Thursday, 27 September 2012

My Season Ends with a Bang

Regular readers will know I have a great enthusiasm for road racing.  Certainly my enthusiasm exceeds my aptitude.  There is an element of risk of course.  However in 5 years I have never before crashed or, perhaps more importantly, caused a crash in a race.  The racing provides an impetus for the dogged miles I put in commuting which, given the hostile environment of the roads particularly in and around Hounslow, I am hard pushed to portray as an unallured pleasure.

Lat Sunday Willesden CC put on a road race on the Great Milton Circuit in Oxfordshire.  It is a course I know very well and I earmarked it some months ago as a race I could finish.  Sadly I didn't.

I cannot tell you much about the race.  I have only small 'islands' of memory from around 0945 to around 1600 last Sunday.  Reference to my Garmin tells me I crashed at 1030 on a long wide stretch of road in Chalgrove.  I have a few short snapshots of the race, one short snapshot in an ambulance, another in the ICU at John Radcliffe, Oxford, one in an MRI scanner, one in Major Injuries and finally in Minor Injuries where uninterrupted continuous memory finally returned and I waited the rest of the day to get my wounds stitched up.

The distribution of damage to my body and clothing (and the very limited damage to the bike) suggests I went down onto my head and the back of my hands (possibly still gripping the drops) then flipped onto my left shoulder and side.  Eye witness accounts inform me that for no very obvious reason, a rider fell sideways into the road in front of me.  I imagine my front wheel stopped more or less instantaneously on hitting him flipping me and the bike over.

I have considerable litigation experience of head injury cases so I know this was, thankfully, a minor traumatic brain injury.  I can only have been unconscious for moments after the impact because I am told I started making an awful fuss, though my notes suggest I did follow this up with a 7 minute period of unconsciousness in the ambulance.  The prognosis for full recovery from a minor head injury is excellent (I have a personal conviction that long term consequences from a minor head injury, as often alleged in a Court, are more likely to be psychogenic than organic, though not all neurologists would agree).  It will though take a few days, as with my other injuries, to quite get back to normal.  Unfortunately I have had to work over the last 3 days (though thankfully from home) but I will now be taking time off to accelerate the recovery process.

In the meantime I am stuck with low mood (why me??), anger, queasiness and irritability.  The best cure for a depressed mood is getting out on my bike but that is an option that realistically is not open to me for a few days yet.  I have a few months to contemplate whether I will race again.  In the past when I had thought of the crash which would inevitably come some time, I had thought of roadrash, possibly a broken collar bone, not of landing forcefully onto my head with the awful risk of serious brain or spinal damage which that entails.  I feel I was unlucky to the point when I was flying through the air but then I was lucky that it was not a lot worse.

Roadracing does involve a huge degree of trust in your fellow competitors.  I trust all the people that I have got to know racing to handle themselves and their bikes well in a bunch.  Before I started racing I spent a summer going to training sessions run weekly by Prime Coaching at Hillingdon.  I highly recommend such preparation to any one who is considering taking up racing for the first time.

I suppose I have got to mention my helmet.  It is mangled.  Did it save my life as the nurse in the minor injuries unit confidently asserted to me?  I am sceptical.  My brain injury was caused by the sudden deceleration of my head which I doubt the helmet did much to ameliorate.  Certainly it saved me lacerations and roadrash to the scalp.  As always it is wiser to seek to avoid the impact rather than to put one's faith in protective gear.

Apologies to those who you who have found normal service to my blog interrupted.   Finally thanks to the road race organisers, first aiders, marshals, passers-by, fellow racers (especially the few who stepped forward with accounts of what happened) and wife who picked up the pieces.

Postscript: the rider who fell in front of me was permitted to leave the scene and was not identified in any subsequent incident report.  Accordingly neither I, nor British Cycling officials, will ever know what caused him to fall, save that it was getting wet and his rear wheel was seen to slip outward.  I feel it is a pity that he was not asked for an explanation and, if appropriate, given advice.  All of us involved in the great sport of racing should be striving to reduce the risk of this kind of incident to the lowest level we possibly can.


  1. Eek! Hope you're back soon.

  2. Sorry to hear about your crash, hope you're back on 2 wheels soon and this doesn't put you off racing again. In the meantime might I suggest trying a bit of gentle mountain biking, away from all the traffic is a lot less stressful.

  3. I was in that race. The guy who went down for no obvious reason was right in front of me. Now, I could be wrong, but I think he was having a gel or a drink, touched the wheel in front of him, wobbled and completely lost control of his bike. The only reason I didn't hit him is because he fell to the side, completely out of my path. I didn't even have to swerve an inch. I looked around and saw someone go over the handlebars as they hit him. Strange that it turns out to be someone whose blog I've been reading for a couple of years. Sorry to hear about your injuries. The crash didn't look too bad at the time.

    1. Thanks for that. All snippets of information are gratefully received.

  4. Sorry to hear about your crash, what terrible bad luck - this sort of thing is so rare, even in road racing.

    I wonder if you could you send your crashed helmet to a laboratory for analysis? We could learn so much from detailed analysis of helmets that have been involved in crashes, from the amount the polystyrene has compressed, to other damage shown. But as far as I'm aware no-one does any post-crash helmet analysis, a huge waste of potentially life-saving information gathering.

    1. I am very happy to donate my helmet to any lab that wishes to examine it. I will put up a few photos to see if it excites anybody's interest.

    2. I'd be fascinated. I've been trying to find examples of helmets that have functioned as designed; while many break very few seem to crush.

