Guest Article: I’ve Fallen for You

photo: paramount pictures

What does this have to do with the Worlds? Nothing, but it makes me laugh and includes a wicked photograph so this is the guest article today. @roadslave joined the 2012 Keepers Tour for the full week of riding and ranting and he was excellent at both. He rode at the front with a Chris Horner smile and now he admits to only riding for four years. Fair enough, with only four years in, there is still time for a few firsts. Here is one.

VLVV, Gianni.

It should be no surprise that, having grown up in the 80s, one of my favourite movies of all time is Top Gun. There aren’t many situations in life that can’t be fitted to one of the many great quotes from the film, and there are certainly many that can be adapted to cycling (“It’s too steep, I’m switching to guns”, etc). Anyhow, you remember that bit when Shorty gets told off in class for flying too aggressively, (“gutsiest move I ever saw, man”) and gets on his huge, err, throbbing motorbike to be chased through San Diego by Kelly McGillis?

“My review of your performance was right on, in my professional opinion”

“Jesus, and you call me reckless. When I fly, my crew and my plane come first”

 “I’m gonna finish my sentence. My review of your performance was right on. I see some real genius in your flying. But I can’t say that in there. I was afraid they’d see right through me. I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve fallen for you.”

Now, I’ve been cycling for a little over four years. I’ve covered tens of thousands of kilometres on six bikes in seven countries on two continents. I’ve bored most people I know with how much I love cycling. I’ve begun to follow the pro cyclists, and have even ridden some of their rides. And I’ve spent too long on sites like this talking about cycling when I could have been using the Internet for useful stuff, like, err, porn. But, up until last month, I’d never fallen for it. I have now, and boy, it hurt.

It was a stoopid fall. A through-and-off at the end of a fabulous long ride, out with a buddy on a cold, crisp winter’s morning in the hills southwest of London. On the drag back into town, a miscommunication – I thought he was going for it, but he was actually sitting up. Our wheels overlapped. He steered the way he thought would get me out of it, but no. A 50/50 chance, and the house won. BOOM! Tarmac, Roadslave, Roadslave, tarmac. Introductions at over 45 kmh are always going to be a little bit rushed, but even so. Helmet was cracked in two, shredded sacred garments out at the elbows (sorry, Frank), leg warmers and gloves in tatters, road rash on face, elbows and knees, and the most sodding awful bruise on my hip.

Amazingly, other than it looking like someone had taken an angle-grinder to my Ergo-levers and saddle, Bike No. 1 was ok. As, by and large was I. Nothing was broken, no concussion, no lasting damage (I hope). Which was amazing, given the physics of the deceleration, the road, my weight, and ending up on my face in the oncoming traffic lane.

Adrenalin is a wonderful thing. I was on my feet in no time, picked up and checked the bike, rode the last 20 km home, and hosted 20 five-year olds, plus parents, for my son’s fifth birthday. It was only later that things went a bit doolalley. The shock came that afternoon. Uncontrollable shaking, feeling faint, wanting to throw up. Mind you, that could have been the impact of the 20 five-year olds. The stiffness came the next morning (written with a straight face… probably the most painful bit of the whole episode was getting out of bed that day.) The whiplash came on Day Three. I still can’t fully look over my right shoulder and there is still bruising weeks after the event. I won’t go into details, but if you’ve ever watched CSI, you’ll know about blood pooling and gravitational effects. Suffice it to say, I’ve had some swelling and discolouration in some strange and unexpected places.

I was off the bike for six days. Irritable, bored, grumpy. I had been planning on doing a big block of training just prior to Christmas. Why?

a) It’s what the pros do.

b) It just sounds cool. “I’m doing a big block now to lay the foundations for the cobbles in April”

c) I was changing jobs, so had the time on my hands but the training was out the window. I moped about the house, lost and forlorn.

When I did get back on, yes there was residual soreness and stiffness, but it made my heart soar to be back in the saddle. I honestly believe that was when the healing process really started. Admittedly, I rode like Nick Clegg/Barack Obama (apply to whichever country is appropriate, insert your own weak politician, etc). I had no power, no stamina, no confidence. As my US cycling sensei told me, my body had basically gone into blue screen mode. But it still felt so good to be back riding again. I (or rather my backside) became a bit of a local celebrity, and we did the round of Christmas parties, gallery openings, and for a few seconds, trended on Twitter.

