Friday Group Ride #455

Friday Group Ride #455

I was blessed to grow up in the ’70s, when the ten speed and BMX ruled the neighborhood and there wasn’t so much television to distract you from going outside to rage up and down the streets like you owned them. The bike became a prop in my personal bildungsroman, a constant in the ups and downs of childhood and what came after.

One early scene involved a set of kid-made trails in the woods beyond a narrow creek at the edge of the neighborhood. Getting there required riding up and around the perimeter of the hood, to the one road that forded the creek, so the teens in the contingent built a bridge out of plywood for easy access. I was 7 at the time.

Opening day for the bridge featured kids of all ages streaming back and forth, now more thrilled by the plywood access than by the trails themselves. Myself, I was terrified. The bridge seemed high and impossibly narrow. I didn’t think I could hold a straight enough line to make it across. This is, obviously, foreshadowing.

The kids who built the bridge wanted, no needed, me to cross the bridge, and I have to believe, in retrospect, that they also wanted me to fall into the creek, which I did, soaking myself to the bone, and emerging, spluttering into the spring sunshine feeling like I’d just been born into a world far more cruel and unusual than I’d imagined.

Slowly I slopped my way home, sure my parents would kill me for…I’m not entirely sure what. When my knocking on the backdoor finally brought them to my rescue, I burst into tears and they burst into laughter. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me on a bike.

Then of course there were crashes and road rash, brief, violent interactions with cars, unpleasant discourse with unpleasant drivers. Each of them felt bad at the time, but probably made me a better rider and a better person. Has anything truly bad happened to me on the bike? Maybe. Maybe not.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the worst thing that’s happened to you on a bike? I have been lucky with crashes. Though I’ve hit the ground plenty, the hospital was never. strictly speaking, needed. Though I’ve been hit by cars, the blows were mainly glancing. I understand that’s not everyone’s story.

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  1. MikeG

    Well, there was that time I fished a frog out of our pool, put him in a bucket, and decided to carry the bucket while riding my son’s too small BMX bike down to the lake, while drinking beer from a bottle. All was well until I tried to ride one handed off the sidewalk into the grass leading down to the lake. Luckily the grass was soft, the bottle did not break, and the frog survived, but he might have had some PTSD from his wild bucket ride! Or, the time I failed to unclip and tipped over at the stop light while leading the Saturday shop ride. And the time while doing the best I have ever done and hanging on dearly to the back of the lead pack, doing 25mph+ then suddenly the guy in front of me ran over the big orange cone blocking the lane for us and stopped pretty much instantly. Ended up sliding backwards down the space between lanes looking back at the cars trying to stop before I became a human speed bump. Ended up sitting on the guardrail trying to get my pinkie finger to stop bleeding so I could finish the ride. Did grab a ride in the SAG wagon on that one, but have never had to visit the ER. Must be blessed, or like my riding buddies say; I don’t weigh enough to get hurt when I fall!

  2. sbarner

    1977. Working late at the bike shop, I left at dusk on my Raleigh track bike with a French armband light strapped to my knee–turned off, of course, to save the short-lived C batteries. Booking along a shortcut through the SUNY Albany campus, on a brief, narrow and very darkly shaded connector between parking lots, I slammed smack dab into a graduate student on a 3-speed. Two Brit bikes colliding in New Amsterdam. Feeling totally stupid and apologetic, I made sure that I hadn’t caused him any real harm, and went on my way to finish my 10-mile commute in the dark.

    Next night, same scenario, but well into dark, and I had made it all the way to Western Ave. Knew that I must have damaged the front rim, because the few times I used my Weinmann 500 sidepull, I got a disturbing thump. Oddly, a quick check found no blip in the sewup rim. What I didn’t realize is that I had humped the frame and the wheel was millimeters from the downtube. With almost no traffic, due to the hour, and a row of green lights, I was screaming along, flat out, when a dog decided to cross the street against the red. I slammed the front brake, which put the tire solidly into the downtube and made the bike an instant catapult. The only thing between the top of my head and the asphalt was my knit cap, yet I tucked and rolled enough that the next thing I knew I was on my feet, chasing my somersaulting bike down the road, trying not to slip on the plastic cleats nailed to the bottom of my Dettos. I caught the bike before it stopped and headed straight for the sidewalk, where a passerby remarked that I should be more careful. It was the only time I recall telling a stranger to just shut-up.

