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The Boston Globe

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Connections

Portrait of a cyclist: Ties to an ill-fated stranger

More than 20 years ago, his accident outside my apartment made me start wearing a bicycle helmet. A decade later I discovered a closer link to him.

It was the siren from an ambulance or police car that woke me. I went downstairs to get the newspaper and saw a policeman loading a bicycle into the trunk of his cruiser. The cyclist in the ambulance was alive and moving. The doors shut and the ambulance sped off. Shielding his eyes from the morning glare, the officer asked if I’d heard anything. A car, maybe? Tires skidding? I hadn’t. “Is he going to be OK?” I asked. The policeman shook his head.

The next day, the cyclist’s girlfriend knocked on my door to see if I could shed any light on the accident. I couldn’t. She told me her boyfriend had died. It was 1990, and I’d been commuting to work by bike for three years. Before that, I’d not once worn a helmet — the cyclist who died hadn’t been wearing one, either. If they even existed during my childhood in the 1970s, it was a well-kept secret. But I would start wearing one within weeks of the accident.

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