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!