One of my coworkers, in a burst of enthusiasm for the September Bike to Work Challenge, went out and bought himself a bike with the intention of riding it to work a few times. He rode to the lightrail station last weekend and took the train into town to see if it was workable. Last Monday he tried to make the commute.

I say “tried” becuase he didn’t make it. We’re still not all that clear on exactly what happened, but it appears that he was coming down a hill, got going a bit too fast for comfort, then hit a bump. That’s about all he remembers.

He has a broken wrist, and a broken bone in the other arm. He’s been to an oral surgeon because a few days after the accident they dug a piece of his tooth out of his lip. We know he had stitches, just not where or how many. In summary, he’s pretty messed up.

Now, aside from the pain (which is considerable), this is pretty damned inconvenient. This is a guy who literally makes his living typing words on a computer keyboard. He currently has one thumb and one forefinger extending from one of his casts. Our employer immediately purchased him voice-recognition software and a headset, so that he could try to get as much done as possible, but damn.

Interestingly, after the flinches and sympathetic noises, those of us that have been discussing his accident immediately started trying to figure out what went wrong.

“Well, my understanding is that he hadn’t ridden a bike since he was 16. I think he just went faster than he could control the bike.”

“He just bought that bike, you know. I bet the quick-release skewer on the front fork wasn’t tight enough. He hit that bump and the wheel popped off, and he went over the handlebars.”

“What hill was he on? I can’t think of any hills in that neighborhood that are steep enough to get you going that fast?”

We don’t do this to be mean-spirited, or insensitive. Really. In fact, I think we do it because each of us that rides our bikes in traffic knows, deep down, that the same thing can happen to us on any day that we ride. We are desperately trying to find a reason to point to, some negligence, or inexperience, a risky choice, anything at all to convince ourselves that it can’t and won’t happen to us. Because we’re more experienced, more careful, more lucky. It won’t happen to us.

But of course, it can. Riding in traffic is inherently dangerous. Even if you do everything right. Even if you follow all the rules and ride defensively. There’s just nothing you can do when a car hits you from behind going 50 mph. And that sort of accident happens to cyclists with truly disturbing regularity.

All this watercooler talk about our injured colleague really just amounts to our whistling in the graveyard. We are nervously putting up barriers between our conscious thoughts and the frightening certainty that any of us, any of us, could be riding along one moment, and wake up three weeks later with bone screws holding our legs together. If we are lucky enough to wake up at all.