I stumbled across a man about my age lying bleeding in the alley with his bicycle on the ground a few feet away. His eyeglasses scattered in smithereens on the ground. A young man approached me looking distraught and asked if I would mind watching the victim, his father, while he went to get his car so he could take him to the ER at the hospital. I agreed.
First of all this was unnerving to see a man around my age who had obviously been biking lying on the ground a bloody mess. The words, there but for the grace of god … rolled through my mind. I ride my bike in this same place every day of my life.
I inventoried his condition. A gash about 1-1/2 inches above his eye bleeding that was going to need at least a dozen stitches. Obviously, his face had hit the alley. Both hands bloody and dirty with pieces of broken glass and other debris obvious. His elbow was also bleeding. I was dying to ask how it happened, but didn’t want to disturb him as he lay there in obvious pain.
It wasn’t long before his son came and helped him into the car. They locked up the bike on a nearby rail.
As I exited the scene, his injuries kept flashing in front of me. I don’t think of myself as squeamish, but seeing blood running from him in several places had unnerved me. The last bad fall I had on my bike was in September 2011. Briefly, I took a turn too sharply on wet tires and the bike slid out from under me. I had a brutal four point landing. The asphalt roared up and smashed my knee, elbow, shoulder and head. I thought I had broken my collar bone as I had a hard time moving my right shoulder. I am not going to recount the whole thing now. If you are interested you can read all the details here.
Besides the pain of that fall, my most vivid memory was the sound click, click when my head bounced off the asphalt. Yes, I was wearing a helmet.
Thinking about the fall, the aftermath of which I had just witnessed, it occurred to me that the man’s terribly bloody dirty hands had been bare when he went down. His hands took much of the force of the fall. A light bulb went off in my head. He hadn’t been wearing cycling gloves! That’s why all the blood and mess!
Likewise, his head. He experienced serious physical damage because he hadn’t been wearing a helmet. As I didn’t see the fall, I couldn’t say whether a helmet would have saved his glasses, but I am certain that he wouldn’t have the bloody gash over his eye if he had.
In all my years of riding (from age 7 to my current 75) it had never occurred to me that biking gloves actually protected your hands. I always thought they had the thick padding to help absorb your weight as you leaned on the handle bars while riding. I do know that you can dismount and lift the bike and spin a wheel and cover it with your gloved hand to safely remove pieces of glass you might have picked up. But I thought that was all the gloves were good for. Duh!
Looking back on my bad fall, I had gone over sideways rather than face first, so I didn’t have to try and protect myself by shoving my hands in front of me as he had.
Regarding the helmet, the first thing the doctor asked me at the ER was had I lost consciousness. I hadn’t I think because the helmet took the force of my fall. Click, click.
Regular readers know that I am a regular year ‘round bike rider here in Chicago. I have encouraged readers to try cycling or any other activity that gets you moving. I still feel the same way, but realize that there is nothing sadder or more frustrating than to get hurt while exercising.
So, if you are thinking of taking up bike riding or you ride regularly, PLEASE get yourself a helmet and a pair of biking gloves – and wear them every time you go out. You don’t want to set yourself back if you should have the bad luck to fall. It can happen to you.