    I immediately knew that I was in trouble. I couldn’t really tell if I had just been incredibly lucky, or was really dead and just imagining I was still alive. I looked back into the street and when I saw that there was no body or bent bike lying there, figured it must be the former, got back on the Brooks, and slowly rode the 10 or so blocks to the nearest home of someone I knew who graciously gave me a lift home, avoiding the hospital, which I could not even begin to afford. That short pedal across town was an otherworldly experience.

    Raleigh had previously agreed to replace the frame, due to a manufacturing defect that had taken several years to appear, and they followed through, in spite of the fact that I had totaled the frame while waiting for the replacement. I still have that bike, though my wife always scowls when she sees me pull it out, as this is not the only near-catastrophe that has been woven while riding it.

    1. tominalbany

      The Downtube? Or a different shop? And if I go in and mention your name, will I get a discount or run off the premises? 🙂

    2. Stephen Barner

      @TomInAlbany, it was Klarsfeld’s, now CK Cycles, which name was a nod to old Charlie Klarsfeld, who started the shop down on Hudson Avenue, moving out to the Colonie Center area when the state campus was constructed in the ’60s. We sold Schwinn (1,000 a year).Raleigh and Motobecane while I was there. One of the guys who bought the business and renamed it CK, is still a good friend of mine, but he sold out to his partners several years ago. There’s no one left there who worked with me in the ’70s.

      I was friendly with the DownTube folks and actually helped wrench there a couple of times when they were swamped. It was a few blocks west of there that I pulled that somersault. Now that I think of it, it may have been Madison Ave, not Western, as I think I was almost to the park.

      When I was about 16, I once stopped by the DownTube after riding back to Albany from Rome in one shot. I don’t think I even had a water bottle on the bike. I was dehydrated and I almost passed out, stumbling against the end of a row of bikes and knocking them all over like dominoes. It was quite awhile before I had the guts to show my face in that shop again.

  3. Ron Callahan

    Somewhere in the early 1980s, I was racing down the hills just down the road from my house on my sweet GT Pro Series with a full load of newspapers strapped to me, heading to do my route as fast as I could so I could head to the next adventure. It was just after the third hill, when I had reached maximum speed, that my chain came off and went into the rear wheel. Suffice to say that the vehicle dynamics changed radically in a very short amount of time. I remember flipping through the air several times, landing and rolling and having the bike land on top of me with a thud. A mother and daughter walking their dog nearby said, “Are you okay?”. I peeled myself off the pavement and went on my way, so I guess I was. Helmet? That was for race days at the BMX track.

    Then there was the summer afternoon that I was heading home from the BMX track. I was cooking down the sidewalks on Dorothy Lane when I decided to jump a curb transition for fun. I landed it wrong, the wheel turned under me and vaulted me over the bars. This is when the slow motion camera turned on. My arms and legs were facing away from me as I was launched backward into the street. My right shoulder took a lot of the momentum, but my head smacked solidly into the street as well. I don’t know if I was out for a long time, but my next memory was a dump truck skidding to a stop at what felt like mere feet away to avoid hitting me. I scrambled to my feet and grabbed my bike and limped home. Again.. helmet? See above.

    Lastly, there was the time shortly after college when I had my first apartment and a little taste of freedom. I had gotten my first mountain bike the year before (an 89 Specialized Stumpjumper that my friend Allen still rides) and was out exploring in the neighborhood with my roommate Doug. I was carrying a bit of speed and decided to ride up this berm that served as a sound barrier between the road and another set of apartments. I didn’t see the divot in the hill, but my front wheel certainly found it. Instant endo! Again, as the slow motion camera came on, I remember seeing the very pointy rock that was coming directly at my forehead. Yes, this time I had a helmet. That Bell V1 Pro saved me from a lifetime of strained vegetables served through a feeding tube!

