In every crash there is a moment where the brain fails to comprehend what is happening. It’s a predictable problem: We trust our experience to be one thing (just riding along, natch) when suddenly we have all the sensory input of quite a different reality (flying through the air).

To call that passage of time a moment is perhaps generous. The fact is, just how long it lasts varies. The more experienced a rider is and the firmer their expectations of what will unfold in the coming seconds, the shorter that moment is. It may not be more than a fraction of a second. A newer rider who isn’t accustomed to the feel of a tire softened by a slow leak may go whole seconds before the sound of their rim rolling on asphalt sounds the alarm.

But experience isn’t the only factor that lights up the nervous system when things get proverbially (or literally) sideways. In fact, one of the fastest ways to alert a body that not all is going to plan is by changing its orientation to gravity. We need only tip about 15 degrees in any direction for our inner ear to blast the klaxons. Change the direction of air moving over a body and alerts go off as well. And let’s not forget sound. From the gunshot of a popped tube to the varied noises metal makes as it scrapes pavement or other metal is enough to send a shockwave of adrenaline to the fingertips.

So it was during a recent ride I stalled just before the top of a short, steep pitch. Having touched my brakes to keep from hitting the rider ahead of me in that textbook of crowding that comes at the crest of all steeps, I hadn’t raised my saddle and was over-geared for a speed I didn’t anticipate I’d be going. So I clipped out as I tilted to the right, toward the slope that fell away like a ski run.

I clipped out and stepped into air. Thus began the moment. I was listing, sinking, falling away from the benign hillside to my left and into space, an elevation occupied by the trunks of trees.

The incomprehension of what may only last a frame or two on film ought to elicit laughter, not just from bystanders (who are wont to laugh anyway if there are no injuries), but ourselves. This is us as a least common denominator. Falling down. We all do it. Everyone has done it. Everyone will do it.

In my head I had a Wile E. Coyote window of opportunity to look into the camera with beleaguered eyes and hold up a sign that says, “Bye.”

It was, like most comebacks, imagined. Of the rest of that second, all I will say, all that needs be said is: ribs heal.

National Public Radio will send a tow truck to your house to collect that old car you don’t want. We already own that car. Instead, please consider subscribing to TCI and letting squirrels and other woodland creatures nest in your old car.

Image: Warner Bros.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    Ouch. Having been made an Honorary Life Member of the Friends of Mr. Pavement, my left clavicle, nose, forehead, and most of my right shoulder, since rebuilt, wishes you a rapid recovery.

  2. Dan Murphy says

    Ribs, huh? Thank covid you’re not out with a gang, drinking beers, and them telling jokes, making you laugh – and wince. Happened to me, day 3 of a guys ski trip to Alta/Snowbird. The snow was a bit lean, my ski caught something making me fall forward into a somersault. No problem – until I landed and my back found something else buried in the snow. Bruised/cracked ribs on a guys trip with continuous laughing is not fun.
    Did anybody get a good view of your crash?

    1. Padraig says

      I spent the first week taking cough medicine and antihistamines on a preemptive basis. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there’s nothing like that for laughing, save maybe a sour personality. And yes, one person got a terrific view of my crash. I’m not sure I’d want to download his view, were that possible; I suspect I’d begin wincing the moment I saw my right foot twist out.

  3. pfnavin says

    Hit the guardrail on the Michigan Avenue Bridge in Chicago when I skidded on a metal plate that had been buried under a heavy snow. Bam! Ribs.

    It was rush hour. Pedestrians rushed over to me. Got up, said, “I’m all right, thanks.” Rode home 13 miles and went out for a beer with friends, one of whom is my doc. I was in pain. He said, “Stand up.” He stood behind me nad pressed my ribs. “Cracked. Four weeks in hell, two weeks in purgatory.”

    Not the first broken ribs I had in a cycling crash and not the last. But I remember his words.

    Hope you’re healing quickly.

    1. Padraig says

      Oh man; that must have been rough. I’m willing to claim that I’m already in purgatory, rather than hell. As zip codes go, it’s an improvement, but I’m still on the wrong side of the tracks. Thanks much.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More