My first accident on the new bicycle

Well, on Friday evening I had my first accident on the new mountain bike. I was heading into Andrew Harrison’s housing estate where there is a rather pointless roundabout with only two exits (Craigavon’s a bit like that). Since there was no traffic in sight, I decided to cut across the roundabout the wrong way, just to save ten seconds. When making a typical turn, a bike naturally tilts a little, and one’s centre of gravity goes off-centre. That was all it took for the bike’s wheels to lose their grip on the road … thanks to the ice. Normally, icy weather conditions are okay to cycle on, because so much car tyre rubber has already melted the ice. But thanks to this ridiculous roundabout design, I didn’t take into account that there was a small portion of the roundabout that never gets used. Hence, I fell roughly on the side of my pelvis. For a moment, I thought I had really badly injured myself, but I was fine – except for the pain, which, as you’d expect, was worse the following day. (It’s now six days later, and I still can’t sleep on my right side.)

This got me thinking about all the times I’ve fallen off bicycles in the past. There’s so much I have forgotten from my childhood, but I think I can remember every single crash; trauma is funny that way. For your amusement, here are some of the funnier moments (well, they’re funny now).

I was about nine years old, and my bike was the Raleigh Grifter. Who remembers those cool motobike-style handgrips with the twist action for changing gears? Asthetically, the Grifter was the predecessor to the BMX. But looks are where the resemblance ends. This was one heavy bike. Even though I was well aware of the limitations of this cumbersome beast, that didn’t stop me trying to show off to a couple of girls. There was a playpark near my house, with swings, climbing frames, and a big circular sandpit about thirty feet wide. The surface of the sand was at a depth of about two feet below ground level. While the girls were chatting on the monkeybars, I decided to ride my bike into the sandpit. I had done the leap successfully before. All you had to do was put the Grifter into a slight wheelie when you reached the edge of the pit. Despite the weight of the bike, this was doable … some of the time. This time, the bike went into a dive and threw me over the bars. I still remember the thud of my chest hitting the sand. As I got up and dusted myself off, I could hear giggling coming from the direction of the monkeybars. I picked up the bike and left the pit in defeat, feeling all my self-respect evaporating through my burning cheeks.

As a kid, I was never one for bike mantenance, and I had that old Grifter for many years. One day, it let me down big-time. I was cycling from the road onto the footpath at the entrance to the housing estate where I lived. As my back tyre bumped the kerb, the entire bike seemed to split into two or three pieces. It literally fell apart under me. At least, that’s the way I remembered it. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except there was a bunch of teenagers enjoying an afternoon booze-up on a nearby lawn. How they laughed at me! How they mocked me! The worst thing was I couldn’t just walk away. Somehow I had to get my bike home. So I half carried and half dragged the remains of my Grifter along the footpath, forced to move at a snail’s pace, enduring a continual verbal barrage for many minutes until I was finally out of sight.

When I was about eleven, the BMX craze was just beginning, and I became the proud owner of a Raleigh Ultra Burner. Since the bike was lightweight, I naturally tried to do various stunts on it. I don’t remember how many seats I broke, abusing that bike. My least fond memory is of doing a short race with friends down a housing estate. My brakes weren’t functioning at the time, and I should have known it was foolish to race with no brakes. Especially when there’s a big house facing you at the end of the road. By the time the house was looming I realised it was too late to stop, or even to turn. There was no garden at this house. Nothing but a footpath running perpendicular to my approach. For a moment, I had the crazy notion that if I held the front of the bike to the ground, the impact on the kerb would propel me over the handlebars, so that I would land on the footpath instead of crashing into the wall. It didn’t work (and maybe that was a good thing). My momentum was too great, probably around twenty miles per hour. The bike continued onto the footpath; the front wheel struck the house; the bike went into an “endo” (one of my favourite stunts in more controlled circumstances); my jaw struck the wall hard. Finally at rest, I reached up to touch my jaw. It felt numb. My fingers came away covered in blood and small white pebble-like things. My teeth! I thought. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than the pebble-dash from the wall. Pebble-dash is pretty resilient stuff. You get an idea how great this impact was when I end up with the pebbles sticking to my face instead of the house. The scars from the accident aren’t too noticeable. It just bugs me now that I’m into beards, because there’s a little piece of my jaw where hair will no longer grow, right where the moustache joins the beard on my right hand side.

