Letter to a buddy

Hey, Buddy

Very bummed to hear about your fall. The worst thing about crashing is that it makes you think about crashing. However, there’s a cure. “Get back on the horse” isn’t just an old adage.

I was even more bummed to know you’re questioning the whole cycling endeavor. I ride my bike fully cognizant of the risks and I embrace them. Those risks – death and catastrophic injury – are definitely worth it because the alternative is … what? Golf?

Pedaling lazily down the bike path isn’t my thing, and from what I’ve seen, it’s not yours, either. Our mutual friend’s terror-stricken approach to bicycles (only rides by himself, restricts his cycling to ITT’s on the track) is an equally unacceptable compromise.

In fact, I ride and race precisely because there is an element of danger to it. It is the danger that crowds out complacency and boredom. I’ve had some hard falls too; we all have. Track crash in 2010, head splat on the NPR in Oct. 2013, splat on the back of my skull doing a wheelie in 2014 up Ganado (cracked the helmet and got a “little” concussion), falls in ‘cross races in 2012, ‘13, and ‘14, and a high speed crash on the BWR two weeks ago that miraculously didn’t deliver me to the ER.

That doesn’t even begin to count the thousands of close calls with motorists and the thousands of close calls I’ve had in packs over the years, nor does it include the race crashes and road collisions I’ve had in the 30 years prior to 2010.

I get where you’re coming from about avoiding the dangerous stuff, but the problem with limiting yourself to safe rides is that there’s no such thing. You can only pick less and less congested,  less amped-up situations, and the problem with that is that your skill level quickly deteriorates to the level of whatever your average ride happens to be. I’m not an especially good bike handler, so I need the challenging scenarios to stay sharp, or rather to slow the inevitable rate of decline.

One guy I know in his late 80’s only cycles on the bike path because his hearing, vision, and reaction time aren’t good enough to handle riding in traffic. I’m not there yet, and neither are you.

Cycling for me is more than an outlet. It is a source of connection to social, political, philosophical, economic, and personal journeys, 99% of which have nothing to do with cycling. It is a switch or conduit and one that is well worth the risk. It has helped me in my struggle with alcoholism and keeps my nose to the grindstone with regard to work. It’s been a passport and an instant friendship potion.

That said, I don’t descend the local weekend slugfests with others, certainly not with groups. Some riders are crazy, or bad, or simply unable to control their bikes at the high speeds at which they insist on descending. I’ll go somewhere else rather than be anywhere near people who are truly hazardous. Certain riders are going to harm you if you give them a chance.

You ride intelligently and with a high level of awareness, and as you know, the more you ride, the more you will fall down. Isolation is no savior; our other mutual buddy who’s the ultimate road hermit still had that terrible bicycle falling off incident on the track a couple of years back that put him in the ICU.

I’m not encouraging you to keep riding, but I’m not discouraging you, either. Riding seems to have a very important place in your life, and if the only thing you have is a broken bike, some rash, and soreness, then HTFU. The bike is replaceable. You’re not a crash magnet, so don’t let one event overshadow all else. We know plenty of cyclists who have had catastrophic bicycle falling off incidents and they keep on pedaling because the alternative is so very unattractive.

I also get the thing with your family and their wish that you dial it back. As for your kids, unfortunately it’s not their decision to make, and parents who live for their kids don’t, in my opinion, make very impressive role models. Moreover, your life is much more endangered by sitting behind the wheel of your car than it is by riding your bike, and even if it weren’t, quality matters.

Glad the worst you got were some bumps, road rash, busted equipment, and a splash of self-doubt. But unless I’m missing something … get back on the horse.




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36 thoughts on “Letter to a buddy”

  1. jack from illinois (not my real name)

    “parents who live for their kids don’t make impressive role models.” This is a really good observation. I know that this is sound because it is almost certain to have people at your door with torches and pitchforks (again).

    1. You mean the torches aren’t for illumination? And the pitchforks aren’t for the s’mores? Dangit.

      1. jack from illinois (not my real name)

        I expect those are “multi purpose” utensils. After skewering an infidel and burning his home to the ground, I can’t think of a single reason why they wouldn’t make pitch fork s’mores and read ‘Ulysses by torch light.

  2. Excellent post, WM. One of our most popular members of the RABA group, and leader of a nightly beat down that I’ve managed to avoid because they drop me almost immediately, went down and broke a shoulder a couple of years ago. She was pissed that she couldn’t get back on the bike for about 4 months. When she came back, she kicked everyone’s ass even worse!

    I’d much rather wear out than to rust out! Well said.

  3. Serge Issakov

    I don’t bike because of the danger; I bike despite the danger. For me it’s about mitigating, not eliminating, risk.

    I figured out how to ride in ride in traffic and have only a couple of close calls per year, if that, as compared to the many I used to have, per week.

    The biggest risk for me is from fellow wankers on weekend group rides. But staying alert and good practices goes a long way towards reducing that risk too.

