If you’ve never come off your bike I doff my hat to you, or would if I wore one. I’ve had my tumbles. Most were instantly forgettable. My only truly serious off was a dozen years ago when a pothole swallowed me up one night. Can't say I remember the concussion.
A few weeks ago I bounced my head off the tarmac: We meet again. Didn’t black out or even hurt myself much, but the psychological trauma was out of proportion to the incident, principally because the experience wasn't knocked out of my memory this time.
I was turning a corner on a slight downhill, at cautious mph because there were poor sightlines. It was wet and there were leaves about, so a wet leaf may have been involved.
As my foot reflexively shot out to stop my own fall to earth, the toeclip strap intervened. I went down and hit my shoulder, then that big dumb thing attached to my neck.
My first thought was WTF. Arms, why didn’t you stop this?! Then I set the bike back on its tyres without really checking it for injuries (I know, blame shock) and carried on, figuring I couldn’t be in too bad a way as I wasn’t seeing double or anything, so might as well complete my planned ride.
Up the road I paused, relieved to be away from the scene of the off, and discovered my scalp was bleeding. It wasn’t exactly a gusher, but a course correction seemed wise.
My wife would have to be informed. I was not looking forward to this.
Domestic bliss is punctuated by such bumps in the road. You’ve hurt yourself again? she didn’t say but I heard. We landed in A&E, thanks in part to the Natasha Richardson effect. Sent back home with a poorly xeroxed fact sheet on head injuries, but I’m not complaining, I’m grateful to have been seen so quickly.
Yes, I’d hurt myself again. One might be forgiven for suggesting that I’m accident prone. Until this fall, such had never occurred to me, despite evidence to the contrary. How many accidents does it take to be considered prone?
I’ve always believed that a big part of safe cycling is confidence. For the first time, mine was genuinely shaken. On the rides immediately following my off I felt nervous, PTSDish. I kept flashing back to how it felt, one hard surface colliding with another. Time for a helmet? Locking the barn door, etc., but there you go.
The very thought of strapping on a brain bucket was mildly traumatic. Better not to come off in the first place. So I focused my attention on the toeclips instead. Not for the first time.
The clipless life has never beckoned. I like the relative freedom of loose straps, and dislike wearing taps. The chief benefit of toeclips is keeping my feet under control when I’m going up hills, which feature so large in my life. So what if they’re old school.
My first trial was half clips, which I use on my London folder. No good. How about a half clip just on the left, the pivotal foot in the equation? Doable, but it struck me as half assed, there still being the possibility my right toeclip could break bad.
Scrambling about for ideas, I briefly wondered if I could somehow cobble together an ingenious claw-like affair so there would be no need for straps. Not a chance, mate.
OK then, onto clipless after all. At least they wouldn’t physically constrain me (another recurrent flashback was my foot trying and failing to find the ground before the rest of me did), though it remains an open question whether I could shake free in time in the event of another off. I bought Shimano M324 combination pedals and attached a cleat to one shoe, which is as much as I wanted to dip my toes in these waters initially. These would leave me footloose and fancy free until hills, where right foot retention was all I really needed.
This worked, but was unsatisfying. Blame 20 years with clips; naturally enough, it would take getting used to.
I don’t want to change! Does one bad clip-related off in all these years warrant this? Despite their very occasional naughtiness, I’m comfortable and relaxed in clips. So in clips I remain. The combo pedals are staying on a less used bike to give my feet the opportunity to slowly change their mind or at least adopt a more flexible attitude.
I’m less comfortable and relaxed now without a helmet, though I’m fully aware they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. I finally bought one, as a thinking cap.