Category Archives: injury

Recovery

On June 3rd I had my final surgery on the leg that was run over. On June 17th, one month ago, I went back to the surgeon’s office to have my staples and bandages removed, and get clearance to walk (and ride a bike) again. The staple removal was uneventful, although painful, and I walked out with permission to do almost everything I could do up until the moment I was hit last April.

This was my last surgical appointment, and it was not without its surprises. “You know, that was a really serious injury,” they said. “Last year we thought you might never walk again! And look at you now!”

WHOA. I understand why they didn’t mention that then, but it was a nauseating thing to hear.

Once again: this is the hardware that came out of my leg. Dang.

Once again: this is the hardware that came out of my leg. Dang.

Thanks to good luck and evidently, to clean living, I am walking better now that I was when all the hardware was still in my leg. People at work tell me that my gait is smoother, and they can’t tell I was ever hurt. The office is not the most challenging walking environment, it’s true, but it’s a good sign.

There are still some odds and ends to deal with. Running and jumping are out of the question for the rest of the year. I remain as weak as a kitten when walking up hills and stairs, although I get practice with that here in San Francisco whether I want it or not. I’m not thrilled about the 15 pounds I gained over the last year of reduced activity (but on the up side, now that I’m moving again I’ve already started losing that extra weight). My scars still look pretty grim. I know they’ll fade over time but even so I’ll be wearing long pants for the rest of the year, both because the scars are susceptible to sun damage and because I prefer to cover them given some of the looks I got last year. In the grand scheme of things these issues are pretty trivial, and none of them are permanent.

I want to ride my bicycle.

I want to ride my bicycle.

People still ask me if I was scared to get back on the bike. Honestly, after four months being almost completely immobilized last year, my stir-craziness outweighed any residual fear. I was over it. I couldn’t walk well for months after I was allowed to walk, but I learned pretty quickly that I could ride a bike almost as well as anyone, at least on the flats, and I had an electric assist for the hills. Riding a bike made me feel normal again. I’ll admit that I do still get anxious making left turns—I now make Copenhagen left turns almost all the time.

After several visits to the orthopedic institute, I also have some perspective that I didn’t have before. Basically every patient I saw there under the age of 80, other than me, had been injured in a car.

“My husband was driving when we were sideswiped…”

“I was driving my pickup…”

“Our car rolled over when it went off the road…”

These people were traumatized. They were, understandably, afraid to get back in their cars. They did it anyway, because they felt like they didn’t have a choice. And in some cases they were right, because that’s how the US is designed. But their fear was justified.

Still having fun

Still having fun

What I realized in all those hours racked up waiting to see the surgeon was this: Riding a bicycle isn’t dangerous. What’s dangerous is being around cars. Understanding the real risk involved in transportation has helped me think about how I want to travel most of the time. There are different ways to approach the real risk, the risk of “being around cars.”

One way is to try to wear armor, investing in strategies like driving a bigger car or riding the bus. Sometimes that works and sometimes you end up in the orthopedic institute like all those people I met in the waiting room. Or worse. When I was pregnant with my son, a driver rammed my car from behind while I was stopped at a red light and I spent the next month on bedrest to keep from miscarrying. The more time you spend being around cars, no matter how big the bubble you build around yourself, the greater the risk.

Where we ride

Where we ride

Another way to approach the risk of being around cars is to simply be around cars a lot less. Drivers can’t hit you if you’re hanging out in places cars can’t go. The first step is to cut back on riding in cars: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my surgeon commutes by bike. A lot of bicycle travel can be through parks, or on quiet streets, or (more recently) in protected bike lanes. In other cities people can legally ride on the sidewalk when cars feel too close or traffic is too fast—and in San Francisco, there are a few scary places where I too will ride on the sidewalk now, even though it’s illegal. Protected infrastructure and its near-equivalents are increasingly common, and they’re worth seeking out. It’s certainly possible to make riding a bicycle really dangerous by getting up close and personal with cars at every opportunity, but there’s no requirement to ride that way.

How we'll roll at Fiets of Parenthood

How we’ll roll at Fiets of Parenthood

I chose to be around cars a lot less. That includes staying out of cars when I can, even though it’s not practical for us to avoid them entirely. Active transportation has other rewards as well—I’m a lot healthier, and I healed better than anyone had expected when I was hurt. It’s also the fastest way to move through the city, and it’s always easy to find parking. The greatest reward of all, of course, is that it’s a fun way to get around. I understand now why people who love skiing or rock climbing or hang-gliding accept the very-real risks of their sports, and return from their injuries ready to start all over again. But biking is not like rock climbing—every study of bicycle commuting has found that I’ll live a longer and healthier life, statistically speaking, if I keep riding. And so I do.

