James Jenkins and nine other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. Talented 22-year-old James Jenkins rides for the Richardsons-Trek team and juggles racing with study and work. In his second journal entry, James reflects on the impact of being knocked off his bike by a van, and argues that it is time for significant improvements to the nation’s cycling infrastructure…
On the 25th of January, I headed out for a normal four-hour endurance ride. The only distinct thing about the day was that it was quite cold, so I decided to try to stick to bigger roads to avoid the potential of ungritted back ones. How ironic in hindsight…
My bike was wiped out from under me and I landed heavily on my arse before rolling a bit down the road
I was cycling along a short stretch of a dual carriageway between two roundabouts just south of Chelmsford, Essex, tight to the curb to give cars as much space as possible, when I heard a horrific screech. Imagine ten thousand pigs squealing at once, now double it and you’re nearly there. A second or two later I was hit squarely behind by a van. My bike was wiped out from under me and I landed heavily on my arse before rolling a bit down the road. Luckily, I was still in my lane and, as quickly as I could, I crawled to the curb and dragged myself out of the road.
Fortunately, the van driver parked up and got out to see if I was OK. At first, I didn’t think I was too badly injured, but really I was far from alright. Shaken up and hobbling, I sat down on the side of the road to check where I was. The bike was written off so my first thought was how am I going to get back to my home in London. I got a lift to the nearest station and it was only when I left the driver that it hit me and I realised just how much of a bad state I was in. Luckily for me, my team manager, Andy Lyons, only lived five minutes away so he picked me up and gave me some food while I calmed down so I could sort out how I was getting back home.
On the drive home I started to notice my discomfort more and began replaying the incident over in my head. The more I thought about it, the more I thought how bad it could have been. For one, I was on a winter bike with heavy wheels that managed to absorb more of the force than a summer bike perhaps could have. I also try not to think of what might have happened if the driver had looked up and seen me a few seconds later, he’d have hit me with more speed and my condition may have been far worse.
I started thinking about training again almost immediately and started to worry slightly that I would be beginning to lose fitness
Like every cyclist, once the dust had settled, I started thinking about training again almost immediately and started to worry slightly that I would be beginning to lose fitness. After a couple of days, I realised that I would be off the bike for a little while and this was confirmed by a physio. A strained groin and heavily bruised sacrum demanded rest and basically no exercise. The first few days were bearable, but I quickly got bored and disliked sitting around. It wasn’t great, but it could have been so much worse. I could still walk and restarting cycling was just on the horizon. At the end of the day, I had been hit from behind on a National Speed Limit (70 mph) road and was able to walk away from the incident. I was a very lucky man.
There are some benefits beyond the obvious that come with your British Cycling Race Licence, maybe the most important is the fact that you have access to free legal support so the day after I started this process and put a claim in with the driver’s policy. Over two months later this is still going on and I am now realising how difficult a claim can be as a sponsored or supported athlete with no receipts for any of my bike or kit. Fortunately, it looks like the insurers are going to be understanding since it is just a relatively small claim for them compared to some of their payouts. It’s good to know you have your national organisation fighting your corner.
All in all, I ended up having around ten days off the bike, followed by a week or two of low-intensity rehab. I accepted that I would lose a decent amount of fitness early on but with the lack of racing for the foreseeable future, I was not too concerned so didn’t rush the rehab. Now eight weeks down the line I have fully recovered and all my numbers are where I want them to be in time for a few time trials starting this month.
The accident highlighted to me just how vulnerable we as cyclists are on the road
The accident highlighted to me just how vulnerable we as cyclists are on the road. I had never had a serious injury before that was caused by a car on the road. Of course, I have read countless horror stories about people being hospitalised or worse while simply riding their bikes.
One of the few good things to come from the Covid-19 pandemic was the boom in cycling. There are now so many more people riding bikes regularly than this time last year and that is a great thing (even if it means it is impossible to buy any groupsets or bikes from retailers!). Personally, I have seen all three of my flatmates buy bicycles and now use them as their primary means of transport across London. And while the different councils in London early on made great improvements to cycling infrastructure through low traffic zones, 20 mph areas, and an increase in bike-paths along busy roads, as the world starts returning to ‘normality’, many of these measures are being reversed.
Back in October, a whole lane of Euston Road (one of the 50 most polluted roads in the world) was given over to cyclists and a new, faster way of travelling was given to thousands of people each day. I, for one, have used Euston Road to commute over the last four years but was looked at as a madman by my friends. But suddenly everyone felt confident to use it. That lane has subsequently been closed and is back for cars due, primarily, to taxi drivers complaining. Another example is the Kensington High Street cycle path that was removed due to perceptions it was causing an increase in traffic flow. Traffic is flowing no faster after the removal and it is now just being used as parking for white vans.
The UK has so far to go to make cyclists feel safer on the road. It wouldn’t cost much and the benefits would be significant. There would be huge drops in pollution, not to mention improvements in national obesity and the general public’s physical and mental health. At a time when everyone is having to spend more and more time at home, I for one have been able to really appreciate the hours I get to spend outside in the fresh air. When we look across the Channel to our European neighbours like Belgium, the Netherlands, and others, it is easy to think that their support for cycling as a mode of transport has always been as good as it is now, but it was not always like this. The governments made proactive decisions to place the needs of all over the needs of big metal boxes and the companies benefiting from selling thousands of them every year.
There are more people than ever cycling regularly and it is time to capitalise on this and implement legislation to support them
Just when there seems to be progress being made there is a slight kickback from a handful of local people, the government fold, and the minority get their way. It is The British Way. Cars had always been in the majority, but one can now hope. The wonders of cycling have now been gifted to hundreds of thousands of more people due to the pandemic. There are more people than ever cycling regularly and it is time to capitalise on this and implement legislation to support them.
Accidents like mine may never be entirely eradicated but they are much less likely to happen if there is more time, money, and effort being put into making us all safer, healthier, and happier rather than more insular, more polluting, and more selfish.
Featured photo: Keith Rotchelle
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James Jenkins journal #2: A not-so-bleak winter
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