Cycling accident leaves professional cyclist injured

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (AP) — Carl Fenske is still a bit shaken and definitely sore after a getaway driver hit him on Spring Garden Street.

“I’m always scanning, always riding defensively,” said Fenske, a certified bike instructor. “I think I know what’s going on around me all the time.”

And he saw the SUV approaching fast behind him, but not in time to take evasive action.

“I looked in my bike’s rearview mirror, regularly checking traffic … and I saw this black Jeep, I think it was a Jeep Cherokee,” Fenske said.

“I immediately reached out my hand to say ‘slow down’, thinking he might have seen me. But what I saw from him was a completely indifferent look, like there was nothing urgent about to happen,” Fenske recalled. “He was just 10 feet behind me…then he hit me.”

“I didn’t hit my head on concrete, I didn’t get thrown off the bike,” Fenske said. “I was right in the middle of the road, I didn’t get thrown onto the pavement or off the road where I might have gone unnoticed.”

Fenske, who is also a board member for Bicycling in Greensboro, said the driver then slowed down to pass him, but sped up quickly.

Other motorists pulled over to help Fenske, and he was able to walk with the help of an ambulance.

“The triage nurse said, ‘I’m so thankful to see you here, because I’ve seen so many other results. You’re lucky you didn’t suffer an internal decapitation because that’s one of the things that happens with a rear injury in cyclists,” Fenske said.

And what does internal decapitation mean? “That means the spinal cord is cut inside…and you die,” Fenske said. “It was very sobering.”

He managed to escape without any fractures, but he suffers from muscle spasms.

“Honestly, my back is getting worse every day. It really hurts to get out of bed this morning,” he said.

Fenske, who recently retired from coaching football at Greensboro Day School, estimates he’s clocked more than 30,000 miles, including a crossing of the United States in 1979. And he’s had zero collisions until this one.

“At first…I didn’t want to tell my cycling friends about it. I felt embarrassed that this could happen to me. But I knew I would be in big trouble when they found out,” he said with a laugh. “And they would have found out.”

Fenske said the Greensboro police officer investigating the crash examined his bike for damage that may have transferred evidence to the vehicle that struck him. The officer also pulled video footage from a nearby traffic camera to see if the vehicle could be identified.

However, Fenske said the officer recently told him he was unable to identify the culprit. “He was really thorough, but…there’s not much they can do.”

He decided to go public with his experience, despite being a bit introverted.

People need to be more careful whether they’re driving a car, truck or bicycle, Fenske said.

“(Cellphones) have made the roads more dangerous for everyone,” he said. “Even when people are talking on speakerphone, it’s still distracting,” he said.

It encourages cyclists to be noticed by using flashing lights, wearing light-coloured clothing, and using reflective strips or triangles at night. They also need to be strategic and know where they are going and why they are doing it.

For vehicle drivers, he wants them to look beyond what’s directly in their lane, expect to see bicycles or pedestrians, and be respectful.

Motorists should also understand that cyclists do not have to use bike lanes.

“It is a state law that bikes can use the full lane, even if there is a bike lane there. A cyclist has the choice of being in the bike lane or the full lane” , did he declare.

And some drivers don’t know what to do when they encounter a cyclist, especially on a two-lane road, where they will often follow slowly.

He suggests using your turn signal and moving around the cyclist when it’s safe.

“What most people don’t know is that automobiles can legally pass a slow-moving vehicle — no matter what the double line says — as long as it’s safe,” Fenske said.

He still drives a bus for Greensboro Day School athletics, as well as a 54-passenger coach for High Point University.

“I’m a professional, whether I’m in this coach or on my bike.”

And he would like an apology from whoever hit him.

“I had to pay the consequences,” he said. He’s “not a bad person, but he was inattentive and he made two bad mistakes. One, being inattentive, and two, leaving me alone without knowing anything about me.

“I want reconciliation and…the simple words ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I will try to never let this happen to me or anyone else I know again.

And he wants everyone to be nicer.

“I had some incivilities. I always knew and followed the rule that the motorist is always right and always wins,” he said.

One instance, when he said something to a motorist on Westridge Road, reinforced this rule.

“I said something to a guy that was just plain rude. He grabbed his gun and I backed off,” Fenske said.

For now, Fenske said he can’t wait to get back on his bike. But, as he continues to process the accident, he has some doubts.

“And it crushes me, because it’s something that I really love to do. I love to ride, I love to be in traffic – really. And it works, but it requires everyone to be a good pilot.

Earnest L. Veasey