After a decade of cycling, experience has taught me that the greatest hazards on the road are sometimes of the non-motorized variety.
For starters, the roads themselves are often littered with glass, cracks, gravel and potholes. I can attribute almost every flat tire to a stray shard of glass or a discarded nail and, in March, I was literally thrown from my bike — somersaulting over my handlebars — after hitting a deep, partially obscured pothole in the roadway.
And runners aren't the only ones subjected to the wrath of dogs.
Many a canine has come charging from its yard — teeth bared and snarling — and chased me down the street. I once watched in awe as an enormous, muscular dog, complete with spiked collar, gave chase to my husband who was riding ahead of me. When the dog realized it would not catch my husband, it stopped in the middle of the street, turned, and leveled its gaze at me. Given that I was riding downhill on a road too narrow to execute a 180-degree turn, I figured I had two options: stop, get off my bike, and hope the dog would lose interest; or continue on my speedy path and hope the dog wouldn't broadside me.
I chose the latter and, luckily, made it past without being tackled by the giant furry beast.
However, there is also a little furry beasts known for wreaking havoc on the roads. More often than not, a squirrel that finds itself in the path of an oncoming bike will spin in a dozen spastic, chaotic circles before bee lining directly for the tire. My husband actually had a squirrel get caught in the spokes of his front tire and make a few thudding rotations before being ejected out the other side. But not every cyclist survives a squirrel encounter unscathed; many end up face down on the pavement wondering what hit them.
Deer also have the unnerving habit of leaping into the path of an unsuspecting cyclist. Several years ago I was cruising down a tree-lined road when I heard a rustling in the bushes followed by a blur of brown fur. The deer's front hooves landed less than a foot in front of me and its back end barely cleared my tire. In fact, just two weeks ago, a deer made headlines when it collided with a bicycle during the Dublin city triathlon.
Fortunately, though both deer and man were likely shaken, neither were stirred.
Once, as I was laboring up a steep hill on a blisteringly hot day, I looked up and was puzzled to see that my shadow had grown wings. In the next instant, I heard the rustle of feathers and the flap of wings as an enormous vulture descended on me.
Clearly, I had been mistaken for road kill.
But the absolute worst is probably the bees. By now, I have been stung more times than I can count. But the worst is when a bee flies into my helmet and unleashes a frantic flurry of buzzing and stinging as it tries to find its way out, rendering motorized vehicles, for one fleeting and delusional moment, the least of my concerns.