It’s been a while since I’ve had a proper crash. Which considering the asymmetry of the stuff we ride against the skill of the rider, that’s quite a surprise. Examples abound – from avoiding gap jumps due to the apparent need for wires and rocket boosters to getting them done in the dark*, and lobbing myself off increasingly uppity rock steps at a dusty Afan last week. I became aware of quite how big the last one was after my good mate Ian behind me explained ‘I decided to give it a miss after you disappeared from view‘.
So much of this is riding lots on fantastically accomplished mountain bikes with bloody good riders on increasingly risk/reward trails. But this isn’t progression, it’s the confidence/ability circle. And if your riding skills are basically a bit shit then eventually you’ll breach the stack radius. Been close a few times lately, deluded myself that honed bike handling skills were saving me, before truth drove itself into my skull through the simple method of beating it with slimy dirt.
Ironically it wasn’t even a big jump. Historically that’s not a surprise, I’ve been throwing myself dangerously off stuff for many years, and yet persist in thinking eventually I might get good at it. Stiffening muscles and burgeoning bruises suggest otherwise. In fact it was such a tiny obstacle the puny height suggested it was candidate for some of that mild front wheel tweakage the bigger boys are good at. Tweak I did, untweak before landing I did not.
Onto dirt that had until this point been pleasantly surprising in its non horridness after much rain. The patch I landed on however had morphed into something best thought of as moist glass liberally sprayed with silicon. An ideal place then to plant a slightly skwiff front wheel, which immediately displaced its unhappiness to the rest of the frame in the manner of a bucking bronco. For half or second or so, I stayed with it before being unceremoniously unhorsed out front.
The bike wasn’t done with me yet. Further displeasure could be measured at impact points of elbow, hand and – as always seems to happen – groin where various spiky components took their opportunity to exact revenge. External contributions to bruised body parts came in the form of various bits of dirt viewed in a sky-ground-sky-ground kind of way and an exposed root which thankfully impacted my knee pads rather than the delicate and important limb underneath.
I lay there for a bit. Damage report called in without anything critical although my bollocks were keen to express pain at a level last felt when a vicious free kick on a wet football field was bravely stopped by the left back’s unsuspecting testicles**. Friends being friends immediately dispensed all their pallative care on the bike while treating my injuries with laughter and piss taking. Since no sympathy was being shown to the pilot, I hauled myself upright at which point it became clear I’d hurt the bike a bit more.
The left hand side of the bar had hit the ground hard, and then attempted to pivot a 30lb bike and a rather heavier 165lb rider up the nearest tree. It failed but not before failing itself via a rather natty bend and crease. Matt’s professional opinion was ‘it’d probably be fine…. but don’t do any more jumps’. No danger of that sunshine for two simple reasons 1) attempting to execute such a skill has just left me with a Viz Comic Buster Gonad Parody and 2) landing a jump then hoisting a shattered handlebar end in some kind of suggestion of surrender before smacking myself into an unyielding part of the forest wasn’t terribly fucking appealing.
But thanks. That’s the kind of advice much needed at times like this. I soldiered on, uncomplaining*** riding around all the jumps and generally riding in the manner of a blind man recently introduced to the pastime of leisure bicycling. It’s unlikely anyone else really noticed but – here’s the thing – I did and in a good way. Not barrelling into corners at high speed before bottling it, grabbing a handful of Shimano and blowing the apex**** was mildly cathartic and slightly interesting. You can be smooth and fast, but not the reverse. There might be something in this if I could be arsed to practice proper braking, body position, that kind of thing.
Sounds like hard work tho so I think we’ll continue with the ‘clench‘ technique starting with brain, passing down to every limb before finishing with arse. Strangely in our interconnected world there’s no instructive videos on this technique – I know my saved search on ‘crouching hamster, hidden terror‘ has yet to receive a hit. Other than the trail. That hit quite hard in case I haven’t mentioned it.
The more frustrating thing was mincing around these jumps and drops while really wanting to chuck myself off them even based on very recent historical experience. There’s still much that scares me on mountain bike trails, but this stuff isn’t any of them. Yet a few years ago, that’s EXACTLY how I used to ride. Had I no idea what the hell I’d been missing? Clearly not but I missed it now which made this whole episode a bit of ‘crash and learn’
Crashing I can do. Learning I’m less accomplished at. Except for this; even as middle age suggests brittle bones, long recovery times, sport ending injuries and all that grown up shit, I just want to ride my bike better than I did last week. Even if I’m just kidding myself. But there has to be a point at which you stop starting. When the risks heavily outweigh the rewards. It might be death by a thousand cuts – backing off more and more until you’re so filled with self-loathing you can’t face being undeniably shit on trails which previously raised you to adrenaline Valhalla.
That day will come. It wasn’t today. And it doesn’t feel close. It’s almost worth stacking to find that out.
* One tiny helmet light. Following someone with a better one. A manoeuvre clearly perched right on the line between bravery and stupidity.
** Must be twenty years ago. Still remember it like yesterday. Rather wish I didn’t.
*** Ish. For me anyway. I only mentioned it every 30 seconds or so.
**** Perfectly legal as long as no minors are watching.