Surviving Bike Wrecks and the Power of Imagination

surviving bike wrecks
Not a pretty picture, but this is what happens in a bike wreck, if you try to save yourself with your hands.

I’ve had a few bike wrecks, and some ended not so great.

One: Car door opened in front of me, in heavy traffic, in Bristol, England, on my way to school, back in the 1950s. Just a minor head injury.

Two: Ended in the eye hospital, as I disconnected my vitreous humor, prematurely. Classic bike wreck. I was doing a 100-mile, 10-mile brick (workout, one straight after the other), and my running gear was in my house. I’d left the key in the house, so I hurried to a friend’s house, where she kept a spare key. We looked after each other’s cats. Rushed, plus tired from the ride, sharp corner covered in wet leaves. You get the message. And yes! I did have my bike helmet on, the the impact was enough to separate me vitreous.

Three: In the 2013, Half Ironman World Championships, in Las Vegas. A nice young man rode into the back of me, and down we both went. I had three injuries, one fixed with endovascular aortic surgery (EVAR) in the Cleveland Clinic a couple of months later. The second, which took a while to work out, a subluxated (partially dislocated) pelvis, corrected by a great osteopathic doctor, Perry North, about one year later. And finally a torn up hand, due to not wearing bike gloves, to save time in the transition.

Since then I’ve always worn bike gloves, race or no race but more importantly, I worked on how not to try to save myself with my hands. Hands are delicate machines that do not interact well with roads and rocks. It occurred to me that the bike is a potential shield. Keep my knees in, and the pedals might just protect my legs. Hunker my head down into the handle bars for further protection, AND keep my hands on the bike, gripping the handlebars and “being one with the bike.”

But how can you practice this hanging onto the bike thing without wrecking on purpose? With your mind.

The power of imagination for physical activity is beautifully demonstrated in the best running book I know, “Running With the Whole Body,” by Jack Heggie. And it’s not just for runners. It’s great for anyone wanting to improve their efficiency of movement, if you do the exercises.

surviving bike wrecks
Best running book, ever. Feldenkrais-based, that’s why.

So I practiced wrecking my bike in my mind for the next few years, and it worked. I was riding a flat course loop the other day, on the roads near my tiny house, and was stopped by people crossing a crosswalk. I balanced on the bike, briefly, and as they crossed I put my whole weight on the right pedal to head off. Note, my whole weight on that pedal. This makes it impossible to unclip from that pedal. I use Speed Play pedals, by the way, for knee health. As I pushed down to pull away, I found my chain was locked and my pedals were going nowhere, and I was falling sideways onto the concrete path.

So! What did I do? Reach out my arm to protect my head? NO WAY!

Due to all that imaginary bike wreck training, I pulled my whole body into the bike and crashed sideways, onto the sidewalk.

surviving bike wrecks
Here was FitOldDog’s bane – that lever tightens the axle into the frame, and clearly it worked loose, resulting in my downfall, literally.

The result? As I was lying on the ground, tangled in my bike, a passerby asked, “Are you OK?” I said, “Been better,” which made me laugh. On untangling myself, I discovered that my rear wheel skewer (axle) had come out of its harness, and that had locked my chain. The damage to my body was minimal. Slight bruising of my right hand, which was caught between the handle bars and the ground, and a bruised right shoulder, which took most of the impact. Being pretty fit, no real damage.

Fitness makes a huge difference to impact damage, I’ve noticed.

Thank you, Jack Heggie,

-kev aka FitOldDog

surviving bike wrecks
Grey is muscle, white is fat, clear ring around the central white spot (bone marrow) is the femoral bone. Note the loss of both muscle and bone mass in the sedentary guy.


  1. Bikes. As kids, we played tag on bikes. Had a spectacular wreck when I was, headed into a curve hit gravel so the bike abruptly stopped while my body.sailed over and around the curve, in the gravel, on my left side. Mom had to use tweezers to get the gravel out. Still have the scars.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.