moments that change everything

Saturday morning Eric crashed his bicycle on a large group ride. He says the pack was going fairly fast downhill but then someone up front braked and then the riders just ahead of him braked hard. He couldn’t stop in time and went down on the pavement. On his face.

When the phone rang on Saturday I almost didn’t answer it. I’m not great with phones and there are many times when I just let the machine pick up. But Eric was due home for his ride around that time, and I thought: maybe I should answer that in case Eric’s had a problem and needs to be picked up somewhere.

Instead I got the phone call no spouse wants to hear: “I’ve crashed my bike and I’m in the emergency room.” Bad sick feeling. On the other hand: if it’s your spouse actually calling, you know that they’re at least alive and conscious enough to talk on the phone.

Eric reassured me that he wasn’t dead, but then told me that his face was a mess and his teeth were all smashed in. Oh. Well. That’s just peachy.

I had a 45 minute drive to Stanford Hospital emergency room to imagine the worst and get all worked up about it. I have a pretty vivid imagination. Unfortunately my imagination was pretty accurate. Poor Eric looked like he had been beaten with a stick. A really big stick. With nails in it. Good thing I married him for his money. (I kid.)

Despite the terrifying appearance, however, Eric didn’t seem to be doing that badly. He wasn’t in that much pain and once they got around to cleaning him up the damage seemed to be contained to a lot of really nasty road rash and the teeth. There were still a whole lot of tests to be done, however, and since things move slowly in an emergency room if you’re not sobbing, screaming, or vomiting all over the floor, Eric just cooled his heels and I got busy making phone calls. Calls for emergency dental; calls to arrange to get Eric’s car picked up; calls to find out what happened to his bicycle. I also went and dealt with the insurance. Eric had been riding without ID and had been admitted as “Eightyfour Echo,” which will be his official Spy Name from now on. I had brought his insurance card with me and got him properly registered. I am somewhat pleased to find out that I am not one of those people who goes completely to pieces in a crisis; although I have anxious moments mostly I get shit done. And I know from my own experiences in the emergency room that you so need someone there to get shit done for you.

Eric is home now and is in recovery mode. Since I know his family reads this blog I will be reassuring: every day he looks much better than the day before (he would not let me post pictures). The road rash is ugly but is scabbing (he is keeping bacitracin on it). He has three stitches in a cut over one eyebrow and a lot of bruises. There’s some other small road rash on his knees and hands. Everything hurts. But every day is better.

The teeth are a problem; he mashed in the two front ones and broke off another one. The emergency dentist sealed the broken one but couldn’t do much about the front two; they can be bent back into place but they want to return to their smashed-in position. This morning we made the round of many local dental professionals and it looks like he’ll lose those teeth; there are a number of root canals in Eric’s future and then braces to put them back into place. In the meantime the position of the teeth makes it difficult for him to eat so we are becoming well acquainted with packaged soup and creative uses for oatmeal and applesauce.

It could have been so much worse. I am so, so very thankful for that.

The bright spot of news is that Eric’s uber-fancy bicycle, a carbon fiber Cervelo R3 he just bought this year, is completely intact. One of the brake hoods is bent in and there’s a small scratch on it. One of the pedals has some scratches. That’s it. The bike is fine; all the damage is to Eric.

I have two lectures I want to give based on this incident.

One: If you ride, or run, or hike, or do anything out by yourself, take ID. It doesn’t have to be a driver’s license, just something with your name on it. Eric never rode with any ID.

This was Eric’s first time on this particular group ride and no one knew who he was. When he crashed he was unconscious for twenty minutes. I joke about Eightyfour Echo but if he hadn’t woken up and been able to identify himself, I would have had a hard time finding out where he had gone to.

We had talked about making up simple ID cards, getting a road ID, or even walking into a Petco and using the DIY machines to make a dog tag with name and emergency phone numbers on it. But we never got around to it. I’m feeling pretty dumb about that now.