The Stig, our tame racing cyclist, was pretty matter of fact:

“Bummer.  Biggest cause of accidents. Period. You hear the ‘Zippp’, you prepare for the worst. Last time I crashed, it was in the finishing sprint of a big crit and wheels overlapped. Tore so much skin off my thigh that I was in hospital for weeks getting a square foot of skin graft. I was lucky. The other guy lost his thumb, and the third guy fractured his skull and was in a coma for two weeks – he was the only guy not writhing around on the ground screaming like a little girl.”

It was the response of my non-cycling friends and family that surprised me the most: zero sympathy, lots of anger (“how could you have been so stupid? To pick today, of all days, when you knew we had the kids party?”) and much encouragement to take up golf (thanks, Dad). When she saw the bruise, and the red mist had cleared, the wife forced me to go to the ER. The doctor’s response was priceless; “So, you fell off your bike, and you have a bruise and your wife has made you come to have it checked out?  Well, it looks fine to me.” He was looking at the small road rash above my left eyebrow. “That’s not the bruise I want checked out… this is.” “JEEESUS!” At which point he ran off, leaving me with my pants down, to get the other doctors into the cubicle. What, you want a second opinion? “No, I just want them to see this.”

The most thoughtful response was from my US cycling sensei via email. I think it’s worth sharing in its entirety:

“The overlapped wheel. No one gets away for long without going down because of that. Ask the pros. It amazes me how often big groups go down in the peloton because of it. For all the riding you’ve done – and challenging riding at that – you can feel good that it hasn’t happened before. As you now know, the worst part of those falls is that you literally get catapulted into the pavement; there’s no sliding or deceleration of one’s body. Of the several times I’ve gone down, about 1/3 are because of overlap. I broke my hand once. Glad to hear the bike is ok – but a shame about the cosmetic damage. I can understand why the wife is upset, as I know you do too. Funny – if you’d gotten injured in a car crash, it would be nothing but sympathy from her. But because you (we), as grown men, choose to dress up in tights like superheroes to pedal half the day on the open road on what most adults see as a child’s toy… well, I think most see it as borderline selfish, risk-taking behaviour… how do you explain to the kids that their dad got seriously injured doing something that was totally voluntary. Hence, IMO, the disproportionate reactions to cyclists on the road (how dare they enjoy themselves while I have things to do!). That’s just my take on it… I know plenty of guys that pretty much stopped cycling after they had kids – not just because of time constraints, but also because of knowing how bad cycling crash injuries can be and how it might impact their families. Personally, I think that was an extreme position for them to take, but then, I don’t have kids.”

Now, I know it’s supposed to be taboo to talk about this stuff – and, indeed, it is in breach of the new Rule #81. (This did happen before its introduction.) But I really don’t know if I’m lucky – after all, it could have been a helluva lot worse. Or am I plain idiotic (see Rob’s excellent article on overlapping wheels), unlucky (proper cyclists rarely fall), or normal (this is just something that happens from time to time, so get used to it)?

Forget the responses of non-cyclists – we tolerate them at the best of times. All of my cycling buddies gave me comradely and knowing looks, as if I’d passed some rite of passage, and was now a proper cyclist. Have I? Am I? Just the other day, @Houdini was describing another rider to me: “He rides like someone who hasn’t fallen off yet.” Before this fall, I would have had no idea what he was on about, but now I get it totally.

As with most things cycling, when in doubt, I look to the pros. And my conviction is that falling is a rite of passage. It’s what proper cyclists do. Getting back on defines the true cyclist. Hoogerland is defined by his fall, Cavendish either wins or crashes and burns. There is no middle ground. Part of our love for JENS! is because we saw him bounce his face down a mountain in 2007, or in 2011 when he went down twice, swore at the camera crew, got back on and up to the front, and rode tempo for the next hour in service of his (undeserving) team leaders.

Then there is the dark side. We know these falls can lead to the bad places where we do not want to go. These occasional tragedies unite cycling like no other event. IMHO there is nothing more noble, more heartbreaking, or that stirs greater pride, than a neutralised, mournful peloton. Self-shackled race horses. Chapeau Millar, the dignified master of ceremonies for the last horror, grew as a cyclist and as a human that day.

So, while a first fall is a rite of passage, it is also a warning of where not to go and what not do to. For each fall we get up from, we have the adrenaline-primed happiness of knowing it could have been much, much worse.

