here in CO it’s common to flash on coming drivers – during the day or night – when you pass a heard of deer or a wreck or a speed trap. The on coming drivers see the flash and react accordingly – no study need – common knowledge – flash of lights get attention and a reaction.

  40. The Cyclist

    Assholes. Spot on. This world is full of assholes. That’s the biggest problem. And that no one cares about anyone anymore. I think sometimes ppl get in a car to detach themselves from the world. Get away from an insane wife or a job or a boss and then they see a cyclist. Like a blessing from above. Just for their own personal pleasure. Sadists and assholes. And probabaly over stressed too, on top of that.

  41. The Cyclist

    Last week I was on vacation riding in Norway. Every Norwegian car slowed down and passed me safely with at least 1 or 2 meters to spare. Like they would pass a car. I have to say it does feel nice when drivers respect cyclists. To emphasize this feeling I was alomost blown off the road by a bus with Russian plates passing me at full speed way way too close. Next thing was a Lituanian SUV with a worn out engine and an asshole behind the wheel who first almost hit me not leaving any space at all why passing me and then hitting full throttle to literally drench me in a cloud of thick stiunky exhaust. Different ppl, different cultures. but unfortunately the assholes are spreading all over the planet and winning.

  42. OGS

    Yes Steve, having unexpected and undetected mechanical – like a sudden flat tire – is no-fault crash.
    Done that.

    But in car-bicycle collisions, it is very, very often that SOMEONE’s behavior is at fault. I would say that is true in probably 90-95%+ of car-bike collisions. And I would suspect in 90% of those, it is the driver who is mostly at fault, not the cyclist.

  43. Jeff H.

    I detest the new, quiet engines and miss the loud growl of the big, old cars–it gave you more time to look back and judge whether that car was liklier to buzz you or pass safely. P.s. Motorists have told me my NiteRider Cherry Bomb taillight is “obnoxiously bright”…which means it is doing it’s job.


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