Near Misses

10.19.2005 | 3:23 pm

One thing all cyclists — and nobody else in the world — know is that road biking and mountain biking are only distant cousins. They’re hardly related, really. Sure, both kinds of bikes have a superficial resemblance (though that’s disappearing, as many full-suspension mountain bikes have started looking more like motorcycles), but the way they work you out is different, the mood that makes you ride them is different, and the kind of fun you have is entirely different.

What I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is what I think might be the most telling difference of all: how you react to the unexpected is different.


The Treacherous Speed Bump

I’ve been riding the track bike a lot lately. Time will tell whether that’s because of the novelty of it or because fixed gear riding is going to be my thing, but for right now, that’s the bike I’m choosing when I have a choice (ie, when it’s not raining).

But I’m still making lots of mistakes.

There are some big speed bumps on the road through Marymoor park, which I go through on the way to work. On my regular road bike, I always stood up and coasted over those.

So of course without thinking about it, I tried to do the same thing on the fixie. But as I stood up, my crank stayed in motion, propelling me forcefully up and forward as the right crank rotated up. This happened, of course, as I went over the speed bump. This put me in a nose wheelie. On a fixie. At about 18mph.

In reality, the rear wheel probably was never more than six inches above the ground, but it felt like I was about to do a high-speed road endo. Luckily, I managed to sit down, and there was no traffic on the road, so my embarrassment was mine and mine alone to enjoy (until now, of course).


Crazy Legs

That’s not my only recent near-miss on the track bike. On short, moderate downhills, I’ve been trying to use my own power to keep the fixie’s speed under control. That’s worked fine.

When I tried to do that on a long, fairly steep downhill, though, I wound up going faster and faster — my legs weren’t able to exert reverse force quickly enough to keep up. Before long, the bike had my legs spinning so fast I started bumping up and down in my seat. I was close enough to out of control that I was afraid to move my left hand out of the drops even for the short time it took to grab the front brake. That was the only option, though, and I managed to bring the bike’s speed (and my legs) back under control before getting to the stoplight. Which I’m going to go ahead and call a good thing.



My closest call on a road bike, though, was when I was coming down the Alpine Loop one day. It was one of those rides where everything is going perfectly. You’re feeling fast, you’re nailing the turns, and your bike feels more like a part of you than a machine has any right to feel.

And then I hit a turn I didn’t expect. As I came out of a fast sweeping right turn, I expected the road to straighten. Instead, it turned sharply left. To the side of the road was gravel, then a steep bank that went down and down and down.

I was going about 35 entering the turn, and knew as I approached the apex there was no way I was going to make it. I locked up both brakes and — instead of high-siding like I should have — I skidded to a stop in the gravel. I got off the bike and walked around for ten minutes, ‘til the adrenaline shakes finally wore off and I could ride again.


Mountain Near Misses

The thing about mountain biking is, you have near misses all the time. On “Frank,” my closest mountain bike ride back in Utah, you start the ride by zooming downhill on ledgy singletrack, with a 50-foot drop six inches to your right. I’ve put a foot down to keep myself from falling off that cliff several times.

On Grove (another favorite mountain bike ride back in UT), you’re riding on loose shale with a steep, sharp slide 100 feet down to the river just one dab away at all times.

In Leadville one year, coming down the Powerline trail, I dropped my front wheel into an erosion trench and managed to clip out as I got ejected over the front of my bike. I’ll never know how I managed to land on my feet, but I did. Better yet, my bike came flying after me. I caught it, righted it, and kept on going. It was the most beautiful near-miss of my life.

The fact is, just about any time you’re on a mountain bike, you’re in a state of near miss.


The Big Difference

And that — I think — is the real distinguishing factor between mountain biking and road biking. When I’m on a road bike, I’m all about control. A near miss on a road bike represents a failure and is downright mortifying — not to mention terrifying.

A near miss on a mountain bike, on the other hand, makes you laugh. You seek the near miss out. Really, a near miss on a mountain bike means…well…that you’re out mountain biking.


Today’s weight: 160.4


  1. Comment by Jeff | 10.19.2005 | 4:40 pm

    >> The fact is, just about any time you’re on a mountain bike, you’re in a state of near miss.That encapsulated it perfectly. I was on a trail ride yesterday after having done road for a few weeks exclusively, and had already forgotten that just letting go and enjoying the near miss is the essence of mtn biking fun.

