A Cyclists Companion: Fear of Crashing

Question: What would Jens Do? Answer: HTFU.

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.

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61 Replies to “A Cyclists Companion: Fear of Crashing”

  1. @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.

  2. 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 !!.

  3. @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 !!.

  4. @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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. This thread has a long life . . . and I will continue to extend it with my post here.  The most common refrain is: “wear a helmet!”  I agree.  I am a very experienced cyclist, having commuted, raced as a Cat. 3, toured and generally lived the life of a velominati for 30 years now.  With a few years off here and there, I’ve been deeply committed to the sport since I was 14.

    With that said, it must be stated that it is not *if* you will crash but *when.*  I have had at least 4 serious road crashes, half of them in races, the other half on training rides. A couple of weeks ago, on a spirited group road ride with some of my closest friends, I clipped out of my speedplay pedals on the downstroke, sprinting for a city limits sign.  We were going at least 45kph.  I could not control the bike and launched onto the tarmac, with my shoulders and head taking much of the blow.  My Bell helmet was destroyed in many places. There were pieces of it on the road.   I had no idea where or who I was until at least an hour later.  I did get a concussion, but after a week and a half am back at work and doing fine. Otherwise, I received some road rash and a pulled groin muscle.  I firmly believe that the helmet most likely saved from something terrible . . .

    So, indeed, always wear that helmet!  This was a far worse crash than anything I’ve ever experienced in a high speed crit. Helmets are so important, even when training.

  8. @Souleur

    Were you concussed?  I am having a heck of a time recovering from my concussion from my last crash.  Still not able to ride much at all or ride hard.

  9. Crashing doesn’t have to be unbearable if we are not too concerned with trends, looks, perception and the fashion police.  Die hard tradtionalists would accept road rash is a part of cycling but I say most injuries can sure well be minimised if bicycle wear industries could revolutionise the traditional bike kit (ultra thin and breathable lycra) and provide more protection around prone areas for cuts and rashes on shoulders and thighs and glutes, and also make it fashionable for ultra lightweight material around elbows and knees.

    Yeah, we can all say Rule #5, Rule #5 HTFU, and I bet you the majority of those who religiously stick by these rules and think your not a man if you let crashes get in the way is pretty dumb and brainless.  I’ll rather shorten my recovery period and save from broken bones after a crash as oppose to your mates calling you out for ride and you have to put a raincheck because you are still healing.  They might think its heroic and tough to use this as an excuse and his mates end up telling him about Rule #5 so he can’t pretend to be wuss so he goes out riding with unhealed wounds and sores and risk crashing again meaning more time out of the bike.

    Its tough and cool but pretty fcken stupid, wake up and use your brains and ride smart, not ride tough!

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