[One of the "silver linings" of the last many months has been that Jim and I have become acquainted with a great many people who have shared their friendship and support during our journey. Among them, a bloke from across the sea has become a cherished friend!
Age's story gives some completely honest insights into the "costs" of being involved in a motor vehicle/bicycle collision. As in our experience, there are countless ways in which lives are "broken", and yet a good many ways in which good outcomes can result from a challenging situation. Thanks so much, friend, for your transparency and for the gift of your friendship. And, a huge "thank you" for your willingness to speak up in support of safer conditions for Vulnerable Road Users and for all who share the road! -bst- ]
It is said that cycling is like church. Many attend but few understand. I want to tell you my story. Some will not understand it. Others will reject it. But I am hoping that many will thank me for it and that then the most magical thing will happen. One by one, voices will start whispering, ‘And Me’. A joyful band of cyclists will gather and you will never have to ride alone again.
How does riding a bike make you feel? When I ride my bike I feel free and happy, liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life; solid, dependable and silent. My bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. I ride to fly, to breath, to touch, to feel beautiful, to laugh, to soar, to relax. It gives me a sense of belonging, and the strength to overcome and heal, to love and be loved. I can communicate to the world without words, I am at one with nature and feel at peace. When I am on my bike I am truly alive.
It was way back in 1996
when I sold my car and started, as a single father, to go everywhere by bike including a daily 30 mile commute and regular trips to town 12 miles away with my children in a trailer. Whilst the road I travelled was, and still is, one of the busiest and most dangerous roads in the country, together with my trailer carrying two children we were quite the spectacle capturing everybody’s attention including car drivers and other road users. Despite cars and lorries invariably slowing down to wave, the road was wide enough and fast enough for other vehicle to not do so and pass safely even at speed.
Twenty years on, I had travelled over 200,000 miles by bicycle, and I had two grown up children alive and well, for which I thank God. The same cannot be said for me. It was in 2016 that I was knocked off my bike cycling home from work. It was not one of those car drivers who was angry with an irritating cyclist impeding his progress. No, he was just careless, had been distracted, was extremely remorseful and treated me like a human being. So too the emergency services and primary care givers with whom I have (to excuse the pun) no truck.
I am not sure if you will have ever heard of the term “Red Bike Moment”. When Muhammad Ali—then Cassius Marcellus Clay—was twelve years old, a thief stole his new red Schwinn bicycle outside of the annual Louisville Home Show. Clay, in tears, found a policeman to report the crime and stated that he wanted to “whup” the thief who stole his bike. Serendipitously, the policeman was Sergeant Joe Martin, who trained boxers. He encouraged Clay to learn how to fight before looking for retaliation. Martin’s gym was in the basement of the same building they were standing in. Clay showed up the next day to start training and he spent the next six years under Martin. Had young Cassius not been the victim of a stolen bicycle and had he not taken the advice of the police officer, his life would certainly have taken a different path. Cassius Clay’s stolen bike became a catalyst for his boxing career which in turn provided the ‘vehicle’ for him to address racial tensions in America and pursue social justice on a global basis. Muhammad Ali utilized his “Red Bike Moment” to fight a different kind of fight that persisted while still in the ring, and continued until his passing in June, 2016.
Most of us can reflect on our own personal history and identify a transformational event in our lives that occurred because of a challenge or some type of adversity. My crash, coincidentally also in June of that same year as Muhammad Ali’s passing, was my Red Bike Moment.
I was travelling home from work on my beloved bike, making my way out of the historic city of Bath in the UK. The city’s road infrastructure is particularly poor. It is difficult to navigate even for an experience cyclist such as me travelling a familiar route with knowledge of hazards and possible behavior of drivers at particular points along the way. It was typically busy at home time with the inevitable rush as everyone tries to get home after a long day at work. The roads contained the normal mix of road users from lorries, buses, cars, taxis, and motorcyclists to the likes of me on a bicycles. In addition there were pedestrians, and parked vehicles not to mention the unusually placed items of street furniture in any ill-conceived bike lanes that were provided together with pot holes, grids pointing in the wrong direction for bicycle tyres to slip down and plenty of road debris, all of which had to be deftly negotiated.
Do not hear the wrong thing. I loved my daily commute. I always rode confidently yet respectfully. The City centre portion in particular required absolute vigilance and constant decision making. Many is the time I would make a poor judgement call, be the recipient of angry gesticulations, vitriol, beeping horns and aggressive driving from unhappy folk to whom I would wave an apology. Oftentimes I was abused for no apparent reason but I would again cheerfully wave and just ride on my way thinking “Great, they have seen me”. But the point is this: my heightened awareness of the dangers on the road due to my vulnerability should be shared by all road users, cyclists or otherwise. They are not, as I was about to find out to my detriment.
