On being Off

I got knocked off my bike again on Friday. I say again because I got knocked off about 2 years ago – on that occasion I was unceremoniously rear-ended. I got knocked off about a year or so before that by some chumps pulling in without checking.


On this occasion a small red car pulled out from a side road onto the main road. The lady saw a gap and went for it, hard and fast. The only issue was my untimely presence on the stretch of road. I got absolutely mullered by the car. I had about a second or so to protest loudly before making contact with the side of the car and going flying. I’m not sure where the bike ended up; I ended up in a heap on the road. It was a big smash and I was a bit freaked out by it; I felt very nauseous and had a lot of pain in my ribs. I could breathe though and wasn’t concussed. It’s that strange feeling of being pootling along, excited to be out on the bike, to being ‘oh shit no oh STOP…’ to being on the floor. The lady got out of the car – stopped across the middle of the road – and was screaming and crying. I think it’s quite a terrifying thing to drive into an invisible cyclist. Essentially, I decloaked at the wrong time.

I remember saying something along the lines ‘calm down lady, I need to get out of the road’. I was confused; as shocking as it must be to experience a cyclist at such close quarters, the reaction of the lady seemed disproportionate to mine. I was sat there for a bit because I wasn’t sure what the damage was and was in a bit of shock. Some friendly passers-by helped out and I ended up sat on a bench for a bit. The difference between bike vs car and car vs car is that in the former the car driver becomes suddenly and forcibly aware of the vulnerability of the cyclist. I wish it didn’t need a crash for this to be evident.

Perceived wisdom in these circumstances is to call an ambulance and the police. It’s a road traffic accident (although someone once told me there is no such thing as an accident, they are incidents, and I’m inclined to agree) and it’s best to have the experts on hand just in case. Being English and terribly reserved, I sat for a bit, told people not to call the ambulance and waited it out. I spoke to the lady, got a bit ranty, but in a very passive aggressive manner. It’s not like culpability was in question. I also warned her that the cost of a replacement wheel (should it need replacing) might be considerably more than she might think, but that’s life, and she should choose her crash-victims more carefully.

After about 20 minutes I got back on my bike and went to work, it was only 5 minutes up the road. This was a matter of practicality rather than stupidity; at work I could have a cup of tea and see where I was. Colleagues were friendly and supportive, the universal panacea of tea with sugar was provided and I began an in-tray exercise so that I could free up time to head to A+E later if I needed to. I did need to, and headed off to the BRI at lunchtime.

The A+E department at the BRI is quite bleak. I’m not sure that I was expecting a bijou residence, some kind of chi-chi post-modern, televisual set-up, or even some sort of post-Holby City shiny palace of care, but it doesn’t really measure up to those kind of expectations. It’s a grimy triage unit, and grimly effective. The staff are focused, rapid and fantastically effective. I was triaged after about 90 minutes; it involved a detailed examination of my ribs, locating two fractured ones through the time-worn process of the prod-and-poke = patient scream. They can’t do anything about ribs. The advice was as follows:

“They are fractured. I’m going to give you some really strong painkillers and a leaflet called ‘managing your rib injury’. They might make you go a bit funny (the painkillers). If they do, don’t drive, because it’s a drug and drive drug. The pain will get worse before it gets better. You’ll be constipated. You’ll probably need more drugs than this what I am giving you. Rest and don’t lift stuff. If you cough up blood or weird sputum, come back at once”.

And thus my weekend has been fairly restful. Those fortunate enough to have had a rib injury will know it’s a particularly nasty thing, making it hard to breathe much above a shallow sort of emphysemic intake, and sneezing/coughing is like being stabbed with knitting needles. At the same time though, it’s not completely debilitating and as long as I keep stacked up on the prescription medicine, it’s manageable. The A+E lady said I might need a re-up in a few days. The only thing I find troubling about the saga is that it’s the third accident I’ve had in Bristol in 8 years, and on each occasion the car driver has been resolutely at fault. Which means it doesn’t matter what I do, how safely I ride, how many lights I stop at, how deferential I am to motor vehicles, how many lights or flourescent items I use, at some point I will get whacked by a car. On average, once every 2.6 years. I don’t like this. I guess it’s not as random as that. However, experience of my fellow cyclists and commuters – even people at work – would suggest that there’s an empirical truth and it’s not a nice one. If there is ever an argument for segregated cycling facilities, dutch style, then this is it.

