There are certain milestones every cyclist must conquer before they can call themselves a true pedaller. There are small ones, such as remembering 20km in to a 200km journey that you forgot to pack a toothbrush, or realising you’ve been riding for the entire day with a builder’s bum. Then there are the significant cornerstones – none more important than your first fall.
While mountain bikers will be able to relay dozens of hilarious anecdotes about near misses with trees and recall the exact number of hours spent chasing their bikes down ravines – road cyclists tend to be able to count their falls on one hand. However, even the most experienced of road bikers have found themselves on their back looking up at the sky after a majestic tumble, whether they care to admit it or not. This literal fall from grace is almost always comical (especially if it’s in front of a large group of friends like mine) and you will probably come away unhurt – your pride being the only casualty. Most cyclists fall within their first few days of riding or shortly after purchasing a new bike. For others, it may be several years before they hit the dirt. Once you understand that it is inevitable – that there is nothing you can do to stop it – your focus turns to postponing this fall for as long as possible and to make sure that when you do stack it for the first time, you can walk away without injury.
Some cyclists are incredibly unfortunate – their first fall is through no fault of their own. Make no mistakes – cycling can be a dangerous hobby, and if you frequently cycle in a city then you know the dangers all too well. It often feels like every car on the road is out to get you. You’re sat waiting for the lights to turn green but it feels like the second you place your foot on the pedal a hundred angry drivers rev their engines in excitement – all competing to see who can get the closest to you without physically knocking you off. An actual fall or accident is very rare, but it feels like a constant threat. If you are a part of a cycling club then it will be very easy to spot the cyclists that have spent time in London. They appear overly cautious and have a seemingly unnatural ability to rotate their head like an owl – spending the journey looking for danger in every direction, despite being several miles from the nearest motorised vehicle. The good news is that cycling accidents are becoming less and less frequent and unless you are in a large city like London, you will always be relatively safe.
If you do manage to go considerable time without having a premature stoppage, then your first fall could be when you transition to clipless pedals. The concept of being locked to your bike is a daunting one, especially if you aren’t completely comfortable on your bike to begin with. It’s not recommended for anyone who is just starting out, but once you feel like you’re ready to give it a go it can completely revolutionise your ride. Almost all experienced road cyclists use clipless pedals, and If you’ve been skiing then the experience won’t be too alien to you. While you do feel vulnerable at first, you will immediately notice the increase in comfort and efficiency – it removes the need to constantly reposition your feet and helps you maintain a consistent cadence much easier. It does however take some getting used to (I practiced for an hour unclipping and reclipping my feet while a friend held me upright). There is nothing more embarrassing than pulling up to a red light next to a fellow cyclist, attempting to make small talk while you struggle to unclip and then slowly falling sideways with nothing but the curb to break your fall. You could boil an egg with the embarrassment permeating from your body at that very moment but you dust yourself off and hop back on – hopefully understanding that it happens to everyone at some point or another.
Another commonly mentioned cause of falling is when riding with panniers or additional weight they aren’t used to. Distributing the weight evenly on a bike is harder than it looks, and I almost always prioritise booking holidays where luggage delivery is included. It removes all issues caused by cycling with baggage and enables you to travel light – a backpack shouldn’t affect the weight distribution on the bike at all.
While falling rarely carries any serious physical repercussions, besides minor bruises, it can seriously knock your confidence. You tend to spend the next few days attacking corners with less haste than you would have previously and bad drivers tend to stick out even more so than usual. This is part and parcel of road cycling, and within a few days you’ll find that the only worries in your head are back to being whether you’ve packed your toothbrush or whether your bum is out.
By Matt Adkin