By the time I started cycling in 1982 I had fallen off my bicycle countless times. The first string of bike falling off incidents was in 1969, when Santa brought me and my brother a couple of gold-and-white bikes. Ian fell off a couple of times and then got the hang of it, zooming around the dirt patch that was called, for unclear reasons, “the front lawn” and that was, for murkier reasons still, regularly mowed. Dirt and rocks flew everywhere and it was always exciting.
My bike was too big and I was too uncoordinated and fraidy and so I spent the first day falling off the bicycle, crying, being jeered at by my brother, and finally having my dad give up and leave me to my own solution, which was to put the training wheels back on. They came off a few months later and I fell off a lot more before learning to ride it which was better than anything that would ever happen to me the rest of my life.
When we moved to Houston I fell off my bike a bunch. 1972 was the beginning of the BMX craze and since we didn’t have BMX bikes, no one did, we bought some BMX handlebars and zoomed around with the banana seats cranked as low as they would go. I fell off most times I tried to jump for the same reasons I fell off from 2011-2014 when I tried to race cyclocross: I was so afraid of falling off my bike that I went too slow and fell off my bike.
As a young road cyclist I fell off my bike a fair amount but only once on the road. The other bike falling off incidents were in races. Although my peers voted me “most likely to die” in 1983 due to my bad bicycle handling skills, I didn’t. Since then I have fallen off my bicycle many times, most recently in The Great NPR Fredfest Crashemup of 2013, when I fell on my head at about 40 mph. Thankfully the bike was okay, as they say.
But my youngest son has never really fallen off a bike, which is a fancy way of saying he hasn’t ridden one very much. Then today as I was preparing to go meet a client I got a phone call. “Hi, this is Sarah, I’m a friend of Woodrow’s, he had an accident riding to work and the ambulance is on its way.”
I raced over to the scene. He was in the middle of the pavement and strapped to a body board. There are a lot of things in life you don’t want to see, and your injured child is at the top of the list. He was wincing and in obvious pain. “Looks like he broke his arm and maybe his ankle,” said the EMS guy. They gave him a shot of morphine and took him to UCLA Harbor.
The x-rays showed no fractures. He had fallen off his bike descending Via Coronel at about 25 mph. The bike started getting away from him and he granched down on the front brake, slamming down on his left side. His helmet was unscathed and his bike was mostly okay. “I’m really sorry, Dad,” he said in the hospital.
“Sorry? Don’t be sorry. I’m glad you’re okay. We have insurance, you know.” FYI, the ambulance ride to UCLA Harbor costs $9k whether it’s for a scratch or for thirty gunshot wounds.
They bandaged his ankle and sent him home. We talked about it on the way back, about how usually when you fall off your bicycle you move over to the curb when you’re able and do a general check before calling EMS unless something’s obviously broken or you’re obviously really hurt. And we talked about how most of the time you’re not really hurt, although it’s always frightening. When I was a kid I never saw anyone hauled off in an ambulance after falling off his bike. When you broke something you went home and your mom or dad drove you to the ER.
But times have changed, and my kids didn’t grow up falling off their bicycles, getting beaten up by thuggish street hoodlums, getting pounded on the playground, or even playing that most American of elementary schoolyard games, “Kill the man with the ball.” Needless to say, P.E. in their junior high schools didn’t include flag football where you “accidentally” tackled the runner while grabbing for his flag. and slamming him face-first to the sod. Every single time.
When you’re not always getting hurt or playing rough and violent games or falling off your bicycle, it’s hard to know the difference between a real injury and the pain of, well, pain.
On the whole, though, I suppose the new way is better, at least until I see the Anthem-Blue Cross E.O.B.
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