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What’s going on?        

This is the hardware that came out of my leg.

This is the hardware that came out of my leg.

It’s been a while. In the last month, we have moved into our condo (which is still missing a kitchen), attended Matt’s father’s and uncle’s memorials, gone through university commencement, taken lots of trips for work, and finished up the kids’ school year. On June 3rd I had my third and final surgery, which removed all of the hardware in my right leg. There was a lot of it. I am lurching around now indoors without crutches, and outdoors with crutches. I could feel the difference in my leg the minute that the nerve block wore off, in a positive way. Although this is good news, I can’t ride a bike, or do anything else that might risk a fall, until the bone heals. Recovering from surgery also involves sleeping a lot. I had forgotten.

Anyway, lots of things fell by the wayside, and the blog was the first to go. Also I haven’t checked email since April or so. If you’ve written I apologize—I’m way better on Twitter.  On the other hand, I can’t go back to work yet, so there’s some time to catch up now. Onward.

 

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Who protects us from you?

We were hit at the intersection here, in front of the Conservatory of Flowers.

We were hit at the intersection here, in front of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Today is the one year anniversary of the Sunday that a driver hit us while we were riding in Golden Gate Park. Last Thursday, Matt took our son to court to get a settlement from the driver’s insurance company for his injuries. It wasn’t much money, roughly equivalent to the cost of the ambulance ride to San Francisco General. We pursued the claim on principle, because higher insurance rates are the only consequence that the driver, Michael O’Rourke, is ever likely to face.

Last August, a bike commuter was mowed down by a truck in SOMA. Afterward Sergeant Richard Ernst of the SFPD showed up at her street-side memorial to claim that according to the police report, her death was her own fault. How he could possibly have known that is a mystery, because SFPD also claimed that there was no video of the event. He did this after parking his car in the bike lane and demanding that the people at the memorial, including her family members, admit that her death was her own fault. If they didn’t, well, the cyclists who’d been forced by his parking in the bike lane into the kind of traffic that had just killed someone were just going to have to suffer.

His claim, however, turned out to be wrong. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition canvassed local businesses, only to find that not only had SFPD not bothered to ask for video, but that a local business with a street camera had a video of the truck mowing her down. Then, belatedly and as far as I know without apology, SFPD decided that the truck driver was in fact at fault. Activism like this is why we have doubled our membership contribution to SFBC every year. I wish we could afford to give them millions.

I digress. As someone who was run over from behind by a driver in front of a stop sign, this news doesn’t particularly surprise me. Drivers run stop signs and threaten pedestrians and cyclists all the time. They don’t even feel guilty about it. The driver who hit us said, as every driver in his situation seems to, that he “never even saw us.” Even though a statement like that offers evidence that he should immediately have his license suspended—if you can’t see what’s on the road in front of you, then you’re not competent to drive—he viewed this as a completely reasonable justification for hitting people. And he viewed it that way because the police in San Francisco, and many other places as well, are looking to make excuses for drivers when they hurt people.

Before I was hit, I was not so cynical. I was raised to believe that the police were there to help people and protect the innocent. The collision changed me. When my son and I had our injuries assessed, the paramedics took off our helmets (and cut off the rest of my clothes as well). For the next half hour that we were in the ambulance as the police took the report, I was asked repeatedly whether we had been wearing helmets. “Were you sure you were wearing helmets? You’re not wearing helmets now. If you were really wearing helmets, where are they? Were you really wearing a helmet?” Then they asked my son whether we were really wearing helmets. My husband showed them our helmets.  “Were they wearing those helmets when they were hit?” The paramedics said we were wearing helmets, that they had taken off our helmets. “Did you see the helmets on them?” They asked the (many, many) witnesses, “Were they wearing helmets?” They said yes. “Are you sure?” As an aside, we did not have head injuries. Our heads never touched the ground. If only I had had a leg helmet!

In the meantime, they told Michael O’Rourke to go ahead and drive home. He was never charged.

