How to Fall Down

09.6.2005 | 10:42 pm

I’ve taken my share of falls. And I’ve taken your share, too. Here are a few of my favorites.

My First Ride
I managed to get a concussion the first time I ever rode a mountain bike, which put enough fear into me that I didn’t try again for several years. Really, I suppose I should thank Stuart for saving me from all the crashes I would surely have had during that time period, had I been on a bike.

Face Plant
The second time I tried the Leadville 100, I did something very stupid: I tried jumping my bike 85 miles into the ride. This is stupid for two reasons.

  1. It’s stupid because 85 miles into a race, I didn’t have the coordination or strength to do a jump properly.
  2. It’s stupid because I never have the strength or coordination to do a jump properly.

So I landed hard on my front wheel, bounced off the side of the road, and plowed a furrow with my face. The effect was horrific and I admit I loved the attention.

Dislocated Shoulder
A few years ago at the Leadville 100, I was very close to getting the sub-9-hours time I’ve wanted so badly for so long. I had lost time, though, due to a bad case of the barfs for about 45 minutes.

I was feeling better on the descent, though, and was pushing myself. I took a gravel patch with too much speed, washed out, and went down. I caught my full weight plus some momentum on my right arm, which dislocated with a nasty-sounding schkrukkk.

I sat up, yelping in pain, and then in fright at the fact that I could not move my arm at all. I was convinced my race was over.

Not having any idea of what I was doing, I used my left arm to lift my right arm, which settled back into place with a fwop. The sudden and complete transition from agony to relief was so intense I started giggling, and couldn’t stop. OK, maybe there was a little shock and a lot of adrenaline in there, too. In any case, I finished the race (9:20), and my shoulder swelled up impressively before the end of the day. It’s never been the same since.

Fall at Gold Bar Rim
I knew I shouldn’t try this. Everyone I was with knew I shouldn’t try this. And yet, I tried it. Basically, I was tired of being the guy who couldn’t do technical moves, so I took a shot at a double ledge drop on Gold Bar Rim, in Moab, Utah.

Everyone else I rode with made it, no problem. I approached too slow, hit with my weight too far forward, my front tire blew, and I flew forward over my bike, landing about six feet below on my face, wrists, ribs, palms and forearms.


Fatty's double drop rock wreck-kinetic energy expended

For what it’s worth, I surprised everyone by finishing the six hour ride. (I may be clumsy, but I’m also remarkably stupid.)

Unexplainable Faceplant
This next wreck is hard for me to talk about, because I don’t have a legitimate reason for why it happened. I was just zipping along downhill — alone — on the trail I rode more often than any other trail. One second I’m consciously happy — actually thinking something like “I’m so happy riding my bike on a perfect trail on a perfect Autumn day” — and the next I’m sliding on packed dirt, gravel and embedded rock…on my face.

Later, I would explain to friends that scree washed into the trail from a recent rain was the cause of my fall. They didn’t believe it, and I don’t either. I just fell off my bike at 20mph. I’m stunned, I’m bleeding profusely, and I don’t know what I ought to do. OK, I should get home. What’s the fastest way home? I don’t remember. No, the best way home is to just keep going the way I was going anyway — finish the ride.

The bike was OK, so I got on and finished the ride, my face bleeding onto my top tube. The whole way home I never checked to see if I had all my teeth, because I was certain I had lost some (I hadn’t). I got home. Nobody was there. I looked in the mirror. My lip was split all the way up to my nose. I called my wife and told her to come get me, but to drop the kids off at the neighbor; they would be freaked out if they saw me this way.

Several stitches later, I was all fixed up, though the resulting scar means I will never look quite as good in a goatee again.

Fall coming down Alpine Loop
This fall’s different in that it was not my fault, and it’s the only time I’ve fallen while on a road bike. I was flying downhill on a mountain road — the Alpine Loop, above the Sundance ski resort in Utah — when a Geo Metro trimmed a corner, coming into my lane and forcing me off the road and into a ravine.

