Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ouch, my pride hurts!

Oh, why is it that stupid stuff keeps happening to me? Or is it that I keep happening into stupid stuff?

I've had my share of spills since I started cycling. There's the inevitable trail crashes while mountain biking, and the falling at intersections while learning to ride clipless pedals...c'mon, I'm not the only one, right?

Well, Friday morning I had a fall during my bike commute. Yes, a fall. I didn't crash into anything. I just...fell down. I was not seriously injured, thank goodness. But I feel really stupid about the whole thing. So embarrassed that I am writing about it for the whole internets to read. Luckily, only a few people read this blog.

I was riding along and I caught up to two, shall we say, seasoned gentlemen (OK, they were old guys. At least in their sixties. Late sixties.) waiting at the traffic light on their bicycles. So that's pretty cool, two old guys riding their bikes. One I could easily recognize was on a Surly LHT. He had a rack with a trunk bag of some sort. The other guy had this beautiful blue bicycle. I pulled up behind them at the light and said good morning. They were in the middle of a conversation, but they turned around and said hello, and that was it. Within a few seconds the light turned green and I was happy to fall in line and follow them down the road. My hope was that I might be able to pull along and have a chat about bicycling or get some info on the blue bike. I never got close enough to chat with either of them, though. I followed from a safe distance but I couldn't make out the graphics on the side of the downtube. My initial thought was Rivendell. However, I couldn't positively make out any lugs on the frame. The seat stays appeared to be welded not joined with lugs. Whatever it was, the paint job was striking.


At this point in the story, let me back up and provide some background. I initially started commuting on a mountain bike that I had converted to commuting duties primarily by adding some touring tires, a rear rack, and a set of panniers. Since getting my new bike, I've been carrying stuff in a backpack. This had worked out fine, but the night before I decided I would move the rack over to the "road" bike, a Masi Speciale CX. The CX is, according to Masi, well suited to "carrying all the goodies you need on the way to the office" and is ready "to serve double duty as a light duty touring bike or heavy duty commuting bike." Great. This is exactly what I wanted the bike for. Heavy. Duty. Commuting. Because it's a (concrete) jungle out there.

Just last week EcoVelo posted an interesting road test review on how another bike, the Handsome Cycle Co. Devil handled a typical commuting load versus a Surly LHT, which is quite well known for its capabilities as a loaded tourer (hence the name Long Haul Trucker). The review noted:

The LHT, with its relatively high trail steering, is stable but a bit sluggish for my tastes. Not surprisingly, adding 30 lbs. to the rear wakes up the steering and makes it feel lighter and quicker up front, in this case actually improving the feel of the front end. The Devil, on the other hand, has relatively low trail and an already responsive, quick feel up front when unloaded. With 30 lbs. in the rear panniers, the already light front end becomes twitchy... 

The Devil works best with the load split closer to 50/50, whereas the LHT performs better with most of the weight in the rear.

Interesting review, I thought at the time, since the geometry of my Masi Speciale CX is fairly similar to that of the Handsome Devil.

Back to the story...

Before I caught up with the old guys I had started down the road and I noticed my bike felt a little different, that the front end felt a little lighter. I remembered the article about how the rear-biased load affected the handling on the Handsome Devil. Could this really be the same effect I was feeling, or was I imagining this based on my memory of the article? I dismissed the issue for the time being and continued with my ride. Incidentally, I weighed my loaded panniers when I got home, and they were about 10 pounds, so I was carrying far less weight than that during the test conducted by EcoVelo.

After following the old guys for a bit, we reached a point in the road where there was an on-ramp type merge from another road. Here's the roadway in question:
Kearny Villa Rd (southbound), you can see a black car about to merge. 
Cyclists must navigate across the on-ramp/merge section to return to the bike lane on the shoulder.

The man on the blue bike cut a near perpendicular path across the lane to get back to the bike lane. I didn't notice him check for approaching cars, but as I did so I saw three cars approaching fast. Two of the cars whizzed by as the man on the LHT slowed ahead of me. I braked in turn, then looked back again. The third car had slowed and kept a large cushion between us. The car flashed its high-beam lights signaling us to cross. I recognized the gesture and lifted my right hand to give a wave of thanks. 

What happened next occurred so fast, it is hard to say exactly what happened. I began to pedal to make my way across. I think I may have cut the handlebars too sharp to the right with one hand and simultaneously began to stand to apply pressure on my pedal stroke. The result was my bike suddenly leaning to the left and in an instant I was on the ground. I hit my side and even knocked my helmet on the pavement. As quickly as I realized I had fallen, I was up on my feet. I grabbed my bike and walked it over to the shoulder. Still somewhat in shock, I dropped my bike and walked around as if that was some way to check my own vitals. I turned around and the old guy had pulled over to check on me. Apparently I had dropped my sunglasses and he had picked them up and handed them over to me. "Good thing for helmets!" he said to me. "For sure," I replied. He asked if I was OK, and upon insisting that I was, he bid me farewell and went on his way.

I cruised in the rest of the way to work. Once I got to my cubicle I got to check my self a little more closely. I sustained a couple scrapes and am still nursing a sore hip and left hand. My helmet took on some scratches, but did its job well. I scratched up my left shifter and it had twisted a bit on the handlebars, but I was able to twist it back into position.

So, lessons of the day:
  • Keep two hands on the handlebars.
  • Always wear my helmet. Do what you will, but I'm going to wear mine.
  • Look into getting a front rack and bag.
I don't fault my bike for what happened. The handling may have been slightly affected by the rear load, but I think it was more of a case of being unaccustomed to how that weight affected the bike. The key issue was that I took my hand off the handlebars while turning, which caused me to lose control.

Thanks to the old man for stopping to check on me and give me back my sunglasses. Sorry to the guy who waved at me on my ride home. Normally I would have waved back, but after my morning, there was no way I was going to take my hand off to wave back. I gave him a big head nod instead.

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