Lessons learned from the crash and a new plan

It’s been twelve days since I crashed my bike and brought a temporary halt to the No Rest Out West tour. The recovery is taking longer than I expected. All of the superficial cuts and scrapes are almost completely healed, but I still have general pains down my right side in my wrist (like a sprained wrist feeling), my back (sore at night) and my hip (general ache and feels weak), so I’m not yet ready to start riding again. My head is mostly fine now and the fractured cheek bone is healing up nicely (wait, but it still hurts when I yawn!). So I think another week or two of rest, interspersed with some gentle rides to get moving again, is needed to get back to full fitness before resuming the tour. So, we’ve made the decision to head back home to the East coast, so I can recover there.

I’ve spent a considerable portion of time since the crash thinking about it, trying to resurrect any fleeting memory of what happened but nothing is forthcoming. So I’ve done the next best thing and tried to piece together an anatomy of the crash from anecdotal evidence and many conversations with my brother, who was riding behind me at the time and saw it happen.

The crash was caused by three elements, with the first element being the primary suspect:

– riding into a patch of deeper, loose gravel that caused me to lose control and start weaving left and right (if you’ve ever ridden through a section of sand, you’ll know what this feels like). Finally the front wheel twisted 90 degrees, causing me and the bike to crash to the ground (with enough force to bend the brake levers – see photo below). This whole process happened within a couple of seconds.
– having all the weight at the rear of the bike which made the front wheel skittish and light, and therefore easily twisted sideways.
– going downhill at the time, so that gravity was increasing, not decreasing, my speed as I lost control.

The brake levers were badly skewed and my helmet was well bashed up on the right side (I’m replacing it):

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After being ok, the next most important thing to take away from an experience like this is the lessons learned, which can be applied going forward, in the hope of avoiding such fate again. From this experience:

– don’t tour with all the weight in rear panniers only. Best to travel lighter (for a whole host of reasons) or, if you insist on the kitchen sink, at least balance between front and rear of the bike or use a trailer.
– the transition from riding along without a care in the world to a serious situation can happen very, very quickly.
– accidents can and do happen so be prepared.
– wear bike gloves, especially when riding gravel roads.
– when a trip doesn’t go to plan, don’t get too down about it, learn the lessons, make a new plan, look forward and get going with it!

So our new plan is this: whilst I’m still recovering we’re going to return home to DC (hotels get expensive and monotonous after a week) and start again with day rides, short tours and build up to a new four week tour starting from DC. I can rest up for another week or two and still fit a four week bike tour into our original time frame, so that is our current thinking.

This time however, we’ll make two major changes. Firstly, we’re concocting a route here on the East coast so we can ride straight from my front door, thereby avoiding the hassle and expense of flying with the bikes again. We’re looking at a loop going from DC up to the Great Lakes, then heading north east into Maine and returning along the coast to DC. I’ll post up our revised route in the coming week or so. Secondly, we’re making a huge commitment to going lighter and ditching as much unnecessary gear as possible. The panniers are definitely going, so too is the cook gear, inner tent, and various other “luxury” items, so that we can keep the weight really low. This should allow us to ride further and faster each day, and hopefully avoid a recurrence of my nasty crash (look for an upcoming post about this lightweight transition). We’ll be looking to emulate some of the philosophy espoused over at the ultralight cycling blog. Stay tuned.

During our enforced downtime, we’ve been enjoying watching the Tour de France from the awesome Velo Cult bike shop and bar here in Portland:

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15 thoughts on “Lessons learned from the crash and a new plan

  1. Jenna

    Glad to hear you are recovering nicely. Hopefully we will get to see you before you head north. And by the way New England is beautiful this time of year!

    Reply
  2. Smitty

    Hang in there! I wrecked my bike last summer, and spent the night in an ER. It took 3 months for my shoulder pain to end, but it did end finally. Best of luck with your recovery!

    Reply
  3. Donna Canavan

    Marty and I are so glad that you are recovering. Your new route sounds beautiful and we look forward to following you. Maybe we can see you and your brother riding by! Take care!

    Reply
  4. Mike & Valerie Cannon

    Hey guys, It’s Mike & Valerie, we met you on your first night at Sam P Taylor in Marin. Just checked in to see how you were doing and so dismayed to see how it’s gone, tho we know life has other plans sometimes. Anyway, we’ve been thinking/wondering about you and wishing you well. Will look for news of your next trip and best wishes!! PS — our trip went great, hope we can be on the road together again sometime. Mike, especially, would love to ride w/you.

    Reply
    1. benlcollins Post author

      Hi Mike & Valerie! Lovely to hear from you. Yes the crash was a disaster but I’m fully mended now and back on the bike again. We’re planning to resume our touring shortly, but with some significant changes – we’re going to ride on the east coast so we can leave right from my front door, and second travel a lot lighter. The hills were hard work with only a double chainring as you predicted, haha! 🙂

      Glad to hear your trip went well! Let me know if you ever put any trip reports or photos online.

      Keep in touch, hope we can one day share the road. Cheers, Ben & Pete

      Reply
  5. Barbara

    wow! That’s quite the adventure that you’ve had! I love that you’ve kept a good attitude about it, pursued full recovery, and created a whole new biking adventure. I respect that. Blessing on the adventures ahead! And safety too!

    Reply
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