On falling off my bike

Down but not out

Down but not out

I’ve fallen off my bike twice in the past two days.

On neither occasion was I in any danger of being seriously hurt – when I say I fell off my bike, I mean exactly that. The first time was on Thursday morning; I got my trouser leg caught in my pannier rack as I was getting on my bike. I toppled over to one side, hitting the pavement with my left hip, elbow and hand.

The second time, on Friday morning, I was at least moving when I fell. I was on my way down the ramp into the car park at work. It had been raining for my entire journey; the ramp was wet, as were my brakes. I hit them too hard to compensate, just as my back tyre was going over a metal grille. I skidded, then hit the ground.

I was hardly hurt at all. Just a couple of scrapes and bruises, that was all. In both cases I picked myself up and got straight back on my bike. It’s not even as if anyone else was involved – it was just me.

But still.

There’s nothing like hitting the ground to remind you of your vulnerability.

I’ve been cycling in London for almost 12 years now, and in all that time I’ve never had a serious accident. I’ve barely even had any minor ones. Until this week, I’d only ever come off my bike three times – once, not long after I first started cycling, when another cyclist went into the back of me; again, about five years ago, when I skidded on a patch of ice; and most recently when I got my skirt caught on my saddle.

Given this, it’s not surprising that I’ve developed a sense, not quite of invincibility, but that my safety is something I can control. And that’s what the incidents of the past two days are threatening to undermine.

If it had just happened the once – if I’d just come off on Thursday morning, and been fine on Friday – then it would be different. It would’ve just been one of those things that happens, but only once every few years. I would’ve started paying more attention to my trousers when I’m getting on my bike – maybe even bought a new pair of leggings for cycling in – and that would’ve been it.

But twice in two days. That’s just making me think, what next? What if?

What if I’d fallen, not onto the pavement, but into the road? What if I’d been going faster down the ramp? What if there had been a car coming down the ramp behind me? What if something like that happens again when I’m in the middle of traffic?

For me, staying safe on my bike is, in large part, about believing that I’m safe. If I start to think, for one moment, that I’m not safe – if I allow my fears and anxieties to take over – that’s when I start to make mistakes. I become less able to assert myself, and less able to judge what’s going on around me. In short, I become a less confident cyclist.

Perhaps I can’t entirely control my safety on my bike. But I’d like to think I can control most of it – and I sincerely hope the past two days doesn’t change that.

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15 thoughts on “On falling off my bike

  1. It can happen I a. Car just as it can on the bike. You’ve shown you know how to fall and most importantly you got back on. To be a bike rider anywhere, but especially in town, you have to feel a little bit bullet proof. It’s why many people look at us like we are nuts.

    You’ve had your falls for the next two years, ride like the wind lady!

  2. Sorry to hear of these falls. I think I’d favor country rides among the green hills, but realize that when you live in the city, the city is what you’ve got and you make the best of it with skill, awareness, and attunement. All the best for fluid, crash free cycling for the duration.

  3. Great observation: “There’s nothing like hitting the ground to remind you of your vulnerability.” While riding, even if you control every thing you can control, we are still vulnerable. But as Tony pointed out–that is true about all aspects of life

    • It is true. Unfortunately, there are few other aspects of my life which prompt people to say regularly, are you mad? I wouldn’t do that – it’s far too dangerous. Too many more falls and I’ll start to believe them.

  4. I think feeling a bit vulnerable is a good thing for making us safer, helps to anticipate the hazards so we are ready to deal with them. I have trained myself to be contrary and be concerned when I get too comfortable!

  5. Had a bit of a moment with some black ice at christmas and like you it dented my confidence rather than anything else. Have to avoid ‘what if’ though or you’d never get out of bed in the morning. The best riders can come off so it’s no reflection on your bike skills.

  6. Sorry to hear of your falls. I’ve fell off my bike three times last year – all because I use clip-in pedals…but it has taught me to be a bit more cautious and I think that’s a good thing really. If you’re a ‘law of averages’ person, then you’ve got all your falls out of the way for a good chunk of time now! I’m glad you didn’t get hurt :)

  7. I know just what you mean. Sometimes the only thing dented is your confidence. When I started riding, I couldn’t manage to get started when turning right onto a main road – I needed a kerb from which to push and for some reason, these just aren’t available in the middle of the road. Each time I tried it at on particular junction I would wobble, stumble, then fall slowly in a heap. The same women untangled me from my bike on two occasions. The second time they suggested that I give up cycling and join them in the pub.

  8. I commute in the Thames Valley and parts are very dark. Riding along the bike path/sidewalk next to an A road on my way home late in December I was knocked off my bike by a thick brach in the hedge row that was sticking out. Never saw it, just riding along then boom ! down! Thankfully I do not ride clipped in. Slid on my back, the back of my helmet bounced on the pavement and thankfully never slid onto the road. Took a few days to feel comfortable riding home.
    Back to normal

  9. Pingback: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers | Cycling with heels

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