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The Fast and the Injurious

As far back as I can remember, it seemed that I always owned a bike. I mean, what kid didn’t love riding around all over the neighborhood growing up? And biking to high school sure beat walking for 20 minutes.

Things changed a bit in university. I drove in, TCB’d and drove back out. It wasn’t until I went off to grad school in Toronto in 2003 that the opportunity to own une bicyclette presented itself again.

I was a month or so into my studies and had already grown accustomed to walking 6-7km a day. Then, randomly one day, a street person approached me and asked if I wanted to purchase a cruiser-style bike. I impulsively replied that I only had $20 and he immediately said “sold!” It hit me at that point that the bike was obviously stolen but the guy looked kind of sketchy and drugged out, so before I knew it, I was ponying up a green QE and riding off in a fairly crappy but ok 21-gear no-name black bike.

Later that year, I met Jay Robbins. He would become a good friend of mine and had some stints as a bike courier. We began to bike dangerously together all over the GTA, and it was good times—until the spills started happening. The thing about a spill is, you don’t really know when it’s going to happen. Sometimes you might genuinely be doing something stupid or dangerous but other times it could be completely innocuous.

In my downtown Toronto riding career, I had thus far avoided the main rookie pitfall – the infamous TTC streetcar tracks. Almost every cyclist I knew had at one point or another gotten their wheels caught in them, as they are laid out at all sorts of angles at intersections across town. Anyhow fuck the TTC. I was boycotting them for reasons I can explain later but the main point here is that my first accident happened biking down a one way.

Admittedly I was going the wrong way, but it was a minor side street on the west side of town (WS4L bitches). There was this guy walking right in the middle of the street about 20 yards away. He was eating something and had big headphones on. As I approached, I yelled out, “yo!” But the guy couldn’t hear me and now, even though I had slowed down a bit, I was only about 6 or 7 yards away. It was a pretty narrow street with cars parked on the side, so I had to quickly decide whether I wanted to pass him to the left or right.

Right as I made my move left, the fucking guy unexpectedly starts walking in the same direction. At this point, I had a choice—my brakes were absolute shit so I could either speed up to try to squeeze by him or rapidly turn right and try missing him on the other side. Thinking I would likely plow right into his back if I continued course, I hurriedly turned right just after I had turned left. It was an awkward move and I fucked it up royally. My left shoulder caught the back of his shoulder, or something to that effect. I wobbled a bit and as I tried to regain control, crashed into a parked car, falling over the hood. It was quite dramatic-looking.

The guy seemed fine and asked if I was ok and offered me a Coke from his bag. It wasn’t a diet, so I turned it down. The bike seemed more or less ok and I took off quick before some crazy Italian guy came out to inspect possible car damage.

Once you have an accident, I think your decision-making as a cyclist improves. The reckless invincibility is gone and sure, you might have the occasional booze-cruise crash into a lamp post (yeah that happened more than once) but overall, you tend to be a bit more cautious. So when I was literally run off the road by a cab going down Yonge Street later in the summer, I had to re-assess.

My bike and my knee were fucked this time. The bloody driver’s passenger side mirror was rammed right into my handle bars on a very poor lane change attempt and I crashed into the curb and rolled a bit towards the sidewalk. Luckily I was wearing tough jeans. A bit in shock, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Many bystanders gathered around and asked if they should call an ambulance. The contents of my backpack were strewn all over the sidewalk. I claimed I was ok and starting walking around. The cab driver gave me his card as I tried to memorize his licence plate number, not thinking clearly.

I locked my mangled bike to a post and decided to go into a nearby Starbucks. I went with the Pike and a chocolate chunk cookie. Why the fuck not. The barista said my forearm was bleeding. I enjoyed the cookie, while wondering if I should go to the doctor and called the same taxi company for a ride home (I mean, I had the cabbie’s card after all).

After that, I decided to hang up ‘em up. I had gotten far too use to the high adrenalin city riding without realizing how seriously I was at risk. I didn’t ever wear a helmet and it was obvious to me that the margins for error were slim. Maybe it was stolen bike karma but in any event, I liked walking so I was happy to return to pedestrianism.

