How to ride a bike: falling off

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The two wheeled experience is, in my opinion, fantastic. However, as you cycle you are in what physicists refer to as "unstable equilibrium", there are times when gravity and cars will get the better of you and down you go.

Here are some examples, mostly from personal experience, in the hope you might bare these in mind and learn from my bruises and road rash... I have plenty of scar tissue on knees and hips...

Filtering

There is nothing illegal about filtering, as far as I am aware. Filtering is the practice of moving down the side of a stationary line of traffic. Typically cyclists will filter down the near side i.e between the line of cars and the kerb, and motorcyclists filter down the offside, between the car and the other side of the road, though there are times when it's pretty random.

The dangers to watch out for are both occupants and drivers of cars. It's entirely possible that a passenger will fling open the car door, fed up perhaps with waiting in the traffic, and wham! You smack into it - even at relatively slow speeds this will hurt. And damage the bike. Hopefully it'll damage the other person too.

Filtering - mind the gap. Filtering as a cyclist down the nearside of a stationary line of traffic exposes you to the kind and generous motorist. The one that flashes to a car coming from the other direction and wanting to turn right across the stationary line of traffic. As the flashing motorist has flashed his light at the other motorist, the other motorist will assume that it's OK to move across the line of stationary traffic, unable to see you filtering... and of course the flashing motorist hasn't seen you in his wing mirrors..

This happened to me when I was 13. I saw the Mini cutting across, jammed my front brake on. Not a good idea as the back of the bike took off and, fearing I was going to somersault, I released the front brake which resumed my forward travel - which stopped as my bike smacked into the Mini and my face smacked into the front nearside pillar.

As far as I remember, no one was particularly bothered - the woman driving the Mini flustered around and I was too inexperienced to get names and numbers and so on. It was only later that my chum pointed out that my forks had been bent backward and the down tube on the frame bent.

Skips

He was 15. Out on a training run. His name was - is Clifford. Son of one of the guys I worked for. He was on a training run. Back then we only wore helmets for racing. Cliff had his head down as was probably doing nigh-on 30mph when he hit the skip.

The funeral was very moving.

Ice

Riding the Catford Reliability one winter, early season, I was on my trusty Whitehorse fixed (63inch). A couple of "road men" had taken the piss a bit early on in the event, but we dropped them quite easily... so I started to wax lyrical about the benefits of fixed wheel, one of which is, as you don't need a calliper brake on the rear wheel, it's much more difficult to send such a bike into a skid, thus you have more control... I'd just finished the word "control" when we hit a patch of ice and wham! Down I went whilst the others on geared bikes managed to stay upright...

Wet diesel

As treacherous as ice - wet diesel being diesel covered in water. As I negotiated the one way system in Thornton Heath on the way to work in the bike shop, I went around the right hand bend and wham! I remember still seeing sparks flying as the right hand pedal hit the tarmac, then I was down, landing on my right side, and spinning around clockwise on the road surface, still attached to my bike. I remember seeing road, kerb, front number plate of the car (taxi) behind me, the other kerb before I came to a stop, spread-eagled across the tarmac as if I'd fallen out of the sky.

Racing

It was a glorious day for a road race. We had a full field, so 60 riders were up. Sunny, dry, but not tarmac-meltingly hot. Not very windy, but a slight breeze. The peloton started and we were still in "chat" mode. Some races are like that - you see the same people week in week out - especially if you work in a bike shop as I did then. So the beginning is not much faster than a club run. You have to be be alert though, with such a large number of riders... and the young lad, just come up to seniors from school boys wasn't that alert... being on the front of the bunch he suddenly switched from the left hand side of the road to the right...

... the problem was that this caught the people behind him out and they couldn't get out of his way... the edge of his rear wheel caught the edge of the front wheel of at least three people.. and down they went... like dominoes the people behind them went down and so there was a general scrum...

... which I thought I was going to avoid, just, by squeezing down a narrow strip of biker-free tarmac near the grassy verge and ditch, when out of the melee fell a body... a customer of mine actually who was very polite as I apologised for running over him, which I did, and promptly fell off into the ditch... stingers and all..

Bad maintenance

"Proper" racing tyres are called "tubular" tyres or "tubs". Contrary to what some folk think, these do actually have an inner tube - they are not "tubeless". But they differ from standard tyres and inner tubes in that the inner tube is entirely encased within the tyre, which is wrapped around and sown up (literally sown) along the back. The whole is then glued - I really mean glued - to the special rims with a very sticky "contact adhesive" known as "rim cement".

The reason for this is the tyres and wheels are lighter and run at much higher pressures than standard - about 120psi. Also a punctured tyre can be replaced much quicker, once you have the knack, by ripping off the punctured one and fitting on a pre-cemented one.

However... this needs to be done properly. By an expert, someone that works on a bike shop. Dear John Hutt RIP rode for the East Grinstead club and asked if I'd ride second claim for them in their club 25 mile time trial. I agreed and donned the strange colours of that club. The course was a slowish one around Gatwick - with 22 roundabouts!

I was actually on for quite a good time for that course, looking at about 1hr 2 or maybe 3 mins... I'd swooped around all the roundabouts and was 400 yards away from the finish, maybe closer even than that. The finish itself was down a lane, a left hand right angle turn off the main road... and as I went around the corner my rear tub rolled off the rim and wham! Down I went onto dry tarmac and gravel, leaving a layer of skin on top of the black top...

Fucking hell... that hurt! Still I took off my specialist bike shoes, got up, picked my bike up and ran for it... there's nothing in the rules that says you have to be riding your bike over the finish line, you just have to be with your bike...

Alcohol

I did used to drink this wretched stuff. I also used to go to college in Wandsworth, home of the stinky old brewery... one day we had a fire alarm practice so naturally we ended up in the pub. I forget how much was consumed, but there was quite an impressive display of empties on the table...

... I was doing pretty well as I meandered home, given I was deffo plastered. I saw the car door open and swerved to avoid it, normally not a problem.. but as hand/eye coordination was a bit off, I over-reacted and the sudden lurch to the right threw me over the handlebars in a classic “high side” spill and I found myself supine on the tarmac once more...

... I thought if I lie doggo (which was pretty much all I could do anyway) I might be able to ride the guilt trip and get some much needed cash out of this situation. However much to my dismay I heard a right old battleaxe say "here, wot you doin' lying on the floor for? Get up, I never bleeding well touched you, you're a bloody menace anyway, you cyclists..."

Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to abandon my wheeze as being too difficult, remounted and wobbled off home...

Dogs

Cycling home on another occasion from the same college, but this time sober. I was making good progress on a road that crosses Mitcham Common, when a dog ran out from the common and kept pace with me. It then lunged and sunk its teeth into my right leg. Being as I was riding a fixed wheel bike at the time, I couldn't just stop pedalling, though I was desperately trying to stop as quickly as poss. But the damn dog didn't want to let go of my calf muscle! So its head was going round and round as it ran along, I was trying to stop under some sort of control, but failed and ended up in a heap on my left side, bike on top of me and dog on top of bike....

By the time I'd extricated myself from toe clips and straps and so on, the dog was long gone, probably hiding behind a bush with some chums, giving each other "high fives" and have a right old laugh Mutley style...