Saturday, June 2, 2012

More than you wanted to know about a bicycle crash

Since it's still pretty fresh in my memory, allow me to tell you a bit about the results of my carelessness on my bicycle.  I was enjoying a delightful bit of exercise last Monday evening, riding pleasant roads with enough elevation change to be interesting and yet not overwhelming.  A little over half way through my ride, I started down the hill near the west end of Tullamore Road, and looked forward to the rest it would provide for at least the next half mile until the effect of its slope would disappear.

Although I knew there was a fairly sharp corner about halfway down the hill, I neglected to brake until much too late.  By the time I reached the beginning of the turn it was apparent that I would not be able to brake hard enough to stay on the road.  My odometer indicated I reached 36 mph, which was probably just before I began braking.  My path took me to the far side of the right turn where I rode along the guard rail on the left side of the road for a short distance before I was catapulted.  The view of the guard rail below is similar to the last view I had before I closed my eyes.

When I stopped moving and opened my eyes, I was about forty feet further down the road, about fifteen feet down a grassy slope on the other side of the guard rail.  I couldn't see my bike, my helmet was falling off my head, and my back felt stiff just below my shoulder blades.  I climbed up the grassy slope to the road and sat on the guard rail while I tried to stretch my back and push the broken pieces of my helmet together so it would fit on my head.  Since my bike wasn't on the road, I concluded it must be near where I landed in the ditch, so I climbed back down the slope and found it about ten feet further downslope from where I landed.  After I carried it back up to the road, I was surprised to find everything intact on the bike (except the chain which had simply jumped off the chainring) and no damage evident anywhere.  Equally amazing to me was my observation that my only apparent missing skin was on a few fingers of my right hand.  My legs and arms had no cuts or abrasions at all!  After thanking God for preserving my transportation home, I climbed aboard and started down the rest of the hill toward home.

After riding about a half mile, something unfamiliar about my vision made me realize I had lost my glasses in the fall.  As long as there was a small chance I might find them, I had to go back and look.  I knew the probability that I would find the glasses was very low, so I entreated the Lord to bless my efforts and bring me to them.  I searched about half of the area where I had come to rest for about five minutes before the glasses were visible to me again.  God was thanked again.  Now that I had all my possessions, I climbed back on the bike and started the ride home again.

I didn't know the source of the stiffness in my back while I was riding, but it was apparent that I could not comfortably expand my rib cage as far as normal, so my breathing was not as deep as I desired.  X-rays taken by my chiropractor the next day allowed him to diagnose a compression fracture of my T9 vertebra, which is identified by the yellow arrow in the image above.  You can see that vertebra is not as square as the others around it, and is tapered toward the front.  Fortunately, the damage to the bone is concentrated toward the front of my body and not toward the back, and I have no symptoms indicating any damage to my spinal cord.  Several sources indicate spinal cord damage at this location can lead to paralysis below the waist.  Again, I'm grateful for God's mercy in limiting my injury.

It wasn't until I looked in a mirror when I got home that I realized my head was bruised and scraped in this colorful manner.  This picture was taken less than two days after impact, so the color is more severe in some places while less severe in others, but I think you get the idea.  My left shoulder showed similar bruising, and my left ear was pretty beat up, so it was apparent I probably first made impact with earth on those parts of my body.

Since my leg and bicycle showed no indication of contact with the guard rail, I believe the front wheel of my bicycle was probably stopped by some object on the ground while my momentum carried my body over the guard rail in a half flip, ultimately landing on my head.  Since my shoes were clipped to my pedals, I think my flying body must have pulled the bicycle over the guard rail behind me, and as I hit the ground and rolled, the bike must have detached from my shoes and flown over my body down the slope of the ditch.  I don't think my left foot released from the bike pedal easily, as my shoe and its cleat are both damaged in a manner that would suggest a lot of force was required to separate them.  I wish I could have witnessed all the gyrations my body and bike went through, as I think it would have been very interesting to watch.  Again, I'm grateful that God mercifully spared me contact with the guard rail, as I believe my injuries would have been more severe had I hit it.

This view of the inside of my helmet shows the cracks in the front (right side of the image) that resulted when the full weight of my hurtling body forced the helmet into the earth.  I had no dirt or grass stains on the front of my body after the fall, but once I removed my jersey at home, I could see it was covered with dirt and grass stain skid marks on the back.  That evidence suggests I may have quickly rolled on to my back and/or slid down the slope of the ditch primarily on my back.  Given the type of damage to my vertebra, I believe it happened when I first made impact with my head.

Four days after the crash, I returned to the scene to look for more evidence of what happened.  The video below documents a good bit of what I found.

Looking over the scene made me even more aware of God's mercy through this incident as there are plenty of objects I could have contacted that would have caused much more damage than what I suffered.  My chiropractor informs me that my vertebra will require 8 to 12 weeks to heal completely, which should be enough time to remind myself that carelessness sometimes has painful consequences.


  1. Ouch! It is painful to have fun! We are so glad that you are ok. And that you had a helmet on. Take it easy and enjoy that big, fluffy chair for a while. :)
    The Whitakers

  2. Oh my! Glad to hear you are going to be okay. I do believe tricycles are a fairly safe mode of transportation. :) Seriously, though, take it easy and heal well.


    Victoria (for the rest of the family)

  3. Whitakers, Victoria, et al -- thanks for your kind wishes

  4. Just reading your retelling nearly gave me a heart attack.. oh my goodness! Poor Karen and the girls must have been so upset.. if I were her I'd be sorely tempted to lock up that bike o'your'n. Anyway, we here at the Shiffer house are very glad and very grateful to the Lord for your preservation.♥

  5. So thankful it wasn't worse ~ praise the Lord! Hope you recover quickly. Thanks for posting. I'm going to make sure my children read this one. It would be good for them to have a little reality check.

  6. Diane -- thanks for your concern, but don't lock up the poor bike because I was being careless!

    Plattners -- thanks for your kind wishes. I think this was a good reminder that just because I haven't suffered for risky behavior recently doesn't mean I won't get hurt next time!