The sound of a cycling crash turns my stomach. The snapping of metal, the thud of meat slamming into bitumen, or the crunch of carbon coming apart, and often a tearing noise somewhere in there, possibly tyres, but most likely lycra, followed by flesh.
This audible representation of another person’s pain often triggers a sympathetic, sharp intake of breath from other cyclists, all too familiar with how those sounds feel. Because if crashing is anything, it’s memorable.
The speed is always surprising, or rather, the quick absence of it. It’s incredible how quickly a human body can go from traveling at 50kph, to laying stationary and bloody in a gutter, only a couple of meters from where the touch of wheels, or that stray rock, or that unseen pothole began the unstoppable process that culminated in that orchestra of destruction. If it weren’t for the pain of hitting the road, one must surely feel a good amount of G-forces as their body decelerates into that gutter, revealing it’s venerability by having it’s skin torn off, or it’s collar bones broken, or it’s teeth knocked out, or all of the above.
Like all moments of fast-paced, adrenalin producing panic, time slows down, or the mind speeds up, and the staggeringly quick mental calculations that pour through it have already discovered what the next 1.5 seconds have in store. From there, it’s simply a case of minimizing the potential damage. Whole conversations with a friend telling you to hold onto the bars all the way down, because breaking collar bones is preferable to wrists are replayed in your mind, suddenly you realise you’ve clipped out, which always happens more easily than you’d think, and then comes the impact, at which point time resumes it’s normal, comparatively fast pace while you mentally file through all those hideous sounds that each carry a yet to be discovered price tag of money or pain. And then, silence.
There’s a moment here, laying in the gutter, where everything is okay. The pain of your injuries are yet to register, yet the realization that you’re alive has. It’s beautiful: You saw time slow down, you fought your bike, you panicked, your mind did amazing things and now it’s over. A 1.5 second rush that felt like an eternity and it’s over, and you survived, and provided you don’t check, you’re essentially uninjured, and so your adrenalin affected logic tells you to relax.
Except you can’t. Because you’re on a road, and you’re acutely aware that there’s a Commodore you passed a few blocks back that should be following you around that blind corner any second. So you jump up, you grab your bike, and using it almost as a walking frame, you sidle over to the medium strip and dump it on the grass as the guy in the Commodore rolls past, slightly surprised, but predictably unconcerned.
And it’s while watching him drive into the distance that the pain begins. There’s a stinging down your leg, where you’ve grazed off a good swathe of skin and you notice that the tailwind that had originally propelled you to that speed now feels a lot colder and meaner without that delicate layer of protection.
Appreciation for the body’s largest organ aside, you’re also now aware that you can’t move your arm much, and during some investigating, move it in such a way that sends a bolt of pain straight through your body and weirdly into your guts. You drop to the ground, and the only comfortable position seems to be to hold your elbow close to your ribs, and push it slightly up. And then, countless images of pro-cyclists holding the same involuntary position come to mind and confirm to you that yes, your collar bone is probably busted.
Wrists seem okay though, you happily think to yourself.
Friends double back, or strangers assist, there’s the amateur medical and then mechanical speculations, the obligatory inspection of your reassuringly destroyed helmet, someone organizes a lift, and as you head to hospital you realise far too late that half your arse has been on show the whole time.
And then a few weeks later, in a sling and now with a bit of gut that those free Sunday mornings have brought on, you find yourself watching a crit-race, or some track racing, and a right in front of you a touch of wheels brings about that same cacophony of someone else’s pain, and as you sharply suck in that concerned, involuntary breath through clenched teeth, you realise you can actually feel it.