Friday Group Ride #438

Friday Group Ride #438

I envision my demise. I hesitate to even say so, and I pray my wife is not reading these words (no danger…she’s not), because even writing it down acknowledges something I would prefer not to, that I do contemplate my mortality.

Relative to other riders my age (47) I would count myself a risk-taker. I’m not doing the Dew. I’m not high on Monster Energy, or wearing RedBull flatbrims, but when it comes to riding a bike I like to take on challenges that elevate my risk of hitting the ground. I’m ok with that. I call it part of the bargain of having maximum fun.

Evel Knievel was one of my childhood heroes (also, Muhammad Ali and Eric Heiden), so I learned to ride bikes during a time when America was collectively celebrating the daredevil spirit. My approach to BMX was very much inspired by jumping buses and fountains and canyons.

But sometimes I envision crashes. I visualize myself taking the wrong line and coming to serious grief. I see myself being hit by a car, bouncing off the windshield, coming down on the asphalt. These images come unbidden. I daydream them. And then I shake them off and move on with my life.

For the most part, when I do crash, I come to terms with it pretty quickly. Just a couple months back I had an unexpected encounter with a pair of cars, and I was able to shake it off in 60 seconds, get back on, and ride. It is true to say I have been lucky through the years, but also that I’ve been on the ground more than most.

This week’s Group Ride asks two questions. The first is, are you a risk taker or do you play it safe? I don’t think one is better than the other. We all have our own goals, and individual approaches to risk are mostly aligned with those goals. The second question is, do you ever visualize crashes? Is this just an unavoidable product of a burgeoning sense of our own mortality? Or is it something more rudimentary even than that?


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  1. Tom Milani

    Other than riding a bike on the street, I play it safe. Sometimes I beat myself up for that, while acknowledging that at 59, when I fall, something breaks. And I don’t want to be off the bike when the snow melts. As far as visualizing crashes goes, I do it all the time. I think it’s a coping mechanism: by imagining the worst that can happen, I’m somehow insulating myself from it actually occurring. There’s probably a flaw in that logic.

  2. Steve

    I am squarely in mid-pack for risk-taking. More than most people and less than some of my fellow cyclists. I enjoy the feeling of having calculated an outcome that involves risk and executing. Mostly, I get it right.

    Secondly, I do visualize crashes. Ones that have happened (which is more like a recurring nightmare) and ones that involve hypothetical situations (which has the objective of formulating an instinctive response vs. having to think through outcomes). I remember reading an interview of a successful motorcycle racer that had the second approach – kind of a memorized decision tree so that reaction time was minimized. And if this sounds way to analytical, that’s because it is. Sometimes I ride just for the fun of it. Heh, heh.

  3. MattC

    I think that always visualizing crashing makes me ride within my limits (and I rarely crash as I rarely push my limits, being as I ride alone a LOT on the dirt). I do think that MT biking inherently has a much greater risk of crashing than road riding, and thus far (fingers crossed) I’ve never been down on the road. And I’ve been VERY lucky that all my crashes on the MTB have been very minor…(almost all my crashes are from taking a corner too hot and the front wheel slides out and I go down). I rarely ride on the road solo anymore, too many “near misses” with cars….cell phones have really changed the game IMO….SO MANY DRIVERS NOT paying attention. If I crash on the dirt I know where the fault lies…on the road you don’t have to do anything wrong to be maimed or killed.

    1. Shawn

      Push those front knobbies into the ground super hard while cornering so the rear drifts first. Discover your inner Yolanda Neff.

  4. Larry Brooks

    Crashing. It’s not something that you want to visualize, but it bears thinking about. If you ride enough it’s a matter of when not if. I’ve crashed on roads, both paved and gravel. Crashed on single track. Crashed in the rain and the dry. Crashed in races, when training and on commutes. Been hit by cars and hit them back. Ditto pedestrians. Walked away unscathed and woken up broken, and on the way to our excellent emergency medical system. It’s part of the gestalt. As the Buddhists say, “You know you will die. You don’t know the day.” Best to keep it that way.

  5. Aar

    I try to be as safe as possible while riding in roads. Bright clothing, bright red rear light, bright amber front light and obeying the law even when other cyclists don’t, making sure to smile and wave at motorists and pedestrians and choosing to ride when traffic is lite all factor into my safety protocols.