    The much higher risk necessarily associated with racing is where I draw the line. The temptation to cross that line is there nevertheless. However, training.

  4. Thank You Seth, I needed that read after this past weekend. Got myself a nice copter ride to USC Trauma Center from GMR after a driver decided to make a u-turn (from a stopped position on the shoulder) in front of me as I was descending back to my car from an epic day…

  5. The perfect letter to send to friends, family and golf-playing neighbors who question my sanity.

    1. If they’re still questioning it, you need to gently advise them that the jury is in and it doesn’t look good.

  6. I rearranged my face in January 2012 going downhill on a fire road. I am now much more careful going downhill on my MTB but still go like a bat out of hell downhill on the road. (It’s relative, you’ll probably think I’m slow.) Funny thing, is I NEVER ride on the bike path. Ever. Too dangerous.

  7. I gotta get over my large group at speed issue. I can solve it by staying on the front…but that can only last so long.

    I’m 6 crashes for 5 big groups at speed this year (observing…not participating). I guess the best way to do that is to just ride more big groups. So frustrating.

    1. I guess technically I participated in one since I went up and over someone who fell down in front of me.

      1. You know the normal places people crash, NPRs and Cat 5 Races. I’ll eliminate the Cat 5 problem soon enough, but I still have to finish 4 more. Or get someone to sponsor a USA Cycling sanctioned bike clinic.

  8. Femur exploded on a training ride the day before Thanksgiving in 2004. Took six months before I could even pretend to slowly ride in a group…a year before I was really back it. Took five years off from racing, but continued to ride for fun and fitness. Too much enjoyment of the outdoors, friends, social bonding, lies, sharing and suffering to let it go. Biking is good for your body and your head, I hope your buddy gets back soon…slow, easy, cautious is fine and to be expected. Just don’t over-think it. Ride for all the positive benefits, which very much outweigh the risk, perceived or not.

  9. I started cycling about ’05, doing the 42 miles round trip of the bike path, first on an ancient MTB from Goodwill, then later on a Trek 1100 Al frame (class of ’91).

    I crashed. On the bike path. Bit through my lip.

    On recovering I made the decision to quit cycling.

    Then on the prospect of that declaration I got really depressed.

    Reacting to that, I continued cycling, elevated to the standard nutso level, forsaking the scofflaw path for the punishing hills of PV and the Santa Monica’s, joined events like Mulholland Challenge, and just generally engaged the masochism of cycling expressed by the equation: pain+suffering+danger=fun.

    But it did take an injury crash to inspire me to that point.

    That equation is in our DNA through evolution. Our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t munch on a “paleo” diet. On the edge of survival, they scurried for whatever was available in the environment, which varied greatly over the 2.4 million years, and the geography and the seasons of the planet. Food could be scarce.

    So, say these people were pre-programmed to exert themselves beyond their limits of pain and endurance, all the while facing dangers of the wilds; and then considering it “fun”. That would have been a definite advantage for survival of the clan.

    “It’s in my DNA” I think is a pretty good answer to why we do this, and why not behaving in this general way is like only ever driving one’s Maseratti to the store.


    A wheelie on Gana-do? Classic.

  10. You’ve mentioned golf twice in the last week, should we be worried your golfaphobia is a sign you’re at heart a golfer? Is a new blog pvputting imminent?

    Apart from the worrisome out of the caddy aspect great post!

    1. I never can remember if golf is the one with the football bat or the racket club.

  11. channel_zero

    I also get the thing with your family and their wish that you dial it back. As for your kids, unfortunately it’s not their decision to make, and parents who live for their kids don’t, in my opinion, make very impressive role models.

    For sure, everyone needs “their thing” in a family. It helps develop the sense the kids can have “their thing” too. I don’t know a better way to keep a kid out of trouble than giving them the resources to do “their thing.”

    I would say it’s not an either/or type of request. For example, either do not modify your behaviour at all OR stop riding altogether.

    Asking for a behaviour compromise is reasonable, and a nice life lesson about competing interests/scarcity of time if it can be discussed in the family, with the kid(s) around. That’s a big if for many families though…

    1. Lots of wive wish their husbands would stop riding until they stop riding.

  12. AI from Chesco, Pa

    Yeah. I totally endorse your reply. I’m in my 50’s and would never give it up having started in my teens. I accept the danger and I’ve gotten over the inevitable a long time ago. Cycling is a metaphor for life at least to me it is and as you mentioned it too has helped me with alcohol and controlling my damn awful ADHD. My concessions have been to ride alone most of the time and be more mindful of where I’m at and my actions. I’ll also head out before everyone else is on the road. Amazing what you see on a June morning at 5am. All this said it’s where I want to be at this point in my life and I REFUSE to give in. You’ll have to take it from me. Besides I’m a miserable cynical sour surly motherfucker if I don’t ride. So take a day to recover, shave the guns and get on with it.

    ps. What’s a bike path?

    1. A bike path is place populated with pathletes, a subspecies of delusional dork worse than the 35 y/o hunting his first pro contract.

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