I’m not a terribly good technical rider. When I ride mountain bikes, to the extent that I’m able to keep up, it is because of my stubbornness and willingness to punish myself in the straightaways, and not because of my ability to demonstrate excellent bike handling abilities. But I’m looking to improve my abilities–always striving to be better.
Last Wednesday, during the day, I saw a fantastic video of a guy riding a rigid fatbike in a terrain park, and absolutely killing it. One of the most impressive parts was seeing how he would approach a jump or berm by either doing a natural or a wheelie, picking the front end up, and then just lofting onto the jump. Hence, Wednesday night on our fatbike ride, I decided to try to learn how to wheelie.
With lobster gloves.
On a carbon fatbike with longish seat stays.
On ice-cold pavement.
Nothing about this went terribly well.
My past experience with trying to wheelie has been just barely lofting the front tire, but not being able to hold it up. I was advised that you have to pedal harder to loft the front…and after a few unsuccessful tries, I really punched the pedals as I lifted the bars and shifted my weight back. The front tire rose precipitously, and things looked great.
This happened pretty quickly, and I’m not sure exactly what happened. Because of the clipped in Wolvhammers, I was unable to unclip and get my feet down. Because of the lobster gloves, I was unable to grab the brakes quickly (without losing precious grip on the bars).
I think what happened was I got my weight too far back, and instead of wheeling, I pulled the whole front of the bike off the ground. As the bike rotated vertically, I’m pretty sure I spun completely backwards and pulled the rear wheel off the ground as well (at that point, looking like I was riding upside down). I landed squarely on my spine, on the cold asphalt, still clipped in, the bike still vertical between my legs, my hands still on the bars. I rotated the bike to the side, and immediately felt the panic that is associated with the feeling of not being able to breathe.
I did a quick self-assessment. I was conscious, jealously huffing tiny breaths. I hadn’t hit my head. I could move my extremities. Friends came over and grabbed the bike, and tried to move me. I mumbled a feeble “No…”, and they left me lying, asking if I was alright. I had the wind knocked out of me, but the pain I had was diffuse. Bad, but diffuse. It didn’t feel like anything was broken. I lay there for a few minutes and then rolled on my side. That was worse. I got up. That was worse still. I walked for a few seconds, and then got back on my bike. Everyone asked if I was alright, and I said I was ok.
That night, it hurt to breathe.
The next day, I felt quite a bit better.
The third day, I could barely get out of bed. A quick trip to the doc and some radiation later, and I can confirm that the escapade cost me three broken ribs. Left side, towards the back. None fully broken, none displaced, no threat to the lungs. Just pain. Constant pain. It’s a paradox…you have to breathe to live, but every breath hurts.
I’m writing this with a smile on my face, because I realize how asinine it sounds. I also realize how asinine it is that I was on the trainer a few days after the fall, keeping my legs up. The jarring nature of riding on the road is unbearable right now.
I fell, and that sucks, but you know what? I was able to wheelie. A little too good perhaps, but a wheelie nonetheless. And when the weather improves, I’ll do it again. On a soft surface, with platform pedals and a pillow strapped to my back, but I’ll do it again.
This is also a good time to ask a question: are you prepared for a bike emergency? If one of your friends ground looped, would you know what to do? What if she suffered a broken bone, or a spinal fracture? What if shock was setting in rapidly? The first impulse in helping another person is to touch them…to move them from wherever they were injured. That is almost always the wrong impulse. I’m pretty confident in my ability to respond to an emergency based upon my time as an EMT/Firefighter…but if you’re not, you should give some thought to some first aid or wilderness first aid coursework. The life you save may be your friend’s.
This blog is about disclosure, so even though this is an embarrassing chapter for me, and despite the fact that it requires disclosing a weakness, I’m publishing this post. The ground loop. I do not recommend it.