Bearly Breathing; Cyclist Collides with Bear on Downhill Ride

“NO, BEAR!!” is what Bob Johnson demanded while cycling down a mountain road last fall as he slammed into a 350-pound bear, who in turn slapped him, pounced on him in the ditch and left him for dead.

The front fork on his 1970 Schwinn Continental was bent in an unnatural position after hitting the bear which the 200-pound Johnson describes as, “…not furry, but real solid…”

“All I remember was seeing my hands on the handlebars and the front wheel hitting the bear,” he said. “It wasn’t registering that I was going to get the hell beat out of me. After that I woke up in the ditch.”

From that ditch along Shope Creek Road near Asheville, N.C., Johnson peered one eye up onto the road where two cars whizzed by without noticing a man lying in a ditch 100 yards away from a twisted bike. He tried to get up, but alas, his body was not cooperating. Sunglasses askew, he reached up to straighten them only to find blood. Now a neat set of claw marks adorn his forehead, marking him for life as the sorcerer of bad brakes and bad decisions. His helmet got a small crack up the back, but saved his head.

He first saw the bear from a quarter-mile away. He slowed down a bit. He had passed bears before, while on his motorcycle, and they usually ran off. He watched and moved over to the opposite lane, deciding to pass him. That’s when the bear ran out in front of him. “I had nowhere to go,” Johnson said. He hit the bear, cursed his brakes, and passed out. He says that he was squeezing those old brakes as hard as he could, but his dry-rotted pads wouldn’t stop that bike.

“Now, I’ve fallen off of a ladder before, and fallen at work onto concrete, and fallen off of my bike, and I’ve never broken a bone,” Johnson said. “That bear came back to crush me. I just never thought that could happen.”

He finally drug himself up from the ditch to flag somebody down, which took effort, because it didn’t appear as though he had been badly hurt. He wasn’t really bleeding, just crushed. He just needed six hours of surgery to insert a steel plate into where his collarbone used to be. He also had eight broken ribs, extensive ligament damage and a banged up hip. It cost him more than four months of work.

If this were to happen again, he says, “I would make noise from far away. Not WHEN you get there, but BEFORE you get there.”

That sounds like sound advice, and a perfect plan for the next time. After all, no real cyclist would let a silly old bear keep him from his bike. Johnson has switched over to mountain biking, where he is even more likely to see a bear.

“If I hadn’t been trying to exercise, this never would have happened,” said Johnson who abandoned the Panther’s game for a ride on his bike that fateful, sunny day.

P.S. Johnson has lost 50 pounds by riding bikes.

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