Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, was a beautiful day.
The bicycling conditions seemed safe until the cyclist peddling on I-140 in front of Dr. Peter Kramer hit a cone before swerving and hitting another cyclist in front of him.
Kramer swerved hard to miss her, but failed. His wheels were clipped out from underneath him and he landed on the pavement on the back of his head, shattering his helmet. He was unconscious for 10-15 minutes.
It was Kramer’s fourth time participating in the PPD Beach2Battleship Half Iron Distance Triathlon, and he has participated in triathlons on and off since 1989.
“It should have been the safest place to ride — closed course, everybody going the same direction, fairly high-level riders; it should’ve been the best time to ride,” said Kramer, a Wrightsville Beach resident.
New Hanover County ranked fourth in North Carolina for the highest number of crashes from 1997-2007 by the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation with 571 reported crashes involving at least one bicycle. Wilmington ranked third for the highest number of crashes from 2006-2010 with 185 crashes.
After suffering a concussion, separation of his collar bone from his shoulder, four broken ribs and multiple skin abrasions, Kramer said the accident made him realize what is important in life.
“It’s definitely changed me,” he said. “It kind of brings into perspective what’s important in your life when you’re lying in the E.R., and you look around you, and you see who’s there.”
He started riding again two weeks ago, and is cautious of the other danger of being a cyclist — cars. He often rides in Wrightsville Beach and Landfall on two-lane roads where car speeds are slower.
“Whenever you ride, there’s always close calls, people pulling out, people not paying attention and not yielding to cyclists, which is a big issue,” Kramer said.
Eileen McConville, president of Cape Fear Cyclists, said there are many more bike-on-bike accidents than car-on-bike accidents.
“You’ve really got to be paying super-close attention to that bicycle in front of you,” she said. “We try to listen to each other and pay attention. ... With any sport comes risk. And we know that, but that’s why we wear helmets.”
The group, made up of 425 members, mostly rides in Pender and Brunswick counties because of the rural routes.
According to North Carolina law, “A motorist overtaking a bicycle must pass at least two feet to the left of the bicyclist and must not move back to the right side of the highway until safely past the overtaken bicycle.”
Cyclists also have to abide by the rules of the road.
“I basically think of myself as a car on the road,” Kramer said. “I have to maintain all the signaling. I ride in the tire depression of the road. I don’t ride way off to the right, because that’s where people won’t give you room. If they think you’re way off to the side, they will just sneak right past you.”
If Kramer is riding around dusk or dawn, he said he tries to wear brightly colored clothing in addition to wearing a helmet and having front and rear bicycle lights. He also said when possible he tries to ride with at least one other person.
“We live in a community that’s got wonderful weather, flat terrain, beaches,” McConville said. “The whole area just screams, ‘bring your bicycles,’ and then people bring their bicycles and, to be honest, the infrastructure is not set up to welcome bicycles. If you want to ride your bicycles to any of the beaches, you’ve got to get over bridges that don’t have efficient shoulders; you’ve got to go on roads in the beach communities that don’t have bike lanes, for the most part. There’s always a clash. … As far as safety in the county, we have a long way to go in New Hanover County to create more roads, more trails and more ways for bicyclists and cars to coexist.”