There were many more accidents. I remember our labrador knocking me off the bike. Another occasion, my foot slipped off a pedal when I was pumping hard, resulting in me sliding down the road on my back with the bike wrapped around me; my sweater was shredded. I remember losing control of my BMX in mid-air whilst jumping. I remember trying to cycle down a steep ice-coated road, and I ended up “skiing” the whole way down on two wheels and one foot, like some ridiculous tripod. I remember doing a massive arc of a skid, when the bike suddenly found grip again and flipped me off itself. I remember colliding with another cyclist around a blind corner and wrecking his brand-new bike. Amazingly, I’ve never broken a bone.

On the one hand, there are all these bicycle accidents. On the other, I’ve never had a car accident. Wonder what will happen if I buy a motorcycle? The speed of a car combined with the flimsy protection of a bicycle. Not a great combination. But still, I might get one anyway.

5 thoughts on “My first accident on the new bicycle

  1. Chris

    After the horrors of neglect revealed in “Cycling vs. Driving: Part IV”, I can’t say I’m all that surprised to hear you and the bike had an accident. I am surprised, however, that the story wasn’t more along the lines of when your Grifter fell apart! 🙂

    I can remember a couple of bad bike-related incidents from when I was younger. One time, I was on my kid-size Raleigh Burner, driving around Abercorn one day during the summer holidays when my grandparents looked after me. I tried to pull a wheelie to impress a couple of friends. It turned out to be a good one, until I pulled the handle bars up too much, over-balanced, and slid back off the seat and onto the top of the back wheel. Naturally, with it being summer, I was in shorts, so the back of one of my thighs got a bad friction burn from the rubber. Stung like a bugger.

    Another time, I was about 13, and I think I was going back home after hanging out at your place one afternoon. I had graduated to a cheap, yellow mountain bike by this time. As I drove past the shops, and started to turn left onto Festival Road, the bike came out from under me. I had quite a bit of momentum (being a chubby kid at the time and all), and ended up sliding a few feet along the road, stopping under the rear end of a parked car. It must have looked rather spectacular because some pedestrian came running over to see if I was all right. No major damage done, just some wounded pride.

    I have a few other vague memories of coming off my little training bike when I was very young, and riding my brother’s full-size Raleigh Burner when I wasn’t big enough (I think my mum caught me doing this and gave me a slap).

    Next month, we’re moving into a house. It’s only 2 miles away from my place of work (our apartment is a little over 3 miles away by comparison), so the prospect of me buying a bike and cycling to work is in my mind again. The only off-putting factor is the crazy drivers here. They are extremely impatient, distracted, and complacent. A cyclist stands a good chance of being wiped out by a big fat SUV or truck. I think I can probably make most of the journey through neighborhood streets and stay away from the insanity of main roads and intersections, though.

    Still, am I ready to return to the bike days, when disaster looms around every sharp corner, at the bottom of every steep hill, on the edge of every hastily opened car door? Hmmm….

  2. Chris,

    Glad to hear about the move. I’m sure you’re excited.

    I don’t know whether or not you should cycle, either. It’s seems there’s multi-lane intersections everywhere in Kansas. I wouldn’t fancing biking through those. It’s bad enough for me coming home through Portadown town centre every day. I usually get onto the footpath when I reach all those junctions just past Woolies. Still, if you can do most of your cycling through suburbs, it’s worth considering.

    Cycling is particularly great in summer, because the motion keeps you nice and cool, although we don’t have the same kind of humitity you do. I’ll never forget Lauren arriving at your appartment wringing wet, just because his car’s air conditioning wasn’t working.

  3. Robert Miller

    If only you had videoed all of these stunts you could start your own Jackass show 😀

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