I am a cyclist, today is a good day, today I rode on.

[dmalbum path=”/ Galleries/[email protected]/Nigel/”/]

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128 Replies to “Guest Article: I’ve Fallen for You”

  1. @brett


    Just as I didn’t read your post properly, you didn’t read mine properly either. I didn’t tell you you should wear a helmet. Just my opinion that those who choose not too might not have too much up there to protect. But it’s a personal choice, and we all make some risky ones.

    Now, I’m off to have unprotected anal sex with an African monkey… 

  2. @brett


    Just as I didn’t read your post properly, you didn’t read mine properly either. I didn’t tell you you should wear a helmet. Just my opinion that those who choose not too might not have too much up there to protect. But it’s a personal choice, and we all make some risky ones.

    Now, I’m off to have unprotected anal sex with an African monkey… 

    Well, as long as you both wear helmets…

  3. @Gianni

    @ten B  Wow, I hope he makes a full recovery, that is bad. Re: Lights- with all the great LED lights, weight is not an issue anymore, especially if one is using it for hazard flasher. We often use a red rear flasher because we start so early in the morning. I guess a forward facing flasher would be smarter. Those are the people that are going to kill you.

    They’ll all kill you! And by bright, I mean look away, burn holes in retinas, can see from 5km away at noon in an Aussie summer bright. Bright flashers have a funny effect – it’s like they cause a fault code in drvers’ distance estimation system, and they get a bit freaked and ultra cautious. I’ve had drivers about 100m away wait for me to pass before they pull out.

    My $.02 in the helmet debate (playing the ‘helmet saved my life’ card here). I’m all for personal freedom, but I just think it’s stupendously selfish not to wear one on the roads. I can’t imagine being in a situation where my VMH would have to wheel me around, feed me, wipe my backside, etc. for the next 40 years just because I refused to take a basic precaution. 

  4. @roadslave525 that’s a cracker of a bruise to score with your first dive off the bike. Thankfully my first one (about 12 or so months after getting started) only resulted in some tasty road rash, the scars from which still grace my ankle, knee, hip & elbow.



    As much as I love cycling, the pain I’ve been through in the last six days has given me pause. For the rest of you-were you temped at all to hang up your cleats? When you did get back on the road, were you apprehensive of every car, every piece of debris in the road? How long did it take for your confidence to return?

    Had similar, if slightly less severe, consequences as you to my last encounter with the asphalt at Easter. Lost the back end on a damp corner covered with some Autumn debris & managed to high side down on to my shoulder and head. Busted collarbone that had to be pinned and a fair head ache for the next day or so managed to keep my mind off the road rash.

    Wasn’t allowed back on the bike (combo of Dr & SWMBO’s orders) for about 2 months and to be honest I’m still getting my confidence back when it comes to really attacking descents. As the others have already said, just build things up slowly and don’t take any risks you don’t need to. None of us are getting paid for this, so make sure you’re enjoying it.

  5. Wow nothing like coming late to the party and a polemica has erupted. Oh well. I want to say thanks for a great article @Roadslave. It may be a right of passage but not fun. Glad you are ok and up and riding again, and importantly still loving it. Nothing was sweeter this year for me than finishing the ride I didn’t get to finish after being t-boned by a car. Life is good and riding is great. Permission for a fly-by granted!

  6. @Mikael Liddy

     Busted collarbone that had to be pinned and a fair head ache for the next day or so managed to keep my mind off the road rash.

    My orthopedic surgeon called me that evening to see how I was doing. He told me (not in these exact words, naturally) that I fucked up my clavicle good, and that he had to put a lot of hardware in to stabilize it. I asked him if I should change the bandages, and he said I could leave them on until I see him on Wednesday. I’m dreading the “reveal,” probably be a bloody mess of sutures and bumps where the metallic bits are poking up.

  7. @brett

    Ha, freakish… I’ve never heard of John Safran but I know exactly the song they’re talking about in the opening sketch. Gangster of Love, sampling The Joker.

    Mate of mine put it on a mix tape, many years ago when such things existed. I could never find a digital copy and I guess that explains why.

    I feel like a circle of my life has been completed. Thanks, really.