  4. David

    This happened recently – relatively anyway…..In August 2017 I was riding my usual daily ride, feeling good and pushing the pace just a little. Head down, deep into my head….in another place entirely when I t-boned a dog……walking on a leash no less. Difficult as this was to admit to my wife, I was at least lucky the dog was unhurt.

    I vaguely remember going over the bars and landing squarely on my shoulder. I sat up, felt my collar bone sticking up at an unnatural angle and thought I broke it – but really didn’t feel any pain. I got back on my bike and rode the 3 miles home and told my wife that we needed to forego church that Sunday and go to the ER instead. Resulting xrays revealed not a broken collar bone but a grade 5 separated shoulder that would require surgery.

    Fast forward to today and I’m back riding my favorite routes…..but with my eyes firmly on the road ahead!

  5. Steven Down

    The pleasures of being young enough to have been in awe of Evel. When Kinevil leaped double decker busses and appeared on the BBC kids show Blue Peter, I just had to give it a go myself. With my neighbour I constructed a suitable ramp probably from logs and hardboard, and took what I judged to be suitable run up before approaching it at speed. I had then, and to this day still have no ability to pull a wheelie. I also had no idea that my heavy Raleigh Chopper was unlikely to know how to lift it’s front wheel, or even that it had to. Result was gravel implanted in knees hands and lips and a life long fear of even the smallest drop offs. The broken wrist I acquired whilst MTBing 30 years later can be ascribed to the same lack of aerial talent. I now rest on the ground at all times.

  6. Dan Murphy

    Crashes? Man Robot, you just opened up the floodgates…..

    Most rider’s’ spectacular crashes usually involve high speed. I have had the knack of having spectacular crashes at speeds no faster than walking. I’ll save the bandwidth and pick one.

    Mountain biking in the north shore of Boston on trails unfamiliar to me, I was trying to keep up with a friend on his local trails. He turned onto this large slab of granite that went up very steeply for maybe 50 feet. I shift into the granny and grunt it out. Now, for those unfamiliar, the thing about granite is you have practically unlimited traction, especially climbing. If you can turn the cranks, you’re good – almost. At one point, I didn’t keep enough weight forward and lifted the front end, and from that point, everything was in very slow motion. I remember falling thru the air, looking up toward the sky, seeing my bike underneath me (or is it on top now?). It felt like forever. As always happens, I finally landed, on rock of course, but came out of it unscathed. Good to be young(er).

    The two crashes that required medical attention were walking speed crashes, too. One eventually resulted in rotator cuff surgery and the other just first aid on a smushed nose.

  7. Quentin

    I, too, have been lucky, but one story comes to mind. At 16 I entered my first race, a crit. There was a corner, slightly downhill, with sprinkler runoff making it a bit wet. I was getting lapped and desperate to stay with the leaders as they passed me. I slipped out in the corner. Determined to keep going, I got back on my bike. With a few laps to go, I was in danger of being lapped again. Really wanting to avoid that, I once again started taking corners faster than my skills would allow and crashed for the second time on the same wet corner. It was just road rash and injured pride, but painful nonetheless.

  8. Peter Leach

    What is the worst thing that’s happened to you on a bike? asks Robot.
    I’d have to say that that honour goes to the time when I, joining my cycling club colleagues for the very first time at their regular ‘day after race day’ recovery ride, coasted to a stop in front of the group – only to remember, too late, that I hadn’t unclipped and fell in front of them.
    Injuries? None – well only to my pride.
    Sadly, I have had a reasonably bad cycling accident. I came off my bike on a lone weekend morning ride – I have no memory of the fall, a few disjointed memories of the ride home and on-going memory loss and problems processing multiple sensory stimuli.
    That said, I’ll take injury over embarrassment thank you very much 🙂

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