On Rule #64: The Sudden Drop

Scrapped carbon and a torn cleat serve as reminders of a sudden crash.
Scraped carbon and a torn cleat serve as reminders of a sudden crash.

The severity of a crash exists on two planes, the physical and psychological. The physical is the most obvious and one we busy ourselves with in the immediate vicinity of coming down. Our bodies need time to heal, our kits may need replacing or mending, and our bicycles may need repair work. For weeks and sometimes months, we may carry with us the scars that result when our bodies, bicycles, and tarmac momentarily occupy the same space.

We endeavor to reach a point where the mechanics of bike handling has moved into the subconscious. An experienced Cyclist no longer thinks in terms of steering or pedaling; instead, we exist in a stream of subconscious consciousness where our senses are heightened, yet none of our actions exist on a plane of explicit thought as we make subtle adjustments to our stroke, steering, and balance. As our experience grows, the bicycle becomes an extension of our physical selves; it is through finding this harmony that we are able to live on the razor’s edge between grace and disaster.

When disaster does strike, we are faced with scars beyond the physical that take much longer to recover than do our equipment and flesh. In the space of a single moment, the trust we felt in our machine and our ability to control it evaporates, leaving a hollow sense of betrayal that burrows away deeply into our minds. It stays there, far from view, only to surface during moments when we most rely on our confidence to avoid crashes; the sliding of a tire in a corner or the sudden interference of an object with our path – these situations require complete confidence in our machine and skills, yet during the time that our confidence is being rebuilt we doubt our instincts.

This is particularly true of cornering, where we are most prominently faced with the realities of our confidence, trust, and skills. Normally, we sense a crash approaching some time before it arrives. A problem with our trajectory or a slipping tire will give our minds a moment to react, even if our bodies are unable to. As we reflect on the crash afterwards, we’ll understand what happened, and what might have been done to avoid it; we use this knowledge to tell ourselves it was avoidable and tuck that nagging sense of doubt a bit farther out of reach. But a crash with no warning and no remedy sits naked in our minds and permeates every action and sensation as we struggle to regain our confidence.

This past December, I slipped on some black ice on a cold morning commute to the office. There were no signs of anything going amiss; there was only the crash. In the blink of an eye, I went from happily entering a corner to laying on the tarmac. The impact was so sudden, in fact, that the force of the fall was taken up by my hip and elbow – my hands never left the bars – and the impact so swift that my cleat tore apart as the impossibility of my occupying the same space as my bicycle and the road was resolved by my being separated abruptly from both.

My rides since then have suffered from nagging questions that flood my mind as I enter a corner, particularly in the wet; I no longer trust that I can judge the corner adequately or that my equipment will loyally carry me through. Logically, I know that while statistics suggest that one’s chances of crashing remain constant so long as environmental conditions don’t significantly change, I know shaken confidence ensures that crashes come in clusters as self-doubt overrides intuition cultivated over years of experience.

I must force myself to regain my confidence; the only path to doing so lies through ignoring my doubt and wrapping myself in the craft. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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117 Replies to “On Rule #64: The Sudden Drop”

  1. @frank

    @the Engine

    @Russ M

    @the Engine On topic of the speed-play, Did you set them up or have the LBS help out. I to roll with Bonts but w/ look. I have run all three of there cleats, conceding to live with the out come. It’s time for change i think.

    LBS – but then I’m utterly useless at spannering anything.

    I wrote acres of pish about this last summer when I had a Speedplay failure (cleat tore away from shoe). Keep em clean because if they get sticky and you force your shoe out you’ll stress the attachment to the shoe and the cleat attachment will eventually break if it’s a cheap shoe – any lateral flex in the shoe makes things much worse – Bonts being super rigid don’t suffer from this fault but anything with a bit of play on the sole or a slightly baggy fit probably will – hope this makes sense.

    Its interesting; everyone talks about how simple and light the pedals are, and then discuss at length the various issues with the big, heavy, complicated cleat.

    The complexity is going to have to come out of the length or the width, I suppose.

    Interesting side note, no pain whatsoever on yesterday’s commute home. Odd.

    It’s system weight that matters rather than that of the individual parts and there’s likely not that much to chose between systems at a given level. Cleat seems about the same weight as my old Look ones though. The mechanism isn’t complicated its just vulnerable to dirt – I spray with ptfe and clean with a toothbrush and all appears well thus far.

  2. @frank

    I guess I’ll just have to replace the Bonts with these.

