A Cyclists Companion: Fear of Crashing

A Cyclists Companion: Fear of Crashing

by / / 57 posts

I thought I was the only one.  It was a truth I admitted to myself only in the darkest hours of the night, when you lie awake and are faced by those haunting thoughts that are otherwise whisked away before they float to the surface.

But now, I can say it: I am afraid of crashing. Especially of equipment failure.  I never climb aboard my bike without having made a cursory check of all important parts: inflate the tires, check the headset, check the brake pads, bolts and cables, check the quick-releases.  (There is something in the name “Quick-Release” that unnerves me and forces me to harbor a doubt that they will release suddenly and unexpectedly.)

I’ve been particularly nervous about it the last week or so.  This year, I’ve noted that I’m descending and cornering faster; my confidence in my bike handling skills having skyrocketed since picking up mountain biking again. In the last week, I switched to a new pair of shoe (the White Ladies, passed on to me by John), and since doing so I’ve occasionally been clipping out of my inside pedal when leaning into a turn. It turns out that having your foot attached to your pedal contributes considerably towards staying upright.  (On a side note, I wonder what the connection is there?)

Crashing is part of cycling and, like most of us, I’ve spent my time on the tarmac.   Sometimes bad, sometimes not so bad.  Like the time when I borrowed an English friend’s bike and pulled on the front break instead of the rear.  And the time I overshot a corner racing my sister down a mountain in New York.  Sometimes you pick yourself up and ride home, other times you head to the hospital.

The risks increase when racing, of course, and the scariest of all my crashes was the first time I went down in a bunch during a race.  (I’d like to take this moment to thank the guy who thought he’d win the race by going through a non-existent gap from the middle of the field in the middle of the race.)  The first time you find yourself suddenly laying on the road being hit and fallen on by other cyclists is a moment that is occupied not by any realization of what is happening but instead by trying to assemble the fragments of information being sent to your brain.  You first become aware of what happened after you stop moving and continue to hear the wheels whizzing by your head as the rest of the riders (hopefully) avoid the carnage.  The feeling of helplessness is particularly acute as the desire to remove yourself from the road washes over you.

But watching the Pros, they seem to take it in stride.  I long held the view that after crashing so often, they have grown accustomed to it and generally don’t mind hitting the deck.  They are hardened by the reality of their occupation and get on with their job.  But I was happy to read a piece in the New York Times that said otherwise.  Jens Voigt, cycling legend, hardman extraordinaire, and Velominati hero, is also afraid of crashing, as it turns out.  Not only that, but so are the other Pros.

No matter how long you’ve been in this sport, there’s always that fear of crashing in the back of your mind, especially in the rain.

Crashing, as we are all aware of, is not a very pleasant experience. Everybody is scared of it, no matter who they are.

Not a very pleasant experience?  There’s an understatement.  I would say that crashing ranges anywhere from “Sucking” to “Fucking Terrifying” on the “Bad Things That Happen” scale.

That that in mind, take this spectator video of Boonen’s crash in the Tour of California.  The riders yelling just before the fall, and the distance they slide is rattling.  The callousness of the fan who scampers over to pick up Boonen’s bike with no interest in the rider’s well being before yelling at his friend to photograph him “quick” like it’s some sort of trophy is staggering.


Obviously not a cyclist, that one, because cyclists cringe and relive their own crashes any time they see a fellow Velominatus go down.

// Etiquette // Racing // The Rules // Tradition

  1. @frank
    Actually, no. Hoping that I don’t find myself being too cautious and tentative tomorrow. Overthinking the ride and every turn and descent. Crash wasn’t nearly so bad as to upset innards, and I’ve been running around all afternoon and waiting to apply some new bar tape (the only real casualty) once the little ‘uns are tucked up.

  2. I crashed on my way to work this past Monday. I was crossing a draw-bridge just after the rain stopped. The bridge was the kind that the roadway surface is a steel grid, constructed to resemble a cheese grater, more or less. As I was going down, I was having visions of the mess I was going to make of myself. That kind of surface will truly grind you up. And they are slippery as snot when wet.

