Last week I fell off my bike.
It’s been quite a while since I had a real spill while cycling. I’ve had a few unexpected dismounts while trail riding, but all with soft dirt landings and no real consequences.
This was a proper crash. The bike and I went for a tumble down an embankment and landed on a large pile of unforgiving rocks. Given the hard landing, I was pretty lucky. I walked away with a gashed elbow, lots of bruises and a pulled shoulder muscle.
Even though I was still pretty sore by the time the next work day rolled around, I resisted the temptation to leave the bike at home. I’ve learned from past experience that no matter how unappealing it seems, the most important thing you can do after a bad fall is get back on the horse (or in this case, the bike) that threw you.
It’s one of cycling’s unfortunate realities; if you spend enough hours on a bike, sooner or later you will come off it. A skid on a wet road. An unexpectedly large pothole hidden in the darkness in the winter months. An inattentive driver who cuts you off or clips you with a mirror. The car door that opens when you don’t have the space or time to take evasive action.
It’s only natural to be shaken afterward. Even minor tumbles are very disconcerting and can take some time to get over.
The most important thing, though, is remembering that for every fall, there are hundreds—maybe even thousands—of kilometres of smooth cycling. Falls are the exception, not the rule. The danger is that you’re so shaken, you start avoiding the bike because you’re dwelling on the exception. In that case, riding feels like a much bigger and scarier deal than it is.
In the case of my fall last week, I had no one to blame but myself. In some ways this made it much easier to get over than those times when someone else was mainly to blame.
The last bad spill I took was a long time ago when I was living in London and got taken out by a driver who changed lanes without checking his mirrors. For a long time after that, I was very twitchy and nervous when riding in traffic. This wasn’t entirely a bad thing—it definitely made me more alert and conscious of the movement of other road users—but it meant riding temporarily a stressful experience.
The key to regaining my confidence and making cycling enjoyable again was simple: I spent time on the bike. It wasn’t much fun at first but gradually the memory of the accident receded, replaced by happier rides. I didn’t forget the lessons I’d learned, but I did accept the accident for what it was: one unlucky moment out of many more hours of pedaling than I could count.
It always sucks to get knocked down or to slip and fall, but the best way to recover is to get up and carry on.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist, librarian and outdoor enthusiast who believes that bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at sidecut.ca, or contact Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.