Two Wheels of Freedom

We crash, but we still ride.

On a quintessentially foggy San Francisco summer morning, the Stride Health team noticed an important member missing from her desk. At first we assumed she was tending to a meeting or important phone call, but when 10:00AM rolled around we learned the news - the MUNI tracks slammed another Stride teammate to the pavement while she biked to work. Astrid was left with a broken finger and mild concussion. Ouch, that made five casualties now. Two-thirds of us commute by bike to work, and almost half of us have gone down in the streets of SF.

San Francisco, where Stride Health is headquartered, has 72 miles of MUNI tracks - MUNI is short for Municipal Transit, or San Francisco’s light rail transportation system. For a 49-square-mile metropolis, we encounter these metal bike traps on a daily basis. At 1.5 inches wide, the tracks are the perfect size for swallowing a front bike wheel. Once you’re slotted into the tracks, if you don’t ride it out perfectly, the force slams you straight to the pavement. The WHAM! hits before you even know you’re in the tracks.

A few weeks earlier, another teammate, Jessica, was riding through a heavily-tracked intersection when her front wheel got caught and sent her flying. The weight of her backpack slammed her chin onto the pavement. Luckily, Jessica was able to dust off her hands and finish riding home, but a few hours later she began feeling the symptoms of a concussion. “There are so many other things going on, you don’t always think to look for these rails,” she said.

Crashes are so common on the MUNI rails, they’ve become a rite-of-passage for city riders. A local bike shop even makes t-shirts with the phrase I CRASH SF rather than the iconic I <3 SF. “If you ride the streets of San Francisco and haven't had a near miss on MUNI tracks, you need to ride your bike more often,” says the Mission Bicycle Company.

When Astrid returned to the office the next day, the five-crashers all nodded sympathetically. One common statement we’ve all made after these accidents is, “It could have been worse.” Even after spending 6.5 hours in the emergency room after her accident, Astrid feels grateful that only her finger was broken… and possibly even more grateful she has health insurance. Without it, the ER visit would have been $12-13,000. With health insurance, she only had to pay her $125 ER co-pay. Talk about dodging a financial bullet.

So why do we keep riding our bikes to work when we face inevitable dangers on each ride? For me, commuting is a way to find freedom in a crowded city. You don’t have to rely on the bus schedule or worry about finding a parking spot. You get a great morning and evening workout and feel incredibly connected with our 7x7 mile community. At Stride, we pride ourselves on being active, so for most of us, these benefits vastly outweigh the costs.

Accidents will happen to even the most careful riders, and it’s the crashes that remind us we are vulnerable. But rather than give up our two wheels of freedom, we learn to be more aware of our surroundings and maneuver in new ways. In life, we crash, but we have to get back up and keep riding.