    With immense good fortune, I managed to slide over near the side, and went down on the sidewalk. Only some minor road rash.

    A friend crashed on a similar bridge a few years ago and spent a long time in the hospital getting skin grafts, etc.

  3. I had my first serious crash yesterday, despite riding pretty regularly for the past six years or so. Powering downhill, I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but the chain dropped off the crankset, and seconds later I was skidding across the road. Fortunately I had an opportunity to apply Rule V, get back on, and ride home, much to the amazement of the girl I was with. She doesn’t yet understand Rule XI, clearly.

  4. @Chang He
    Good to hear you are okay and even better to hear you impressed the girl. As far as crashes go, not to shabby.

  5. @Cyclops
    50mph!!! (Of course you mean 80kph) It’s strange but while on the flat with some wind from behind I can get to about 55kph and it’s not scary. Descending at 55kph terrifies me – well I’m getting a bit more confident after about 8 months on a road bike but I always descend on the hoods. Thankfully I have read this discussion and have learned that this could be my downfall. It’s been because sitting higher causes more wind resistance and I find it easier to reach the brakes. After my shower this morning I’m going to adjust my brakes so they’re easier to reach in the drops and meditate on descending as in Rule #85. AMercx.

  6. I seem to have terrible luck when cycling, I have only been riding 6 months but spend a disproportionate amount of time on the tarmac. The fist was entirely my own fault, I had been invited to a houseparty and decided that I wasn’t too bothered about drinking but wanted to show off my shiny new bicycle. Bad idea. Numerous pints of beer and a bottle of tequila later I set off to ride home, forgot the helmet and could not see a thing on dark lanes but I had alcohol induced confidence. (This was also my first ever journey with clipless pedals) I put my wheel down an open drain and flung myself off at 45KPH and landed directly on my cheekbone, took all the skin off my hands and broken a rib, I haven’t really drank since, very stupid idea. The second big one was two weeks ago, I was descending a hill and a tractor towing a trailer full of potatoes was going the other way, as it went round a corner many of the potatoes fell off and one hit me directly in the testicles, I went onto a hedge where I promptly curled up into a ball and did a lot of shouting. While I was down there a bee decided it would sting me on the leg. Should I just give up?

  7. @luke
    Statistically speaking, you should be bullet proof for the next year, but I would steer clear of potatoes just in case.

  8. @luke

    You could look at this in one of two ways, firstly; given that they say these things come in threes, your best bet would be to pack up your shiny new bike and ship it to me. Then retire to bed, it’ll be safer that way.

    On the other hand, while no crash is ever enjoyable, your telling of the second does have good comedy value. I look forward to hearing about the third.

  9. @luke
    look at it this way, has the bike been totally wrecked at any stage and your limbs are mostly intact? and is it not the most exquisite thing in to world to be on a bike? if you’re feeling apprehensive about getting back on then that is totally normal and we’ve all been there at one stage or another. Look at it on the upside, in the second crash you ended up in the hedge rather than removing however much skin from whatever part you might have happed to land on. Apply Rule V and carry on

  10. @luke
    Oh dear. I have tears coming out of my eyes about your story.
    That’s the funniest fucking thing I’ve heard in ages. I’m imagining some serious karmic payback involving you molesting a packet of honey flavoured chips.

  11. @luke
    No, you should not give up – neither riding, nor sharing high-quality tales of your less successful outings. (You have, though, set the bar pretty high. A bee-stung potato-testicled tractor incident takes some beating.)

  12. My worst spill involved some gravel and laying the bike down during my commute home last summer. To get to my building was a long, flat strip of one way street with a few lights. Caught greens the last few thanks to a a sprint or two. At the end of that is a left hand turn downhill and into the parking garage at the bottom of said hill. At about 45 kph I took that turn, hit some gravel or loose stuff of some sort, lost my wheel and laid the bike down. Mucho road rash on the ankle, hip/ass, wrist, and leg in general. Also very embarrassing with the cars waiting for the green light getting a great view of the incident. I walked the remaining 20 meters to parking garage…

  13. @luke
    Awesome! If you ever meet my partner, flatmate, parents and siblings and they start laughing their arses off you’ll know why.

