Friday, January 21, 2011

The hidden cost of gadgetry

The recent death of South-African Carla Swart at the young age of 23 once again highlights the hidden cost of gadgetry. Carla Swart, who just signed for HTC Highroad was certainly an experienced rider. She has lived in the US for the past eight years and was the first collegiate rider to win titles in all disciplines (road, track, mountain and cyclocross). She was hit by a truck on a training ride in South Africa.

According to eyewitness reports, Carla had just lost her cycle computer and was making an abrupt left hand turn to try to circle back and retrieve it. That put her in the path of an oncoming truck. The driver of the truck apparently did what he could to avoid hitting her but it was too late. Carla died on the spot.

I have personally witnessed several accidents caused by cyclists being distracted by their ever more sophisticated cockpit instruments. Several years ago my son lost is Garmin Edge, seconds before he was passed by a car. The car crushed the device but fortunately Alistair did not react when he saw the Garmin drop. If he had reacted instinctively -as many do- it might have led to a very similar disaster.
More gadgets than a fighter jet

During my last Vineman race, my wife assisted a cyclist who crashed while he was fiddling with his power meter. She was driving along the bike route towards the transition area when it happened just a few yards in front of her car. She saw the man lose balance and go down. She was able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting him. Nonetheless he was hurt pretty badly and had to taken to the hospital.

Here in Berkeley, along Tunnel Road -the preferred start of any Berkeley ride- one often sees cyclists listening to iPods with headphones in both ears, riding side by side. Often these guys can't hear oncoming traffic and although traffic in Berkeley is pretty cycle-savvy and bike-friendly, close encounters do happen.

More frightening, but not that rare are those cyclists talking on cell phones or even texting while riding. Ironically enough nearly everyone is wearing a helmet even while swerving wildly to attend to their gadgetry.
Look ma, no hands, no brakes and no helmet either
I remember reading a report in a cycling magazine where a mountain biker fell on his cellphone and broke his hip. Given how little coverage there is on most mountain bike trails, one wonders why people even bother to bring these devices along.

On a few occasions I broke parts of my bicycle that were hard to fix on the spot, so I was eager to get a ride home. Every time I was helped by fellow cyclists, who invariably carried cell phones for just such emergencies. Unfortunately in all cases except one, the phones had no coverage and I was forced to walk (or if possible coast or ride) to a more populated area. The one exception happened in such a populated area.

Populated areas, of course have excellent coverage, but so what? Once there, you have access to plenty of regular phones, or even buses and light rail to take you home. So much for cell phones.

Even today, most of the popular biking roads in the East Bay that are not in populated areas have spotty to non-existent coverage. Mountain bike trails rarely if ever have signals. So you wonder why all these cyclists are riding around with cell phones in their back pockets? People simply can't live without their gadgets any longer. It is called addiction.

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