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.
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.