    FWIW when I get a new bike I’m such a pansy about crashing it, I kind of reset the risk taking I do on the bike and that has some interesting consequences. One greasy descent, I kind of cooked a couple of successive corners and ended up needing to make an emergency stop before I go over an edge. Due to my absolute genius with brakes, wet roads and being a massive chicken, I managed to come to a complete stop on the grass strip, a steep cliff on one side and the road on the other. Of course I unclip the wrong foot and end up tumbling down the bank, bike left at the top laid carefully on the grass.

  14. @luke

    I think we should pass the hat around to invest in a helmet-cam for Luke.

    We’ll make a fortune just from selling the clips to comedy TV shows.

    A1 Classic.

  15. @luke

    Dude, you’re lucky to be alive after the drunk faceplant in the dark, but the flying potato-in-the-testicles incident is Pure Fried Gold.

    *cleans coffee off keyboard*

  16. @Minion
    Rule #4 respected, nice work

    Not belittling what happened to you, but just think what would have happened if that truck had been full of turnips, or worse still large carrots – that said pretty poor form by the bee, to take you out whilst you were on the ground, sort of shoddy behaviour you would only expect out of a wasp

  17. Tears of respec’, nay, pure convulsions of giggling for Luke !!

    My favourite crash happened when I was quite young.  We lived down a modest hill, which allowed a decent turn of speed on my first bike, a green Dragster with a rear coaster brake.  You know, the kind where you have to do a quarter turn backwards before any braking happens.    I was riding as fast as I could down the hill, turning into our drive, and hitting the brakes, progressively leaving it later and later each time before I applied the brakes.

    On the last fateful pass, I determined that I would not brake until I was actually inside the shed.

    Can you guess what happened ?  Of yes, I came flying down the hill, counter-steered through a perfect turn into the drive and entered the shed at Warp V.   As I applied the brake, I had the pedals at 3 and 9, so after the quarter turn, they were at exactly 6 and 12, a position characterised by a complete inability to apply any braking pressure at all.

    I analysed the situation in a flash.  Like the auto-pilot in the famous Bugs Bunny scene, I felt the situation was beyond redemption, and bailed off the bike.  The bike proceeded to arrive, riderless, into a dining setting at the end of the shed, right next to the open kitchen door, where my poor mother was washing up.  The noise was horrendous, and I have no idea why my mother did not die of fright.

    As children do, I bounced.  I can’t even recall taking any skin off, though I probably did.  My growing years were characterised by a permanent revolving skinned knee which migrated from side to side on a regular basis.

    These days, I’m a bit wary of crashing on descents, as the hills I ride on have steep drop-offs and big trees, as well as rough pave, and the results would not be pretty.  So, I descend like a pussy, mostly.

  18. I have only ever had one high speed crash…and as per usual it was in the wet on a cycle path in Bristol…daily commute at the time.  It was entirely my fault.  I flew passed a jogger at about 35kph straight in to a chicaine, I tried to dink my way round it and suddenly had this very wierd sensation of the bike no longer being there and somehow being suspended in mid air…right up until my thigh hit the deck followed by the side of my tin lid!

    Polished my left thigh perfectly…not road rash, I mean perfect skimming off of the top few layers of skin.  Helmet saved my bonce and I got up and cycled on to work.  All day my new thigh seeped clear liquid periodically velcroing my trousers to my leg.  Bizarrely it was a particularly painful crash but it was my one and only (apart from the standard early mishaps with cleated shoes etc).

    I have had a couple of near misses recently with traffic and thank my lucky starts I am still here, the only thing that has saved me is having modicum of caution and staying fully awake and alert at all times….daydream=donefor!

  19. @Deakus Meant to say…it was NOT a particularly painful crash…

  20. @Jarvis When you are capable of creating a gap so large, that you can pull over and change a flat, you are allowed to break some of the rules.

