Falling Down (in a dress)

9 01 2010

One of the reasons I began this blog is that I want to share how fun, healthy, hip, and safe a bicycle lifestyle can be. Even in Edmonton. Even in the winter. This is kind of like my rebuke to the “WTF, you crazy bitch?” I get when people find out I cycle 20km a day in all weather, and like it, and haven’t been killed yet. It’ll be a way to share the little adventures and moments that often make my daily commute the best part of my day.

So, yeah, that in mind, I crashed today. First time this winter.

I knew better than how I was riding. First mistake: I hopped onto the sidewalk where I spotted ice on a slanted part  (south side of downtown police HQ, for those who know E-town). I know that the proper way to successfully ride up an icy incline is straight on because if you try to ride it at an angle, gravity will have it’s way with you and your bike can go sideways underneath you.

Second mistake: I tried to ride up it at an angle anyways. Predictably, my bike went sideways, out from underneath me. My thigh met the handlebars in a most ungracious manner, and other body parts hit the ground.

I have a huge bruise on my thigh that is so swollen I can see it through two layers of thick tights, as well as some soreness and jarred feelings, but am otherwise OK. I doubt there will be any long term effects except perhaps skipping out on tomorrow’s tobogganing party. The handlebars on my bike were twisted out of alignment, but luckily I had an allan wrench in my purse (doesn’t everyone?) and I quickly fixed them before riding off triumphantly.

My lap is temporarily off limits to the kitties.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t ride their bikes in the winter is fear of falling. Like in other winter sports (skating, tobogganing, skiing), falling is part of the experience of winter cycling, it’ll happen sooner or later. The good news is that it’s not so bad. Snow covered surfaces, unlike summer surfaces, absorb much more of the impact of the fall, like a thin layer of padding on everything. (If I’m crazy then the whole world is my padded room!)  Icy surfaces aren’t likely to give you road rash and transfer some of the bone crushing energy of the impact into sliding action. And you’re probably going to be cycling more slowly, and covered in five layers of clothes from head to toe, which also makes a big difference.

Don’t get me wrong, falling still sucks no matter when it happens. I just don’t think it’s so much of a risk for an otherwise healthy adult that it justifies not riding, and that instead of just being afraid and writing off the potential of winter cycling, people can learn skills that can make it much safer. Walking in the winter can be dangerous too.

Falling is a skill. If you have ever taken a martial arts class that involves throws (such as judo, akido, jujitsu, etc), you may have learned “break falls,” skills that teach you to absorb a fall over a large area of the body rather than concentrating all the force on one body part and injuring it. They also teach you to protect your head, no matter what, at all costs, never let it touch the ground. If you practice falling often enough (start on mats with someone who knows what they’re doing), your body’s instinct to tense up and freeze (which can maximize injury where falling is concerned) will be replaced by a new instinct to do a injury-minimizing break fall. This is extremely useful for any cyclist, and I personally feel it’s saved my ass a few times.

An even more useful skill to have is knowing how to avoid falls in the first place. I always say that the most important piece of safety equipment you have is your brain, because if you are smart and alert, you will behave in a way that avoids and prevents falls and accidents (and if I had better utilized mine today, I wouldn’t be looking at rainbow bruise).

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to fear monger or play the I’m more macho than you game. The point is that I’m going to get back on my bike tomorrow, ’cause one fall need not be a big deal, and I’m going to learn from this and be a better cyclist for it.

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2 responses

17 08 2010
Val

Well said! I have frequently advised new riders to learn and practice falling, but have pretty much given up due to the looks of revulsion and disbelief that this causes. I definitely credit my survival in crashes too numerous to count (really) to early (if basic) gymnastics training. Alas, most folks seem to think that one piece of protective gear (which shall remain nameless) is all that is needed, rather than skills or reflexes. Resolve is useful, too, to get you back on the bike. Good to remember, as well, that the consequences of losing control on snow and ice can be much worse in a motor vehicle.

19 08 2010
evillerider

Hear hear!

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