The crash course

By CAITLIN E. CURRAN  |  May 6, 2009

"Steel frames can be bent back, but aluminum and carbon fiber frames can have cracks that you can't see," says Jordan. "And that can make the bike structurally unsound," unbeknownst to the rider.

According to Avstreykh, the most commonly damaged bicycle parts in accidents — based on a non-scientific survey of what he sees at Community Bicycle Supply — are the wheels. "They absorb much of a collision's impact," he says.

Post-accident, bikers should visit both the doctor and the bike shop, to gauge injuries and damage, keeping all receipts and appraisals. Depending on who was at fault in the accident, the driver's automobile insurance should cover all of these costs — but the biker will need to file a claim.

The MassBike report says that the motorist's insurance company will cover damage to the bicycle, as long as it's determined that the client is at fault. The company can refuse, however, if it appears that the cyclist was being negligent of the rules of the road, or violating laws. In this case, the biker — should he or she be willing to argue against this — may need to either consult a lawyer, or take the insurance company to small claims court.

Fischer notes that many cases do not require a lawyer. "It's not always cost-effective to call a lawyer," he says. "When you have a working-class bike, for example" — one that costs $500 or less — "or if it's your commuting bike you lock up at BU, then it's probably not worth [paying for a] lawyer's time. But if you've got a custom frame, it's worth getting a lawyer."

The small-claims court system, Fischer says, is fairly easy to navigate without professional legal assistance. "Small-claims court is designed that way, for people to go on their own." (Information and forms for small claims court can be found online at mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/districtcourt/smallclaims.html.)

Good and ugly
While not every accident can be prevented, there are some ways to avoid them, notes John Allen, who lives in Waltham, works as an expert witness in bicycle crashes, and is the author of Bicycling Street Smarts. In order to avoid financial woes in the event of an accident, for example, think about buying a cheaper bike.

"One piece of advice I give people is to have a bike that runs really well, but is not super beautiful and attractive," Allen says. "It's really better to have a bike that's practical and affordable. The bike I ride in the city looks like a wreck. It rides great, but people don't know that. They just see the rust and the flaking paint." The rust and flaking paint is an obvious anti-theft tactic but, beyond that, affordable bikes are less expensive to fix or replace in event of an accident.

His other line of defense against accidents? "Ride predictably, and according to the rules of the road. That effects not only your risk, but the respect people will give you."

Caitlin Curran has considered trading in her bike for a Ford minivan, but thought better of it. She can be reached at onegoodthing@gmail.com.

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