Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The bad fall that didn't happen

I almost had a bad fall, yesterday. It happened 13.2 miles into my timed course, at a spot where I normally stop to drink, snack, and log my mileage and time. It would have been an embarassing fall. The kind associated with old folks. In fact I even feel embarassed that it almost happened. But I feel duty-bound to report it.

It happened during that stretch of yesterday's ride that forced me to come to grips with the fact that I was not going to beat my previous time. For five miles or so I had been hoping to get a resurgence of energy, but it wasn't happening, and I was feeling bad about it. I pulled into a spacious parking lot in front of a mini strip mall and braked as I came alongside a tiny abandoned shack that looks as though it had once been a drive-up coffee stall. I usually stop right here because it's out of the traffic pattern.

As I approached, I was concentrating on making this as brief a stop as possible: Grab my half-finished bottle of Muscle Milk, swill it down, chase it with water. Grab my map, fish my pencil out of my pocket, note the time, stow everything, and get going. Quickly, now, quickly! Distracted by my sense of urgency, I squeezed the brakes too hard and came to an abrupt stop. Firmly seated on the saddle.

I never do that. I always (in this order) brake until almost stopped, and, with the right pedal all the way down and my foot on it, slide forward off the saddle and reach out with my left foot and put it on the ground as I stop. Always. Except this time I didn't. In my eagerness to save time, I squeezed the brakes too hard, and stopped dead while still perched on the saddle, both feet on the pedals. And promptly started to fall over to my left.

The next split-second went very fast. First, I realized that the tiny building to my left had a mini concrete curb around it. I was parallel to it, only about 15 inches away. Too close. As I fell, I reached out my left foot, the one I always put down, but I couldn't place it as I always do, because I was still seated, so the pavement was farther down than usual. I needed to reach out further to the left, in order to compensate, but I couldn't, because the curb was there. So I had to put my foot on top of the curb instead of on the pavement, which meant I had to lift it up, and place it at an angle slightly different than if there had been no curb there.

I think I could have done it right if I had been younger. I might have even done it right yesterday, if I hadn't been so tired. As it was, when my foot came down on the curb it was a half-inch or so too close to me, my center of gravity was still too far to the left, and I was still falling. Luckily, I had just enough strength and time to give a little half-hop, lifting the foot back up off the curb even as I continued to fall, and moving it out further to the left before momentum brought it down for good. It worked. It caught me.

When one reads about some of the crashes survived by cyclists, this seems hardly to measure up to the "bad fall" label I gave it in my first sentence. But in the context of cycling for the elderly, and specifically for the elderly with only moderate experience, it seemed to me bad enough to call "bad". It would have been a painful spill, even if I had only fallen up against the wall of the little coffee hut. Even if I hadn't ended up tangled in the bike. Not only do bones get brittle as you age. Connective tissue is less pliable. Muscles are less quick respond in their roles as shock absorbers. Ouch.

I read somewhere recently where some old guy said he wasn't going to bust a gut trying to ride faster and longer because it wasn't smart. It wasn't safe, he argued. Yes, that was me. Now when do I start following my own advice?


  1. Glad you didn't go down. Falling is never fun. A road rider told me once it's not if you will fall, but WHEN you will fall. Sorry for the bad news. I can tell you some stories about falls! Most of mine were during mountain biking, but had a few on road bikes. One vivid memory is when I went over the handlebars off the trail into some rocks. I sat up to see my little finger on my right hand was bent backwards at the joint next up from the knuckle. Bent at a 90 degree angle backwards. Can you say ouch? I wasn't sure what to do, so first tried to ride the bike. That didn't work too good when I used the brake. I was alone (was ahead of the group), so nobody was going to hear....I reached down and straightened the finger. YOW! I could ride again. I was in my forties at the time.

  2. I'm not usually eager to try to break records or set precedents, but I'm going to try to have a fall-free record. And you can quote me!