This particular day was no different to any other and I was travelling up the inside of stop/start traffic positioned where the bike lane had rudely ejected me a few yards further back. Rather than stopping and starting with the traffic or weaving in and out, I maintained my position which, given the earlier bike lane and parked cars that the traffic had to move out and away from, was a wide and easy option. As I approached a set of traffic lights the car on my right, despite the lights being on green, began to slow down I assume because he was not sure if he would be able to get fully across the junction box in which he would not be allowed to stop before the lights turned red. I am told he flashed a driver coming towards him who was apparently wanting to turn across what was now our two lanes. That car driver accelerated and swung across our path crashing into me causing me to tumble head over heals with my bike attached to my feet going with me. Time itself seemed to slow down as I flew through the air thinking “this is going to hurt” and I fell onto the windscreen and over the other side of the bonnet hitting the road. I was momentarily knocked unconscious.
The driver was visibly shocked and very apologetic. He just had not seen me and admitted to distractedly waving a thanks to the car that had flashed him through as he rushed home. I picked myself up and spoke to him during which time he apologized for his carelessness and admitted full liability. This was confirmed by witnesses and the police. The front corner of his car was crumpled, the bonnet was dented, the windscreen was smashed and the colour of the car had changed in places to the red colour of my blood. The ambulance service were on site extremely quickly, stemmed the blood flow and raced me to hospital. I was well treated and the police took a statement from me and reported that the drivers of three cars and pedestrian witnesses all confirmed my version of events. It was a clear cut case of driving without due care and attention and wholly this poor man’s fault.
So that is about it really. I can’t add more. He was careless, I was vulnerable. It was not an ‘accident’. It was a crash caused by a distracted driver. You’d think the system would have had it covered. Unfortunately it doesn’t and it was from that moment that my life changed forever. Though the next five years represents a free fall into a smoldering pit of pain and suffering out of which I am only now climbing, this is, ironically a good news story which I shall explain now.
I fell onto more than the car windscreen and tarmac that fateful day. I also fell prey to an unscrupulous ‘peddler’ of the No-Win-No-Fee scam with a morality much worse than that of the most deviant car driver. This is one of the most heinous lies that this litigious society perpetuates that will see you paying with your life, if not with your money, and it just isn’t worth it.
I will say at the outset, should you be presented with this opportunity for recompense stemming from an errant road user causing you injury, my advice would be to take responsibility for your own life, keep as much control of your own future as you can and to not place it in the hands of others. Only God knows why bad things happen to good people. But I am here to tell you that they do. No matter the potential benefit and lure of financial recompense I urge you to heed my words; better a lean settlement than fat litigation.
Although I was visibly injured, my expensive beloved bike written off and I was unable to work, my claim was founded on the more obscure and difficult to prove root cause of the crash being a trigger for fibromyalgia, somatic symptom disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome. I was not happy with my solicitor’s advice to pursue the big money because it seemed unethical and somewhat dishonest. I thought a fair payment to reflect my immediate losses would be in the region of £10,000 at the time and I would have been happy with that, or perhaps a little more in consideration of my future loss of earnings and ramifications of my physical injuries. My solicitors, with convincing rhetoric, pushed and pushed, creating a claim for quite an obscene amount of money. This required attendance at medicals, full disclosure of my medical history and interviews taking over five years. I followed the required protocols reluctantly but openly and honestly. I was extremely uncomfortable and in fact have over 1,000 e-mails with my solicitor, 300 or so of which testify to my frustration at their handling of the case and the fact that I was tied in; if I pulled out I was responsible for their fees! But mostly my discomfort centered around their implicit, and off the record explicit, instruction to not be seen to be doing anything that could undermine my case. That included no bike rides or even social media posts evidencing the same. For five years I questioned the deceitful behavior being asked of me by my solicitor that gave rise to the imbued sense of dishonesty I felt.