It is pretty hard to excuse a driver for ramming into someone from behind. But even though the police finally decided that he was technically at fault for hitting us from behind in front of a stop sign while driving 15 miles per hour, they had to get their digs in. The police report says that I “moved left too soon” when I got out of the protected bike lane to make my left turn. However there is only one place to get over before making that left turn, because the protected bike lane is protected by parked cars. As I lack the ability to transmute my bicycle through two tons of metal, I moved left before I reached the row of parked cars directly in front of the stop sign. Not that it matters, as there is no such thing as taking the lane “too soon” under the California Vehicle Code. Nor should anyone be moving at 15 miles per hour a few feet from a stop sign, even if there weren’t two people on a bicycle in front or a half-dozen people in the crosswalk. Nonetheless, the police report says that I moved left “too soon.” That’s pretty much saying that they thought it was our fault we were hit.

At the beginning of this year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to pursue Vision Zero for San Francisco, a program to eliminate traffic deaths pioneered in Sweden in 1997. Versions of Vision Zero seek to limit speeds, redesign streets and change legal penalties so that driving causes less carnage. Although it’s been successful in other countries, I am somewhat pessimistic about this effort in San Francisco, given how little the SFMTA spends on infrastructure for safe streets, and how limited its ambitions are for the future. However San Francisco’s police culture would cripple safe streets no matter how much the SFMTA agreed to spend. As long as the people sworn to uphold the law choose to blame victims and excuse perpetrators instead of protecting the innocent, change is virtually impossible.

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Nine months later

A couple of weeks ago I went to see my surgeon again for follow-up about my tibial plateau fracture (and the other, far less interesting fractures). This is always a saga. I am booked for two x-rays every time (top and side) and there is a lot of hand-waving and frustration when the x-ray technicians realize that I have too much hardware in my leg to capture in a single shot. Then the techs apologize about having to take four or six shots instead, because the radiation involved in the number of x-rays I’ve gotten over the last 12 months is not exactly trivial. On the up side, I can now put my kids to bed without a night light.

I’ve learned the hard way that I need to dress for the x-rays and the subsequent physical exam: wide leg pants or skirts only, with easily removable hosiery, because I’m going to have to go bare from ankle to thigh. Leg surgeons hate knee boots. But there is always something interesting to learn. This month I asked why the x-ray machine had a cup holder, because it’s not like the techs stand around next to it and would appreciate a place to put their coffee—they sprint out of the room as fast as possible. They told me it was to hold the cup of contrast dye that people who get live x-rays of esophageal function have to swallow. I was fascinated.

My first post-surgical x-rays back in April showed my tibia in pieces, which were held together with a bunch of screws and a metal plate. (My fibula looked like gravel as well, but it turns out that no one cares about the fibula. It’s not weight-bearing.) Later x-rays showed that the tibia was once again whole, but still had huge, ragged divots that made it look like something a dog had been chewing.  But this set of x-rays showed my tibia had completely healed, with smooth edges from knee to ankle. I couldn’t stop admiring it.

This was fantastic news, especially given that I was told that probably wouldn’t happen for a year. I have been healing fast. And it also meant that I could schedule my final surgery, when my surgeon will take all of that hardware out. We were all feeling so festive that we picked the next available date right then: June 3rd, 2014.

It's impossible to take a good picture of a knee. Anyway, my real knee is at the top, and the bulge below it is the plate. Would you believe that nine months ago this leg was covered with bright red scars?

It’s impossible to take a good picture of a knee. Anyway, my real knee is at the top, and the bulge below it is the plate. Would you believe that nine months ago this leg was covered with bright red scars?

Technically removing a plate like mine is optional, but in my case there is so much of it that leaving it in would be problematic. The plate is so obtrusive that I’ve started calling it my third knee, and the longer it stays in the worse it gets, because more bone grows over it. It prevents me from doing things like kneeling, because putting weight on that part of my leg feels a lot like being stabbed in the tibia, which is pretty much what is happening: the plate presses on the screws, which in turn press into the bone.  So giving the kids a bath is an issue. When people see me walking now, my gait looks normal, but there are quirks; I have trouble on stairs, especially at the end of the day, and as a result I have become that person who takes the elevator to travel just one floor. I can’t run to catch a shuttle bus, and sometimes I fall over unexpectedly. I could improve the situation by lifting weights more often (okay, ever) but only to a certain extent.

This has all been an interesting lesson about invisible disabilities, which I appreciate, because I used to be impatient about things like people taking the elevator to go one floor. I have been sensitized.

