Monday, September 21, 2009


I went for a bike ride this morning up Becora hill. I woke up a little late and by the time I got to the top, I figured it was too hot to do the whole Hera loop, so I turned around and started heading back down.

As I rounded the corner just as it starts to get steep I see a middle-aged Timorese guy walking down the side of the street. Not hearing anything, and - I guess - not expecting a quiet bicycle, he starts crossing the road without looking behind him. I'm still a good 30m away by this point, going about 40km/hr.

I yell out to him, "hey, look out!" and start to brake gently. He takes a second to react, and then turns around to see me coming. I start braking more heavily. He's bang in the middle of the road so there's no real obvious way for either of us to go. I start going left, he dodges left, I try to react and veer right at exactly the moment he reacts to my left-veering and dodges right.

I can't say for sure exactly how fast I was going when I hit him, but as my bike hit him I managed to sort-of leap over him and execute, what I must recognise as, a pretty impressive forward roll down the road ahead.

I've heard all sorts of horror stories about car-crashes in Timor. People quickly get surrounded by mobs that can turn violent (the story of the USAID guy who got hit in the head with a machete after his driver hit a guy in Metinaro, then jumped out of the car and ran off into the distance comes to mind). If you're lucky enough to extricate yourself from the mob, there are all sorts of payments demanded, no matter who was in the wrong.

Of course, before I even have a chance to worry about any of this, we've both popped up and both apologised and established that neither of us are too badly hurt. I have managed to come up with only small scratches on one knee and both elbows and a modest patch of road rash on my right hip. I can't talk definitively about his injuries, but he certainly had a cut on his hand and must have had some bruises in his back and side from where my bike crashed into him.

Sure enough, the guys who were sitting under a tree up the road start running down to see what's going on. By the time they get there I'm already helping the guy wash out his hand with some water I had with me. They seemed to be quite disappointed that no conflict had erupted and kept pointing out our respective scratches and wounds.

We both apologised, shook hands, introduced ourselves, expressed our desire to meet again sometime and went on our way.

I've only really had two proper crashes as an adult. One in New Zealand on a mountain bike track up above Golden Bay where I cracked a helmet in half and left a good chunk of skin on the road, and this one. Each time I've come away feeling thankful.

In this case, sure, I wouldn't have hit him if he hadn't walked out into the road without looking, but I probably should have been anticipating that and started braking earlier. People do it all the time here, and the concept of right-of-way doesn't really exist.

Each crash for me has a good lesson in your own mortality and fallibility for the price of a few square inches of skin. That's a bargain, as far as I'm concerned.

Respect the bike...