I was in actual fact very ill and still am to some degree. Fibromyalgia is a silent illness that goes unseen by others. It is not a cold or the flu. I will never truly just magically get better and will probably suffer from it for the rest of my life. A nap won't always help. I am not lazy but I am tired to the point of a lethargic state at times with brain fog dimming perception of the world and thwarting all attempts to think productively. I am on medication to try to make it easier to thrive and merely survive. Many people may say that I am faking it or that I just need to push through it. Sometimes I can push through the pain and live some semblance of a life, but there are days where I can’t walk without severe pain and having to hold on to something. My joints hurt. My whole body hurts. My mood varies, and I am angry a lot. I try to control my mood swings and intermittent bouts of depression. Isolating myself is easiest. Somewhat shamefully I have to admit that at my lowest point I had become quite suicidal and was in professional therapy. If you want to know the easiest way off this mortal coil just drop me a line! I take my medications, vitamins and supplements daily. The total amount is more than you could fathom simply to help keep me up, but most days nothing works. I pay fastidious attention to nutrition having given up alcohol and sugar completely and consistently eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
Everything I did had to be run through a set of filters; how much pain will it cause me, what should I do to prepare, will I be able to work? If on one particular day I felt able to do a short bike ride I had to be careful to not be seen doing it. I was living life looking over my shoulder, and contrary to core values such as honesty and integrity. Living incongruently with these values whilst chasing others such as justice together with failing in my contribution to family was all fueling my ill health.
To make matters even worse the defense fought valiantly highlighting incredible gaps in the police notes taken at the time of the crash forcing contributory negligence to limit my claim. The clear cut case was becoming a complete charade as witnesses memories faded. Meanwhile I was travelling the length and breadth of the country at my own cost to attend investigatory medical assessments.
Then over five years after embarking on the claim it completely collapsed, the reason being that the defense posited I had exaggerated my symptoms. It turned out that some three and four years earlier the defense had employed private investigators who had selectively filmed me with the express intent of dismissing my claim. I was shown, for example, getting on my bike and returning over an hour later. I had been a National Swimmer and triathlete prior to the crash and now I could be seen struggling to get on my bike and wobbling off down the road. But this didn’t seem to matter. The film also did not show the preparation I had to make physically to undertake what ought to be a simple outing to go less than half a mile to the local park to be in nature and preserve what was left of my sanity. When a person is wronged in a marriage, divorce settlements reflect the station in life to which a person has become accustomed. No account of this was made in relation to my physical ability, nor was my athletes mentality and the extreme measures I had taken to get myself as well as possible. It mattered not that I was genuinely suffering and that most folk would have resigned themselves to a life of physical debilitation and misery. I was in the position where I did virtually nothing around the house, had a good half hour regime to get going in the mornings, couldn’t get up and down stairs easily, often slept through most of the days and was awake most of the night most nights, loaded with prescription medications and suicidal, yet on the basis of some shallow video evidence that pointed towards better health than that evidenced in my medicals and statements was being called a liar and threatened with civil and criminal action for fraud and fundamental dishonesty that could conclude with a prison sentence and a payment order for an amount of money that I would never have been able to pay in all my remaining years.
I was beyond anger. I had not been faking illness for five years. I had been faking wellness every single day trying to participate in life, owning my health and tying to minimize the impact of this debilitating, silent, unseen illness on my loved ones around me and the world at large. After having been knocked off my bike by a reckless driver I had been the sacrificial lamb in the game played between the legal folk. I had no alternative but to sack my solicitor who then invoiced me for their exorbitant legal fees, and I began negotiations directly with the other side without the encumbrance of my self-self serving solicitors. However, it was clear that I stood no chance against these legal giants.
After carefully considering all my options and taking advice I decided nervously to declare bankrupt. This took care of my own solicitor’s fees, though there were a few more months of angst as my personal finances etc were scrutinized by the Inland Revenue and Insolvency Service with the possibility of prosecution if wrongdoing was identified. Bankruptcy also formally covered the other sides costs incurred to that point.
Despite this legal protection I had apparently been afforded the defense solicitors continued to ask for a large lump sum of money as recompense for the trouble to which I had put them over the preceding five years. This was under threat of taking me to the high court to face almost certain conviction, a prison sentence and a cost order, falling after my discharge from bankruptcy, should I not pay their demand. My position was untenable. Bankrupt with no assets and no recourse to any finance I could not pay what they were asking, however much I wanted to do so to avoid years more litigation, prison and a cost order. What followed was endless sleepless nights, painful days, deteriorating health, misery and strife trying to get them to understand that I could not sign something that I could not honor. It would, quite ironically, have been dishonest to do so, and have led me into more trouble had I acquiesced. Eventually, I managed to convince them that my bankruptcy truly reflected my pitiful financial state and that even after discharge I would have been unable to pay either immediately or by instalments spanning the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I had to admit fundamental dishonesty as part of the deal and this is on a court record somewhere but it is civil not criminal and amounts to little more than someone admitting unreasonable behavior or adultery etc on divorce papers. No one cares and it doesn’t matter a jot; well, it sticks in my gut a little but my wife supported the difficult decision and I have her respect and trust. She has after all lived through this nightmare with me and knows that I have only ever acted with integrity and honesty.