Anyway, one more surgery, and although I’m looking forward to the outcome, which is a near-complete recovery, it doesn’t come free. I’ll need to take another two months of disability, because once the screws come out, my tibia will be so riddled with holes that it will look like a piece of Swiss cheese. With the bone so fragile, a single fall could fracture it again. So although I’ll be partially weight-bearing after I get out, I’ll still need to go back on crutches, and I’ll also be almost completely housebound. With the fall risk preeminent, I’m also not allowed to ride anything but a stationary bike during those two months.

I’ve also realized that even a much-desired surgery looks a little scary when approached without the benefit of a serious narcotic haze. I went on a morphine drip as soon as the paramedics arrived after we were hit in April, and didn’t go off IV narcotics for even a minute until I was released two weeks later, after two surgeries and several days of inpatient rehab. I’m mostly looking forward to getting the plate out, but there are moments when I put my head between my knees and take deep breaths.

Overall, though, I mostly feel lucky. It was a serious injury, and I’m going to walk away from it (literally) almost unscathed.

My colleagues sometimes joke that they expect me to commute by tank now, instead of by bicycle. The irony is that I wasn’t injured commuting. I was hit on a Sunday in Golden Gate Park, and I still sometimes have uncomfortable flashbacks while riding in the park on weekends. But weekday commuting doesn’t feel dangerous. There is no objectivity in fear.

My daughter has no patience with knee photos, and insisted that we take a picture together instead. She has a point.

My daughter has no patience with knee photos, and insisted that we take a picture together instead. She has a point.

Looking back, what happens seems both crippling and distant. If I’d been told in early 2013 I would be hit and spend months on disability, with a full recovery not expected until 2015, it would have seemed impossible to survive. But time rolls on and even now life is pretty close to the old normal, and I can afford to rearrange life a little over the next few months to make it completely normal. We still commute by bicycle and walk around the neighborhood. I wouldn’t wish an experience like this on anyone, but having been hit once, I understand why people shrug off injuries and keep riding. I’ve had lots of occasions to compare travel by car and travel by bike in the last year, and riding is still easier most of the time. Even when I was still using a cane, riding a bike where I needed to go meant that I could minimize painful walking. Now that I’m walking unassisted again, why not keep it up? I think that streets should be much safer, but even if they’re not I’m not ready to give up riding.

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Grace

This is how our kids figured out bikes, in Copenhagen.

This is how our kids figured out bikes, in Copenhagen.

I remember my grandfather teaching me to ride a bike. There were tricycles at preschool that everyone rode, and my parents had gotten me a banana yellow Schwinn with training wheels—balance bikes were nothing anyone had heard of in suburban Seattle at the time—but I was afraid of falling down on a bike with only two wheels. Our parents rode bicycles, carrying us through the neighborhood in their front baskets or perched on a top tube, but didn’t have the time or patience to teach us to ride. My grandfather took the training wheels off my bike while visiting one summer, and ran up and down the driveway with me, holding onto the seat. After a while I realized he was running up and down with me and not holding onto the seat. Then I fell down.  By the end of the day I was riding by myself. For years afterward I never really thought about my riding skills again.

Velib, the Parisian bike share, only appeared after we lived there--sometimes I think how much sooner I could have gotten back on a bike.

Velib, the Parisian bike share, only appeared after we lived there–sometimes I think how much sooner I could have gotten back on a bike.

I grew up riding that bicycle and later, a 10-speed, to visit friends and parks. But like most of my friends, when I was old enough to drive I started taking many of those trips by car. After a while the only people I met on bicycles were the friends, like me, who’d kept their bicycles lying around. After I graduated from college I bought a car and left the bike in my mom’s garage. The car, along with almost everything else I owned, eventually got sold in one of the frequent moves around the country and the world. It became easier to rely on public transportation and my own feet, which were always with me no matter how skimpy the luggage allowance.

We rented bikes just to get to this museum, and what a great decision that was.

We rented bikes just to get to this museum, and what a great decision that was.

We had children and another car, a minivan, before I got back on a bike again during a visit to Copenhagen. It had been years, and climbing back on a rental bike with my daughter strapped into a seat on the back took some nerve. I was wobbly and nervous, but the infrastructure in Copenhagen is designed for that. My primary goal was not to fall down, and I managed that and more. By the end of that day I wanted to ride a bicycle everywhere with our kids, even the hills of San Francisco, and even though I was anything but graceful on that bike.