  2. Comment by Adam | 10.19.2005 | 5:00 pm

    You’ve captured my one real discomfort with the track bike experience — I have a Pista as well I’ve commuted on lately. lately.Flats — fun, smooth, forced to do real work all the timeUphill – torture (for me) but a challengeDownhill – Near terrifying. There are hills on my route that can easily get you to 30mph on a road bike. On the fixie, it starts ok but then when you get bouncy it gets fairly scarey really fast. Then you try to apply some back pressure and realize you just can’t without getting tossed (or at least i can’t). I end up riding the brake hard and hugging the shoulder because I don’t feel fast at all.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 10.19.2005 | 5:01 pm

    PlusSpeed on a road bike = 4 parts fitness, 1/2 parts skillSpeed on a mountain bike = 2 parts fitness, 3 parts skill(depending on trails)Those ‘forget to pedal’s on the fixie are as scary as hell though

  4. Comment by Unknown | 10.19.2005 | 6:50 pm

    Fatty,I was coming quickly down a large hill on my fixie and ONE foot came out of the pedal. Boy howdy, talk about (having to think fast while) maintaining a zen-like relaxed attitude on one side of your body and chasing a rapidly rotating clipless pedal with the other side. Weird. I did it though. One thing you may have to look forward to is the mindless "coasting" moment while motoring along on the flat. This may happen because certain parts of your anatomy need "re-seating" or you just think you need to pause your pedaling a moment without remembering you are on a fixie. I have lengthened my legs incrementally at the knees doing this. A couple of times I even broke the cog loose from the hub, but managed to crank it back tight while riding onward. All in all, a fixed gear is all about the pure art of cycling and the die hard adherants get some pretty smooth spins going.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 10.19.2005 | 7:08 pm

    Last week’s "biking vs. running" discussion wasn’t bloody enough. You’re working up to a "biking vs. street luge" free-for-all.

  6. Comment by Zed | 10.19.2005 | 7:25 pm

    I must be a roadie at heart. I was on a steep downhill fire road when the road took a sharper left than I expected. My handlebar came within an inch of a tree trunk (meaning my hand was in the branches). That was enough excitement to last me for a while.

  7. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.19.2005 | 9:18 pm

    You didn’t mention the biggest one of all (maybe you haven’t had it yet). Take the track bike to its birth place and race. Embarassing, and sometimes painful, is the modified speedbump story as you cross the finish line on the velodrome at 35mph and with exhilaration and relief you… stop pedalling.Even more heart in mouth, and also sometimes painful, is when some Einstein lays it down in front of you on the velodrome. That little front brake buddy of yours won’t be around to bail you out.Track racing is fun. Riding in ambulances is fun. Wiping your backside after breaking your collarbone is the most difficult, painful task on the planet.

  8. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 10.19.2005 | 9:34 pm

    Don’t you hate it when a P.S. enters your mind after the submit button has been pressed.P.S. The best way to avoid ‘crazy legs’ is the actually pedal through it. Properly pedal… as in try to accelerate. Don’t push down on the front of the pedal stroke because you will actually accelerate, but pull through the bottom and up the back of the pedal stroke. That is where all the roughness is in most peoples pedalling style and it is where the bouncing comes from on a fixie. You will find that it is not the fixie but the cadence causing you to bounce because of your leg motion. If you tried to pedal at 130, 140, 150 rpm on your regular road bike, the bouncing will start at about the same cadence.Fixing the bounce is the same theory as ‘face your fears’. If you are afraid of heights, expose yourself to heights under circumstances you control until you become comfortable. Claustrophobic, ditto. Pedalling like an epileptic at a strobe light convention… pedal through it. Viewing you bike from the right side, the key area of the peal stroke is from 5 o’clock to 11 o’clock.Just don’t try this for the first time on some horrific widowmaker style hill. Just like heights and claustrophobia, start with something you can manage and pull out of if it gets nasty.

  9. Comment by Julie | 10.19.2005 | 9:44 pm

    Hey Fatty -I have been reading your blog (and the rest of your families) for a couple months now and love them all!Keep up the great work!One of these days I am going to have to make the cake and let you know how it turns out.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 10.19.2005 | 10:27 pm

    I have never been seriously hurt on the road bike. Mind you, I have never ridden a fixed gear rig yet, either. I am a bit scared of those first few rides, I must admit. Here’s why. Though I have never been hurt on the road bike, have been hurt numerous times on the mountain bike, but never seriously. Although the potential for the mountain bike accident is always there, and one tempts it as part of the thrill the bike allows one to get out of some nasty situations because it is not a precision instrument–it is a bashmobile. It’s rare that I come home from a mountain bike ride without a cut or a bruise of some kind. Usually they are small, and sometimes they are a little larger–my wife, for instance and her tumble from an 18 ft. cliff. No, it is the road crash that scares me the most. That rare dreaded collision with a car, folding a tire on a 50 mph descent on pavement, a missed curve on the same descent…all those constitute disaster, and potentially, one’s ultimate demise. So, it’s off to ride the road bike home in crazed "I gotta get home at all costs" vehicular traffic…the 12 miles of hell as I have come to know it. I have started carrying rocks in my pockets…just in case.

