Well after watching some of the Tour de France this month, I wanted to relate one of my own cycling near-death experiences. A couple of months ago I was eager to go out in the early evening for a quick bike ride. It was typical southern summer weather: hot, humid, with frequent afternoon thunderstorm cells popping up. I’ve come to rely on one of the popular weather apps for the iPhone which typically does an excellent job of predicting when it’s going to rain. When I checked the app, it didn’t describe any nearby storm cells by radar, so I clicked in and started off.
My route from home always involves some early stinger hills up which I trudged. When I got to the top of that ridge, I noticed the sky to the southwest was getting darker-not a good sign. I went on for a few more minutes, but then the color ahead changed to a deep purple blue and began to boil, with thunder booming to my right. Time to turn around . . .I started to book it home, but in a couple of minutes those telltale fat plops of rain began to splat and sizzle on the pavement. Oh, so I’m going to get a little wet, I thought, no big deal. Only a little wet turned into a lot of wet very quickly. This was one of those quintessential gully-washing, cats and dogs, mad Englishman downpours that obliterated all vision. I struggled on and came to the top of the ridge. There wasn’t really any place to take cover, so I decided to go on, heading down and back home.
As I frequently tell my overweight patients, you can’t violate the laws of physics (calories in > calories out = fat). Well, water + wheel rims = poor braking on a bike. And did I mention the 30 mph cross-wind? So now I’m screaming down the hill at about 25 mph with the road awash in rain, my brake calipers crushed with all my grip strength, the wind howling, unable to control my speed as I approach the last turn at the bottom. “There’s no way I’m going to make this turn” I think to myself. Slowly I start to drift right, toward the edge of the road surface. A large ditch beckons with hazards unknown. The whole bike starts to chatter, and then I have a small flash of inspiration. I clamp the top tube between my legs, decreasing the vibration, which allows me to just barely maneuver around the turn and into a safer, straighter stretch of roadway. Drivers approach me in the opposite lane and must think I’m loony–but they don’t stop, either. I limp home, grateful to have avoided road rash, fractured bones or worse. I don’t tell anyone how close I came to a major accident. Until now.