I have had to rethink my training plans for this year and may come in under my planned monthly mileage for January, reducing it from 200 to 150 miles. Epic.



Tomorrow We Ride

Road racing on the bike is a very different beast to time trialling. This is a truism, but it certainly becomes apparent very quickly when you make the leap into the dark side. Today was the Bristol South Road Race, taking in 8 laps of Stowey Hill near Bishop Sutton, with an 80 strong field. It was very hot indeed. I took one bottle, which may or may not have been an error. There was a KOM competition on Stowey Hill; on the first lap i sat back and let it go, waiting to warm up a bit. On the second lap i moved to the front and rode hard, and may or may not have been pipped on the line by an Exeter Uni rider who was full of beans. He was on the right and i was looking to the left – another schoolboy error.

After the climb i sat up a bit, only for a team-mate to come through and ride hard on the front each lap. I didn’t really want to ride hard on the front but couldn’t really stop him. He got in a bit of a ding-dong with the Exeter Uni rider about his overshoes. It was like two bald men fighting over a comb. ‘Overshoes are illegal’, said the Exeter guy. ‘They’re aerodynamic’ said the team-mate. I don’t think it makes the slightest bit of difference either way, and i don’t think the scrutineers could really give two shits, but i kept my counsel. Nevertheless, it was typical of the dialogue in the bunch that crops up from time to time for no particular reason. Where’s Le Blaireau when you need him.

On the third lap i held back a bit and then moved through the bunch to line up for another pop at the climb and was feeling confident. A large car with an even larger caravan came round the corner – the front part of the bunch passed through ok, but as it rounded the corner it nailed first one rider then the others fell like dominos. The combined sound of aluminium caravan meets carbon fibre meets skin and bone was jarring and the crash left a scene of chaos. There were 3 BSCC riders taken out immediately and one Bath Uni rider, possibly some others. The front of the bunch slowed up and we neutralised the race. I rode on ahead to check with the marshals at the top of the climb what was happening, they told us to race on and listen out for the commissaire. As i passed the message up from near the very back – after talking to a fairly damaged looking rider and suggesting he might retire -the bunch got rolling again, but one rider took the ‘opportunity’ to attack and immediately rode off the front. i was at the back at this point having only just got back on. I was distinctly unimpressed. I guess it depends how you see the race and what you think is acceptable or not acceptable, and how much you want your points. As we looped back around the course past the crash site the section was neutralised and there was a rider lying on the road in a BSCC jersey. This was enough for me. Without even thinking about it I climbed off the bike and went back to the HQ. A number of other riders did the same. On each subsequent lap the race was neutralised past the crash, which was essential but effectively prevented there being a real selection or a timely break and meant the race came down to a bunch sprint – anathema to climbers like me.

In hindsight, the race was fantastically well organised and the commissaires have to make a tough decision when there is a crash on a looped circuit. They chose to continue, which was probably, on balance the right one. I chose to climb off, which was also probably the right one.

Lessons learnt from Rocky 1 to Rocky 5

–       Road racing requires a bit of a freaky mindset.

–       it can be hard to summon up the motivation to ride tempo in a bunch that undulates and shifts like the stinging tentacles of a portugese man of war, and it’s particularly hard to ride hard to the finish if you struggle with some of the more existential questions that tend to pop up in the race; i.e why are we riding when three riders have just been reduced to angles of limbs and blood on the tarmac by an enormous motor caravan? i struggle in that respect.

–       if you’re going to road race then that means riding 3rd and 4th category races. That means crashes, smashes and the pain of fractured limbs, torn face and mouth, road race and abrasions, missing teeth, broken bike parts and torn clothing. Frequently.