Two. Put ICE in your damn phone. ICE is short for “In Case of Emergency.” This meme was spread around the net last year as the number you program into your cell phone for emergency personnel to call if they find you unconscious n the road. Eric thought this was an urban legend. Soon after Eric called me on Saturday I got a call from the group ride leader who had picked up Eric’s cell phone and started noting down numbers to try to find someone to notify. The random number method eventually works, sure, but ICE is much more direct. I’ve got ICE in my phone, and as of this morning Eric has it in his. My phone also lets me add longer notes to the address book entries so my ICE also has my name and blood type. Put it in.

OK, one more lecture: hug your family today.

the red bicycle

On a bicycling mailing list I’m on there was a heated discussion about why people buy expensive lightweight bicycles when ordinary bicycles will do just fine. The implication was that people who buy expensive bikes are shallow and dumb. I wrote this bit to explain why I bought my bicycle (and to defend being shallow and dumb).


>But why? Lighter bikes aren’t any more fun for me. Can you explain why
>they are more fun for you? Is it just one of the ineffable mysteries of

>I’d chock it up to the same consumerism that permeates our society:
>i.e., people buy fancy bikes for the same reason they buy fancy cars,
>and designer clothes, and big diamond rings, etc. That spending more
>just makes people feel good, because it proves they can spend more. But
>maybe that’s wrong, and I’m being unfair? I’d quite like to understand

I have a story.

A number of years ago I was shopping for a new bike. I was a beginning rider and had been riding on the street and on trails on a very cheap and heavy trek mountain bike. My husband had done a lot of research for me and we went to our local bike shop to try out a number of bikes he thought would fit my current riding style — hybrids, touring bikes, basic commuter bikes. I tried a number of them in the parking lot and all of them were fine; all of them were a significant improvement over my trek but I couldn’t pick any one over another one. All of them were fine, practical bikes.

And then the sales guy came out to the parking lot with a bike we had not chosen. It was a real road bike, a racing bike, with drop bars and clipless pedals and a much more aggressive riding position. It was much lighter than any of the other bikes I had tried, it was italian, it was red, and it was more money than I wanted to spend. I balked. “Just try it,” said the sales guy.

I got on the bike and wobbled around for a bit; the position was confusing, the shifting was odd, and I was riding on top of the clipless pedals in my sneakers. But as I rode up and down the parking lot, back and forth, over and over, a funny thing happened. The other bikes had been fine to ride, to just get on and pedal from one side of the lot to the other. They were good, plain, basic bikes. This one felt different. This one felt good. Pedalling it, steering it, shifting it — if felt like it was no work at all. I had never been a fast rider; I spent most of my riding time coasting along on trails by my house. But this bike… this bike made me want to go fast. This bike was more than just a machine. This bike was fun. I was astonished and slightly frightened, as if if I were not careful, the bike would take the bit in its teeth and race off down the road without me.

I stayed out on the red bike for a long time, and then when I brought it back I handed it to the sales guy and shook my head. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I can’t buy this bike,” I said sadly. “It’s just too good for me.”

We went to other shops, and I tried lots of other bikes. I tried other road bikes with road positions, and more basic bikes. But the red italian bike haunted me. For days I fretted about it. And then I scraped together the money and I bought that bike.

The first time I took it out on the road I went out on a short ride around town I did a lot back then. There’s a hill right in the middle of that ride — not a huge monster of a hill, but a good-sized rise in the road. On my old trek I would have to shift into the lowest gear and it would still take me a lot of time and work to get up that hill.

My husband had told me that the red bike was lighter than my trek and that would make it easier to get up the hills. So when I hit the hill on the red bike, I just downshifted a few cogs, but I kept my hand on the lever in case I needed to bail out onto the granny ring. And then that bike just sailed right up that hill it as if someone were pushing it from behind. I actually stopped at the top of the hill and turned back to look, it was such a surprise to me how easily I had climbed that hill. Was it the same hill? Did they flatten it in the last month? No, it wasn’t the hill. It was the bike. It was the lightweight red italian racing bike that made all the difference. And I fell in love with it all over again.

