A couple Saturdays ago, Keith Shotts was riding his bike. People who know him will not be surprised. Last year, the 58-year-old retired petroleum engineer with Chevron, rode 11,000 miles, which included 600,000 feet of climbing.
The point being, he rides a lot and when you ride a lot, things happen. Unusual things. Sometimes, surprising things.
Shotts was part of a Saturday group of 12 people including his son Kevin. (Shotts has three sons, all of whom are engineers, and so is his wife, Noel.)
Their route went from Beach Park, along the bike path to Chester, North Chester, Granite Road, Granite Station and then back to Round Mountain Road and home. Sixty miles more or less. A piece of cake for Shotts.
The group was riding in a paceline, a formation whereby riders trade leads, each one taking a turn at the front so as to maximize the strength of the group and make it more efficient.
Shotts was in the middle, moving forward for his turn when the cyclists approached a group of houses and a stand of eucalyptus trees.
A white truck was going the opposite direction (east) and pulled over to the shoulder of the road to give the group plenty of room.
As the truck was pulling over, two dogs sprinted from the houses — a medium-sized dog and a smaller one — and ran on the other side of the road in the same direction as the cyclists, perhaps in hopes of crossing at some point and snagging an ankle sandwich.
“As the truck approached, the dog ran in front of the truck to continue running with us,” Shotts said, “but didn't make it around the truck and was struck on the driver's side of the bumper and spun through air across the road knocking me off my bike.”
Dogs are not meant to fly. Cats, maybe. It’s easy to picture a flying cat. Cats are light and when they see a bird, it’s as if they have sprouted wings.
Under the right circumstances, horses fly. Those circumstances include being Pegasus or being a relative of the mythical winged stallion.
However, the flying dog genre is not extensive. Toto flew in “The Wizard of Oz” but so did Dorothy, her house, a bunch of prairie furniture and the Wicked Witch but she had a broom so that almost doesn’t count.
Shotts found himself on the ground, skinned up but otherwise unhurt. His kit (cycling clothes) was intact and his bike was fine.
The dog disappeared but appeared to have survived too. Perhaps, having tasted flight, like the Wright Brothers, the dog kept on flying not eager to re-enter a world bound by gravity and peopled with owners who sometimes neglect to latch gates.
The story could be an SAT question. How much force does a flying dog carry? Enough, we know, to knock a man, not a large man, but a man, and a proud man at that, off his bike.
I called Harry Starkey, a licensed mechanical engineer with the state of California (see framed proof on his walls), thinking there might be a formula that could answer that question.
“When a dog bounces off an oncoming car and hits a cyclist, it’s ripe for engineering hypothecation,” Starkey said.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
I knew that and I don’t know much. You can pick that up on a fortune cookie.
“Let’s assume the dog’s speed is 20 miles an hour and it weighs 40 pounds. The cyclist is pedaling the same speed. The truck is traveling at 50 mph and weighs a lot.”
Starkey suggested we ignore bounce angles and the glancing blow factors and approach this from a momentum standpoint. Momentum equals mass (pounds) multiplied by velocity (mph).
“Say the dog absorbs 50 percent of the truck’s impact, reducing its speed to 10 mph, add that to the car speed of 50 mph and divide by two. This simplifies to being hit by a 40-pound object (the dog) at 50 mph.”
No wonder I did so poorly on the SATs. By the third mph, I’m looking over my neighbor’s shoulder wondering what he put down.
“It's probably like being met head-on by a high school defensive back,” Starkey said. “The blow would be uncomfortable but survivable.”
True. Shotts was too sore to ride the next day, but he’s back on the road. For Shotts, riding a bike is the next best thing to flying.