Once our kids discovered bicycles they wouldn't get off.

Once our kids discovered bicycles they wouldn’t get off.

Coming back to riding a bicycle after a long hiatus was humbling. Getting better at something, unfortunately, usually implies that you start out being really bad at it. Most of the families we meet on bikes are made up of people who never stopped riding. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched someone test-ride one of our bikes and envied how easily they swung on and off it and how neatly they turned. For a long time I was not one with the bike. I rarely stopped exactly where I’d intended to stop, I tangled up my legs while getting on and off, and I dropped my poor bike many times. Even worse, the stakes were higher for me than for other riders, because I often had a kid on the bike.

Once you start noticing, there are cool bikes everywhere.

Once you start noticing, there are cool bikes everywhere.

Over time I got more graceful. Now I stop where I mean to stop. I still get a little thrill every time I successfully dismount in motion and pull up right at a rack where I want to lock up, or swing up onto the bike as I push off. I lost a lot of riding skills when I was disabled and couldn’t ride, but I’m still a better rider than I was two years ago. Sure, I’m horrible on an unfamiliar bike, and starting from a stop is difficult with my bad leg. Sometimes I drop my bike when walking it because I forget to compensate for my limp (although I don’t feel too badly about dropping a bike that’s already been run over). But I know that the grace I developed will come back eventually.

I spent a lot of my life being unhappy with my body, which is evidently the price of being a woman in America. From puberty onward I didn’t like how I looked, and when we decided to have children I despised my body for the seemingly endless miscarriages. A year after my daughter was born I still weighed 50 pounds more than I had five years earlier. I was glad when I lost that weight but I still didn’t feel that my body was worth appreciating much. It took developing a skill to do that, and to my surprise the skill that finally felt worth developing was riding a bicycle with my kids on it.

I learned how to walk again on the anti-gravity treadmill, but I don't need it anymore.

I learned how to walk again on the anti-gravity treadmill, but I don’t need it anymore.

Then being run over changed everything again. I was mowed down with a few thousand pounds of steel six months ago and now I am walking again without a cane. Granted I have a limp, but still: go, body, go! No one can tell I was even injured when I’m riding a bike. Now the scars on my legs are more noteworthy than anything else about how I look, and I find that having made peace with those scars—which are healing pretty well—I can’t really get uptight about wearing skinny jeans or a swimsuit. I am bemused to find, in the last few months, that when I think about my body I only feel gratitude, because it healed. Even though I’m still clumsy, I find it pretty easy to get around now. I have all the grace I need, and I earn a little more back every day. I couldn’t ask for more.

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The only thing we have to fear

In words of my husband: "Look! It's gimpy on her death machine."

In words of my husband: “Look! It’s gimpy on her death machine.”

I get a lot of questions about how I’m getting around after being hit by a car. The answer is that I mostly ride my bike. It’s a lot easier than walking, I can always park right in front of where I’m going which means less walking than if we drove, and we still don’t have a car anyway. This often surprises people. They assume that I’ve taken up driving. “You’re so brave!” they say, which sometimes sounds a bit like “You’re crazy!”

I would be lying if I said there aren’t moments when I am afraid. It comes up particularly at intersections when I want to turn left, because, duh, I was run over from behind at a stop sign while trying to turn left. I make a lot of Copenhagen left turns now. Cars coming up behind me make me really nervous still. But it’s getting better. My personal experience notwithstanding, getting run down from behind is statistically speaking the least likely way to get injured while riding a bicycle. I just have put the time in so that my emotions can catch up with what I know.

We still haven't really missed the minivan.

We still haven’t really missed the minivan.

I’d also be lying if I said we didn’t consider buying a car. There was a lot of driving to appointments when I was incapacitated, and we didn’t know when I’d be mobile again. However our flirtation with the idea of getting a car was pretty brief. With my right leg broken, I couldn’t drive any more than I could walk, and if someone else was going to drive me, I might as well take a shuttle or call for a ride. Moreover, I learned from my surgeon and other patients that the most common cause of my particular injury—a shattered leg—was getting T-boned in a car. I talked to people who’d been trapped in their cars for hours while being sawed out and were understandably phobic about ever getting into one again (at least the EMTs could scrape me off the street and set up a morphine drip right away). A lot of people have had this experience, and they didn’t exactly sell me on the safety of driving in lieu of biking. On top of that, cars are really expensive, and we had plenty of other things to spend money on at the time. And I wasn’t really feeling very car-friendly after being smashed by one either.