I’ve had the red bike for years now and I’m used to it and I know now its not nearly as light as a lot of these high end bikes that people buy. Every once in a while I look at one of those fancier bikes and think about trading up. Given the amount of riding I do (not all that much, all recreationally), I really can’t justify the cost. Me and the red bike, we do OK.

I’m sure that people buy expensive lightweight bikes for all kinds of vague emotional impractical reasons, including rampant consumerism, fashion, because someone they admire has one, etc, and not necessarily for practical riding-from-here-to-there reasons.

For me it was all about the fun.

karl elvis and olivia go cycling

Today is cycling day and I am catching up on my cycling posts.

My old friend Karl Elvis tells the story about how his 12 year old daughter has been trying to learn to ride a two-wheeler, but it’s been so hard. I remember when I was there, a little younger than that, when all my friends could already ride, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it and I just got angry and upset over and over again. And I remember the amazing sense of joy when I did get it, when I could finally ride from end of my street to the other all by myself.

When you’re that age, bikes represent freedom. The world just opened up to her. The library, the bookstore, the local hangouts. Starbucks and the local mall. She can get there. She’s not ready now, but she sees the distance shrink. She sees the world, unreachable yesterday, drawing close to her, like space warping. She’s asking me, can we rent bikes, next time we go to Hawaii, or Fiji, or Turk and Caicos? Can we ride to the local Sushi place instead of driving? Can we go out now, please, right now. She doesn’t care that she’s covered in bruises from falling, that her butt hurts from the seat, that she’s got odd sore muscles in her legs. She wants to move and not stop moving.

And I remember that feeling. Like my daughter, I was a big, slow kid. I was strong; I was an ox. But I was slow and clumsy. The bike changed that, letting the strength in my legs compensate for my size. I could race my friends, and while I didn’t usually win, I never came in last. I could move and go. Freedom and power.

I stood there in that bike shop and looked at the bike she’d chosen, and looked at the killer sale price, and started mentally adding up how much it was going to cost me to get my mountain bike working. I added up the parts and the effort and the time and then looked at her riding and I said to the clerk, hey, can I try this one?

This is such an an inspiring story.

(I got it from The Moronosphere.)

pack mentality – an economic explanation of cycling

“Nothing in American sports resembles the bizarre dynamic of the cycling peloton, partly because a stage race is less a sporting event than a commodities exchange on wheels. What appears to be a random mass of bicycles is really an orderly, complex web of shifting alliances, crossed with brutal competition, designed to keep or acquire the market’s most valued currency: energy.”

From Fortune magazine, of all places, comes one of the better articles I’ve seen explaining pro cycling. They use the money-related and economics metaphors to explain why tactics are important, and the hierarchy and deal-making that happens within the peleton during a race. A good read.

jan ullrich has a myspace

The Jan is rocking the house over on MySpace. Well, ok, not really, but whoever this Jan impersonator is he needs some kind of hilarity medal. If you follow pro cycling AT ALL you need to be reading this guy’s blog. Der Kaiser Jan myspace blog has singlehandedly made me root for The Jan all season. (and from it we seem to have picked up the habit of calling him The Jan, too)

There was being much rain and wind and lightning when Jan did begin to pedal yesterday, but that was totally being the Jan’s fault. The Jan must be careful when pedaling, for when the Jan’s massive thighs begin to spin so close together, they are creating a low pressure system centered on the Jan’s “special place” that is often causing massive weather anomalies and atmospheric disturbances. It can be embarassing. There have been many cases where the Jan is being totally breaking it down on the dance floor, and then busts out with the Jan’s favorite move, the Roger Rabbit, and then whole villages are blown away into ash and smoke, and for nights afterward there are being many sightings of strange lights in the sky.