    I see they went with the Atop system.  Same as on my DMT’s.  The cable lace is thinner than the Boa system and the release setting is more pronounced – no tension on the cable.  I’m addicted to the “loose tightness” of cable systems.  My Lakes were perfect, but I had a freak warranty repair when a cleat attachment point cracked and no one seems to be able to get Lakes from the manufacture anymore.  Having their latest top-of-the-line model show up on Nashbar wasn’t a good sign of company health either.

  3. @Deakus

    @frank

    I guess I’ll just have to replace the Bonts with these.

    I guess I’ll just have to replace the Bonts with these.

    Frank does your love affair with Bonts know no ends! Well I guess if you have found that armchair feel in a shoe, you would probably be pretty loyal. Just one point to note, the next time you crash, and there will be a next time, those Boa buttons will be destroyed and another fine set of £200+ shoes will be totalled…………….and you are worrying about the cost of Speedplays?!

    It was one feature I liked about the Lake shoes, they put the Boa on the heel which not only kept it out of the way in a crash (and was just as easy to adjust on the fly) but also meant the tightening extended around the side of the foot as well to give less pressure points.

    Anyway in the end I went Sidi again but went from a 46 to a 47 mega and peace and traquility are starting to be restored to my feet at last!

    If you insist no falling off, then may I recomend!

    This is awesome. Helmet deployed; girl. Helmet packed away; dude. That’ll make things easier for me……..

  4. @frank

    Boas can be replaced, not sure about the Atop on the newer Bonts though.

    I have Lakes with the Boa on the heel as well, they are very comfortable, but uninspiring for some reason.  The reel on the back does look a bit odd under shoe covers though.

  5. @Mikael Liddy

    @wrench this sounds like the first month or so of my recovery last year, although on a slightly smaller scale. I ‘only’ broke my collarbone with the crash but know the feeling of reliving the accident in your head over & over. There were plenty of nights where I’d have what would start out as pretty cool dreams about riding end up waking me up when I’d crash & get the feeling of bone breaking again.

    One thing I found that helped rekindle the fire was watching & reading about cycling, just stay clear of any crash compilations!

    On Sept 15, I crashed and fractured my clavicle, broke a rib, had a concussion and partially collapsed right lung. Five days later I had surgery to repair the clavicle. I never saw the bump that took me down until later, when I walked back to the scene of the accident. At the time, I was riding with my hands loosely on top of the handlebars, and when I hit the bump my hands must have flown off the bars and down I went.

    I got on the bike again the third week of November. The first time out was really nerve-wracking for me. I was hyper- vigilent, with laser beam eyes scanning the road for any bump, crack or seam. My hands were almost death-griped on the bars lest I hit an unseen flaw in the road and lose control again. Gradually, I got my confidence back. Now, I never ride without at least a few fingers wrapped around the bars, and that practice has saved my ass a couple of times when I again hit an unseen bump, felt the violent jarring, but kept control of the bike.

  6. @frank

    @the Engine

    @Russ M

    @the Engine On topic of the speed-play, Did you set them up or have the LBS help out. I to roll with Bonts but w/ look. I have run all three of there cleats, conceding to live with the out come. It’s time for change i think.

    LBS – but then I’m utterly useless at spannering anything.

    I wrote acres of pish about this last summer when I had a Speedplay failure (cleat tore away from shoe). Keep em clean because if they get sticky and you force your shoe out you’ll stress the attachment to the shoe and the cleat attachment will eventually break if it’s a cheap shoe – any lateral flex in the shoe makes things much worse – Bonts being super rigid don’t suffer from this fault but anything with a bit of play on the sole or a slightly baggy fit probably will – hope this makes sense.

    Its interesting; everyone talks about how simple and light the pedals are, and then discuss at length the various issues with the big, heavy, complicated cleat.

    The complexity is going to have to come out of the length or the width, I suppose.

    Interesting side note, no pain whatsoever on yesterday’s commute home. Odd.

    My body was all out of whack after I crashed a couple years ago.  A few accupuncture sessions helped a lot to sort everything out.

  7. @frank

    @the Engine

    @Russ M

    @the Engine On topic of the speed-play, Did you set them up or have the LBS help out. I to roll with Bonts but w/ look. I have run all three of there cleats, conceding to live with the out come. It’s time for change i think.

    LBS – but then I’m utterly useless at spannering anything.

    I wrote acres of pish about this last summer when I had a Speedplay failure (cleat tore away from shoe). Keep em clean because if they get sticky and you force your shoe out you’ll stress the attachment to the shoe and the cleat attachment will eventually break if it’s a cheap shoe – any lateral flex in the shoe makes things much worse – Bonts being super rigid don’t suffer from this fault but anything with a bit of play on the sole or a slightly baggy fit probably will – hope this makes sense.

