Injuries

Rocky Trail Shimano GP, Stromlo, 2013

Found via Carbon Addiction, this interesting post from the NY times takes a helicopter view of cycling safety and injury rates. Overall, it paints a cautiously positive picture of the kind of dangers the average cyclist will face.

For my part, I could see a lot of my own cycling history in the post. As the article notes, many cycling injuries go unreported. I’ve never yet been to hospital, or even a GP, for a cycling-related injury, though I’ve had many. In my former life, before taking over a decade away from the bike, I was largely injury-free, with cuts and bruises being pretty much the limit of what I picked up. Low speed crashes in icy conditions spring immediately to mind as a hazard of riding year-round in Britain. Usually, the bike would be worse off than me – I’ve pretzeled a couple of mountain bike wheels in crashes that left me personally unscathed. The worst I can think of is a black eye picked up when I put a pedal on the ground in a corner and went face first into a kerb. I was pretty lucky.

Since getting back on, I’ve had several fairly heavy crashes and quite a few narrow squeaks. I recall clearly the first time I crashed hard in recent times. I’d wandered into a Twitter argument the night before on the subject of mandatory cycle helmets in Australia. I’m not a fan of the blanket laws, though I’m generally an advocate for helmet use. I just miss the freedom I had in the UK to just hop on my bike in jeans and t-shirt and trundle off to the shops sans-helmet. Up to this point I’d never hit my head in a crash and I’d said so.

The next afternoon I misjudged a corner on the Oaks Singletrack and went straight to the scene of the accident. And hit my head sufficiently hard to rattle teeth and fill my helmet vents with dirt. Perhaps an example of Murphy’s Law at work?

That one resulted in some bruising, and not a lot more, but I had a rather more serious one in October 2012, while taking part in the Cannondale Octoberfest Strava challenge. At Yellomundee Regional Park, I caught a bar end in a tree and went down very hard onto a tree root. That one resulted in a cracked rib and several weeks of pain. But I didn’t take it to hospital and I didn’t stop riding. I did sixty hours on the bike in three weeks, about half of it with a rib that made just breathing into a form of quiet torture. I did it for rule 5, I did it for a love of riding, but mostly I did it for a plastic beer stein with the Cannondale logo on it.

Since then I’ve had a few similar crashes in racing and training. Clipping bars on trees or washing out the front wheel in fast corners are, not too surprisingly for a mountain biker, the main theme. I also had one more embarrassing than painful incident on a greasy road near the Sydney Fishmarkets, and have been clipped by cars – without injury – twice.

And then, most recently there was the road-bike crash that wrote off a pair of wheels, a helmet and a pair of sunglasses. I walked away with bruising and a mild concussion. Again, no hospital visit – though with 20/20 hindsight I’d advise anyone with a head injury to go get checked, just in case.

As in my former life, I’ve been pretty lucky.

But accidents do happen. I personally subscribe to the “not if but when” philosophy noted in the NYT piece. I know for a fact that I’ll have crashes, and at some point one or more will require more treatment than a bag of frozen peas and some band-aids. I also know that the kind of speeds at which I travel have been increasing as I’ve gained strength and fitness, so I’m now faster and faster crashes are potentially worse crashes. It doesn’t give me pause for one minute. I’m still going to go out there and ride my bike. I’m still going to race and I’m still going to train hard and I won’t let fear be the thing that stops me.

Overall, the fact that I ride a bike is making me healthier, happier and fitter than I was before. Fear of an injury is a bad reason to give up all those benefits.

If I quit cycling completely tomorrow for fear of injuries, I could still be hit by a bus. Or I could suffer a slow decline into the illnesses of a sedentary urban lifestyle and die of heart disease at forty-five.

If that’s alternative, well, you can just break my collarbone now and get it over with.

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