Luckily I was wearing gloves, because now they — not my palms — were shredded. I was bruised and bloody, and my front wheel was taco’d. To his credit, the guy in the Metro was horrified at what he had done. He apologized over and over and insisted on giving me a ride back to town. This meant, sadly, his girlfriend would have to wait on the side of the road for him to come back; the car was not big enough for the three of us and my bike to fit.

On the way down, the guy apologized several times more, then confided he was distracted on the road because he was taking his girlfriend up to a scenic spot to propose to her. I had him drop me off at Sundance so he could get back to his proposal appointment.

My wedding gift to them was I never called to take him up on his offer to pay for damages.

Fall Asleep, Fall off Bike
When Brad and I did the 24 Hours of Moab as a 2-man team, I was cooked by the final lap. I didn’t realize how completely cooked, though. I had noticed for several minutes that my head kept drooping and snapping back up.

Then, suddenly, I was skidding on the sand and my bike was 20 feet ahead of me. Of all the places to fall asleep on this course, I had picked a pretty good one. I was unhurt, and my bike was fine, too. As a bonus, I was once again fully awake.

One Beautiful Moment
From the accumulated clumsiness, one could reasonably conclude that I have no business on a bike, or at least that I should have very high insurance premiums. And yet, one time — just once — I did a move nobody else would try, and I stuck it.

We were at the Timpooneke parking lot after a great ride. Everyone was jousting, fooling around. People had been eyeing a drop — about two feet — between two levels of the parking lot. But you couldn’t just drop it, you’d have to jump over the curb, then land on the flat pavement below. People rode up, then turned away. Finally, everyone went back to their cars to start putting their bikes away.

That’s when I rode up to it, jumped, and landed perfectly. (Okay, really I landed front wheel first, but it was no big deal.)

Nobody could believe it. The cautious guy who nevertheless stacks it up regularly had just casually done a high-consequence move. Better yet, nobody followed my lead after I showed it could be done. It stood unchallenged.

And that — the hope that I will once again, some day, surprise everyone with a moment of agility — is why I keep trying the technical moves.


  1. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 01.27.2008 | 3:58 am

    With access to as much computing power as you do I thought by now you would have photoshopped that first photo so the front wheel was pointing forwards and destroyed all copies of the second shot. You would then be eligible for the Downhiller’s Hall of Fame.

  2. Comment by Mike Roadie | 01.27.2008 | 5:22 am

    Actually, mine is about NOT falling down…….
    We were doing some really fast and treacherous descents in the Lake Tahoe (the Sierras, I guess) and I had already passed 40 mph. Riding the drops with my numb hands all over the break levers, a glance up showed me flashing red lights off in the distance. I slowed down to come upon a roadway filled with pot holes, followed by several ambulances tending to fallen and yes, mangled, riders. Shortly after that, the whole ride was stopped for about 30 minutes as one of the riders had to airlifted off the mountain pass to the nearest hospital for attention. That got ME to slow down!!!

  3. Comment by Comment by | 01.27.2008 | 8:10 am


    NO, wrong blog


  4. Comment by Anonymous | 01.27.2008 | 8:14 am

    We were up in the Lakes once, about 6 of us riding along a fairly easy grassy track, when suddenly the guy in from sank to his front brake in a bog. He flipped orver the handlebars and landed face down just beyond his bike. Fortunately for us he and his bike made a nice bridge over the boggy bit and we rode on (and over him). We did stop on the other side and help him out, honest!

  5. Comment by Dutch Girlie On a Bike | 01.27.2008 | 8:28 am

    You are awesome!!! OK is it weird that we find it awesome to share and read about falls from a bike?

    I have a facedown in cement story to share. I was riding my 3-speed touring bike (don’t laugh, it’s the most popular (ok 2nd) mode of transportation here in The Netherlands) with some friends and we were going along at a pretty good clip. We have wonderful paved bike paths here on which we were riding. When you come into a town the bike paths grow a bit smaller and you ride in between the road and the sidewalk, a curb dividing the bike path and sidewalk. Sometimes the curbs are quite tall, sometimes they are barely visible but believe you me, they are there (can you see what’s coming?).

