This weekend I had a front row seat to a terrifying incident. If you live in SoCal, chances are you’ve already heard about the multi bike accident that occurred on Sunday, 02/21/16 on the 91 Freeway.
I usually stay away from big group rides but this was a simple street ride from Anaheim to Long Beach so I figured, what the hell, I’ll go. Plus, this was an all-girls ride and I love meeting new female riders. The day started off great, everyone was in a positive mood and excited to ride. The group consisted of 30+ girls of different riding levels as well as a few guys who were helping organize the ride. My group of friends and I felt uncomfortable riding next to girls we don’t know since we were unsure of what their riding style is like so we chose to keep to ourselves toward the back of the group along with a few other more experienced riders. About 10-15 minutes into the ride, we got on the 91 West Freeway in a double-line formation. Everyone made their way to the carpool lane because as most riders would agree, that is the safest place to ride. Shorty after, things went horribly wrong.
Everything happened really fast but in slow motion at the same time. From the corner of my eye I saw a silver car aggressively swerve from the right lane all the way to the carpool lane. It violently hit the center divider and bounced back blocking the left lane. Sometime between that, all I kept seeing is flashes of bike parts and bodies flying in the air. Two female riders slammed into the out of control car and one male rider hit a bike that was on the ground in his lane. I’m a very safety conscious rider so I always ride with my hand on the front brake. This allowed me to get on my brakes immediately at the sight of trouble. As horrified as I was at what just happened, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when I came to a complete stop and realized I was okay. The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Everyone was frantically running around trying to help the injured riders and get 911 on the phone. There were three riders who appeared to be injured as well as the driver of the silver car. We were lucky enough to have a few nurses at the site of the accident who were able to assist the injured riders until the paramedics arrived. There were a few other damaged cars parked on the shoulder and after CHP arrived we started to get a bit more information about what cause the silver car to swerve to the left. We were told the silver car was rear ended by another driver and lost control. The driver of the other car was saying that the silver car got on the brakes for no reason causing him to slam into him. We stuck around until all injured riders were taken away by the ambulance and then carefully made our way home. I can’t say enough about how lucky I feel that I wasn’t involved in the crash.
Many of the riders, including two of the girls from my group, were equipped with cameras so we had a lot of footage from the crash. I’ve reviewed the footage over and over and over to analyze the situation and here are my conclusions:
No more big group rides for me! As good as it feels to turn heads while riding in a big group of bikers, it is also a huge distraction to other drivers. The video footage of the silver car getting rear ended clearly shows the car that hit him was not paying attention. We’ll never know for sure what distracted him but there is a very good possibility that a group of 30 girls on bikes might be the cause of his distraction.
When on the bike, paying attention must never stop. Even though I was a few girls behind the incident, you can tell from this video screen shot that I was one of the first to hit my brakes.
When on my bike, I’m constantly scanning the road for any signs of danger. I don’t know if there is anything I could’ve done differently in the case of the two girls that slammed into the silver Civic. There wasn’t much time for them to react but when it comes to the guy in the left lane that ran into a bike on the ground – I do think that was avoidable. I’ve replayed his hit a dozen times and even though he was further back than most of us, it doesn’t seem like he slowed down at all even though the rest of us had time to come to an almost complete stop. He was one of the "photographers" and was filming the event which might have caused him to be a bit distracted. I honestly believe that if he was paying attention and got on his brakes when we all did, he would’ve been able to stop before hitting that bike.
Go back to basics. Knowing how to ride a bike is one thing but knowing how to safely ride a bike is completely different. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by experienced riders who didn’t panic in an emergency situation and were all able to safely stop. I could’ve easily been hit from the back by an inexperienced rider. My rear tire was sliding all over the place but because I’ve practiced an emergency braking scenario in the safety of a closed course, I knew that it’s not a big deal. I also knew how to properly apply my front brakes without locking the front wheel. You don’t just learn “how to” during an emergency situation, learn it in advance and practice so you’re prepared in a real emergency. Emergency braking, swerving, and even preparing to take an impact – these are all skills every rider must master.
All gear all the time! Knowing that most of the other girls on this ride would be wearing little to no gear, I contemplated wearing regular jeans. After all, we’re not ripping up canyons, it’s just a street ride. But I decided to play it safe and fully gear up and never will I ever question that decision again. It doesn’t matter who you are or how well you ride, what happened this weekend can happen to anyone. Whether you’re a hotheaded squid swerving in-and-out of lanes on your GSXR or a senior citizen cruising on your BMW scooter – it could happen to you! So in a situation where there is nothing you can do to avoid an impact, the only thing you can rely on is your gear. No, gear won't save your life or prevent injuries in every situation but let’s analyze – Out of the three riders taken to the hospital, two were not wearing gear. One wasn’t wearing any gear at all except for a helmet and has a broken hip which requires surgery. The other was wearing a riding jacket but not pants, she has a fractured knee and a broken nose. Her helmet flew off on impact which shows how important it is to have a proper fitting helmet and to properly strap it in place. The third rider was wearing a jacket, boots and knee/shin guards – she has no serious injuries even though I watched her somersault over a car. Just a bruised hip and even that could’ve probably been avoided with proper hip pads. It’s pretty evident – gear works!
I was blown away by the way all of the riders quickly formed together to stabilize the situation. There were people assisting the injured riders, regulating traffic, moving bikes out of the way, collecting loose parts and personal belongings- it was the quickest formed alliance I have ever seen. Aside from our group, every single motorcyclist that passed by stopped to ask if we needed any help. After the fact, every single rider I know who's heard about the incident checked in with me to make sure I was ok. It is an honor to be a part of such a strong community.
In conclusion, I’m beyond relieved there were no fatalities. Bones will heal and bikes can be replaced, the situation could’ve been much, much worse. There is no way to completely eliminate risk on a bike but there are definitely ways to decrease your chances of getting seriously hurt. Wear your gear, pay attention, learn to ride safely, – it may save your life!
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10 months and over 40,000 miles later, Henry stopped by Beach Moto to chat with me about his experience. Planning an adventure like Henry’s seems impossible. I mean, where do you even begin??