When I was first learning to ride, lots of people warned me that I’ll end up in a wheelchair, or be an organ donor. So I’ll get this out of the way: yes, me and my bike went for a sideways ride off the road – but to anyone thinking of saying I told you so, let me stop you. You’re not psychic, ya boring.
I was heading home to Larne after work in Belfast. There are a few different routes I can take, and I like to mix things up. So I decided to take the back roads. It had been raining all day, though by now it was just a light spit. The temperature was around 12ºC, and I was pretty warm in my heated gloves, layered trousers, and (brand new) jacket. I had gone all the way up the Antrim Road, through Ballyclare, and just as I got past Ballyeaston, it happened. A sort of S-bend, a chicane if you will, in the road ahead. I was doing around 40mph, and slowing down. Then…
Well I’m still not entirely sure what happened in the physical world. But I remember my instantaneous thought process: I can’t make this bend, I’m going too fast. I’m heading into the grass. I’ll cut across it, it’ll slow me down, and I’ll rejoin the road for that second bend, and all will be well. And then…
Oof. Me and the bike came to a halt on our sides. The right side to be exact. Everything was quiet. We were in the soaking wet grass, and churned up a little earth. I smelt mud. I couldn’t believe it had happened, and my first thought was I’m alright. Wow, I’m alright. Then came the damage report. My right leg was throbbing. I feared it was broken. I got up slowly, and crossing my fingers, began to put weight on the leg. It was very sore, but I pushed the boat out and stood up on the one leg. Well, I guess it isn’t broken.
I looked down at the bike. I had never seen it lying down before. My calf throbbing, I hobbled and limped around the front wheel, grabbed it, and hauled it up in such a way to manoeuvre the handlbars into position, allowing me to attempt to lift the bike up and get home. The bike weighs around 190Kg (420lbs) and I (foolishly yet miraculously) managed to get it upright. It took a couple of goes, and I have no idea how I managed to summon the strength, risking the damn thing tipping back over on me and messing me up real good. Once up, standing alongside, I started the engine and feathered the clutch to get us off the grass onto the road, up on its centre stand, killing the engine with the emergency cut-off.
I checked all the lights and indicators were working, and to my surprise, they were. The front right turn indicator had popped out of its mount, but it was still attached, and simply looked a little bent. The brakes seemed okay too. My 52-litre top case was practically untouched. The right mirror had snapped off, lying in the grass a few feet behind, and the handguard was hanging off the end weight, so I loosened the allen key and removed the whole guard. So, here I am with a functioning bike – it probably wouldn’t pass MOT, but there was no way in the world I was leaving it there. I was 14 miles from home, determined to get there on my own two wheels. It was only then I removed my helmet, surprised that I managed to do all this other stuff while wearing a big hard bubble on my head. The helmet was fine. After all, I had toppled over and crashed down in sopping wet earth – nature’s memory foam.
Leg pain increasing, I got on the bike, started it up, and pulled away. It was only then I noticed the handlebars were bent. They were only out by a few degrees, but enought to feel pretty weird. The whole way home, on roads with 60mph limits, I barely got above 35, and never went higher than third gear. My breaths were quick and deep, panting and heaving. Having no right-hand mirror was quite off-putting. By the time I was in the home stretch, I could barely operate the back brake, because of the torn ligament (or pulled muscle, sprain or whatever) in my leg.
I got home, killed the engine with the emergency cut-off, and limped inside, calling through the kitchen door – “A little help!”
I sat on a chair in the dining room, and Elaine and Lars helped me get out of my gear. My breaths were still heaving, and I was so thirsty. My calf was obviously swollen, like nothing I had ever experienced before. I managed to get changed, take some ibuprofen, get on the sofa, and get my foot up.
A friend of mine is a nurse. I told him what happened, and he told me to get to a hospital. Elaine drove me to Antrim A&E, and I hobbled back out 90 minutes later armed with pain killers and no actual diagnosis. “Take baths, take it easy, but get on your feet ocasionally. It’ll hurt like hell tomorrow.” (The doctor who examined me had worked on the Isle of Man TT, and told me a horror story of a rider who was decapitated.)
In the weeks leading up to the spill, I had been feeling anxious, angry, depressed, irrelevant… a hot soup of ugly mental health. With the Coronavirus pandemic still looming like black clouds, my life was feeling monotonous. For months I’ve been craving change. A week before the spill, I even had a bad dream about a guy crashing his bike and severing his hand. Maybe there’s an argument here, that secretly, subliminally, I manufactured this incident to shake things up for myself. Who knows.
So, fast-forward a week, and I’m on crutches. My calf is still very sore and swollen, the bruising has spread, but apparently that’s normal. I was back in work a few days after the spill, but that wasn’t very smart. So as I write, I’m taking it easy for real. I’m getting better, and I can’t wait to get back on the bike. It’s getting fixed up, checked for safety. I’m going to change the way I ride. I have never been into speed, but even then, I’ve got to think more clearly when riding. I think my mind was clearly somewhere else on the day of the crash.
I was embarassed and incredulous. As far as I know, it was all my fault. But… it could have been so much worse. My instantaneous thought process described above might have actually saved me, choosing the least worst scenario.
So here’s something to think about… You can say that riding a bike is engaging in risky behaviour. Sure it is, no question. But if you ask a couple of people I know (they shall remain nameless) you can crack your ribs getting out of a hot tub, or break your toe on a wardrobe door. After my wee crash, my ribs are good, and nothing is broken. Of course I’ve learnt something, and fully appreciate that I’m still here to count my lucky stars, but if you think I’m hanging up my helmet – you’re crazy.