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Seymour Gris: Avoiding death on your bike

Bike deaths are exceptionally high this year and the year isn't over yet. And while it is generally acknowledged that it's mostly automobiles at fault, it doesn't mean you cyclists shouldn't get it together, too.

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Photo by Erica Löfman

Last Tuesday, in Wittenau (for those who don’t know, a neighbourhood near Tegel) a driver opened the door of his parked car. A 64-year-old cyclist slammed into the door, was thrown off of his bike onto the ground. He died of head injuries soon after. He was not wearing a helmet. He was the 14th cyclist to die on Berlin streets this year, bringing the number of cycle-accident deaths to the highest level since 2003.

The number of injuries is rising too: in the first nine months of 2012, police reported 503 “serious” injuries and 3706 “light” injuries.  Sometimes it feels like there’s a permanent, escalating war between drivers and cyclists on the streets of Berlin, a war in which only one side suffers casualties.

It’s easy to hate that nouveau riche wanker who cut you off in his poison-belching Porsche Cayenne SUV, stirring up fantasies of arson, tyre-slashing, a brick through the windshield – or else a satisfying combination of all three – but road rage doesn’t get us much further. All we can hope is to trigger envy in drivers as we smugly speed through gridlocked traffic at rush hour.

Some accidents are the fault of cyclists – several friends of mine have suffered horrific injuries after their wheels got trapped in tram lines. Drunk and high post-club cycling is standard behaviour in this town. It’s miraculous more people don’t die a two-wheeled death on Saturday nights.

It’s also surprising that the arrogant riding style of wannabe bike messengers weaving through cars and red lights, hands gripping the sawn-off handlebars of their vintage, usually light-less fixies, doesn’t cause more deaths.

No, even the police – traditionally hugely biased in favour of car drivers – concede that most accidents and deaths are the fault of drivers: the doors of parked cars being opened and and large trucks turning right at green lights, unaware of the cyclists riding straight ahead.

Keep your eyes open. Watch out for trucks. Get over your pride and get a helmet, maybe one of those stupid fluorescent vests! Lights don’t hurt, either.