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Still wheels

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The harvest moon emerged from the ashes of a smoldering sunset two weeks ago, as though someone had plunked a quarter into the slot of sky directly above the horizon. The air was crisp and irresistibly sweet, and I wanted to fill my lungs with it. I hopped on my bike and pedaled toward the green hills of Dorothea Dix, hoping to catch the moon as it crested the Raleigh skyline. But the rise of the autumnal marker meant that dark fell fast, faster than I had anticipated.

The shiny quarter established itself in the night sky, dispensing all remnants of sunset beneath it. I sat on a grassy patch of land and looked at the city, now blanketed in low, silvery light. In my haste, I realized, I had done a dumb and dangerous thing: I had forgotten my bike lights at home.

According to the most recent N.C. Department of Transportation study, September is the deadliest month to be a cyclist in this state. Although bikes account for less than 1 percent of all travel in the United States, cyclists constitute 2 percent of all traffic fatalities, and an additional 2 percent of traffic-related injuries each year. Twice I've been hit by a car, breaking an elbow the first time, a wrist the second. Twice the driver has left the scene.

Although the bones have mended, the sting remains. I get nervous around cars, so I often choose to walk rather than bike. But even that has its problems: To lower the risk of injury, it's imperative cyclists remain visible and present in the roadways, though that feels counterintuitive each time a whip of wind alerts me to a car's malicious drive-by. (There's a term for this, by the way—"a buzz." A study by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center found that while 1.2 percent of bicycle crashes involve a "buzz," 22 percent of those crashes result in serious injury or death.)

I try to remain cautiously optimistic and proactive. For the past three years, I've worked to promote active ridership in North Carolina through a charity bike race called the Hepcat. Participation in the event has doubled every year, which is wonderful and nerve-racking. Bikers in whiskers and cat ears sidle up to those in Lycra; enthusiastic children pump their brakes next to criterium giants. The liability forms one must sign to participate are, as you might imagine, quite extensive. I worry about the future of such events—and my own, as a cyclist—if riding a bike continues to share more with "adrenaline sports" than simple transportation or leisure.

The night of the harvest moon, I walked the busy downtown thoroughfares, holding my bike at my hip and guiding it down the sidewalk. I got home just in time to catch the 11 o'clock news, where a breaking story interrupted the anchors. At an intersection I passed not 10 minutes before, the front of a bus struck a cyclist, and the back wheels crushed him. He died at the scene, under the silver moon. I imagine that, in the fading distance, the moon must have looked like the large, round O of the vehicle's headlights, shining not quite bright enough through the dark.

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