Ka-boom! Crash, bang, wallop. The soft screech of paintwork and skin scraping over tarmac is the only sound a cyclist fears more than the low hiss of an inner tube.
It’s just any other cycle ride until, SLAP, you’re down, absorbing the full blow of gravity’s revenge. It doesn’t take much to reduce the dear cyclist to a tangle of bones, tubing and wheels. One moment, one mistake.
A hush of humility follows the initial thunderclap of calamity. Dazed, we remain still and stiff, pinned to the floor with fear, frozen into position as if waiting for forensics to draw a line around our broken body. We don’t know where we are, we simply know that we’re no longer cycling. How did that happen, we ask? I was riding along, same as I always do. I’m a professional. I’m experienced. This doesn’t happen to me.
Day after day of cycling inoculates us against the reality of how frail we actually are. Our minds have long since erased the fine line between upright and down. We are supermen and women, deliberately ignoring our fragility because to focus on it would make us worse riders. Such mind tricks are no longer possible when the cold floor is beneath our body rather than our tyres.
People gather but we don’t see them. We don’t feel the blood dripping or our limbs shaking. There’s a commotion but we’re in the eye of the storm. Self-preservation has kicked in and our brain is working hard to instantly erase each and every second before these frames of misfortune form memories.
Nine times out of ten the cyclist stands up and climbs back on the bike. We check bike first, body second. The question is one not of our own ability to keep on moving but that of the bike. If the bike is rideable we will ride it. Off we go, shaken and stirred. Cadence slow, steering uncertain. A few corners later and the pain kicks in. We see the blood for the first time. The road rash. The swelling. The bike becomes a knife, stabbing us with every bump in the road, pain everywhere.
Can I still ride? This is the question we ask ourselves, Dr Google, a real doctor or simply the nearest person taking an interest. Don’t tell me what’s broken, tell me how to fix it. What do you mean, no cycling? That won’t do.
Reluctantly we give in. How long do I need to remain off the bike? Whatever answer we’re given we immediately halve it and set ourselves a target return date. Halve that again and you have the date when you’ll actually be back on the bike. Too early for sure but we’re on the rebound and there’s no stopping a rider’s need to be pedalling.
Climbing back on
We’re not ready physically and we’re certainly not ready mentally. The crash still haunts us. Our 23mm tyres feel as if they’ve lost 20mm since we last rode. The steering is twitchy, the brakes less effective than we remember and everything just feels wrong. Out we go, wobbling all over the road like we did as a child on our first ride without stabilisers, only this time there’s nobody to catch us if we fall.
Anything over seven mph has us gritting our teeth. Corners are our enemies. And why are these damn cars travelling so fast and so close? We are no longer bold cyclists running the gauntlet of the city streets. No, we are human, a fragile bag of flesh and bones wobbling on roads where we are not wanted. Still we ride.
A few miles in and we’ve picked up the pace. We begin leaning into corners. A few rides later and we’re smiling as we weave in and out of traffic. Before you know it, all hesitancy has gone and all that remains from the crash are the physical scars we will one day boast about at mid-ride café stops.
A personal history of crashes
I’ve seen and been a victim of few crashes. ‘Few’ being the keyword. After 12 years of cycling almost everyday, I’ve been incredibly fortunate and hopefully this blog post doesn’t become a curse for the future. Below are the moments that stand above the others.
Embarrassingly it was also my first ever ride on a ‘racing’ bike, as we called them in my day. All bikes were road bikes back then.
Thrilled to be in the drops for the first ever time on my brand new five speed Peugeot Carbolite (similar to image below), I put my head down and turned those pedals as fast and hard as my little legs could possibly spin. Unfortunately for me I was not riding a turbo. Head down, I did not have the sense to realise I actually needed to look up when riding in the drops. BAM! I ploughed head on into the nearest curb. You know how that one ends. As many tears as broken spokes.
With over twelve years commuting in central London on my palmarés, it was only recently that I had my first proper ‘crash’. Although many of you would not deem a five mph fall a crash! Off I came on a seemingly innocuous yet wet and greasy corner. SLAP. Elbow broken. Five mph! Six weeks off the bike prescribed, I was back on it within two. Who said cyclists were reasonable?
The spills of others
A small mention to the men and women who have fallen on my watch.
- The half-asleep teen coasting down a hill. Veered into the curb and took a spin over his handlebars at 20 mph. Got back up and carried on riding.
- The mountain bike man who did not give way to an oncoming van and cycled straight into the side of the van. I will never forget you foaming at the mouth as I put you in the recovery position. I hope you’re better and that you still ride a bike.
- My girlfriend who followed me through an amber light despite the distance between us. Running the red she hit a young schoolboy crossing the road. I will never forget her scream as she went over the handlebars. Never. No more amber lights for either of us.
- The sportive rider who braked too late on a wet road and a sharp bend. The hedge broke your fall but those thorns looked painful.
- The older gentleman on a group ride, visibly exhausted from keeping up with the bunch. You lost concentration and slipped down a steep gravel bank on the side of a Mallorcan road. I hope you didn’t try a dip in the sea with that road rash.
Reviewing the above, none involve the motorcar and all are the fault of the cyclist. I cannot recall a single bloody incident with a car although I’ve seen and experienced enough close shaves to last a lifetime.
Yet still we ride because for every accident there’s a million safe journeys. Cycling is no more dangerous than walking the street and don’t let any alarmist headlines tell you any different.
Ride safe people.
Images courtesy of unknown photographers