Friday, March 11, 2011


Everything was going hunky-dory: I was training well, riding well, but after a five-hour ride last Saturday I got sick and now, five days later, I feel no better.  So, what's to write about?  How about crashing?  Why not?

I decided to write about crashing when I saw Pops Montano wearing numerous scabs on his face and forehead.  He was descending Snake Road, feeling great, swooping around turns on a sunny day with dry road surface, taking things pretty aggressively, when he found himself skidding on his side and face across the road.  It was a little painful to look at him.  I'm sure it's purely coincidental, but as far as I'm concerned Montano Velo is cursed with cycling faceplants.  First it was Jason Montano, back when he worked for Robinson's Wheel Works, getting his front wheel caught in a storm grate.  Then it was Jonathan, crashing on Euclid and proudly wearing an enormous scab on his forehead.  Now Pops.  And two days ago, it was Andre Greipel, losing his handlebars during a warm-up for a team time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico and, as he elegantly described it: "I basically braked with my face."  OK, this was unrelated to Montano Velo, but topically timely nonetheless.

Facial wounds are visible results of the crashes.  Many of us carry scars on hips, elbows, shoulders and knees, that others don't see.  But we do not forget.  I've never face-planted or face-skidded, but under my clothes, I wear marks of many cycling-related falls.  I say cycling-related because one of them, I acquired when I wasn't riding -- the first one.  Here are tales of those I remember:

1. Walking down the stairs of my apartment building in St. Louis in my cycling shoes, carrying the bike.  On the lowest flight, I slipped and fell, the bike bumped the stairs, came up and hit me in the mouth.  I still bear the scar of that slip-slide on the lower lip.  Since I was a very new cyclist at that time, the incident knocked the desire to ride out of me for a good few weeks.  I guess this is a visible result of a bicycle-related fall, after all.

2. Also in St. Louis, I failed to unclip at a traffic light and fell over at nearly zero miles an hour.  No injuries, save for the bruises to my ego.

3. First road rash.  West Los Angeles, Summer of 1987.  Going at over 20 miles an hour eastbound on busy Sunset Boulevard, I hit a pothole and went flying.  Lucky thing I didn't get run over and didn't break anything.  This was my first real crash.  A friendly motorist gave me a ride home.  I spent a small fortune a drug store, then went to a bike shop to buy replacement bar tape and there received compliments on my road rash from a shop employee.  This was the first time I heard the term.  If only it were the last...

4. Pinehurst Quintet

(a) Going down North Pinehurst, through Canyon toward Moraga on a fairly flat portion of the road, I overcooked a left turn on a wet road, riding about 25 mph.  The bike began to slide while it was still upright, I pointed the front wheel in the direction of the skid and I thought I "saved it."  I did not save it.  The result was left hip and elbow raspberries.

(b) Descending South Pinehurst from Redwood to Moraga, I slipped on wet redwood needles.  For some reason, immediately after that crash I felt like a real cyclist and I was proud to remount and ride home fairly strongly, thinking of myself as akin to Paris-Roubaix racers, who crash in the mud, yet continue racing.

(c) Off-camber right turn on North Pinehurst less than 100 yards from Skyline.  Not sure what happened, but as I got my bearings and looked around, I saw a shredded cycling glove and a busted bike computer, so I had company.  Minimal road rash, but a fairly mangled finger that didn't bend too well after the pain went away.  Range of motion returned after self-directed physical therapy.

(d) South Pinehurst from Redwood toward Moraga, at about the third turn from the top.  The road was wet and I was descending fairly cautiously, but my rear wheel just washed out below me.  As I slid down the hill, I thought: "I am sliding for an awfully long time.  This is going to be some road rash!"  The fact that I had the time to think that just gives you an idea of how long that slide was.  And the rash was enormous.  As always, the tear in the shorts was the size of the quarter.  If we had coins commensurate with the size of my raspberry, it was have been worth at least $50.

(e) I was following my friend Ted up North Pinehurst.  At the upper hairpin, he stood up, slowing dramatically.  I rode into him and went down at about 5 mph.  I was more mad at him than hurt.

5. Unhappy Valley Duo

This sucked in a big way.  I was riding to a deposition in Concord.  I came up Sundown Terrace and turned right to descend Happy Valley Road into Lafayette.  It was a foggy day and the road was wet (is there a common thread here?) and I went down on my left side as I went into the first turn.  Ow, ow!  It hurt, but not too bad.  I straightened the handlebars and remounted, intending to continue riding to the deposition.  Crept super-carefully down the hill.  There's a steep but wide hairpin at the bottom, where a construction crew was building a house.  Unfortunately for me, that meant cement dust.  Cement dust on a wet road.  I had no chance and crashed on my right side.  That really hurt.  Pain on both sides, bleeding fingers and who knows where else I was bleeding under my clothes.  You can imagine: elbows and hips, of course.  Not going to the deposition now.  Rode very gingerly to Lafayette BART station, got off the train at Rockridge, and rode home.  I stiffened considerably during the BART ride, so riding home hurt a lot.  Got home -- oh and my daughter Sophie was about three months old then -- so as I came into the house, I said: "Daddy go boom... and boom."