  21. That idiot who is more concerned with getting a picture with Boonen’s bike than the rider needs a reality check. Easy knowing that this dude has never had a high speed crash. Now on to the latest crash I’ve had myself on My Cervelo P3 while doing some training. I was riding in the hard shoulder of a non-motorway just after turning at a roundabout. I was on a slight up hill rise getting up to speed and as I hit 26 mph the road takes a bit of a dip. I just looked down at the road for a few seconds and the next thing I was in a world of pain. Absolute sheer agony. Damn an idiot driver was parked in the hard shoulder just where the road dipped. A blind spot. A dangerous place to park. An illegal place to park. Just for the information of drivers in Ireland. The Law states that the hard shoulder of non-motorways is to be used only by Cyclists, Pedestrians and for breakdowns and emergencies for road vehicles. It is not for driving in or parking, taking a snooze, attending to crying children, talking on a mobile phone, etc. Damn I hit the rear of this dumbass persons vehicle who was parked in the hard shoulder. Who was it only some woman parked for no reason. Two kids in the vehicle. I was nearly feckin killed !!. I landed some 30 metres ahead of the vehicle out in the middle of the lane at the mercy of on coming traffic. Jaysus I was nearly killed !!. It was like hitting a brick wall. The pain was bloody unbearable. And it was all this feckin idiots fault. My head took a massive blow on the ground and the helmet saved my life. I was knocked out for a small time before I came to and cripes the pain. I was lying in the middle of the feckin lane. Feet still in the cleats. I was in that much pain I was unable to get up for several minutes. Even when I did get up it was a bloody struggle. I had so much pain in my lower rear neck that I thought it was broken. I was held up by a woman, fair play to her, for half an hour, not the feckin idiot that was in the car, but some concerned individual. Jaysus it was pandamonium. Drivers stopped to offer assistance, fair play to them. The Police arrived. Two ambulances arrived. The carbon base bar on my bike was sheared off. Whiplash on my back and neck caused unbearable pain. I was still confused and dazed from the blow too my head. Terrible road rash on my back, legs, arms and hands. My forehead was cut and bruised. My hands later swole up like two balloons. So did my arms. The skin suit was ripped. I was rushed to hospital. Had 4 x-rays done. Absolute miracle no broken bones. Still sore after two weeks. But on the mend. I am very lucky to be alive. Great folk them Nurses and ambulance drivers. Fair play to them. If any one thinks that this is not a tough sport then think again. Its hard enough without hitting the deck. Do not park in hard shoulders. And always wear your HELMET !!.

  22. @Steve Oh I forgot to mention that while I was being rushed to hospital in the ambulance while strapped to a spinal board and a neck brace on ect I was given three shots of Morphine and I was in that much pain the Morphine had no effect at all. Always wear a HELMET to protect your NOGGIN !!.

  23. @Steve Glad to hear you’re ok. I had a very similar accident in 84. A 10 mile TT on the Westferry course near Langbank in Scotland. About 1 mile in on the course (on dual carriageway (aka highway, but not interstate in the US) this guy who was teaching his pal how to drive stopped at the side of the road to change drivers. He wasn’t sure if they were on motorway or dual carriageway. (It transitioned about a mile back, and in the UK learners can’t drive on motorway/interstate) He opened his door. I rode into the door at about 28 mph. It was 84 in a TT. No helmets required, no helmets worn. I was very, very lucky to get away with concussion and 6 stitches. The bike was totaled. Riders and folks stopped to help. Basically got the bike replaced through insurance. In the US I’d have had lawyers chasing my ambulance all the way to the hospital as it was an illegal stop and as I hit the door I was clearly going past him.

    Like the dick who picked up Boonen’s bike, my dickhead driver didn’t think that he should look around for cyclists. It was a lovely May evening and there were dozens and dozens about and he would have driven past the start. I always wear a helmet now.

  24. Great post on crashing from Paul Kimmage here: http://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/cycling/stakes-are-high-with-skin-in-the-game-and-your-skin-on-the-road-30282663.html

    Particularly where he claims all pros have a fear of touching wheels and going down that “never leaves you”. Reminds me of the thing in professional cricket where all batsmen are scared of being hit by a 90mph bouncer to the head, but none of them admit it.

  25. squirrels….I hate them, 64 kph descent yesterday and had one run pass under me, between both wheels…not a good feeling..

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top