For the first month after my surgeries, I was supposed to stay in bed for 23 hours a day. For entertainment, I could use the continuous passive motion machine, which slowly bent my leg for me to improve my range of motion, up to eight hours a day. It was very boring. I was surprised to learn how serious my surgeon was about not just staying in bed, but staying at home. Even though the steel plate he put in my leg supported the bones, they were still in pieces, and he would have preferred that I never went outside at all. Even being bumped by someone passing me on the street could knock the bones out of alignment and require them to be reset, which would also restart the clock on how long I had to stay off my leg. Every time I fell down while using crutches, he wanted to take another x-ray to see if the bones had shifted. During that time I left the house at most once a week, to go grocery shopping. Matt drove a rental car over so I could shop while riding an electric cart.  As pathetic as that was, it was still a total thrill compared to anything else I had going on at the time.

I think a lot about this when people ask me now about the risks of getting hit again while on a bicycle, which people often do although it is the last thing I want to contemplate. If we were really concerned about injury above all else, we should never leave our couches. Even walking around our neighborhood risks injury, and I could avoid that by never leaving the house. But no one would suggest that it was a good idea to sit on the couch all day to avoid the risk of getting hurt by tripping on the sidewalk or bumping into someone. Even my surgeon wants me to walk around now, so my bones will regrow faster. Staying inside is risky in a different way—bodies were meant to move, and sitting around all day makes people unhealthy. Instead of sitting “safely” on the couch, we’re all advised to get out of the house and rack up at least 10,000 steps per day, broken sidewalks or no.

It’s this that I think about when I think about driving instead of riding a bike. On a per mile basis, yes, bicycling has higher injury rates than driving, but of course people go much further distances when driving. On a per hour basis the risk of injury is very similar. But driving a car is the physical equivalent of sitting on a couch, and our bodies were meant to move. When the risks of chronic disease are included, riding a bike is several times safer than driving, despite the higher risk of injury. Those injuries are the statistical equivalent of tripping on the sidewalk, and most of them are about as dangerous—most injuries sustained on a bicycle involve only the rider and are preventable. What happened to me was terrifying and dramatic and depressing (especially the part where I learned yesterday that my leg probably won’t be fully healed until early 2015, so I am basically all about assisted bikes from this point forward) but it was also anomalous.

Ride on.

Ride on.

By the time I was allowed to actually bear weight on my leg, I was so stir-crazy that I would have tried almost any activity, but walking was hard (it’s still hard). Luckily for me, our bicycles were waiting in the basement. I can’t walk at normal speeds yet, and I get tired quickly, but I can ride like anyone else. And although some days I have more trouble believing it than I should, I know there’s really nothing to fear. In the long term, riding a bicycle is still the safest way to get around.

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A reliable bike

The Bullitt+Roland heading out to Great Highway's Sunday Streets last weekend. They saw lots of friends.

The Bullitt+Roland heading out to Sunday Streets

The things that I write about on the blog are only a portion of what’s really happening. This is a problem inherent to life, I think: you get so busy living that there is only so much time to talk about it all. This can lead to some false perceptions. One that’s come up lately, I’ve realized, is the sense that the Bullitt spends a lot of time in the shop. That’s not really true. It’s just that the times it goes to the shop it really ticks me off. After almost a year the Bullitt has been impressively reliable, with only a couple of exceptions that are, frankly, the result of our ignorance.

The first exception relates to the gearing. I have an aversion to pinning up my pants to keep them from getting caught in the chain, although I’m getting over it. The standard setup on a Bullitt is a triple front ring, which is great for hauling up hills, but as many riders already know, is basically incompatible with a chain guard. So when we bought the Bullitt, we put an internally geared front hub on it, the FSA Metropolis Patterson crankset.

The Metropolis is unquestionably cool, and you won’t need to roll up your pants. Unfortunately, it is not built to withstand the kinds of loads and riding we do. It is very sensitive to people doing things, like, say, pedaling over a speed bump and smashing unexpectedly into a hidden pothole on the far side, or to a rider shifting down after hitting a quicker-than-expected red light with a fully loaded cargo bike and then pushing off on a steep uphill from a dead stop.  These are not what I would call conventional bicycle riding situations, unless of course you are a family living on a steep hill in San Francisco, in which case they’re like daily rituals. So we broke the Metropolis. Twice. After the second time, we replaced it with a triple front ring, which withstands anything we throw at it (and if it didn’t would be cheap and quick to fix anyway). That wasn’t particularly expensive, but it was very time-consuming.

