This is what a real bike crash looks like. Mine was slightly less impressive.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I had hoped that when it did happen it would be spectacular, that I’d be in my full cycling gear, preferably in a race, and preferably surrounded by terribly concerned (and attractive) female spectators. I am disappointed to report therefore that my first major cycling crash since I was seven years old came at about nine o’clock on Sunday night as I nipped up to the shops in my jeans and a t-shirt.
I lifted my helmet off its peg on my way out, and then lobbed it back into the house using the same logic as the idiotic motorist who doesn’t bother with a seatbelt on short journeys, as though accidents can only happen after a certain distance has been covered. I didn’t bother with my gloves either. It had never really occurred to me until I was sliding along the road on my palms that the thickly padded gloves might serve a purpose other than preventing my hands getting sore from too long clutching the handlebars.
I wasn’t completely reckless in my approach. I did have my lights on, even if the only good they did was to stop the passing cars running over my bike as it lay in the middle of the road and I lay against a fence wondering why no one was stopping to see if I was all right.
As for spectacular, the crash itself couldn’t have been much more mundane. There is a right turn at the top of my road. To avoid having to step out of my toe-clips while waiting for a gap in the traffic, I tend to edge onto the footpath shortly before it and negotiate it slowly with the pedestrians. On Sunday night, as I came up to the point I usually cross the road, a car overtook me, so I had to wait for the next break in the kerb. At least, it looked like a break in the kerb.
I could hear another car coming up behind me, so I stood up on the pedals and put on a burst of speed to be able to cross to the footpath safely. I was probably doing about 30 km/h when I hit what turned out to be an ever so slightly raised kerb (no more than two inches, if that). Just as I hit it, I was standing hard on the right pedal. The bike skewed out to the left underneath me and my leg pushed on through and met no resistance.
Still with the bike between my legs, I hit the ground with my right knee and right shoulder. As I bounced and got my hands out in front of me, the bike hit the kerb again and bounced out into the road. I looked up and saw a fence I was clearly going to end up hitting. I tried to lift my right hand to fend it off, with the result that when I finally came to rest, my right arm was wrapped up behind my back and wedged into the fence by my shoulder. My helmet-less head stopped just in time.
I lay there watching the cars pass for a moment replaying in my head the strange noise I had made when I came off. It wasn’t a terrified screech or an agonised howl, it was the sort of noise you make when you hear about someone doing what I’d just done – a slight “tut” followed by a cringe and a sort of empathising “oooooooh” that implies “That’s going to hurt in the morning.”
I wasn’t worried that I’d done anything serious until I tried to move my right arm. It was when it wouldn’t move and I realised it was a lot further behind me than it had ever let on it was capable of going that I began to worry that my golf trip to France on Thursday might have been in jeopardy (always good to keep a sound sense of your priorities in a crisis I find). I sometimes sleep on my right arm and wake up in the night unable to feel it. The feeling as I lay there was exactly the same.
I rolled backwards to free it up, but it still didn’t move. I took hold of my right sleeve with my left hand and yanked my arm around to have a look at it. As I did, there was a delicate popping noise in my right shoulder and suddenly I had my right arm back and working again. I wondered if maybe I had dislocated it, but dismissed that as ridiculous. I wasn’t in any pain, and I’ve seen people on rugby pitches having shoulders returned to where they’re meant to be – if the pain is enough to make those hard nuts wince, it would surely have made me pass out.
I felt around under my shirt, half expecting to find something out of place, but in the end there was nothing that felt any weirder than usual. Shoulder and arm taken care of, I turned my attention to my knee. I bent it in and out from a sitting position a couple of times and it moved freely. I risked standing up, noting my grazed hands as I did so, and it supported my weight without complaint. It was bleeding, but I didn’t seem to have done any structural damage.
What I did next must have been a curious sight for the passing motorists (at least ten cars went past while I lay on the ground, not one of them even slowed down any more than necessary to avoid crushing my bike). Someone passing after I stood up would have seen a lanky man in torn and bloodied jeans and a t-shirt practicing his golf swing by the side of the road as his bike (with a slightly wonky front wheel) sat in the road. It was only when one such lucky passer-by honked his horn that I realised I should move the bike.
There’s lots of good news. My golf swing feels no worse than usual, so I’m still going to France. Ice packs on the shoulder very effectively reduced the swelling and eased the pain that arrived shortly after I got back to the house. On my way to work this morning (walking this time) I noticed that the wooden fence I hit is only about ten yards long and that either side of it is nothing but concrete wall.
It could have been a lot worse in a lot of ways, but thankfully it wasn’t. I got away with being a bit stupid and a bit uncoordinated. Next time, I’ll wear my helmet. And clean pants, just in case.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Posted by John McClure at 3:45 pm