Showered, taped myself up as well as I could and lay in bed.  I was a mess and a wreck.  Fortunately, the deposition was uneventful and I didn't miss much.  I got up an hour later and drove to Concord.  For 10 days thereafter, I had to sleep on my back, which sucked too.

6. Disorganized Ride.  This was a bad day in two ways.  Marin Century in 2006 or so.  I drove to the start with my bike on the roof.  Drove into a carport to make a three-point turn and discovered that I'd forgotten that the bike was on the roof.  The fork was fairly wrecked.  I drove home in near tears, got another bike and drove back.  Was going to ride the 200k, but now only had time to ride 100 miles.  Rode angry.  Got with some team paceline, which was fairly fast.  I was going to blow through the first rest stop, but some idiot team member stopped right in front of me, blocking the road and leaving no room to ride around, so down I went.  I was more pissed off than hurt.  Got back on the bike and rode away.

7. Bike Path Fiasco.  I was tired, coming home on Lafayette-Moraga trail, riding eastbound.  There were lots of pedestrians and recreational riders on the trail.  As I was passing a cyclist, she swerved left, bringing down us both.  Then she had the temerity to be mad at me.

8. Two on the Ridge. 

(a) The first one was impressive because I took a calculated risk (failing spectacularly, I understand) and because it was I had witnesses: Brian, Todd, and Mike Fee.  We were at the very end of Skyline, where it turns into Grass Valley Road.  There's an 80-degree right turn that without braking one would enter at about 30 mph.  I am still convinced that a skilled rider can take that turn without braking.  The problem is that Grass Valley is lined with eucalyptus trees and the trees routinely litter that corner with acorns.  Well, I thought of myself as skilled and was confident and this was the day I would take the turn without braking, but it was wet (again! definitely a trend) and I hit an acorn.........  The good thing was that the road is narrow there, and I spent very little time sliding across the pavement, discovering that it was much more pleasant to crash into dirt.  I skidded into dirt on the side of the road and came to rest in a pile of eucalyptus acorns and leaves.  This was my fastest crash, but it was my softest landing.  Fueled by adrenaline, I hammered the rest of the ride pretty hard.  I think we rode for another 75 minutes after the crash.  First hour, I felt great.  Last 15 minutes, I was really, really tired.

(b) Descending Grizzly Peak, northbound.  It was a dry summer afternoon.  It was warm enough just for a pair of shorts and a jersey.  For a change, the road was completely dry.  I was descending fairly sanely, enjoying the scenery.  There's a sharp left-hander.  Long ago, I could take that turn without braking, but that was very long ago and I think I only did it twice.  So, I was braking.  I saw a thin trickle of water across the road and decided to brake even more.  Midway through the turn, I was congratulating myself on my safe riding, when I hit the trickle and went down with a thud.  Turned out the trickle was motor oil, not water.  I cracked my helmet on this one, but other than road rash, escaped injury.

9. Birthday Bash

This one hurt the most because of the occasion, my 41st birthday.  We did "around the world ride" clockwise.  As we rode from Orinda to Moraga, we came to a changing traffic light, so as we slowed down, we fanned out across the road shoulder a bit.  As I drifted left, I hit a rock the size of a large fist, lost my handlebars, and crashed.  I finished the ride, but the crash put a big damper on the ensuing birthday party, especially after my parents showed up.

10. And one near-crash: Sophie was less than a year old.  We visited friends, who also had an infant.  Jessica and Sophie drove there and I rode.  On the way back, I was descending Skyline, going northbound toward Redwood, trailing Jessica's car by only about 15 yards, when I hit a pothole and lost the bars.  The bike started oscillating pretty wildly.  At that time, Sophie was in a rear-facing car seat, so she was watching this as it unfolded.  Maybe she wasn't watching -- who knows how 4-6 month olds occupy themselves.  But I think Jessica watched my gyrations.  Somehow, I managed to grab the bars and bring the bike under control.  That was exciting for all involved, let me tell you.

Then there was the time when Jessica was riding uphill behind me and I stood up suddenly -- and slowed down momentarily -- bringing her down........

Those are the crashes I remember.  I think there were others but I don't remember them.  As they come to mind, I'll add them here.  When I think about them all, most were to due to overly aggressive riding, inattention, or stupid machismo.  Sometimes, there's dumb bad luck too: the bike path, Marin Century, motor oil.  Obviously, I could have avoided most of my crashes, though a few seem unavoidable.  Considering I crashed a whole bunch of times, I am remarkably lucky to have not broken bones or required medical care beyond what I or my family members can administer.  Having taken this inventory, I think I am going to take it easy descending from now on.  As I realized during the 2009 Central Coast Double, I want to make it to the bottom in one piece.

Thanks for reading.  Feel free to post comments with stories of your crashes.