Plea of a cyclist's mother: please don't let my son's next ride be his last
It is Sunday night and my 17-year-old son Jamie is on his bike in the lounge room, riding on the rollers. A widescreen TV shows reruns of the Tour de France. Riders come towards him, flash past, two-wheeled terrestrials weaving through blocks of gold, lavender and stone.
He plans to have the ragged breath of a Froome, Cavendish or Quintana at his cheek one day, to feel the pure engine heat of other riders along the length of his body, to be part of the living organism of a peloton, stretching and snapping, morphing into a single cell.
In the two years that Jamie has been riding, he has had six crashes: 32,000-plus kilometres, inexperience, riding in the wet, mechanicals. Last Boxing Day he spent four hours in a country hospital under observation for suspected concussion. Another time he landed on his fingertips and chin after his chain came off and the downwards thrust of his foot met no resistance (there may still be road fragments in his chin that we didn't clean out properly). Each time he hits the road he rips off old scars and his faithful body replaces them with bigger purple ones.
My biggest fear is that the next crash will be serious. Not just months of dressings on hips and elbows. Not just broken collarbone, fractured jaw.
Just last Sunday, on Mother's Day, Mudgee grandmother and winemaker Jill Bryant was killed in a collision with a ute while on a ride. Her accident brings the death toll of riders in NSW to eight so far this year. Last year, 14 cyclists were killed.
Every time Jamie walks out the door to train or race I breathe a prayer that this isn't the last time I'll say goodbye. I send out good vibes to all frustrated drivers in the hope that they resist overtaking when it is not safe – so they are not forced to choose my son's soft body on his flimsy piece of carbon over a head-on collision with another vehicle.
I am all too aware that cycling deaths in Australia are on the increase, while at the same time they are significantly decreasing in the rest of the developed world. I am all too aware of the fury that sometimes flares in response to the flash of bright Lycra, the legacy of some fool on two wheels who nearly caused an accident ... But this is my son. You do not get exclusive use of the road because you have an engine under your bonnet, the same way you do not get to break road rules because you are on a bike.
Well before sunrise on cold winter mornings, I hear Jamie riding up the gravel driveway outside my bedroom window. I have this app called Find My Friends that I use to periodically check his whereabouts. I am all too aware that this app will not make any difference if the worst is to happen. I am all too aware that my son's life rests in the hands of strangers.