Lastly, it made me yearn for the simple pleasures of riding my bike in the countryside with friends, connecting with the landscape around me and enjoying the flow activity in all its infinite glory.

nb: i’ve edited this post a bit after going out for a walk in the evening sunshine. it’s softer than it was.

Down to Earth With a Bump

Yesterday was an eventful day. It was my first foray into the Classic League; the club’s annual time trial series. The first few races are held at Aust, in the shadow of the severn bridge and not far from the old ferry crossing, famously visited by his royal Bobness on his landmark electric/folk judas tour in 1966. I’m not sure if he was in town for the time trial or not.

Looks like a climber to me. (Barry Feinstein Image)

The weather for the race was a lot nicer than it was for Robert Zimmerman. The wind dropped and we had some late-evening sunshine.

i decided to ride out to the start in a slightly circuitous fashion and treat the whole endeavour as a training ride. The loose plan was to ride a slightly hilly 20 miles out, do the 5.2 mile TT, then ride home a further 15 miles, with the out and back being fairly hard, but not so hard that i couldn’t sustain it. You get into a fairly remorseless rhythm; for me it’s around 25mph or so, maybe a bit more, with heart rate at around 80%.

The first bit went well, then i dropped down to the suspension bridge coming back into Bristol. A car in front was doing a steady 15mph. I was behind – and certainly quite near, trusting in two things, that they would continuing moving at the same pace, and that the cycle lane belonged to me. They started to drift into the cycle lane, so i shouted, fairly benignly, to ask them to vacate it – but they didn’t hear. The driver then swerved suddenly across right into the lane and stopped. I presume he was checking his change for the bridge. I had no time to make any kind of decision, slammed on the front brake as i hit the car on the side and went straight over the handlebars pretty quickly, ending up wedged between the car and half on the pavement with my bike on top of me and a freaked-out looking driver nervously getting out of his car.

When you have a crash like this there’s a couple of things to consider, usually in a set order. Firstly, I checked to see if i could stand up, walk, raise arms, and made sure nothing was broken. Then i checked the bike thoroughly. The bike is absolutely fine, no damage whatsoever. My helmet is cracked and scraped though and there is a massive hole in my assos skinsuit.

this is what the crash looked like. see speed drop from 16mph to 0 at the beginning of the trace.

i had a lengthy conversation with the driver, he was quite shook up as well. he gave me some wetwipes to clean my face and shoulder. After that i decided to ride across and down bridge valley road at which point i’d decide whether i wanted to race or not. it’s hard to know what to do in the aftermath of a spill, and is best to sit still for a while. Heading across the bridge i got caught in a massive hailstorm and then had to shelter in the public toilets. it was quite an eventful few minutes.

it looks like i've stuck my shoulder in a tin of dulux matt emulsion
i can heartily recommend prendas baselayers. they are the bees knees.

once i got to the bottom of the hill i decided to ride out to the start. i was running a bit late by now so had to get on it. once i got up to speed the pain dissipated somewhat. I tacked along and made it just in time.

the race was comparatively uneventful. i rode as fast as i could, didn’t worry too much about pacing it, and managed an 11.02, which is an improvement on my PB of one second. i was a bit disappointed not to go faster but it wasn’t ideal conditions and also it didn’t help that i’d crashed heavily on the way over. It was good enough for the win by around 30 seconds. Somehow i’d like to find a further 20 seconds in the next two weeks. It was just one of those days where i thought i was going to really fly but didn’t actually go that fast.

We all rode back in a sort of TT and road bike convoy. I rode on front almost the whole time because i was still looking to do a bit more training. the others seemed happy to follow. I was glad to get home and have a bath. I’m a bit sore this morning but am optimistic that i will be fine in time for Sunday and the fastest course in christendom.


total of 40 miles @ 21.5mph average; 1 x 5.2 mile TT @ 28.3mph; one violent collision from 16mph to 0mph in 70 cm; one energy gel consumed

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