Olivier Lacan

Software bricoleur, word wrangler, scientific skeptic, and logic lumberjack.

I fell off my bike

Written on April 27, 2013

This afternoon I fell off my bike. I had just spent a lovely afternoon and wanted to ride in the gentle sun before two weeks away from home. I was even more excited because a few hours earlier I just had my front wheel fixed at Orange Cycle — a few days ago I accidentally bumped into my bike with my car while parking.

The sun was warm but at an angle low enough to not even make me sweat. There were a few clouds in the sky, tall beautiful ones that bring out the rich blue and green colors all around. I felt so good after a few paces I lifted my hands up and let the wind dance through my fingers.

I often do this. I bought this bike — a road bike, not a fixie, I’m enjoy engineering not sweating and breaking with my feet to feel authentic — about a year and a half ago. I’ve ridden many bikes in my life:

  • A crappy golden cross bike my parents got me at a garage sale that looked like a beat up Harley
  • A cheap all terrain bike we won with supermarket loyalty points that disintegrated (chain and all) in the middle of traffic while I was riding home from work in busy Parisian boulevard traffic
  • A fancy urban bike with front and back suspensions, a kick-ass black design, a comfortable seat for the taint-hating Parisian pavement & sidewalks that I rode with in Paris through traffic jams and got me to college faster than any engine-bearing vehicle in the city could
  • And my most recent, my first road bike I decided to buy when I realized that Central Florida was lizarded (can’t believe that’s not a verb here) with beautiful bike trails that let you see much more of the Florida wildlife (lakes, fields, rivers) than you would ever see otherwise

Since it was my first road bike, it took me a while to feel comfortable riding it, especially since it’s hard to use a bike as a commute vehicle in Florida. For most of the year it’s too hot to ride one comfortably, but more importantly I promised myself I would never ride outside of trails. Because Florida is so vast, it’s extremely uncommon for drivers to cohabitate with cyclists. Unsurprisingly, since drivers don’t expect cyclists, they don’t account for them in their manoeuvers. It’s easy to blame the drivers, since too many people I know were seriously injured in bike/car collisions, but not every driver in the world has been subjected to the constant flow of brazenly inexperienced cyclists a city like Paris has. That shit — along with smart cars, vespas, buses and taxis — turns you into an expert defensive driver, and a misanthrope.

Anyway, I fell off the damn bike. She doesn’t deserve that moniker, although I still dislike how easily road bikes swerve when they’re rarely ever used for sharp turns, that makes no sense to me. My point with the long history of my bike ownership was to show that while I’m not an accomplished cyclist, I’ve been around the block on a bike.

Since road bikes sacrifice comfort for aerodynamism, they invite dangerous behavior when riding in long straight stretches. You perk your head up, lock your feet and knees in a stable stance and off go the hand, caressing the flow of oxygen drifting by.

It’s a design flaw. Having handlebars slight elevated compared to the seat makes sense, it also lowers you and the bike’s center of gravity. The front axis not being so fucking loose wouldn’t hurt either. But I’m doing that thing when you hit a terrible shot at ping pong or tennis (or baseball, let’s make it colloquial) and then immediately look at the damn racket as if it was operating on its own and you weren’t the single point of failure.

Yes, I got cocky. I felt awesome. I felt safe. Not invincible, I’m not that stupid, but safe enough. It’s been years since I fell off a bike this hard. I think the last time was when the chain and entire front wheel axis of a cheap bike decided to bail when I was crossing a very quiet street by a lovely little bridge south of the Seine. I had it easy, just a bleedy elbow scrape and some minor carpet burns on my hands. Some cold water took care of it.

This one wasn’t bad but it could have been. It might have been a bump in the road or I just lost my balance and it all went really fast.

I think my shoulder hit the pavement first, which would explain the small hole in my brand new t-shirt and the friction burn. Then came something I really didn’t like. I wasn’t wearing a helmet — doesn’t really work with the long hair, although I often wear one if I’m going to ride on roads with motor vehicles — so while it’s possible that the contact of my head with the pavement made my lose a few seconds I remember the very uncomfortable feeling of the pavement rubbing against my head (at about 5 to 10 miles an hour and decelerating). I really didn’t enjoy that, thankfull I quick rolled on my thigh and hip.

That didn’t feel great on the hip but at least there’s more bumper there. Can’t wait to see the size of that bruise though.

I quickly got on my feet and a minivan that was following behind me slowed down and parked, the driver asked if I was alright after lowering his side window. I ran a quick mental check list:

  • no gushing wounds: check
  • no weird feeling of nausea/lightheadedness or stars from the head trauma: check
  • wobbly legs but no apparent foreign objects: check
  • fingers intact (my livelihood, that would suck): check
  • phone in working condition I’m just trying to save face: check
  • within reasonable walking distance of my car (less than 5 min): check

I told the nice human being that I was alright, and dragged my bike away from the path. The bike path was large and well delineated but right alongside the roadway. Good thing I make it a habbit to stop fucking around the with no handlebars thing whenever a car is too close or this could have gone wrong. There was no traffic anywhere close to me when I fell. But I got really lucky on the obstacle (during my fall) front.

It’s several hours later now and while some of my burns & scrapes are painful I’ll survive and my head trauma is extremely minor with no bleeding. I’ll get it checked out as soon as I can figure out where the nearest urgent care clinic is (this clearly doesn’t warrant an Emergency Room visit).

That said the very fact I decided to write all this down (after calling a friend to see if someone can drive me to a clinic, calm down) shows that accidents like this cause reflection. I subscribe to the idea that failure isn’t necessarily something you can learn anything valuable from. It teaches you about failure, that’s about it, maybe about caution too. I will not cease to ride my bike with no handle bars, and while I will make it a point to wear a helmet whenever I’m close to a roadway, all the precautions in the world won’t change the fact that at some point in the future, I will fall off my bike again.

It will hurt, it will piss me off, I will have let my guard down, because it’s impossible to be constantly cautious. Or if it is, I don’t want to be. I’d rather live and lick a few mean wounds once in a while.

No what I enjoyed about this incident is that it has shown me that the minimum amount of security I practice is reasonable. I have two first aid kits at my house, sufficient material to clean up and dress wounds. I know where the nearest urgent care and ER are. I keep enough battery in my phone to be able to find help if necessary. I know not to lie down after any head trauma, to stay alert and make sure someone I know is aware of my state so they can help me out if something goes wrong.

In other words, while I fucked up, my system worked. If hadn’t been able to use my own system, I trust that my fellow human beings’ systems would have worked to get me help. Like many accidents, this is a reminder that everything isn’t so bad.

It’s easy to overreact to failure, or try in vain to learn from it.