      Very best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  5. Crikey... the state of that helmet!

    I'm getting a bit sick of these crashes. Almost every race, someone goes down in front of me, this one was yet another narrow escape! You may do 30% less work when drafting someone but sometimes I think I'd rather do the extra work and lose the race than risk crashing because of someone else.

    1. I would very much like to know more about the circumstances of the accident and would be most grateful if you could contact me. mp'at'2tg 'dot' co 'dot' uk.

  6. Hi Martin,

    I can only echo what others have said in terms of getting well soon.

    I had a pretty bad crash in March this year. I wasn't racing but I either had a speed wobble or a rear blowout whilst descending a hill at 35mph and faceplanted the road and was then stopped by a wall. In the ambulance I said to the paramedic "I'll probably take tomorrow off and then go back to work". He laughed at the time, in hindsight I know why. Recovery can take a while, longer than you might think.

    You might find a loss of mobility, especially annoying if you get it in your neck as you'll feel a lot less safe on the road.

    Even worse, you may find yourself suffering a loss of confidence whilst out riding, and it does take a while to fully get it back.

    The best advice I got from a friend who got knocked off his bike by a car was "take it steady and don't push it".

    In the end I had a month off the bike.

  7. Sorry to hear about this. Get well soon. Suspect you're right on the long term impact of concussion but I suffered depression for some weeks after getting knocked off by a bus. Remain aware of the cause and know it will pass and you'll be ok.

  8. Sorry to hear about you experiences and I hope you are feeling better and back on your bike soon. I was wondering what had happened to the site all I could get was a notice saying it was by invitation only.

    As this post is about rider safety and indirectly about cycle helmets I hope no one thinks I am diverting things if I talk about the effectiveness or otherwise of helmets. The type of accident Martin had is probably one of the few where wearing a helmet would have made a significant difference.

    Helmets work (I hope I am not teaching anyone to suck eggs here) by slowing the rate at which a speeding head de-aceletates on meeting an immovable object. They do this deforming. The more they deform the smaller the impact on the head and its contacts. Even quite a small deformation by the helmet can have a significant impact on reducing the rate of de-acceleration and so severity of head injury.

    Think about it, no helmet and the head will stop almost instantly any deformation will be in the cranium itself, i.e. a skull fracture, with all of the potential damage that can cause (damage to the meninges, haemorrhage etc etc). As the technology improves it is to be hoped that newer, lighter and more crash absorbent materials will be developed that will do the job better.

    Until then we will have to rely on good old expanded polystyrene with a plastic cover but I think that nurse in the A&E dept was probably right in this case it could and probably would have been far worse with out a helmet.

  9. I'm terribly sorry to hear about this, Martin. I can only imagine how scary it must feel at the moment. The comments about loss of confidence are correct too, I think. I got knocked off a couple of times in quick succession in London in early 2009 and it made me far more cautious in my riding.

    I hope you start to feel much better soon and are able to get out riding again.

    On the discussion about helmets, incidentally, I can only imagine that the helmet was very helpful under these circumstances. Expanded polystyrene is very good at deforming under these circumstances and I would think it would have done a lot to cushion the impact of the blow on your head.

    All the best,


  10. So sorry to hear this! Nothing to add except get well soon (I'm not going to wade into the helmet debate). I did notice the blog was private for a day or two last week (I compile the cycling Embassy blog roundup so am a regular visitor) and I'm glad to see it back up and running again

  11. Martin

    I've long followed your blog but never commented before. I once went to one of your seminars on cycling injuries to lawyers at Leigh Day & Co when I was paralegalling there.

    The sport is inherently risky, although it sounds like you have been simultaneously unlucky and lucky here. I'm very sorry to hear about it and I hope you make a full recovery and get back in the saddle as soon as you are able.


  12. Now i realise why the blog was inaccessible (i'm one who emailed and asked you about it). Like all, I am very sorry to hear of this accident while you were doing the racing that you obviously enjoy so much. Take it carefully but i do hope you get back on two wheels in due course. M.

  13. Thank you to everyone for your good wishes, they are much appreciated. I just got the stitches out of my face and was back on the bike (before noticing the cracked frame!) so well down the road to recovery. Better a crash in a race than anything involving a motor vehicle.

  14. May I add my best wishes for your speedy recovery, both to good health & good racing form!


  15. Glad to hear you are better. You may find that lots of sleep helps; I had an auto-assisted header about 35 years ago (hit and run, of course) and recall being temporarily able to nap in the daytime for a period of quite a few weeks.

    I second the proposal to the helmet analyzed; it did not look (to my unprofessional eye, from photos only) like it did much. When I was a kid I recall a friend of mine getting in an accident where it clearly did perform exactly as advertised; the foam shell was permanently deformed down to about a quarter-inch thickness, and the shell cracked in half. It is that extra 3/4 inch of deceleration that reduces peak acceleration and is asserted to make the difference between a serious concussion and an even worse outcome. The friend walked away from his crash; perhaps "bell rung", but no worse. Perhaps modern helmets are made of a different foam that recovers after compression -- this also would be good to know.

  16. Oh thanks Porter to have this blog. You now all right. Injuries generally occur in cycling and we can't prevent it directly. But the courage lies in the event of facing these dangers to most. Hope you are now OK and have forgotten these incidents too. I really appreciated all your work and on blog about the cycling phobia round everywhere and really it is too interesting a fact. By God's grace be ready so that you are again write something on your new topic on cycling.