Wednesday, 5 December 2012

First Post: Chute!!! As they say in France.

I live about 25 miles from my office, and at least once per week I aim to commute in and home on the road bike. We're lucky, having good shower and changing facilities, as well as secure cycle parking. There's no excuses really, unless the weather is particularly bad.

Yesterday I charged up the lights, packed my rucksack and donned a bit of garish-but-probably-wisest hi-viz, and set out just before 7. The weather forecast had shown nighttime temperatures hovering a couple of degrees above zero, but once out onto the lanes there was a lot of frost, and after a couple of miles, on a fast straight descent, I felt my rear wheel drifting off into the gutter.

I am not what you'd call one of life's graceful people - I have my fair share of knocks and bumps, but when it comes to cycling I can usually keep it rubber side down. Lots of practice I suppose.

Instinct took over and with a small shift of body weight and a tweak of the bars I had control again, running straight and true. Disaster averted, but I'd received the warning loud and clear - I was going to have to keep the pace steady and my wits about me.

The next lane is a particularly treacherous one in winter, always wet from farmyard overspill. A friend of mine hit the deck down there a couple of winters ago, and was sporting a purple and yellow pancake-size bruise on his hip for weeks.
Keen to avoid a similar fate, I nursed the bike down that hill, taking it slow with a neutral position, feathering the brakes on the dry sections and rolling gently across anything wet or frosty looking.

Safely at the bottom, the A1 footbridge comes next. This is always ridden slowly in a low gear because
a.) the ramps are steep
b.) it has tight hairpin turns
c.) it is covered in moss and horse poo - an ideal surface!
The frost made it even more slippery than usual, I span the rear wheel with too much power a couple of times, had a slight slip on one of the bends, but kept things upright.

After the bridge is the final lane before the northernmost reaches of London's urban sprawl. There's an initial bend, and then it's a straight mile or so with a short sharp climb, a slightly longer descent and then a gradual climb into the outskirts of Barnet.
The descent and lower part of the long climb are usually wet from an adjacent quarry and yet more farmyard outflowings, but the frost had subsided here, and subconsciously I relaxed a little. A van passed me as I started the descent and I let the pace rise, cruising down after it. The van got to about 100 yards ahead, when suddenly it's straight path started to wander. As the brake lights illuminated the wandering accelerated into a fast spin, which was then followed by a crunching and splintering as it ploughed along the verge. Fragments of headlamp and bumper were strewn across the road before the vehicle came to rest with a final gravelly crunch in a gateway.
At some point early in these proceedings, my brain sensed the danger and flicked-open the adrenaline valve. I watched the whole thing in perfect slow motion, taking in every last detail whilst simultaneously assessing my own situation.

- Lots of time and space to react? Check.
- Any other traffic around me? Check - I hear cars behind.
- Is my road surface safe? Check.


One second I was squeezing the brakes gently to scrub off some speed, the next I had hit the deck and was sliding along on my right hand side, coming to a halt 20 yards down the road. The front wheel had locked up on black ice and instantly slid from underneath me.

Should've seen that one coming.

Fortunately the traffic behind had kept its distance, and slowly crawled by as I peeled myself off the road and assessed the damage. The rear light on my rucksack had been grated to pieces, and the bar tape, pedal and saddle picked up some scuffs.
Physically I got off lightly, with a slightly sore right arm and a dead left leg where the handlebars had whipped round and jabbed me. But nothing serious.

After gathering up the remains of the light and retrieving my water bottle I remounted and pedalled on. The van's driver had climbed out, and we exchanged a couple of words, neither of us seemingly too shaken. He'd seen my slide after he came to rest, probably taking some solace that he wasn't the only one caught out.
I pulled out the BlackBerry and cancelled my 9 o'clock meeting, and took it easy for the rest of the ride in.
I wussed out of the ride home and took the bike on the train. It was colder than forecast and I didn't fancy risking another "Chute".

Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment