On Falling Off a Bike


It’s easy.  I know.  I’ve done it.

In fact, I’ve had some pretty spectacular crashes in the years since my mother used to make me wear heavy snow pants when she walked me up and down the road on an ancient bicycle with training wheels.

When I was in school, I rode my bike every day except in the dead of winter, primarily to avoid having to be a passenger on the big yellow loser cruiser.  It wasn’t long–a distance of about five miles along Route 1 and uptown Freeport (it was a town back then, not a shopping mall).  In the afternoon I preferred the scenic route, slightly longer, with more hills and tons more things to look at:  down South Street and into South Freeport, or sometimes over Bow Street to Mast Landing and across.  It was on this route that I had my very first spectacular crash:  from Bow Street Market, the road went downhill, until, when nearly at the bottom, the Lower Mast Landing Road peeled back sharply to the right.  Imagine my incredibly younger self taking that hill at a brisk rate of speed–and not quite making the corner.  In fact, I would have done just fine had I not encountered a patch of gravel, and in an attempt to lay my red ten-speed down, I hit the guardrail–the old post-and-cable variety–on the far side of the corner.  Mast Landing is a labyrinth of tidal inlets carved through salt-water grasses.  I left the bicycle in the roadway and flipped bodily down into one of the inlets.  It was low tide.  The landing was soft, but sticky.  It only got worse as I rode shakily home after that, the tidal clay drying and cracking on my skin, my clothes, in my hair.

I had another spectacular crash my second year of riding in the MS 150.  It was my first year on my Trek 1000, the same bike I’m still riding; but it was new to me then, and I loved it with the mad passion of a first crush (I still love it, but we’ve grown comfortable, like an old married couple).  On the Sunday morning of the ride, coming into downtown Gorham, the first rest stop is on the left, in the side parking lot of Hannaford’s supermarket; the corner at the light is sharp, cutting back at about 110 degrees.  I was coming into it on the outside, and a pack of riders from a local law firm (they were all wearing identical riding jerseys) kept pushing me farther and farther to the right.  I hit the curb with both wheels, flipped over the guardrail, and ended up A over T in the grocery store parking lot.  I’ve never had so much roadburn in my life:  arms, legs.  My hands were protected by my riding gloves, my head by my helmet–though I had to retire that helmet afterwards, as it was dented on the left side, and all the purple paint had been scraped away.  Vaguely I heard people asking if I was all right, but I remember the first words out of my mouth as Where’s my bike?  Is my bike okay?  It was.  And still is.

Well, until this summer’s MS 150.  The crash this year wasn’t that spectacular at all.  In fact, it was rather cheesy.  My way-cool-sister Susan and I were coming out of Saturday morning’s first rest stop when a woman came in, crossing our paths.  Susie’s first instinct was to step back, out of the way.  Her rear wheel dropped off the tar, and she lost her balance.  When she fell into my bicycle, I managed to lay it down and jump so I didn’t go over as well.  Unfortunately, upon righting everybody, we found my rear wheel bent out of true.  Unrideable.  I couldn’t finish the day–and we were only about 15 miles in.  I had to get a lift back to the finish line in the SAG vehicle.  Figures, doesn’t it?  The stupidest crash of all, and it did the worst damage to my bike.  The bike tech at the rest stop told me that if it had been him, he would have taken the wheel off and “done a gorilla repair on it” by pounding it on the ground a few times.  However, as there were still miles and miles to go and it wasn’t his bike, he didn’t quite dare.

Later that afternoon I took the bicycle to Freeport Ski & Bike.  When I explained the situation, the tech took my Trek right into the shop.  I watched as he took the wheel off, made a few adjustments to it, then, ironically, pounded it on the ground a few times.  After, he took it for a test ride in the yard, then shook his head.  It’ll be good for about 300 more miles, he told me.  How far are you riding tomorrow?  Not three hundred miles, that was certain.  His repairs held up, however, through Sunday’s ride–and that was all I really wanted.

Postscript:

Even the best crash.  Most people riding the Bike to the Breakwater MS 150 regularly date themselves by crashes–theirs or, in some cases, that of spokesperson and weather guy Joe Cupo, who had a spectacular crash of his own several years ago which required a trip to the hospital; I think it might have been the only year he hasn’t finished the ride since its inception 28 years ago.  As in that happened the year before Joe’s crash, didn’t it?

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