    I visualize remaining upright, not crashing. I believe that you do what you visualize and don’t want to crash.

  6. Rod

    I’m an engineer and it’s been said we’re pretty risk averse. May not be completely true, but we’re definitely on the side of knowing as opposed to not knowing (e.g. blind corner entry).

    And yet I have no problem with calculated risks, or edging my level of competence on a bike. I crash every CX practice – not on purpose, but purposely pushing it. I crash every couple of CX races. I crashed 4 times last week on a fat bike race trying to keep up speed at levels I can’t handle. I am not comfortable with close-contact in crits and even when having good legs will back off on the last laps. And I still have dreams of doing long bunny hops and cool manuals, but that’s a work in progress – slow progress.

    It is very likely that I’m going to die as a result of commuting to work and riding on the streets. I’m relatively low family risk for cnacer and cardiomyopathy, and while diabetes run in the family that was more of a lifestyle product. That’s ok – it’s a risk I can own and manage. I ride with lots of lights, visibly, and tending to what my surroundings are. That’s going to do crap-all when a driver is looking at a cellphone but you manage what you can.

  7. imakecircles

    I’m risk averse in that I’m lucky to have an 18 month old and lovely wife that I always want to come home to. As others have alluded to, though, out in the world we can only manage the risks under our control. In addition to safety gear like lights, etc, I try to be mindful and in the moment, which is what the ride is really about anyway. I’m quite focused on what my coefficient of friction is. I don’t stop at every intersection, but never enter an intersection without right of way without being prepared to. Making eye contact with drivers helps minimize risk, though I’ve been “seen through” before with unhappy results. There’s some kind of internal algorithm of when I whistle or say, “your left” on mixed use trails, which is almost always triggered by children, dogs, and erratic cell phone walkers.

    I commute and ride recreationally on the road primarily

  8. Shawn

    Risk taker. Yes, in envision crashes. Fortunately I don’t have the crashes I fear, although my most painful recently was a 2 mph tumble onto my left hip while being polite to a clueless joker on the trails. No good deed and all…

    What I really fear, though, is being the ultra fit cyclist/runner/cross country skiing areobic monster who is found dead Trailside of a massive unexpected heart attack out of the blue. You hear about it so much…

  9. Jeff vdD

    NOT a risk taker. Both wheels off the ground? Bad. Railing a descent with 100% faith in bike and rider? Wish I could. Dabbing at the last second before taking that tough approach to a wooden bridge? Yep, that’s me.

    And yet, I love the thrill of cycling. It’s a generally controlled thrill, but for the risk-averse, that’s the best case.

    Ove the last half decade, I’ve shifted my riding from entirely road to significant majority dirt. And while that’s primarily because I find the dirt to be more interesting, there’s a part of my brain screaming at me to get as far away from the distracted or hostile driver as possible.

    Gravel, CX, MTB, and fat are where I make my home. Risk of hitting a tree? Sure. Risk of a mechanical leaving me stranded far from help? Sure. But those feel like risks I can manage. In pursuit of the thrill.

  10. Parker English

    Given my age, 76, and limited bike-handling skills, the risk-taking challenges that attract my sense of self don’t involve much chance of hitting the ground. Can I get a decent time on the Hotter’N Hell Hundred? Can I ride the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Cabot Trail if my wife SAGs with our car? Can I feel ok about skipping the Trail’s forty most northern, and hilly, miles a year ago because they involved a dozen lengthy stretches of somewhat chunky gravel thru which we later saw two cyclists soldiering on?

    Had I not skidded onto a gravel shoulder while bike-packing during the summer of 1991, an oncoming semi-truck’s suddenly passing another on a two-lane road would’ve killed me. Have twice been actually side-swiped by overtaking passenger cars. So I’m alert when vehicles look or sound strange. Like Robot, however, I’ve been pretty blythe in shaking off any gruesome visualizations resulting from bike-related risks.

    What I wonder is whether life will seem worthwhile if my body or mind eventually prevents being self-identified via what Robot called the concept of fitness-as-hygiene back in #436. I’ve a 94-year-old friend who swims or, on a trike, cycles daily . . . in addition to organizing a weekly lunch for a group of us. But what if one’s mind or body prevented such things after being self-identified via fitness-as-hygiene for a long time?

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