Sep 182011

I’m happy to report that I haven’t fallen very many times on my bike. But I have fallen. Two laws caused some of my falls: Murphy’s and Gravity. Additional factors:

  • Learning to ride with my shoes clipped to my pedals.
  • My stepdaughter wobbling toward me with her bike when I was clipped in and standing in a large pack of people on the celebratory ride for the opening of the Southeast Boulevard bike lane; I couldn’t get out of her way and fell over.
  • Running into the back of the vehicle ahead of me when it stopped unexpectedly in the middle of an intersection. This one resulted in blood and Band-Aids. The nice man driving the pick-up stopped and rolled down his window to check that I was okay and didn’t need any help. Bless you, Mr. Nice Driver. May your number increase.
  • Some mysterious thing that happened to my chain so it jammed just as I started to proceed eastbound on Sprague at its intersection with Division when the light changed. This one ruined a perfectly good pedicure (I was wearing open-toed sandals and scraped my toes falling over). It also scared the living daylights out of me since that’s a terribly busy intersection with a ghost bike just across the street from where I fell. Fortunately—and for a change—another thoughtful driver behind me had left plenty of room and wasn’t right on top of me when I fell.

You will notice a common theme in these (ahem) incidents: They’re pretty much all my fault.

A couple of tips to prevent falling down, at least for the reasons I fell:

I wear regular shoes when I ride. This isn’t because I failed to master the clicky kind; it’s just less hassle because this way I don’t have to change my shoes when I get to work and I hate hassles.

I share this shoe thought because if someone has told you that you need to get those special shoes to be a “real” cyclist, you can laugh merrily (like that scene in “Mary Poppins”) and say, “Oh, but I’m not a cyclist. I’m someone who rides my bike.”

Leave room between you and the vehicle in front of you. There’s a tendency to try to take as little room as possible on the road and squeeze up, but if you do this you’re not allowing yourself any margin for error if the driver stops suddenly or an issue with the bike emerges out of nowhere, like my mysteriously jammed chain.

A little trick my sweetheart taught me: While you’re waiting at a stop, bring one pedal up about halfway, to the 3:00 position. For me that’s usually my left foot, for some reason, as I stand on my right foot.

When the light changes or it’s your turn and you start pedaling, having this pedal up a bit gives you some immediate forward momentum without that wobbly part where you push off from the ground with your foot and have to achieve balance on the bike while bringing your foot clear up to the top of the pedal height, and you can get your other foot onto the second pedal while you’re already rolling.

Don’t ride too close to other people on bikes. Now, once you’ve mastered drafting in the peloton, you’re on your own as far as figuring out what constitutes a safe distance.

Meanwhile, though, that other person may be more wobbly than you are, messing with a loose something, or completely ignoring the world around him/her and not aware of your proximity. Leave some room. (Yes, people on bikes do the unmindful thing the same way drivers do, but it’s a lot stupider for us since we’re more vulnerable. Wake up, people!)

Look down the road. If you’re focused on the obstacles right in front of you, you don’t see the ones a bit further ahead in time to steer safely around them. (Whoa–that’s even good advice for life.)

A dark car parked in the bike lane on a shady street at the wrong time of day can be darn near invisible. I haven’t fallen yet as a result but I’ve come close as I wrenched my bike around a “surprise” obstacle in my path at the last possible moment.

As Lance Armstrong reportedly said, “If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on.” In parting, I often say that riding a bike lets you recapture that feeling of being a kid. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I often had a skinned knee.

If your riding skills are rusty—or if you’re learning to clip your shoes to the pedals—you may want to practice your technique next to some nice soft grass for a while before you venture out into the street. Just sayin’.

And here’s a bunch of pictures of people falling off their bicycles.


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • If you’re a new rider, is falling down one of the things you worry about? (Perhaps I just introduced a brand-new fear that hadn’t even occurred to you. Whoops.)
  • If you’ve been riding a while, how many falls have you had that were 100% your doing? What happened?
Sharing is karma--pass it along!

Reader Comments

  1. Here I am almost a year late to this post… But oh well.

    I bought a nice woman’s bike, and I’ve been commuting to work (10 miles a day!). I’m starting my third week of that, and today I was brave enough to try clipping in to my new pedals that my LBS put on this past weekend. I did just like you said – I practiced in the yard for a while before I left for work!

  2. I love that moment when you’re stopping at the intersection, feeling like a Very Serious Biker, and then feel yourself begin to tip over in slow-motion with feet still stuck in the clips.

    I would add to your list that nobody has to know the REAL story about how you got that gnarly scar — spin it right and you can get some serious street cred from “shark attack/bear fight/saving a school bus of children” scars that you actually got falling off your bike.

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