As a teenager, I rode my bike everywhere. Even after getting my driver’s license, I couldn’t afford a car, so I had to pump the pedals to get around. And I was good at it. Before the ADA mandated curb cuts at every intersection, I could make my wheels hop up while barely slowing down. Getting to classes in college or to my shift at the radio station or through hilly suburbs to hang out with friends, no sweat. There was rarely a day I wasn’t on my bike. Of course, I was younger, lighter, and didn’t have any balance problems.
You’ll notice I used the past tense in that paragraph.
A few years ago, I bought a new bicycle. I was inspired after seeing thousands of people on bikes when we visited Amsterdam in 2019. They seemed quite happy and I wished I could be among them. But the bigger motivation was my brother, Seth, who has spent a lot of time on two wheels. While I only have the stamina to go four or five miles, he recently completed a 100-mile rally and is in great shape, partly because of all the calories he burns.
Seth’s activity can best be described as cycling. For mine, lately, falling down is more apropos.
When you have a body as large as mine, gravity is not your friend. When something goes wrong and my 250+ pounds slam into the Earth, I curse the bike as if it did something wrong. But it’s never the equipment’s fault. It’s always mine. Three times in a little over two years, and I have the scars to prove it.
I wasn’t riding anything fancy. My bike didn’t have drop-down handlebars, the kind that would allow me to lean forward and reduce the friction of the wind. I’m not out to break any speed records. Getting where I’m going in one piece is enough. So, the handlebars are wider and, as I ride along on the sidewalk — no longer in the street — if I spot someone coming towards me, I have to stop and pull over because there isn’t room for both of us.
The wide handlebars were part of the reason for my most recent fall. The bigger reason was my misjudgment. I came out of a curve too fast to cross a wooden fence and slightly nicked one of the hand grips against the side. It wasn’t much, just enough to turn my front wheel, which banged into the side and turned my adventure from a horizontal one to a vertical one in an instant.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to fall on nice soft grass. This was some sturdy lumber, with no give. You want that in a bridge. Solid and hard. Like the parking lot and paved path I’d tumbled to in my two previous incidents. There had been no thought by the planners about the damage that could be done by their surfaces if a middle-aged fat guy suddenly hit the deck.
I lay there for a few moments, screaming in pain, until my wife — who had been ahead of me — turned around, came back, and pulled the bicycle off my body. When I was finally able to stand, I checked for injuries. There was a big, bloody scrape on my left knee, a few inches above the road rash on my shin that will never go away from an accident two years ago. The rest of my left side was bruised, too, from thigh to hip.
As I fell, the handlebars twisted and jammed into my torso, then worked up towards my neck, where it stopped about an inch from crushing my trachea. That’s a body part I’m fond of, what with it being the way air gets in and out of my lungs. It’s also attached to my larynx, which I’ve found useful any time I want to make a sound, like “Ow, this really hurts!”
It will take me several days to recover, but I doubt I’ll be getting back on the bike anytime soon. Maybe it’s time to get a recumbent one and use it in the basement. True, I won’t see any scenery while I pedal, but the fall to the floor will be a lot shorter.