Ok, it may seem like I’m constantly blithering on about the bliss-out effects of cycling blah, blah, etc, etc ad infinitum but I also concede that it’s not without its occasional mishaps.
Mountainbiking is arguably more hazard-strewn than the routine road commute. There’s mud, rocks, exposed roots and twisty gnarly descents in them thar hills. Plenty to stop you in your tracks, in other words. Having said that, it’s probably a bit more comfy to be wiped outby a malevolent branch in the spokes than it is to be knocked sideways by a people-carrier driven by a reckless, stressed mother late for the school run.
I haven’t written anything about my falls and the minor prangs because I’m fortunate they have been few and far between. I suppose I’ve been properly mountainbiking since 1993/4 – those are the dates inside my mountainbike maintenance manuals (mint condition since I ruined a wheel after getting carried away with a spoke key (it looks nothing like a key either, just to add to the general confusion)).
The kind of incidents I’ve experienced are as nothing compared to a pal who’s still got the scar from being run over by fellow competitors in a road race, my youngest boy, who still has a big dent in his elbow where he refused to wait four hours in A&E after coming off his road bike and knocking off sizeable chunk of flesh, or the acquaintance of mine – the nicest and steadiest of fellows and an experienced cyclist who lost it descending a steep hill and crashed badly, smashing his helmet to smithereens and sustaining brain damage which still affects his short-term memory.
Without the helmet he would have been dead, no question. Without my helmet, I would certainly have been concussed on Sunday. It was only thanks to my helmet that I was able to get up from the ground, dust myself off and cycle home to wash the bleeding lacerations and put ice on the bruises.
It wasn’t as though I was even going very fast. It was one of those tracks where the green path was a overgrown to the extent that the dangling briars had multiplied into a green version of the creepy beaded curtains they have in some dubious backstreet restaurants where they might have one German Shepherd in the backyard and another in the fridge. It looked tricky to negotiate but I thought I’d get my head right down, put a bit of a tickle on, push through the stuff with some velocity and hope the clothing survived intact.
That hope was my last thought before I quite clearly heard my helmet crack. Two cracks actually, just above my left ear, I found later. Bloody nuisance having to buy a new helmet but hey, Giro helmets do the job. They save your head. It was a surprise to find myself lying on my left side in a neat semi-foetal position. After a bit of dusting off, I walked over to extract my bike from the undergrowth a couple of yards back where it was held by a big bastard briar and other greenery wrapped around the handlebar. A couple of days of neck-ache and everything, very very fortunately, is fine.
The last time I hit the deck was entirely my own fault, trying to round a bend too fast on wet grass and slithered off. Fortunately no-one saw. Not like the time, belting down to the post office on damp roads to catch the last post – wearing helmet but couldn’t be bothered to find mitts and put them on and the bike just slid from under me on the slimy damp paving slabs. Naturally I put both hands out to save myself, as you do – and skinned the heels and palms of both hands. Ouch. There was some pain. Actually quite a lot. Removing skin by friction hurts – it’s right up there with labour and paper cuts. But the worst thing was there were people. I mean. I never had much dignity but the remaining shreds were snatched cruelly away that day as passing octogenarians enquired kindly “Oooh that was a nasty tumble. Are you all right my dear? Can I help you up?”
The dramatic prang which knocked all the breath out of me happened while riding an unfamiliar dirt and stone track in Flaxley Woods on the edge of the Forest of Dean. We’d crested a hill in the woods and the chaps went hurtling off, as they do, leaving me to follow and my pal V behind me I didn’t see a problem beyond the branch on the track ahead but I thought I’d hop over that, not seeing the one sticking out that jammed in my front wheel. It was graceful, by all accounts, my somersault over the handlebars but I landed rather heavily on my back with a loud involuntary groan.
I remember lying there looking up at the green leaves with all the breath knocked out of me while V abandoned her bike and ran down to see if I was ok. It’s a horrible moment when you’re first on the scene of an accident in which someone might have fractured their spine so I think she probably felt a lot lot worse than I did. She was mightily relieved when I ignored her exhortations to keep completely still and just got up. Again, the embarrassment factor is a powerful incentive to just get going again.
So the moral of this blog is, if you cycle, Always Wear Your Helmet. Because you’re worth it.