On Saturday, I experienced my first bike accident since starting triathlon a few years ago. Well, first apart from my fall as a result of not unclipping my shoes fast enough during my first ride with cleats. And unlike that accident, where I was traveling very slowly – having slowed for an intersection (and legs no longer making revolutions, but desperately trying to unclip my shoes), this time I was traveling at speed…
I drove a friend’s car down to an area along the Amstel River called the Ronde Hoep. This is a favourite spot of cyclists over here: smooth roads, an easy loop of 18km, and limited traffic.
As I drove down to our meeting spot, I noticed for the first time how narrow the roads are. I drove slowly as a result, and pulled to the shoulder of the road when cyclists approached.
There were two of us riding together. We unpacked the bikes and took off. In many sections of the road, there is enough view of the distance (i.e. approaching cars) to ride two abreast. We got into a routine, where when we saw a car I would slow, and my friend would speed up and tuck in just in front of me. At other stages, where the road has frequent turns, it’s safer to be riding single file.
Unfortunately, at one stage we were riding two abreast, when a car came quickly around a corner in front of us. My friend, as per routine, sped up. I noticed two things in those few moments: the distance between us and the car, and the narrowness of the road. I panicked, braking hard and swerving slightly to the right.
Suddenly, I felt the back wheel slipped from under me. Time moved slowly: my back wheel was slipping, and I was still swerving to the right. I couldn’t correct either of those things. I heard the wheels slipping on rough gravel at the shoulder of the road. I heard myself shout out an obscenity. And then I felt soft grass under the bike – and then under my body, and I made contact with the ground – hard.
I waited for pain to rush through my body, and was relieved when it didn’t come. I clumsily unclipped from this position, and stood up carefully. I felt a moment of embarrassment at swearing – imagine if that had been my last word on this earth! The driver and my tri buddy returned at the same time, checking if I was okay.
I checked my body more thoroughly, but apart from a shallow 4cm cut just under my hip and dirt on my right arm and leg, I was fine. I checked my precious Cervelo – again, everything seemed to be working fine still.
I looked around in disbelief: not only had I landed on incredibly soft grass, but by falling at that exact spot I had avoided crashing into a road sign by less than a metre. Equally, had I fallen a metre back, I would have fallen on the road – or at least the gravel on the shoulder.
For all my friends who know the luck I have had in winning an iPad, restaurant vouchers and holidays: this was the moment in life I was most grateful for my luck.
I enjoyed another moment of disbelief when I realized: I hadn’t even cried. When did I get so tough? It must be part of the package of becoming a real triathlete!
After the adrenaline surge, my sugar levels dropped so I grabbed a snickers bar from my bento box. After that, it seemed like the only thing I should do was get back on the bike.
We had a quick chat about the best way we could ride together from then on: single file! Then we headed back onto the loop. I rode slowly, getting a feel for things, checking each part of my body. I worked through all the gears. Since everything seemed to be fine, we gradually picked up the pace and completed another lap and a bit. Off the bike, I checked my legs – still fine – and started our 10km run. I figured if anything, I would feel the impact of the fall tomorrow, so I should at least get the training done in case I needed to take Sunday off!
I called my dad after we finished, and let him know what had happened. I told him how I wondered whether I was in shock, and would break down later in the day.
“Oh, more than likely!” he said. “Make sure you stay at home for the rest of the day!”
Then I heard my mum enter the room. “Monica’s been in a cycling accident,” he informed her. As she cried out in horror, he tried to reassure her I was okay. I could hear her asking questions and sounding worried.
“Dad, tell her I’m fine,” I said. “To prove it, tell her after it happened I got back on the bike, rode another 25km, and then ran 10.”
My dad said, “Actually, I don’t think you’re going to go into shock after all…”
Today I’m feeling a bit battered – my hip and shoulder are bruised, and my neck is a bit sore. But I am also feeling so grateful that things weren’t worse; and they could have been a lot worse. I was exceptionally lucky.
So cyclists out there: stay safe. Single file when conditions demand it. Communicate! And drivers – please be careful of cyclists – particularly in areas which are known to be frequented by cyclists.
Thanks to my friends at Giant Store Amsterdam for checking out my bike, and making sure it was okay. And thanks to my training buddy for his support – and for putting up with my yelling during our training sessions for the last two days, “I thought we agreed single file from now on! Did you learn nothing from that accident?!”