Yes, That's My Kid in the Upside-Down Bike Trailer in the Middle of the Street


When I took up whitewater kayaking, I was unafraid. Sure, I knew the dangers, but they were far away. Until I took a whitewater rescue class taught by a guy who was a professional whitewater rescuer—more than happy to share stories of his work—and learned exactly what a strong current can do to the body of a person who’s caught in a strainer.
And rock climbing. When I started climbing, I theoretically knew the risks, but it wasn’t until I witnessed a horrible accident that I really understood the dangers.
I have been pulling a bike trailer for three years. I have always been very cautious and safe—as a longtime bike commuter and Capricorn, how else could I be?—and lately I may have gotten a little lax. After all, my commutes with the kids are generally short. I always strap them in, but often lately I’ll just use the waist strap, not the chest strap. 
If Ben really protests when I pick him up from daycare, I will let him ride without his helmet on. After all, we are riding three blocks, and I will stay on the sidewalk the entire time except when we have to cross a busy street.  What could happen?
Today I learned what could happen. Ironically, we had probably the longest ride we’ve ever had that wasn’t on the bike path. It’s one thing to pedal the bike path out to Lexington or even to Walden Pond. It’s entirely another thing to bike from Arlington to the Longwood area of Boston (about 7 or 8 miles), much of it on busy roads. Even if you take the bike path most of the time, you must still contend with the B.U. Bridge, a bridge on which the northbound bike lane both starts and ends on the bridge. Seriously. 
The bridge itself ends in a big intersection (southbound) or a frightful rotary (northbound), so when the bike path ends and you’re sitting there with your firstborn in a trailer behind you and you realize, “Oh, fuck. There is nowhere for me to go except right into that rotary, which is populated by blind crackheads, from the looks of things,” well, there’s nothing to do but pedal on and hope for the best.
Add to this the ridiculously gusty winds today, which tossed me sideways on the bridge, and the traffic, which was early rush-hour Friday traffic on our way home, and you have a great number of scenarios in which things could have gone badly. Scariest was when I was trying to cross the B.U. Bridge to come home and was nearly gusted into a truck while I tried to keep some space for myself and was looking for that oh-too-short bike lane.
But it all went well, because things have generally always gone well for me, even when I’m paddling a river flowing at a stage no one has ever experienced before, or when I am leading a wet, slimy climb in a drizzle, or when I am biking with Max at rush hour on a very windy day.
And then in north Cambridge I made a sharp turn onto Massachusetts Avenue, once we got the green light, planning to cross on the new bike path crosswalk just north of Davis Square and take the side street up to Teele Square and then haul ass up over the big hill and down again to home…
The Chariot Couger, which is the trailer we have, uses a ball-and-socket attachment to the axle. Maybe all bike trailers do this. The idea is that if the bike falls over (say you get doored or something), the trailer stays upright.
I have never, ever heard anyone mention that the trailer might roll over while the bike stays upright.

I don't know what happened. I was crossing the two eastbound lanes of Mass Ave when I felt my bike pulling me sideways. I managed to unclip and look back. Max was kind of screaming. I was staring at the bottom--not the side, but the bottom--of the trailer. 

And I was off my bike and flipping the trailer upright, and some stranger was helping me pick up all the spilled groceries*, and I got us over to the sidewalk and crouched down and stared at Max.

I was badly shaken. If we'd been merging into traffic....if he hadn't had his helmet on, or if for some reason I'd let him ride not strapped in...if someone had been rushing the light behind us...
I firmly decided I wouldn't cry, and I kept my sunglasses on until I was sure I could keep it in check. He looked a little bit shaken. Not scared, but he wasn't making eye contact with me, and his face was very still. I made sure he was OK--the waist belt had held him, so he didn't even hit his head or anything--and then I told him that it had really freaked me out, and it was kind of scary, didn't he think so?  And then I joked about how we should please try to get home without going upside-down again, if he didn't mind. He smiled slightly at this.

He seemed fine for a child who'd just been upside-down in the middle of the road in a bike trailer.

As best as I can tell, I must have cut the corner too close and also, I think, caught the curb-cut ramp, allowing the stroller wheel to ride up onto the curb. That, combined with my hard right turn, must have been what flipped the trailer.
I tried not to play the "what-if" game. What if we'd been merging into traffic instead of turning when we had a green light? What if there'd been an aggressive driver behind us who couldn't stop in time? What if his waist strap had been too loose? What if the trailer hadn't provided such a good roll cage? What if he has internal injuries?


I tightened his waist strap though it was tight enough, put his chest strap on (no, he wasn't wearing it when the trailer flipped), and we had a very uneventful ride home. 

And then he was playing and laughing with his friend/neighbor, and I was telling the friend's nanny and our sitter what had happened, and they looked over at Max and observed that he seemed to be fine. 
Me, I will be eventually. This was pretty sobering. I had no idea such a thing could happen. 


* We'd stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home. In the waiting room at our appointment, we'd found a recipe for grapefruit granita in an issue of ChopChop and Max was enthusiastic about making it. So I stopped at Trader Joe's for some juice (for the granita) and chocolate cake (which my friend had told me about the previous night). They didn't have the cake, so I ended up with pie, wine, and frozen saag paneer. It was Trader Joe's, you know?



Julia Magnusson


Twitter: @notlikeacat


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