I miss the Metropolis, because it shifted like a dream when it wasn’t broken and had a lot of range, but it was not to be. In the meantime, I’ve learned to embrace skinny pants. Sure, they may not be the most flattering look, but they don’t catch in bike chains and they are wonderful at compressing a broken leg that tends to swell up at the end of the day. Although maybe that’s just me.

Hanging out with the Rosa Parks bike fleet

Hanging out with part of the Rosa Parks bike fleet

The second exception came up pretty recently. The Bullitt went back to the shop for another time-consuming repair when we broke over a dozen spokes at once on the rear (BionX) wheel. This turns out to be a BionX and San Francisco-related thing (San Francisco is hard on bikes). The first time we didn’t realize what the issue was so we had the bike shop replace the spokes and re-true the rear wheel. The folks at The New Wheel were the ones who warned us that it would happen again unless we put a stronger rim and spokes on that rear wheel. One week later, we learned how right they were when three of the new spokes popped. That’s a lesson to all of us, yes? Go to the pros with your electric assist bike! So we took the Bullitt back to the shop and now we have a thicker rim and spokes and they are hanging in without incident. This was pretty cheap, but once again, time-consuming.

There have been other odds and ends, but they don’t affect our ability to ride the bike. Matt dropped the BionX controller and destroyed its display, which now looks like something out of a slasher film. It still works, though. One of the fiberglass poles holding the rain cover has split twice—the first time probably due to the combination of wind sheer and the kids messing with it, and the second time due to some drunk baseball fans snapping it in two. Splendid told us how to order spare fiberglass poles, which are now sitting in the garage for the next time it happens. I think they cost $15. If you happen to have obnoxious sports fans roaming your neighborhood, you too may want some spare poles.

The two big repairs represented several weeks in the shop taken together, and those messed with our lives. The Bullitt has become what our car used to be, and we use it almost every day. I wrote about those incidents because they were such an unpleasant shock—with the Bullitt our lives are pretty easy and without it they start to derail.

Two kids in the standard Bullitt box, still

Two kids in the standard Bullitt box, still

But it did not fail it when we needed it most. All last summer while I was bed-bound for 23 hours a day, Matt used it to carry both kids to school and preschool and summer camp. At the time, our daughter was still attending preschool on the top of Mt. Sutro, and our son’s summer camp was up one of the toughest hills we have ever had occasion to ride regularly (9th Avenue from Irving to Ortega, for locals reading along). And although there were days that we needed to call in friends for a carpool or a family member to walk someone home, mostly Matt managed all of that extremely grim summer solo. So how can I hold a crankset and some broken spokes against the Bullitt? Especially when I know they won’t happen again? Also, Matt is awesome.

We started this year knowing that there was trouble in the wind. The university decided to kick everyone out of faculty housing, our daughter’s preschool, disastrously, was taken over by a for-profit corporation, and the campus where I work was scheduled for closure with everyone on site told we would move “somewhere.” As bad as all of that was, we could not have predicted how much worse it would get when I was run down by a distracted driver in April. For a week we assumed that our car-free days were over. But with my right leg shattered it turned out that I couldn’t drive either, so here we are. I’m riding again and the Bullitt is still hauling the kids. I can’t yet do everything that I used to do, but the bus and rideshare make up the difference.

Thinking about future careers at preschool

Thinking about future careers at preschool

And in other ways, we seem to have turned the corner. In July our daughter started at a new preschool, a Japanese immersion program that is a feeder for Rosa Parks. She loves it so much we have to drag her home every evening. The office move keeps getting postponed another couple of years into the future. University housing can’t kick us out as long as I’m disabled, but we have other progress on that front as well. I am walking again, and people tell me my cane looks badass. We’ve been taking long weekends with the kids to try to make up for their having such a bummer of a summer–the other week we camped in a (handicapped accessible) yurt, and we’re headed to the coast this weekend. It’s been one hell of a year, and it’s not over yet.  But life is a little easier with a reliable bike.

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Filed under Bullitt, car-free, electric assist, family biking, injury, San Francisco