After the Fall
After the Fall
BY ROBIN STUART
If you ride a bike, it will happen to you. It doesn't matter whether your tires are smooth or knobby, if you ride once a week or every day, or if you ride alone or in groups: It will happen to you. You may even have learned how to do it in a way that keeps the damage to a minimum, secretly believing that as long as you are cautious, you will never be called on to perform the technique.
And then, when you least suspect it, it happens. To you. One minute, you're enjoying the great outdoors, and the next, your blood is mixed with dirt or asphalt in bicycling's baptism.
As a writer and teacher of things treadular, I'm often asked to speak on behalf of my gender as to the greatest difference between women and men. Although I usually balk at generalizations that include more than 20 million people, after much contemplation, I think I've come up with at least one real answer: crashing.
Most of the differences are so obvious that they become moot. Physical structure and physiological distinctions have been bandied about ad nauseam. "Muscle mass, blah, blah, blah. Fat cells, blah, blah, blah. Pelvic bones, blah, blah, blah." You want to know what truly divides the sexes? Simple psychology. Women think differently than men. Women are more afraid of crashes.
Before all those hard-core, my-scars-are-bigger-than-his-scars gals start warming up their fax machines and home computers to lambaste this appraisal, let me just add that it's a question of degrees. Some women are more afraid than others, and some types of crashes frighten us more than others. The fact remains, however, that we seem to think about it more than guys.
How did I arrive at this revelation? Aside from my personal experiences with ultra-sensitivity to Earth's gravitational pull, it's based on the questions I've heard in my all-women classes and from neophyte female friends. The most popular one is a two-parter: "What about crashing? Does it hurt?" I can't recall any male acquaintances voicing similar concerns.
In responding to students and comrades alike, I try to sound as chipper as possible while visibly horrifying them with the truth: "Sometimes."
Still on the fence? Flip your channel to ESPN and watch a downhill mountain bike race. I did this one day in 1996. There was Jimmy Deaton tearing down a mountain wearing his teeny-tiny knee pads better suited to light carpentry. There was Dave Cullinan with his cute little Kevlar knee- and shin-guard cutouts sewn tastefully into his spandex pants below his team jersey. Then I saw (barely) Kim Sonier beneath her layers of body armor. And who was that looking like one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all plastic joints and webbed ventilators? Oh, Regina Stiefl.
Yeah, sure, you're thinking. What about Missy Giove? She's a woman and she's not afraid to crash.
Correction: Missy is not afraid of anything.
Please don't think I'm passing judgment--I'm merely stating an observation. I've talked to many women, and been there myself, and the one common theme is our hyperawareness of terra firma and its hold over us, or under us, as the case may be.
But it's not such a bad thing. After all, realizing your fear holds the key to its resolution. The very nature of our chosen sport is to guide us on a collision course, so to speak, to our own enlightenment and ultimate freedom. Girls and women everywhere are being liberated daily, forced to face their fears by the occasional pratfall into a thorn bush or knee skid on a sidewalk. Why, as you read this, there's probably a woman examining a new flesh wound somewhere in the world, regarding her torn skin with a mixture of pain and pride.
To this woman, and all of us like her, I say, "Celebrate." Use the experience, learn from it, and most important, become a better rider because of it. Respect your chosen terrain but try not to fear it. Revel in the knowledge that the next time your biking buddies compare battle scars, you'll have something to bring to the table. If you scraped a leg, wear shorts. If you banged up an elbow, wear T-shirts. Be proud. It happened, and yet you survived.
But I am a woman. I have to give in to my feminine nature and add: Ride within your abilities, and always wear your helmet.