Friday, November 13, 2009

A Crash Course In Psychology

It was a moment of helplessness that happened in an instant. It could have been a tight turn on a wet road, an icy patch early one frosty morning, or maybe you just didn't realize your tires would lose traction on those leaves, that old cable car track showing through the asphalt or that thin layer of sand on the road. Regardless, it was like your bike was yanked out from under you and your body, no longer firmly supported and balanced on two wheels and a frame, obeyed the law of gravity and hit the pavement. Maybe even slid a little. Despite how fast it happened your mind is able to replay it back in slow motion, so much so that you think you could have avoided it. "If only I..."

You pick yourself up--quickly. Not because of the dangers of other traffic. It's the embarrassment. Here you are...a grown person...crashing on a bicycle...for a silly reason...and no one to blame...but yourself. "If only I..."

Paying little attention to the pain in your wrist or your hip or your shoulder, you pick up your bike and examine it. Your body can heal but your bike is your investment, your baby, or your work of art. Is it scratched? Is anything bent or broken? Are the wheels true enough to continue? How is the derailleur? Is the side of the saddle scraped away? Did a spoke break? Are the handlebars straight? Assessing the damage, the thought persists, "If only I..."

Your body interrupts to tell you how much more important it is than your prized LBS-purchased, name brand, pedal-driven mode of transportation. The aching, bruising and stinging reveal the many ways you have traumatized your flesh. You put on your best face and try to shake it off but your nerves persist in complaining about the unwarranted ill treatment. "If only I..."

You straddle the top tube and your hands are comforted by the familiar feel of the brake hoods. Stepping on a pedal and pushing off, you begin slowly, listening for any strange sounds coming from your bike and telling your sore muscles, strained ligaments and raw skin that everything is okay. They grudgingly acquiesce. The bike may have a scar, but you know you can rely on it. Like an alloy, body and bike coalesce and you eventually return to your rhythm. Again you reflect on what happened. "If only I..."

And for a time you'll ride past that same spot with a certain amount of caution. You'll coast. Your fingers will be ready on the brakes, maybe squeezing them just a little. You might even unclip one shoe. "If only I..."

This time you'll be ready.

As if.


Barb Chamberlain said...

This time of year I start taking a particular turn very carefully because of a fall two years ago. My route to work takes me west on Sprague to Division, where I take that little curving right-hand turn.

Because it's under the railroad bridge, I learned the hard way that particular spot can have black ice when the rest of the road is bare and dry.

So if you're pedaling along, confident because this is your usual route, and you lean into the turn the way one does, guess what? Your bike can shoot sideways out from under you, your pannier on that side will cushion only so much of the impact, and you'll feel your teeth knock together as you hit the ground. Later you'll discover the rest of the sore spots, the stinging elbow that took some of the fall, and the rest of it.

So if you ever see me riding through that corner like a little old lady on her bike for the first time in years--perched carefully very upright, pedaling slowly, not leaning--now you know why :D.


Pat S said...

Damn fine piece of writing, Hank.

Pondero said...

Well written. Amazing detail on the actions and the thought processes. We cyclists must have many closely shared experiences.

Lucas said...

Hank - very well done.

Barb - I ride that corner on my way home. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

Reading this brings back some painful memories.