    Its interesting; everyone talks about how simple and light the pedals are, and then discuss at length the various issues with the big, heavy, complicated cleat.

    The complexity is going to have to come out of the length or the width, I suppose.

    Interesting side note, no pain whatsoever on yesterday’s commute home. Odd.

    No issues with speedplay cleats,even with a bit of dirt as long as you know how to look after them.Looking at the article photo I can definitely tell you that speedplay cleat is not that bigger and heavier.I always wondered how did you end up on Time pedal system? We’re all different but it’s the worst road pedal I’ve tried.

  8. @TommyTubolare

    @frank

    @the Engine

    @Russ M

    @the Engine On topic of the speed-play, Did you set them up or have the LBS help out. I to roll with Bonts but w/ look. I have run all three of there cleats, conceding to live with the out come. It’s time for change i think.

    LBS – but then I’m utterly useless at spannering anything.

    I wrote acres of pish about this last summer when I had a Speedplay failure (cleat tore away from shoe). Keep em clean because if they get sticky and you force your shoe out you’ll stress the attachment to the shoe and the cleat attachment will eventually break if it’s a cheap shoe – any lateral flex in the shoe makes things much worse – Bonts being super rigid don’t suffer from this fault but anything with a bit of play on the sole or a slightly baggy fit probably will – hope this makes sense.

    Its interesting; everyone talks about how simple and light the pedals are, and then discuss at length the various issues with the big, heavy, complicated cleat.

    The complexity is going to have to come out of the length or the width, I suppose.

    Interesting side note, no pain whatsoever on yesterday’s commute home. Odd.

    No issues with speedplay cleats,even with a bit of dirt as long as you know how to look after them.Looking at the article photo I can definitely tell you that speedplay cleat is not that bigger and heavier.I always wondered how did you end up on Time pedal system? We’re all different but it’s the worst road pedal I’ve tried.

    While I can’t speak directly for Frank, I can say that both he and I rode on what was at the time, the greatest shoe/ pedal combo ever: Time Equipe Ti/ Mag pedals, and Time Equipe Pro shoes. They were the cat’s fuzzy ball sack. I guess when you are satisfied with a system you stick with it.

    I’ve since changed to Sidi Carbon slippers and Speedplay. Until they improve on that, I’m happy.

  9. @frank you jinxing fucker. Dropped it this morning on a descent – slid down on the low side shredded Knicks, jersey and fucked a buckle on my Sidis. Bike completely untouched. 100% rider error. Was just dreaming, took the wrong line too fast and had to lock up or end up in oncoming lane.

  10. @doubleR

    @Mikael Liddy

    @wrench this sounds like the first month or so of my recovery last year, although on a slightly smaller scale. I ‘only’ broke my collarbone with the crash but know the feeling of reliving the accident in your head over & over. There were plenty of nights where I’d have what would start out as pretty cool dreams about riding end up waking me up when I’d crash & get the feeling of bone breaking again.

    One thing I found that helped rekindle the fire was watching & reading about cycling, just stay clear of any crash compilations!

    On Sept 15, I crashed and fractured my clavicle, broke a rib, had a concussion and partially collapsed right lung. Five days later I had surgery to repair the clavicle. I never saw the bump that took me down until later, when I walked back to the scene of the accident. At the time, I was riding with my hands loosely on top of the handlebars, and when I hit the bump my hands must have flown off the bars and down I went.

    I got on the bike again the third week of November. The first time out was really nerve-wracking for me. I was hyper- vigilent, with laser beam eyes scanning the road for any bump, crack or seam. My hands were almost death-griped on the bars lest I hit an unseen flaw in the road and lose control again. Gradually, I got my confidence back. Now, I never ride without at least a few fingers wrapped around the bars, and that practice has saved my ass a couple of times when I again hit an unseen bump, felt the violent jarring, but kept control of the bike.

    Yup, know that feeling. Still hate the dappled shade/sun combination that comes from overhanging trees casting shadows on the road as it feels like it’s going to hide some massive bump perfectly.

  11. @Pedale.Forchetta

    I hope you will overcome this moment.

    Unfortunately falls are an integral part of our sport.

    (Btw, total control is an impossible goal)

    A-Merckx on the first line – and as for the third: Yes. This. Spot on, @Pedale. Thanks for that one. Shit will happen, no matter what. As I’ve mentioned before on this site: if I’m going to break the occasional bone, I’d prefer to have it happen as a cycling accident. People get badly hurt every day in their own house, after all – slipping in bathtubs, falling down stairs… I suppose everyone who decides to get out of bed occasionally, and move about on the planet, is putting him- or herself in the way of potential harm – we’re not in control of that. But we might as well have fun while being out there.

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