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Accidents Never Happen (in a perfect world)

As I felt my bike slip from under me to be replaced by the harsh road surface, my main feeling when I sat up was annoyance. Not again!! I had a bad accident at the start of lockdown – got through that and have been really enjoying my cycling, enhanced hugely since joining Anerley. I had given myself a target of a 100-mile ride once a month in 2022 and the first one was planned for two days after. No chance now.

Sat here the day after I’m trying to make sense of it all. Am I stupid to get on a relatively flimsy 2-wheeled machine and put myself at the mercy of the road conditions, other drivers, animals (see below) and no doubt numerous other hazards I can’t even think of right now. And yet I love it – it sounds corny but the feeling of man and machine in harmony, eating up the miles, taking in the changing and often beautiful scenery, and sharing that with like-minded people, is too good to give up. Isn’t it?

Humour me while I tell you a little about both of my accidents.

11 April 2020. The third week of lockdown. Easter Saturday. Gorgeous day so I decide to go out for my one permitted exercise of the day – a loop from Purley up Farthing Downs, round to Caterham-on-the-Hill and back via Kenley. Set out around midday with the idea of enjoying a cool beer in the garden on my return.

It was going well. I was feeling strong physically and mentally. The roads were empty which made cycling even better. Then just over half way, heading towards Kenley Aerodrome on Buxton Lane, a cat shot out in front of me. It was a narrow part of the road. I was doing 15-20 mph. I just remember seeing it emerge from under some trees on the right. Go to cross the road. Saw me and instead of turning round it sprinted across thinking it could beat me. It couldn’t. I hit it full on. No time to brake or swerve. And I landed directly on my left elbow. The pain was excruciating – unbelievable and impossible to describe.

I could write a whole chapter on this experience but long story short I shattered my elbow into lots of pieces. The surgeon at East Surrey did a brilliant job at reconstructing it and I now have a very impressive amount of metal holding it all in place (x-rays available on request!).

25 January 2022. 9 months into my Anerley experience. Jim is leading a ride out to Charlwood, so I sign up and meet everyone at Coulsdon PO. Despite the cold weather I’ve been out a fair bit – this is my 7th ride of the year. As in April 2020, I’m feeling quite strong physically and mentally.

It’s very cold. Grey skies so no frost. Trying out some new merino liner gloves to see if they’ll help keep my hands warm. 20 miles of pleasant meandering through Surrey later we stop for a very welcome lunch at 52 The Street Café in Charlwood. Tasty sausage sandwich and flat white and we’re ready to head home.

10 minutes on and we start a descent down Smalls Hill Road (“in the middle of nowhere”). Per my Strava it’s about 5% gradient so nothing dramatic, but the speed picks up – about 25 mph. Next thing I know it’s like my bike was on a rug and someone has pulled it from under me. The bike goes left and I fall onto my right hand side. No warning. And I am then on the ground cursing and nursing my wounds. It cut through 3 layers of material on my elbow but fortunately no break. My right hip and quad took the brunt of it, so they are hurting. And both gloves have holes in the palm – those new liners didn’t last long! I manage to get up but am then feeling faint so bend over to ease it. Sam and Martin are quickly on the scene to help and the rest of the group (who were ahead) return soon to comfort me.

I was fairly sure nothing was broken so didn’t feel I needed an ambulance. But how to get home? A friendly builder (Fred) was passing, and the guys spoke to him and he offered to take me and my bike to a café in Capel where I could “warm up and get a cup a tea” and find a taxi. It turned out to be a Murco petrol station, but it did have coffee and Fred got me the number of a Dorking cab company. 10 minutes later I was in the cab heading home. Like most cabbies he liked to talk which was a good distraction for me – although I could have done without him regaling me with the stories of the 6 bike fatalities he’d seen when he was a London cabbie!!

Why did that happen??!! I was cycling in a straight line and suddenly I was on the ground. The only other time that has happened was when I was a teenager and me and a friend were riding near Clapham and must have hit black ice because we were both on our backsides within seconds of each other. Going slow so just dusted ourselves off and got back on.

I don’t think this was black ice as there was no sign of a frost. The road had a crack in it but I usually take care to avoid them. Was it an oil patch? But then was I the only one to hit it? I’ve replaced my tyres recently, so they aren’t bald.

Should I avoid winter riding? Should I get a gravel bike with more grippy tyres? Should I call it a day altogether?

I’ve been cycling my whole life. I used to commute into London every day. I’ve cycled down the West Bank unscathed. I consider myself to be a safe, experienced, competent cyclist. But these two accidents have got me spooked as they were beyond my control.

I know there is an enormous amount of cycling experience in this club – who knows how many thousands of miles and hours you all have in total. I would really appreciate any thoughts on how I best navigate this. Any format – I’m on WhatsApp, phone, email or maybe we can speak at the dinner next month. Stay safe everyone.

Brian 07728 931024

PS people often ask me what happened to the cat – well I didn’t see as I was on the ground with my eyes shut screaming, but a passer-by saw it run off. How the physics of that work I don’t know – 14+ stone at 20 mph…?