  11. Comment by Quinn | 10.20.2005 | 12:15 am

    I just felt like commenting… I come to this blog daily…. and I saw "crazy legs"… I had a JV football game on monday and some of the guys were calling me that cause I broke a lot of tackles… lol… It was kinda cool to see somebody else use the phrase.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 10.20.2005 | 12:30 am

    rocky, how have you gone all this time without a serious auger on a road bike? worst i’ve ever done on a mountain bike is break a wrist, chip an elbow, and lose lots (and lots and lots) of skin.but on a road bike. sheesh. first one was when a delivery truck turned in front of me. i went head first into passenger side door and mirror. they say, anyway, i woke up in the ambulance. bike demolished (a beautiful bridgestone rb1), helmet broken in half, concussion, separated shoulder, herniated c5, broken ribs.then, on alpine loop with the fat cyclist, rounding a corner at about 35 mph, driver coming up had a bloody nose, and drifted into the wrong lane (mine) while looking for a tissue. i could a. hit her head on, b. turn right and ride off cliff, or c. lay it down. i layed it down. broke helmet in half, lost lots (and lots, and lots) of skin. rough asphalt. rode bike 20 miles back to work, then drove home. kim made me sell the road bike after that. had to live without a road bike for two years.i went over the bars on a nasty crossover on hog hollow last week. i’m okay, surly karate monkey is okay, but the blackberry has a shattered screen.

  13. Comment by TCP | 10.20.2005 | 12:33 am

    Fatty,Great post today. It explains why I gravitated to road biking so stronlgy after being a mediocre mountain biker for years. A big crash that landed me in the hospital destroyed my confidence and it never fully recovered. You really captured the essence of what it is to ride.How do you post full-sized pictures in the middle of your blog entry instead of those little links at the bottom?Thank you,AC

  14. Comment by Harry | 10.20.2005 | 3:22 am

    Speaking of near misses, just two days ago I was out for one of my normal rides and I nearly got cleaned up by a car. I was heading downhill through a roundabout at about 40kmph, and a car coming from the left didn’t look at all. Naturally I slammed on the brakes, my rear wheel locked and I got a bit of skid action but I managed to stay upright and just miss the front of the car, which thankfully had slammed on the brakes itself by that stage. Scary stuff, but strangly enough I almost found it funny afterwards…

  15. Comment by TCP | 10.20.2005 | 4:46 am

    Fatty,Thanks for the techinal feedback. It worked for me. Keep up the good blog. It’s a bright spot in my day and a great way to procrastinate.AC

  16. Comment by Unknown | 10.20.2005 | 8:27 am

    I get adrenalin just _reading_ this stuff! WOW!

  17. Comment by Unknown | 10.20.2005 | 1:56 pm

    nothing constructivejust here for the amazon gcnow go eat somethingp.s. dug what was you blackberry doing on a ride…for shame

  18. Comment by Unknown | 10.20.2005 | 3:08 pm

    Dug–I guess I am just lucky. I have been run off the road numerous times with lots and lots of near misses. Maybe the mountain bike thing kicks in–I have been able to run out of most of them, or at least roll out. I did skid about 10 meters on my but once…that hurts. When Fatty told me about your crash, I wondered why that lady was picking her nose whilst driving the Alpine Loop. I hope there isn’t bad karma around an announcement that I haven’t been hurt on the road bike. I am on it much more these days than I am on the Mt.

  19. Comment by Unknown | 10.20.2005 | 3:23 pm

    nathanv, think about it. i carry the blackberry, get to the top of a climb, stop for a drink, send an email to my boss, and like magic, riding is working. i would be able to go on way way fewer rides without being connected.but now, sniff, it’s broken. it’s harder to fake a business call when you’re coughing up a lung than to type out a quick email while you enjoy the view from the top of the mountain. corollary: you get good coverage from the wildcat lift at alta too.

  20. Comment by Unknown | 10.20.2005 | 4:59 pm

    dug – and here i thought you were a purist. i dub dug subterfugist

  21. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 10.22.2005 | 7:28 pm

    Last near miss I had was with a Lincoln Navigator. Jackass was driving under the influence of a cell phone when he ran me over the curb and I couldn’t huck it high enough in the pinch and I did a tumble/flip/slam/slide across the pavement just behing the mammoth SUV! I ruined a helmet and the B@st@rd knew he got me ’cause I slapped the sid eof his vehicle to getr his attention as he was crowding me and all he did was flip me the bird! Ruined a helmet, picked the gravel out of my armand leg and slowly rode home because my cell phone was smashed in the crash as well and couldn’t call the wife!

  22. Comment by TIMOTHY | 10.25.2005 | 12:13 am

    I had a spectacular near-miss similar to your Leadville experience. It was one of my first night rides – I got too high on a bermed corner coming down a steep trail, panicked and grabbed too much front brake. The bike nose wheelied and I somehow managed to unclip and hurdle the handlebars. I landed on my feet and reflexively reached back and caught my bike by the seatpost. When my buddy came up I was standing there holding my bike by the seatpost, stunned. I’m still not sure how I did it, but I really wish I had in on video. It would’be been great to see in slo-mo!


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