Monday, October 22, 2012

Every Time I Put My Helmet On. . .

. . . Shit Could Happen.

Yesterday, I rode in the morning with Bruce and Lois.  It was a beautiful morning, 45 degrees, clear sunny.  What could go wrong.

We rode the route that EVERYONE in Lancaster calls the 'Stick ride except the guy who has been riding it for 30+ years.  

The seventh mile of that ride drops steeply down from a ridge about a quarter mile to a 14-foot wide steel bridge that is 270 feet long.  From the stop sign at the top, I usually hit 35 mph going into the S-turn that leads onto the bridge.  When the road is dry I zip across the bridge at 50 feet per second then slow as I approach the stop sign at the other end.  When the road is wet, I slow to 10 to 12 mph and pedal gingerly across the bridge.  At full speed I cross the bridge in six seconds.  In the wet, the crossing takes a very long 12 - 15 seconds.

The type of bridge I am talking about is pictured below.  As you can imagine, falling on this kind of bridge can be horrible.  I knew a guy who broke all the fingers on his right hand on one of these and had some nasty gashes on the rest of his body.


Open steel span


Up close looking through the steel span at the water.

So yesterday I descended to the bridge braking lightly at the bottom going 30 mph when I rolled onto the span.

The road to the bridge was dry, but the night was cold and the bridge was WET.

As soon as I was on the bridge my tires started squirming on the steel squares.  The rear wheel wobbled under my seat and slid left.  I stayed as still as I could and just touched the brakes as the bike squirmed more and seemed to lose no speed.

Both sides of the bridge are steel beams.  I hoped I could get to the end of bridge before I slid into the side of the bridge, but I knew if a car came on the bridge I would hit it because I could not steer or stop.

At the end of the bridge the road drops away steeply down to a stop sign 20 feet away.  I went off the bridge in the air and landed with my rear tire skidding and sliding left.

There were no cars on Conestoga Boulevard, so I swerved into the road and sat up.  Lois and Bruce crossed the bridge slowly so I had 30 seconds to calm down before they caught up to me.  Bruce said, "You flew over the bridge."  If he only knew.

I changed the subject.

But it reminded me that experience gives us a store of info to avoid big mistakes like this.  I haven't ridden on a steel bridge on a cold morning for years.  The road was dry so I rode fast.

The reason I wear a helmet on the bike and wore one in Iraq was for that moment when a small mistake, or a big one, means my head is going to suffer a big hit.

My wife decided to train for an Ironman.  She a good runner, a great swimmer and almost never rides.  She has a lot of training to do before she can ride 112 miles at speed after a 2.4-mile swim and before a marathon.  I know she can do it.  But I do worry about the many hazards that bicycling puts in the way of every rider.  Experience really helps, but the only way to get experience is to ride without until you have it.

So now we can worry about each other on the bike.

And the first thing we are buying for her together is a good helmet.

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