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The Art of Falling with Love (for amateurs like me)

The first time (and hopefully the last time!) I fell really bad, I wound up in the x-ray department screaming in pain while my big little sister cradled my head and the sadist x-ray person moved my leg this way and that to get good pictures for the doctors and my Number One Biker Boy had to step outside to get some air and the people in the hallway wondered what the hell was going on inside and feasted on the auditory drama.

Mistake: When I felt my rear tire skidding out from underneath me at high speed, I put my foot down to try and break the fall. Momentum, weight, and the force of the impact resulted in multiple fractures in my leg. I spent five months with crutches and canes, and two years off the saddle. That down time, and not the accident, almost killed me.

The art, according to the toughies who love to give me advice and whose advice I love to receive (even if they don't know what it's like to have broken bones in their bodies, the lucky bastards): Dance with the bike, wiggle your ass to counter the skid, and if you and your dancing partner are beyond correcting yourselves, let it slide. The scratches and burns on your sides will heal faster than any fractures you might inflict on your limbs by extending them as shock absorbers.

My next unforgettable fall, I tumbled off a single track trail and nearly rolled down a steep hill. Those moments I felt gravity's pull on my body were sheer terror. I stopped myself by grabbing some cogon and looked up to see my bike tumbling down towards me in slow motion. I could hear my Number One Biker Boy's voice somewhere, telling me not to move. I grabbed my bike as it rolled past me and held on to it for dear life, not wanting it to go down the slope and crashing into pine trees without me. Number One Biker Boy hoisted us up.

Mistake: I was anticipating a small -- really small -- log lying across the trail. I had ridden over this one many times before! No need for bunnyhops, just straightforward pedalling. But this time, I didn't see an even tinier stub of wood sticking out of the ground. It bumped me off track, sent my front tire up the wall-side of the track, and me down the slope-side of the trail.

The art, according to the masters: A fast biker is more stable than a slow biker. Commit the trail to memory, ride it again and again, until the pleasure of riding it becomes like the pleasure of hanging out with an old friend: comfortable, but not boring.

The third time I crashed was just two weeks ago and I'm still paying for it. I picked up too much speed on a downhill carpetted with dry pine needles. I lost control, panicked, flew over a bump and over the bar and crashed, face and shoulder first with my elbow slamming into my ribs. Knocking the wind out of myself and not being able to breathe for a few seconds was even scarier than the pull of gravity. I had a few scratches on my face (gone now, thanks be!), and bruised and strained my ribs. Up til now, it hurts to laugh, sneeze, cough, lift heavy things, swim, run, do crunches, or push-ups. My doctor's orders are: no riding for two more weeks. Sniff sniff. Fortunately, sex is still an option so I'm keeping sane. (No, not with the bike, stupid.)

Mistake: Pine needles are deadly. Deadlier than gravel, deadlier than mud. Pine needles = zero traction. Even the best riders are victims of pine needles. (Thank you, boys, this is truly consoling.) Plus I panicked and I'm pretty sure that I stupidly, unthinkingly must have gripped both my brakes. Hard.

The art: On pine needles, lower speed is safer than high speed. It's like dancing all over again. The more you can move your ass this way and that, the better. BUT, as one downhiller has said, if he feels he's about to swing out of control, he pedals harder in the hopes that the bike will correct itself. Hmmm, must try that some time. Oh and never, ever, squeeze your brakes in a panic. It's counter-intuitive, yes, but don't lock your brakes. Better yet, don't panic. Know when it's time to abandon ship. The trick is to try and jump off your bike and away from the fall before you do further damage to yourself and your bike. And it pays to repeat. Head back up the hill with your bike, and ride down again. It has the same, time-tested magical truth to it as the wise adage, Get back on the horse right after you fall.

What my great-grandmother said is equally true: Pride rides forth before the Fall.

Cycling Monkeys, any further advice on the art of (not) falling is most welcome!


Unknown said…
well said, special child. fine piece of writing
Mika said…
what if you wore some protective gear like a body armor, or a fat suit or a football uniform.
padma said…
i might look good in bubble wrap!
Alan Plata said…
Your story brings back lots of my falling and crashing memories on my bike. Some are painful and some are….too painful. I find it quite funny now although it wasn’t during that time, specially when the guys riding with me did find it amusing. Anyway, I don’t have any good advises on how to handle the bike or offer you some tricks but from my experience, all I can say is that when you are approaching and start to doubt yourself that you may not make it through, then prepare to fall and scan where could be the best place for a safety fall.

