My confidence takes a tumble

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.


Sam Walker [71 posts] 1 month ago

If you'd like to comment I'd appreciate if you could crosspost on my site here.

Trickytree1984 [51 posts] 1 month ago

Have you considered that, had you got your foot free, you could have been more injured?

I've had 2 bad offs. One in 2015 and one in 16. In both, I tried to stop my fall with hands and arms outstretched. In both, I broke an arm. One was just a fracture, one was surgery!

On the helmet, I see no way of trying to convince you otherwise. This would have almost certainly prevented your head injury. In my cases it did.

alansmurphy [1481 posts] 1 month ago

You're a week late for helmet debating (see 180 or so other comments), have you considered disc brakes?

Sevenfold [82 posts] 1 month ago

I had a fall just over two weeks ago. Stupid numpty schoolboy error - stopped, & in clipping back in, put the front wheel over the edge of the road. It had just been relaid so there was a distinct 'lip' & down I went onto my right-hand side. I knew I had hurt myself & felt pretty much as I had when I was knocked off around a year ago. A bruised hip & knee & after a week I would be back on the bike...No chance, keep having issues with pain & I have had x-rays on hip/pelvis & knee at A & E which showed nothing but I still sometimes limp quite badly & have not ridden for nearly three weeks. I am trying to rest as much as possible but with no signs of it getting anay better  I am off to the doctors tonight to see if they can suggest anything other than rest/painkillers.

alansmurphy [1481 posts] 1 month ago

I take him on rides too following my Ventoux demise.


Videos of the incident and days precedding tells me that I'd got over-confident, felt I was invincible etc. Since the off, descending the Cat & Fiddle and even short sharp hills and I think twice unless there's a nice straight stretch. I now brake much earlier (which is probably better technique in all) but it makes me realise how on the edge I must have been living before, I'm still going quicker than most of my more sensible ride friends but nowhere near what I was.


I've had to come to terms with certain Strava segments never being beaten now (from a personal PR perspective) but I'm happy with that as one second on a phone screen isn't worth the accident I've had and the potential that the next one could be worse... 

peted76 [833 posts] 1 month ago

It's two or three years since my big off. The physical scars remain, but they are out of sight and not worthy of daily thought nowadays.  I'm grateful I was wearing a helmet that day, I keep it hung on the wall as a reminder of it's worth, cracked, scuffed and split.

My confidence returned quickly, but there remains a niggle, a responsible thought which seems is never too far away.  It's not that I'm scared any more, but it makes me question taking the risks which I'd previously not given thought to, indeed relished. A deamon with a fluro jacket and hard hat who lives in my brain. I've built saftey features into my group rides, in a peloton with unknown riders I'm on full alert, it is a dangerous place. I follow wheels slightly offset to the right now, no longer directly inline and hardly ever to the left.  I 'failed' in a race six months ago, on a narrow road in a bunched group of 15 I couldn't handle it, I let myself drift out of the swarm of leaning unknown riders shoulder to shoulder around corners, it was more than I could stand, my health and saftey deamon told me I could race slightly further back where it was less crowded, just keep the wheels, you'll be fine it told me, the reality was that I knew it was always going to be more difficult further down the pack, and so it was proved. 

I am a different rider since the accident, my Deamon tells me that I'm a better rider, but the creative, youthful side of me tells me I'll never be competitive without the sharp edge of risk which has, for now been dulled.