Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fall Down Go Boom

Just caught an article in The New York Times (yeah, an Iowan who reads stuff in The Times... and I usually read it via the iPhone app just to lock down my status as a left-leaning, latte-sipping, over-educated snobista) called "Fell Off My Bike, and Vowed Never to Get Back On".

Maybe this proves just how sick I am, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the argument. One accident and people decide to stop riding? Huh?

I see the point that riding injuries are usually random and traumatic. Thanks to well-chosen saddles, bars, pedals and shoes, I've managed to avoid the sort of long-term repetitive stress-type injuries that seem to plague runners (in my case, running also causes emotional scars, but let's not go there). When you get hurt biking, it's usually because a) you hit something (a tree, a wall, the ground, a wayward cow) or b) something hit you (a car, another rider, a meteorite, a wayward cow). Those hits feel like the ultimate expression of entropy, forces of chaos beyond your control that slap you upside the head with a quick mortality reminder.

Still, in the two times (frantically knocking wood to keep that number low) I've suffered what I consider a major crash injury, the thought of choosing to never ride again never passed through my brain-space. The first big bang was in grad school... I was taking advantage of an unseasonably warm winter day, overcooked a corner, hit some wet leaves, and the next thing I knew, I was spitting two front teeth into the weeds. The result was a face full of (temporary) scrapes and two (permanent) fake teeth. Yet even as I bled, I contemplated whether or not the bike was in good enough condition to get me to the emergency room.

The second big smack was a bit more serious... overcooked corner (see a trend?), hit a patch of slimy mud, and all of a sudden, I'm on the trail with one leg turned 90 degrees in a direction it was never designed to go. The result? A titanium-reinforced femur, a long recovery, and a pretty bitchin' scar. There were plenty of moments during that long recovery that I wondered if I would ever be able to ride again, but I can't recall one time where I thought, "Dang, this stuff is dangerous. I should give it up." Instead, my thoughts turned to just how I was going to accommodate my injury and keep going. Mixte frame so I could get my bum leg over? Recumbent? Even when I couldn't walk, I told myself that I was going to get back up on that horse somehow.

I won't pretend that these crashes didn't change my riding style... I'm a little more alert, a little more cautious, and I corner like a grandmother on a tricycle. And maybe the fact that both my smackdowns were more-or-less self-inflicted has something to do with my stubborn persistence -- it was my stupidity, not a random or hostile driver running me down. Still, as long as modern medicine can keep fitting me with aftermarket parts, I can't see myself getting off the bike willingly.

Besides, a few more years of this, and I might be totally bionic! (insert Six Million Dollar Man sound effect...)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As someone who is nursing a bruised tailbone after an incident involving a hidden ridge in the asphalt, I can relate. There have been a few incidents where skin and shorts were abraded, but nothing requiring skilled medical treatment. Never considered staying off the bikes, but I am a bit more cautious now!

Maybe the difference is the age when we started cycling? The WSJ article discussed middle-aged adults who had only been cycling for a few years. If you've been having the typical "incidents" since your teen years, it's not such a big deal. If your first incident happens when you are 48 years old, it's probably a much bigger shock.

It's important to understand what sort of risks you are dealing with, especially as you age. Hopefully it drives you to develop your skills to handle the risks, or increase your knowledge to avoid the risks, as opposed to just not engaging in the activity at all.

sitting gingerly at my computer,

Steve in Peoria