Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Obvious Answer

I broke my leg in a crash last year. Freak accident, patch of mud on an otherwise clear paved trail, wheels gone sideways, bad landing, and crack. Split my femur like a wishbone in what's called a "spiral fracture."

For the curious, no bikes were harmed in the making of this anecdote. Bent derailleur hanger, a little paint loss, and a missing frame pump. And the rider recovered, in a grisly tale of titanium implants, staples, crutches, and Vicodin that I will -- thankfully -- spare you.

But what I find telling, even a year after that crash, is the reaction of other people when they hear about it. Bikers and non-bikers alike will -- without fail -- ask the same question first:

"Do you still ride?"

I can take it in stride now. I expect it. But it threw me the first few times, and the repetition of it -- the sheer critical mass of that one question -- continues to throw me, especially when I keep hearing it from people who call themselves cyclists. I'll admit, there were dark moments during my recovery where I thought I would never get a leg over an upright bike again. Yet even in those dark moments, my mind turned to recumbent trikes. There was no question that I would ride something. The question was simply what I would be able to ride.

It's funny. Most of the people I know -- myself included -- have been in some form of car accident, from a paint-scraping fender-bender to a full-on, airbag-popping rollover. Some have been injured. Some have been seriously injured. Yet no one asks, "So, you giving up driving?" We accept (or more accurately, deny) a given level of risk in our most common transportation choice. Ironically, it's the statistical anomaly, the freak accident, that makes the safer, saner choice seem extreme.

Sure, I'll give up riding someday. The grisly recovery taught me that I'm stuck in a mortal, fallible sack of skin. This body won't be able to make the pedals go around forever. But to just walk away, 35 years old, perfectly functional (and ever-so-slightly bionic), for one bad day, one moment of inattentiveness, when I've seen that the number of riding days on my calendar is finite? Hardly.

Do I still ride? Ask me if I still breathe instead.


Anonymous said...

I totally undersand this, and run into the same situation with pilots/nonpilots. In fact, the last person to warn me about the dangers of riding my bike on the roads was a pilot friend of mine who was a week later in a head on crash in his car, which thankfully he survived, his car, not so much. I find people who ride bikes and fly planes tend to think about and manage the risks therein, but maybe due to complacency, most people fear motoring less?

Anonymous said...

Actually, for several months after my one serious automobile crash (rollover at 40mph), I was extremely apprehensive and reluctant to get into a car. It didn't help that the one person who was mostly available to give me a ride drove a VW van, which tends to lean a bit on turns. I was constantly sure we were going over, and tended to have white knuckles any time we were moving. I've had a few serious and many less drastic bicycle crashes, and have always been ready to ride again right away (mentally, ayway). Geting the bike back together is usually the main obstacle. I've even been known to ride using only one leg, while the other recovers from an injury. Val

beth h said...

I got a spiral fracture of my 5th metacarpal bone when I got doored in '97. Three months totally off the bike after the first surgery; another two off the bike after the second 10 months later. People were shocked that I got back on the bike without hesitation each time. Passing car doors spooked me for about a month after being cleared from the first surgery, but I got over it.
People who ride get it. People who don't ride often don't.
..::shrugs shoulders::..

Chavo said...

A guy I knew when I lived in AZ, Steve garro, must get asked this all the time. He rides, he builds bikes, and while I haven't spoken to him except in passing in ten years he's a total inspiration.