Other people give lots of advice only to end up being more confused and even paranoid. Even the professional bikers continue to fall and crash, and most often their injuries are not funny either. Just like yours.

A really scary fall was with Paul on our ride to La Union via Asin Road. It was just after the typhoon and the road was muddy and loads of ruts and run-offs. A small bridge was taken by the strong current and a 2” x 6” wooden plank was laid across so people could still cross the creek. A normal biker would get off and walk it through however, for some reason I decided to ride it. Halfway and losing my balance, my front tire fell first then I went down but I was able to grab the plank and even kept my bike from falling. I was dangling below the plank and shouted for Paul for help. My bike was sitting on top that little bridge. At first, I didn’t see where I would be falling as it was covered by tall bushes but as I clear it and look where I would land if I decide to let go, I realize that my fall would be about 10 to 15 feet or rocks and boulders. My arms started to hurt as I struggled to get at least one leg up the plank but no success. The under side of the wood was also filled with red ants that are also in panic during my struggle and was bitten about 20 or more times – can’t blame the ants for disturbing their morning work. Eventually Paul came to help me up and as usual, started to lecture me. “There are paths created for people only and there are days that bikers need to get-off and walk it.” he said. My mistake.

We continued to ride; I continued to scratch my ant-bites and our day ended where we wanted to be.

There are so many different ways to handle a trail. Some would say go around it, some would say to go faster, some slow. My old buddy, Niles, would probably pop a wheelie, while Ging would stand on his pedals, and go straight for it. I would probably get off and walk it. There are no right or wrong answers, however, the more you ride the more you develop yourself to be a better biker but still, it does not guarantee you that you will never fall, however it will make you a stronger person to pick-up and continue riding on.

Take your mind off from counting the times you have fallen and look at the days you will be riding the trails over and over again but with a slight difference in each ride. Falling and picking yourself up can be a traumatic one but the grace of recovering and able to ride again is what I think is the art of (not) falling.

Your scars are there to show the physical art, just like tattoos, only better….I call it beauty marks on either your bike or your body.

Ride on cycling monkey!
padma said…
Thanks for dropping by, Alan! I forgot to mention the part of the fall when you either laugh or are laughed at! Are there vicious ants where you ride these days?
Unknown said…
My ankle break was the mirror image of yours. My front wheel skidded out on wet cogon, which is even sketchier than pine needles, and spun the bike around, throwing me down a steep slope. I must've broken my ankle as I landed several feet below - it happened so fast i'm still not sure. Had I put on my flats as planned (this was a downhill race course and a newbie dher had no business using cleats), I probably would've been able to put my foot down and break the skid, or at least hop off before I was thrown.

So yes, sometimes it makes sense to put your foot down, other times the toughies are right and you just have to go with the flow.

Still dreaming of the ride the other day, except that now reading your blog I wish I had spent more time chatting with you. But the flowy downhills were just too much to resist.

Enjoyed your blog, except for the paucity of mtb posts. Mountain biking in baguio from the viewpoint of an anthropologist/writer/community organizer/dilletante/heretic...there isn't enough of that.

Ok enough procrastinating work looking for baguio mountain biking content that isn't there. If I had trails like that in my backyard I'd spend all my free time riding too.
padma said…
Hey Victor, thank you for choosing to procrastinate with my blog! I'm an avid practitioner of procrastination myself, so it always gives my morale a boost when somebody happily wastes time reading my writing and (hopefully) derives some enjoyment from it too.

You are right, I haven't written enough about mountain biking in Baguio but I have three good reasons (or excuses, depending on how you want to look at it):

1. I am jealous and possessive about Baguio trails, so I'd rather not reveal more than what's already out there.

2. If I had to choose between biking and writing about biking, I'd go biking. That, even if writing is my first love.

3. Admittedly, every other time I've attempted to write about mountain biking, I found that the words -- hard as I tried -- simply could not convey the sheer joy of rocketing down a technical downhill and making it to the bottom still on your bike, with a mad grin on your face, and the best adrenalin buzz ever! And then it's all too easy to just shrug, click "delete", and head back out for more of that natural high.

Maybe see you on the trails in these parts again! Twas nice riding with you.

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