My cyclometer tells the tale: One moment I'm moving on my bike at 23 mph, and in the next I'm at zero. So does my credit card statement: a $3.50 brake cable purchase ended up costing me a few hundred dollars.
Through an installation error on my part the day before, the brake cable housing got stuck inside the brake lever mechanism, and locked the front brake against the wheel. At the time, I was traveling, on a beautiful Sunday a little over a week ago, over rough pavement on famed Mulholland Drive, in the Hollywood Hills above Los Angeles. As I touched the brakes after going over a bump the brake locked. As the bike came to a sudden halt, I found myself irresistibly and instantaneously pulled over the bars. In the next moment, I was looking up at the sky, my view blocked in part by the bike above me. And then I thudded onto the pavement.
Somehow, when I hit the road, my bike shoes unclipped themselves from my pedals. As I lay still - and conscious - on the road, my bike continued on without me for another ten yards or so.
Four months earlier a riding acquaintance had died after flipping off his bike and breaking his neck. A month ago a good friend flipped over his bars, and broke his collarbone. Those two accidents had weighed heavily on my mind, particularly the latter accident, and each time I've gone for a ride the past month, I've told myself to be careful. I hadn't flipped off my bike in at least a couple of decades. At my age, 64, I figured my bones were fragile enough to easily break in a fall, and I reminded myself at few times before and during the ride to be extra careful.
So my first thought, as I crashed onto the road, was that I'd broken my collarbone. I thought that because I'd hit awfully hard. Hard enough that I didn't want to move at first.
By now, another cyclist in my group discovered me, ascertained that I was able to talk, directed the few cars that came by around me, and got my bike off of the road. Meanwhile, I carefully tried to move my right shoulder, which seemed to take a major part of the hit. Success, and no pain. Left shoulder, check! Legs? They moved without pain. The back of my head took a hard hit, too, yet as I lifted it slowly, it felt fine. Apparently I'd come down on a steep angle, crashed onto my side and back, and in so doing managed to keep my old collarbone safe.
As the other cyclists in my group arrived, I scooted off the pavement and onto the dirt at the side of the road. "I'll call 911!" someone said.
"Do NOT call 911," I suggested. "Just let me lay here a minute, I'm feeling a little sick to my stomach." I rested a minute, then I took someone's helping and and pulled myself to my feet.
My back stung and my jersey was full of holes and spotted with blood. I had a purplish lump forming on my left leg, above the knee. My right elbow was scrapped, two lumps were forming there, and there was some bleeding. My right hip was scrapped, too, and above my hip a couple of dark bruises had already formed, no doubt due to the blood thinning medication I'm on. Some of the foam at the back of my helmet, when I looked at it, was squished a little, a testimony to the force with which I went down.
"Amazing," someone said. "You're going to be sore tomorrow, though," she added. In fact, just about everyone, all of them around my age, opined the same thing. "You are going to hurt tomorrow!"
Rather than call my wife for a ride home, I remounted my bike and pedaled off with my friends for another 20 miles of biking over the mean streets of L.A. That night I went to bed, dreading the morning. Yet, when I awoke, I felt only my usual aches and pains. Maybe I'm not as fragile as I thought.
And that installation error? It cost me a new helmet, a new iPod shuffle (it was in my jersey pocket - now it's got a dent in it's shiny exterior and it doesn't work), and of course another brake cable.