Was It Worth It?
Life and risk has occupied my mind of late. As readers know, I had a heavy fall at Ride London 100 almost three weeks ago. With help from some great friends, my bike was retrieved and was largely undamaged. I also had the GoPro camera still mounted on it.
I downloaded footage I had of the ride. It’s not the best quality, given I used TimeWarp mode to film the whole race. I have isolated the crash footage and slowed it down even more. Again, a degradation in quality, but it enables viewing of something that happened very quickly.
I’m in the outside lane with a clear road in front of me. On the inside lane is a rider wearing an orange top and a black backpack. From the e-bike and trainers, I’m guessing he’s a less experienced rider. For some reason, he slows and drifts out into the second line. One rider adjusts and overtakes him, and as he passes, he steals a look back.
The second rider doesn’t have time to adjust, hits the first rider’s rear wheel, and goes down, sprawling the width of the second lane. The rider closest to me, on my inside, does a brilliant job of evading the downed rider. But this cuts my path off. At the last millisecond, my lizard brain tries to adjust inside, but it’s too late.
You see from the tarmac shot and the glasses on the ground that I have gone straight down. No sliding. A high-speed shoulder plant into the ground. This explains the high number of fractures. 103kgs doing 40kph stopping very rapidly.
While this is in super slow motion, the sequence happened quickly. The rider who cuts across me had very quick reactions, the depth of field on the GoPro fails to convey how near we were to the downed rider given our closing speed.
What Can Be Improved?
I don’t think I could have done any more. I was riding as safely as was possible, as far out of the way of other cyclists as I could, with a clear lane in front of me. Sometimes, it’s just your time. Life and risk – do you want to live or do you want to exist? My ikigai, my purpose, is to be curious, to improve, to move forward as a person. The risk taken is acceptable to me.
What could be improved? The organisers could make some changes. I think it’s great that all standards of riders participate, whether someone on a racing bike, an e-bike, or a mountain bike. It’s the mixing of them that can lead to issues.
I filled in my entry form with a realistic view of what time I could achieve, but was towards the latter end of the start times, with some less experienced riders. I do know that many riders deliberately entered on the basis of a time much quicker than they were ever going to acheive. Therefore the seeding of start times is meaningless. A simple fix would be to take every rider’s last month of average Strava rides.
We All Have A Responsibility
Riders also need to do more. More experienced riders need to do more to create a safer environment. It’s easy to blame our friend on the e-bike but I imagine closed road riding and being on a three-lane road gave him a false sense of room for manouevre. Faster riders need to give more space to less experienced riders.
Weaving through some of the East London side streets was a test of nerve. Riding a road with traffic islands and frequent speed bumps, and heavy two wheeled traffic. I was passing mountain bike riders chatting to their friends next to them, proudly wearing their fund raising jerseys. Good for them. Then a pace line of fast A group riders would weave through, leaving little space. Shouting “on your right!” is all well and good when out with other fast groups, but bellowed at an inexperienced rider is more likely to startle them; it certainly doesn’t provide helpful direction.
The More, The Better
E-bikes are a good thing. Anything that gets more people out there exercising, not to mention the reduction in pollution from the car journeys saved. Long live e-bikes. From experience at club riding level, e-bikes and road bikes don’t mix well. You end up with less experienced riders in the middle of fast guys, and it’s tough for them to adapt to the pace and changes in pace. Let’s encourage e-bikes, but having an inexperienced rider mixing in with experienced riders at 40kph is a recipe for this kind of incident.
It’s a good thing that we have mass events such as Park Run, Ride London, and London Marathon. The more there are, the better our collective physical and mental health will be. When you bring thousands of people together, the laws of probability will result in accidents and sadly, sometimes fatal accidents. That’s no reason to ban the events. I think there are some learnings for the event organisers here, but there is no need to radical, hysteria-led change.
I would call for some better role modelling from us, the riders. Be honest about your capability in order riders are grouped by capability. Lead by example and don’t make assumptions. Shouting “on your right!” when closing fast on a rookie rider is more likely to startle them than make them more attentive; this isn’t Paris – Roubaix, it’s a non-competitive ride that brings more people into the sport, and raises a lot of money for charity.
Life And Risk – I’ll Embrace The Risk
I don’t want to live a cottonwool life, wrapped up against any and all risk. Life and risk go hand in hand. It would be the dullest existence to remove all risk. We get one shot at life. I would like to remain curious, open to new experiences, and healthy. It’s about high quality years, not years. My crash was properly an accident, no one to blame. Shit happens.
I’ve been cycling a long, long time. I broke an elbow falling off at walking speed in Italy; and this recent accident. Not a bad record. I’ve had some experiences I would never have had without cycling, seen the beauty of Italian mountain passes, the brutality of hard hills in New York state, seeing in black and white while riding time trials, laughing while riding in freezing torrential rain. And most of all, I’ve made dozens of wonderful friends.
Again I would say life and risk needs a pragmatic approach. Let’s enjoy life. Nothing is without danger. Sitting in an armchair in a nuclear bunker carries risk too, and it’s a lot duller. Do what you love to do, be sensible, yet accept you cannot control all the risks. Sometimes shit happens; deal with it.