Of course it was not just the nitty gritty financial issues that were troublesome over the last few years. Katherine has been a stalwart and has supported me through it all, even during my own miserable behavior at the low points in my fibromyalgia and illness. I, like everyone else have life issues with which to content such as ageing parents who can’t see each other due to this coronavirus pandemic and simply trying to fulfil my responsibilities as a father and husband.
No account of my last five years would be complete without special mention of my wife. Katherine is a bridge-builder, a hand-holder, a light-bringer. An extraordinary soul wrapped in ordinary life quietly weaving threads of humanity into an inhumane world. She is an as yet unsung hero in a world at war with itself. A whisperer of hope that peace is possible. In my darkness she lit my candle with her flame. I simply would not have survived this ordeal without her.
So how can this nightmare possibly be my Red Bike Moment and a good news story? I will tell you.
Immediately after the crash I was unable to work. My only option was to try to create an income myself and I could not be seen to be doing so by working at that. I had always harbored a dream of being self-employed somehow in the bicycle industry. And so it was that I made the decision that would see me re-train, create a bicycle design that achieved ‘patent’ protection and that passed all the required EN Safety tests and win recognition in the artisan world of custom hand built bicycles. Furthermore, I won the award at the international frame builders show held at Bespoked UK as Best New Framebuilder (runner-up). Without the promise of a substantial payout I would never have made the decisions I made which required me to effectively sacrifice my family’s financial security on the alter of my ambition. Out of the ashes, quite miraculously, the MacKenzie Cyclone was born.
Settling the claim issues has resulted in some remarkable health improvements for me. It is clear now that my injuries and suffering stemmed more from the litigious claim than it ever did from the index crash. My pain began to diminish and my weight started to stabilize despite no exercise. I found a more moderate approach to food. I began to sleep much better. My complexion became much better. My water retention vanished. Fatigue became less frequent and less overwhelming. My brain cleared. My whole psychology improved. My relationships strengthened. I began to look and feel like an older version of my former self replete with all the wisdom that age brings. My appreciation of life itself has led to me consciously giving gratitude for my many blessings every single day. I have come to realize that I am the sum total of the choices that I make. I must take full responsibility for my actions. In that respect I chose to enter the charade of the No-Win-No-Fee claims process and, somewhat ironically, in so doing contributed to the continuance of the legislative society that I abhor. At the time of my crash I had a choice. I could have chosen to accept their offer to cover my immediate losses and that would have been the end of that. But in my naivety I chose to be greedy and paid an awful price. However, here is an ironic dichotomy if ever there was one. My crash had actually set me forth on a path to self-actualization and freedom; both freedom ‘from’ matters I would prefer to not have in my life and freedom ’to’ create the life that I desire. As a lifelong passionate cycling advocate I believe we now have a previously unseen unique opportunity. The UK is in lockdown as are most countries around the globe. It seems that riding a bike has overnight become not only the safest but also for many, the only allowable form of transport. For key workers there has never been a better time to ditch the car and travel to work by bike. Roads are quieter and safer. For those at home, special provision has been made for daily exercise, cycling receiving special mention. At present the political system creates barriers between people and thought is fragmentary. Each person operates separately. The Coronavirus crisis has the potential to dissolve these barriers and bring people together with each person retaining their own individual awareness. We have witnessed this great spirit of co-operation in the our willingness to self isolate. That one mind, with its own agenda, will still be there when people are not physically connected, a single intelligence that works with people who are moving in relationship with one another. The agenda must be a more sustainable future.
I am not dismayed by the brokenness of the world or frustrated by those that don’t hold my views. All things break, and all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with individual and collective intention. And so it is with my full heartfelt thanks to Barbara Toth whose husband, Jim Toth suffered injuries far greater than my own following a crash, that I write in support of this group set up to promote awareness of Vulnerable Road Users and bring people together. From a wider perspective I believe the purpose of this virus is to bring us all to a different sense of value in our lives so that we can begin to treat ourselves, each other, and most importantly, our planet, with more respect. I will close with a recollection of a picture I once saw of a bird sitting on a slender branch of a tree in winter under which was written: "Tell me the weight of a snowflake" a coal-mouse asked a wild dove. "Nothing more than nothing" was the answer. "In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story" the mouse said. "I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow - not heavily, not in a raging blizzard - no, just like in a dream, without a wound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing as you say - the branch broke off" Having said that the coal-mouse flew away. The dove, since Noah's time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself "perhaps there is only one person's voice lacking for peace to come to the world”. I hope that having read this you will lend your voice to the weight of those already behind Barbara’s Vulnerable Road Users campaign.
Age MacKenzie MacKenzie Cycles 1 Victorias Place Chippenham Wiltshire SN15 3YW Mob: 07767 094904 www.mackenziecycles.co.uk