I took a spill yesterday and have healed up nicely. It happened when I popped a wheelie, then turned it into a backflip.
When I did the Donut Ride today, I noticed something funny. Every time I thought about popping a wheelie, or even doing a bunny hop, I got intensely anxious.
Then I thought about previous accidents I’ve had and about how the following day there has always been a fear that lingers, sometimes for a little while, sometimes longer. I thought about friends like Ron Peterson, David Worthington, and Andy Jessup, all of whom had catastrophic accidents that left them with serious physical injuries. Each one mentioned, in varying degrees, that the injuries weren’t just physical.
The Internet revealed that motor vehicle accident-related trauma is common. One web site had an article that discussed ways for cyclists to “get back on the bike” after an accident, or even after a hair-raising close call. It’s easy to see why bike crashes create trauma. The act of falling reinforces what we already know — that despite the safety of cycling, when you go down you’re vulnerable. Our hips and elbows, joints that have no padding, often bear the full brunt of the impact.
Even when you’re only “banged up a bit,” the moment you slip back into the group, you become keenly aware of things you hadn’t noticed before.
“Wow, we’re really close together.”
“Shit, that guy’s a dangerous wheel.”
“Damn, that car came by fast.”
“We’re hauling. If something were to happen now … ”
You had noticed these things before, but you had filed them away in the “not happenin’ to me” folder. You’d accepted your immortality, and the crash put you back on notice that you’re mortal and damned fragile, too.
Cyclists and PTSD
Since we’re all aware of the inevitability of crashing, and since it happens with regularity, we have a hardened attitude towards accidents. We are there for our friends with sympathy and resources, but we’re also there with no small measure of tough love. “Get back on the bike and get over it. You think you fell hard? Talk to John Velez.” And our favorite way of cajoling our pals back onto the bike is good-natured ribbing.
“If you haven’t mastered wheelies by twelve, maybe you shouldn’t be trying at fifty.”
“At least you hit your head, instead of something important.”
I caught my share of flak, and I received my share of genuine concern from those who were with me after the accident, and those who heard about it. But the best words of all came from Victor Sheldon, in a Strava comment. He understood my shame at having tried and failed to master a child’s bike trick.
“Don’t ever grow up,” he said. “And keep trying.”
It’s the last part that, subtly, rubbed salve on the psyche. Get back on the bike. Keep trying. Don’t give up. And Trey Smith’s offer of free 10-speed wheelie lessons?
I’ll take him up on it.