Now it wasn’t until I met my wife (a triathlete) that the topic came up again. It was 2010 and she asked about my cycling history and encouraged me to get a bike so that we could go on some rides. I was in Ottawa now, and bought myself a pretty sweet Trek Alpha 2.3. We went on some rides and took our bikes to various spots in Ontario and it was good to be introduced into the world of responsible adult cycling. But overall, the weather there was shit for the sport. It was either far too cold or far too hot for most of the year.

The bike become expensive furniture over time and I got more into bodybuildling. We moved to Vancouver in 2012, had kids and it became all about strollers and other stuff. Both of our bikes collected dust for years it seemed as we sidelined any serious training pursuits. As our kids grew older, my wife resumed her triathlete activities. I had basically lost interest in cycling but for some reason agreed to do the Fraser Valley Gran Fondo with her earlier this year.

It was a 50km course through Fort Langley and surrounding towns. I literally had not gotten on my bike in like 7 years. I was in very good shape though and was confident that it wouldn’t be a big deal. I even got fitted and tuned up before the event. I mean, my body fat percentage was pretty low, what could possibly go wrong?

As the ride progressed that day, she was doing pretty good. I was clearly slowing her down and threatened to quit numerous times, struggling to maintain the agreed upon (easy for her) 25km/hour pace. By 25km, I was fucking doneskies. All these smaller muscles that never get used were aching badly. I was like Clay on Sons of Anarchy. My fucking hands were killing. I could barely even hold the handle bars anymore.

And then, the sheer pointlessness of the pursuit. Gearing down for the hills, pedalling like crazy and then being relieved for the downhill, only to do it over and over again. My fucking legs were on fire and I started to despise the hills so much that I was trying to maximize the downhills as much as I could. I would just keep pedalling as much as I could in the highest gear and lowering my head down to get more aerodynamic. I figured that I was saving energy and would be going into the next hill with a higher speed.

It seemed to be working out until my lack of course study totally fucked me. About 10km from the finish, there was a massive descent, which unbeknownst to me, went straight into a hairpin turn. I started braking halfway down when I realized what I was in for. I had no disc brakes so I was fucked. I just kept pumping the breaks as much as I could while trying to maintain control of the cycle. I veered into the oncoming traffic lane though eventually but dodged my first bullet as no cars were coming.

Then, I went off the road completely and onto the gravel. At that point, my speed was still way too high and I knew the gig was up. I was only halfway into the turn and decided to twist my feet out of my clip-in pedals. And then, all I remember was rolling a shit load of times in this narrow grassy area. When I came out of it, my bike was a good 15 meters ahead of me. I could feel the road rash stinging all over my body and didn’t even want to know if back, knees or anything else was fucked. So I just laid there for a bit.

The cyclists behind me were very concerned having witnessed what went down. They called for the medics, who came very fast. They wanted to stretcher me off and told me not to move but at that point I said that I was fine and got up and started walking around. I was obviously bleeding somewhere under my white full-sleeve running shirt, as it was all red (and green from grass stains) now. Everyone seemed shocked. Somehow my bike seemed largely fine as well. The bike mechanic was on-hand and straightened out my brakes.

My wife was concerned but I got back on and decided to finish the race. We were in the middle of farm country and regretted turning down the assistance from the medical response team (in terms of transportation). We went another 5km and then her front tire got punctured. Figuring out how to change it took ages. Some people stopped by and sorted us out. Wasn’t our day.

Afterwards, my wife said she couldn’t believe the whole thing. She said that when she began her descent she was clocking in around 60km/hr pretty soon thereafter and was flabbergasted to see me zoom right by her. According to my Garmin, I hit 80km/hr. Seems hard to believe. I was very close to hitting a huge tree or a fence. I have no idea how I walked away.

The real slap in the face though was at the beer garden after the race. I was looking forward to a well-earned brewskie. It was some B.C. microbrew sponsor of course. I went with the blonde—one drink was free with our inflated registration fee. But as I sat on the grass to take a sip. Hops. Motherfuckers. Have to add excessive hops to everything. Not what a pale, ailing Indian needed.

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