  8. I found out all about overlapping wheels this evening. Only difference is I was overlapped by an idiot on a scooter. At least that’s what I assume happened. I was cruising along and then suddenly I wasn’t, I was sliding along the ground followed by my bike and its newly redesigned rear wheel. I assume because I couldn’t ask him. He was unconscious. 

    I’m fine, only a light graze not worthy of a photo, and an opportunity to build myself a new wheel. I guess I’m pretty lucky! I better go check my lotto tickets.

  9. @doubleR hopefully you shouldn’t be too bad, I switched bandages on the week anniversary & the incision was basically healed. Yeah it’s a pretty impressive scar, but I’m blaming that on the fact that I scar up from anything beyond a paper cut. Here’s a before & after of my collarbone…

    Basically, the only part I feel is the little section that sticks up at the end & even that doesn’t cause any real discomfort.

  10. Hey Mikael, I think my fracture is very similar. I don’t have the X-rays with me, but before the surgery you could see the bumo where the bone was sticking up, with the skin all black and blue (luckily, the bone didn’t pierce the skin).

    When I get back from the doctor on Wednesday I’ll post an update. 


  11. @Mikael Liddy   Being a part time home handyman, I always notice how messy those inserts look in the pictures.  Plate not a tight fit to the bone, screws crooked, different lengths and right through the bone. Should there be a nut on the other side of those ones?  I guess it still works and if you can’t normally see it, it doesn’t matter.  Not looking PRO though, so might be breaking a rule.

  12. @doubleR yeah I had the same thing for the 6 days I had to wait before the operation, you could feel the end of the inner section sitting up under the skin.

    @Brian W yeah the surgeon explained it to me by saying that the plates come ‘pre-moulded’ to you general collarbone, he said he could have either put another screw in the end to bring it down more, or could have taken the whole thing back off to re-shape it but both options would have kept me on the table for a fair while longer & he didn’t really want to do that.

  13. Here’s my contribution to the photo gallery:

    I also found out today that, in addition to my other laundry list of injuries, I have a fractured rib. (I thought the pain in my upper right back was due to the muscles being knotted up from having my arm in a sling). My ortho doc wants to see me back in three weeks, and then we’ll talk about physical therapy. Looks like bike riding is a long, long way off…maybe not until early next year. Major bummer.

  14. @doubleR Wrraah… those screws jammed up on the end! I won’t add any more to this image series of broken clavicles. Some cyclist may get the idea that this will be a rite of passage. It’s not. I will say that I refer to my shoulder as the Frankenstein *dead* shoulder — scars that intersect — steel — no feeling.

  15. Well thanks for the jinx fellas.

    I had my usual Tuesday night smashfest with about 60 others here in Melbs.  Fast, fast riding on the way back from Mordy due to a tailwind (45.7km/h over about 20km) and had a bit of a hairy moment in the final sprint where I was chopped.  No probs though until I was riding back through the CBD and fell victim to a freakin tram track.  It was a very low speed fall as I was turning across them at a 4 way track junction. It caught me completely by surprise.

    Cue destroyed knicks, hole in club kit long sleeve jersey and knee warmers; scrapes on my brake lever, fresh bar tape, saddle and rear QR.  Not to mention the sore elbow and decent sized raspberry on my hip.

    I suppose I got off lightly, really…

  16. My last stack didn’t involve any major physical damage but as I crawled to the gutter and sat up with split helmet at back, I couldnt figure out the way home given I didn’t recognise the surroundings of a ride I do regularly. Then it got spooky. I looked at my (recently purchased) rig and couldnt figure out (i) why it was red/black/white (fast colours) as opposed to (ii) blue silver. Who’s bike was this? Did I buy it? From whom? did I therefore steal it? With no one else around I assumed it must be mine. Finally figured out the way home…..on whoever’s bike it was……….

  17. @mouse That’s something else I was thinking about with regards to this post – one of the bunches I rode with in Welly had a couple of low speed stacks doing really basic things (hopping curbs, one guy rode into my back wheel as I was braking for traffic at about 5 kmph) – but these were the guys you’d hammer with on the motorway, whose wheels you trust to hold on descents etc. You trust them with the fast stuff but have most of your stacks dropping off a curb outside the cafe.

  18. Two days after reading this thread, I went down for the first time in 2 years.


  19. All my greatest “hits” have been on dirt – either mountain or CX (OK, I crash a lot on dirt). I DNF’ed an entire season of mountain bike races back in ’05. And the VMH reminds me all the time.

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