The indignity of falling off your bike

Most of us have fallen off a bike. Once those training wheels came off it was kind of inevitable. But at the age of 6,9, 22… well you feel ridiculous for a moment, slightly shocked and get back up. If there’s bleeding, well its a badge of honor.

Those who continue to ride bikes after their teens and do so without a wicker basket, tend to fall off a lot more. The advent of mountain biking in the 80’s kept Band-Aid and Neosporin in business I think. My first mountain bike (the gloriously heavy Muddy Fox), spent more time upside down with me entwined in it, than it did right side up. But hey, I was in the teens, it was dirt (or more typically mud) and I’ve always been someone who likes to get dirty.  I loved mountain biking. The insane speeds, missing the switchback and taking an adventurous ‘cut through’ a few trees, bushes and often streams, plus falling off didn’t really hurt. If anything it made the ride.. epic falls became great fodder for post ride beers.

Fast forward to my Colorado days and I noticed that most of my fellow mountain bikers were somehow ‘attached’ to their pedals and as a result, seemed to be able to spring up steps, lift their bikes over massive boulders and land off jumps without ripped off their hip flexors. I figured that as a new American, I needed to get on board with these ‘clip in’ things and bought a pair for my upcoming trip to a place called ‘Moab’. Unbeknownst to me, Moab is rock riding. All rock. Acres and acres of rock that people ride across. As it, no dirt or leaves, no soft welcoming mud, no roots and certainly no places to land which don’t cause immediate holes in your legs. But hey, I’d been riding since I was 7.. I could handle this. Right?
My ‘date’ noticed my new pedals and looked horrified as I pedaled up the first rock of ‘Slickrock’ trail, the watched as I crested, descended straight down and immediately found myself head over ass still attached to my bike.

My fellow Coloradoans hid their snickers and paused while I vainly tried to wipe up the blood trickling from my knees while trying to unclip my feet. But the bastards wouldn’t come off. I yanked my feet this way and that, flopping around like a landed sea bass until one passing rider gently pulled my ankle and mercifully unclipped my foot. If it hadn’t been for him, I might still be there.

If you’ve never ridden ‘clipless’ pedals you’ve probably at least see one person slowly fall sideways at a stop light as they try, in vain, to unclip. Its hysterical to watch, mortifying to experience and there’s nothing you can do if your foot gets stuck. During my first ride at Moab, I think I experienced it on average every 3-4 mins… for 12 miles. At one point I told my crew to just ride off and leave me to figure it out… (and crawl under a rock with embarrassment), leaving me attached to my bike and at one point, taking off my shoes in order to unclip them from my shiny new instruments of torture.  

No-one had told me that you can adjust them.

So, hill after hill, descent after descent, jump after jump I fell off. I fell over my handlebars, off the back of my seat, to the side, and when hitting a sand bar come fast off a rock, I almost did a 360.

I arrived back to camp about an hour after everyone else, bloodied and bruised in every exposed area. My arms, legs, head, neck, hands, knees and even my ear was bleeding.  I had fallen over my hand bars into gorse, catcus, sand, rock, shingle, other riders and even a dog at one point. I was an advert for ‘don’t try clipless pedals for the first time at Moab’. But I had finally figured it out and nothing could scare me on a trail after that ride.You could have beaten me with a 2 x 4 and I wouldn’t have felt it.

Which brings me to this weekend when I found out that falling off a bike, any bike, doesn’t get any easier or less embarrassing. Especially when it weighs 370lbs and is motorized.
I’m just learning the feel of my Guzzi and while I’m perfectly comfortable at speed, as soon as I slow down, I get hit by that old ‘clipless’ pedal feel and I start wobbling like a gelding. I’m just waiting to hit the ground.
Cue my slow sideways fall on Sunday as I stopped at a gas pump and a car clipped my mirror. As he drove off oblivious, I slowly fell sideways.. so slow in fact I registered at least 3 cyclists laughing as I hit the floor.

On the plus side, I wasn’t hurt and all aforementioned cyclists were quick to pull me out from under my bike and assure me that ‘it happens’. And they helped me get my bike back on its stand – no mean feet when it weighs 1/2 of a car. On the negative side, I couldn’t even blame my pedals. It was sheer momentum – 4mph, one tap on my bar mirror and I was roadkill. Or gas station entertainment.
I brushed myself off, tried to remember how to fill my tank and stood with wobbly legs trying to look nonchalant.  Which wasn’t helped when a cyclist came over with my brake lever in his hand which had snapped off during the fall. Ha! who needs brakes during a 30 mile ride home?? !!! No fear here.
Talk about getting back on the horse that bucked you. I think I might have grow a testicle or two during that ride home.Lets just say it was 47 degrees and I’ve never sweated more, braking with my forefinger and praying for my exit. That shot of tequila I sank when I got back to Denver never tasted so good.

The common theme? Falling off your bike doesn’t get easier and its no less embarrassing at 41 than 21. On the plus side, at 41 on a motorcycle, the guys are rushing to help you instead of standing around laughing.. or maybe they just hide their laughing a little better.

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