    As we were riding along in town, in the bike path, we saw a delivery truck parked in the bike path ahead. Two of my companions (who just happen to be my bosses!) easily went over the barely-there curb onto the sidewalk. Me? My front tire caught the curb and *WHAM BAM* down I went! Hands out to protect myself, hands skidding along the pavement and *WHAMMO* my nose and mouth pounding the ground, my legs freakishly caught up in the bike tires. I laid there for a few hours–ok it was seconds but it felt like hours–wondering if I lost any teeth or had broken anything.

    Two riders behind me saw it happen and me laying there and thought I was seriously hurt as I didn’t move for hours. My bosses heard a commotion and turned around and came back. I got myself up and standing and was relieved to find that I hadn’t broken any teeth, just had seriously punctured my lips and had major scrapes on my hands, chin and upper lip. I knew I’d be a-hurtin’ the next day! And I was. I got a major ribbing from my bosses and co-workers the next day as I proudly displayed my scraped lips and tried not to cringe everytime I smiled or laughed. Or frowned.

    That is the only fall I’ve ever had but, like I said in another posting, I have a new racing bike and am trying to get up the courage to get click shoes (or whatever they are called). If I do so I will surely join the multiple-fall category of bike riders. Dunno if that’s a good thing or not.

  6. Comment by Bren | 01.27.2008 | 9:02 am

    You know what I love the most about these stories? You just keep on keepin’ on. Killa staying powa.

    I must say, though, that your success with the parking lot drop makes me think that maybe you oughta look into trials riding… :-)

  7. Comment by leroy | 01.27.2008 | 10:49 am

    A couple of weeks ago, I fell on ice on the Brooklyn Bridge right after passing a guy standing next to his bike taking pictures.

    Later that morning, I’m Bike Snob’s lead in to his post.

    Thankfully, years of wearing bike clothes have done away with any sense of shame I may have once had.

  8. Comment by Jot | 01.27.2008 | 6:51 pm

    From my post about learning to ride a road bike/

    I’m up to 4 times, and 3 of them are because of the pedals. The first I was on the sidewalk, and I clipped into one side, and then picked up my other foot to clip in and I realized that my first foot was at the bottom of the pedal cycle. This meant I couldn’t push or pull to get forward momentum, which left the obvious other choice, side momentum into the grass.

    The second fall I was on the sidewalk in the community and went to make a 90 degree right on concrete that was wet. The back tire got over as far as it was willing to go before losing grip, and down I went.

    This led to falls number 3 and 4, where I tried to get going again, uphill after number 2. Hard to get forward momentum, down I went. After the last of these I hear something yelled from the park:
    “Are you all right mister?”

    I’m honestly suprised the kids could yell anything, because I’d expect them to be out of breath from the laughing. I yelled back I was, and got on the road. Nothing like the idea of a 10 year old asking if they can teach you to ride a bike.

  9. Comment by axel | 01.27.2008 | 7:33 pm

    you may want to cut back on falling as you get older – it hurts more and it heals slower. I recommend only one good crash a year for those over 40.
    Last year I did mine hitting a rock that was hiding in the grass while I was going at top speed. Over the bar, bike flying high above me (momentum must be preserved).

  10. Comment by | 01.27.2008 | 8:39 pm

    You fell asleep? Really? OK. I used to BMX back in the day. We had a jump, that I think I wrote about in a post in the beginning of January regarding my rebuilding my BMX that I’ve hung onto for years. Anyway, I did a sweet no hand no footer off of it, which was cool… the sad part was it also took quite a few shots to land it, more unfortunate was the fact the seats are plastic, and possibly most unfortunate was me laying on the ground for some time to catch my breath when I landed no-footed sitting on the seat, and buried the seat in my crotch about up to my neck. It hurt.

  11. Comment by Joi Gem | 01.27.2008 | 9:48 pm

    I just officially voted for you (and received the confirmation). Best of luck!
    These falls all sound awful. I’m so completely uncoordinated that I keep it to walking. Although I did take a fall snowshoeing but I just landed on more snow and that was ok. It took me a while to find my snowshoe that had gone flying…


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