It seems a bit tardy to call this a followup to my last post on my cycling blog! Four years ago to the day, I published my blog titled Mountain biking: To crash or not to crash. That is (one of) the questions. Becoming a 75%er:
It’s time for an update.
After some 250,000+ miles of riding, including well over 35,000 miles on mountain bikes, I joined the Cyclist Broken Collarbone Club on March 16th. They say it is not if, but when, a cyclist will break a collarbone. It took a while, but I got there.
Every year, my number one objective is to not fall off my bike. I have not had a road bike fall since 2007 (knock on wood), but the mountain bike is a different animal. In 2017, I made it all the way until November before I took a totally innocuous little fall. I try and limit my descending speeds to within 75% of what I perceive as my limit, based on my skills, trail conditions including sight lines, how I feel that day, etc. I constantly work on developing techniques to enable me to ride smoother, and more in control.
It’s not that I am scared of falling off, or even of getting hurt. It’s time off of the bike that I am scared of. The older you are, the longer the recovery. No matter how fit or genetically blessed one might be, it is a simple fact that older bones and tendons do not heal like 21 year old parts. The other sad part of the equation is that it generally takes three times as long to regain fitness as it does to lose it, and that also increases with age. In some cases, an older athlete may never regain all of the fitness lost during an extended period off of the bike. I love to ride my bike as much as possible. I love the feeling of being really fit. Being unable to ride for any length of time is just not acceptable. I hope to ride bikes until I die, but I know I will finish up on road bikes. I don’t have forever left to ride mountain bikes, so hurting myself and costing me precious time is not good.
It’s a lot of fun nailing the perfect rhythm on a descent. The scary thing as it relates to my crash is that I wasn’t even descending, nor was I pushing the envelope in a tricky section of trail. I was on flat ground and not riding hard at all, traversing a short section of tree roots that I had ridden across a thousand times previously. I had just passed two riders. As I look back on the crash, I wonder if I was distracted somehow. Did I subconsciously think I knew the riders? Was I trying to conjure up a name? Was there something else that caused me to lose focus? I keep coming up with the same answer: I just seriously messed up somehow while riding a section of trail on auto-pilot. One should never put it on auto-pilot when riding, but it’s pretty damn hard to focus 100% of the time on a four hour ride. I guess I wish that I had crashed while doing something over the edge stupid, but I try not to ever ride that way!
Of course, mountain bike riding is inherently dangerous. Obviously, that is part of the attraction. I’m still searching for the “lessons learned” component of my fall, but the crash has only reinforced previous lessons learned. Falling off sucks, and it seems like a highly experienced and skilled rider should be able to avoid it. That would be a good thing, because highly skilled riders are usually going pretty fast when they fall off.
Against the “strong suggestion” of my surgeon, I have been riding my road bike for the last month, as well as the mountain bike on local gravel roads. It will interesting to see how I feel when I get back out on real trails with real risk. I will want to ride conservatively as I shake off the rust, but not tentatively. Full time concentration will be something I will be working on, but I have always done my best to keep my head in the game at all times.
Climbing has always been my favorite part of riding, but what goes up, must go down, and I’ve been able to go downhill pretty well without taking unnecessary risks. I will have to keep what is in the back of my mind out of my mind when I’m on the bike, and not let it creep into my riding. Relaxing will be key, as will not dwelling on the past. Perhaps my whole approach to riding will change. If so, I will embrace wherever that takes me.