A Cyclists Companion: Fear of Crashing
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.