If I could wave a magic wand and say you’ll never crash again… would you still ride? The snap answer is, ‘Yes of course.’ But then you'd think about it. Then keep saying ‘yes’, looking at me like I’m weird. Eventually you’ll peter out and your silence will grow uncomfortable. As will my stare…
Because I’m not sure you would. At least, not after a while. You’d get bored. Crashing sucks every time, but it’s an intrinsic part of why we ride mountain bikes. It’s part of road riding too, but crashing is still a much bigger aspect of mountain biking.
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Sadly, crashing has to happen. Without risk there’s no reward, just as without ugliness there’s no beauty, without darkness there’s no light and without cheese on toast there’s no Welsh national dish.
This is not to say I’d rather never crash again. It hurts, for one thing. And it often looks comical, for another… perhaps even worse, in our media-soaked world of globally sourced YouTube spectacles and Red Bull Rampage extremes, our own painful smackdowns can just look plain innocuous. It’s hard to bravely tough-out the agony of an explosively loud, tumbling disasterthon when it just looked like you caught your clown shoe in the spokes and fell over.
But if you knew you’d never crash, no matter how bad or stupid or brave you were, where would the thrill be? There’d be no near-misses. There’d be no lightning flashes of luck or inspiration where you thought it was all over but, somehow, your reflexes said otherwise. There’d be no adrenaline. Sure, there’d be no accidentally punching a tree and watching the trailside rocks expand like warheads, but there’d be no sense of pushing at the edges of things either. And isn’t that why mountain biking is so much fun?
It’s a real shame it has to hurt so much, though. Even the masochists among us don’t choose crashing-type pain, they go for the soul-deep pain of their own physical limits. In fact, pain is stupid. You’d think, after so many thousands of years of human evolution, that the surprising levels to which pain can rise would be fixed. Or at least fine-tuned. Okay, we need feedback about doing/not doing things that might kill us, but does it really need to hurt so much?
Or how about instead of physical pain, psychological pain — say, the worst song you ever heard comes screaming from any wounds until they scab over. Imagine The Cheeky Girls coming out of your knee, no matter how many antibiotics you take to make them drowsy. If the song was Can I Touch You There by Michael Bolton, then I for one would never do anything risky again. That song really exists! We live in hell.
The humiliation aspects of crashing also seem excessive, if not as bad as for Michael Bolton’s barber. But if I fall off in the forest and there’s no-one there to see it, do I still feel embarrassed? Obviously yes. Although, that may just be me…
I once crashed on a photoshoot (well, not once…) after I rode off out of sight on a Norco, just to try it out during a lull. I have various excuses, including inappropriate footwear, an unfamiliar bike (on a very rocky section) and, uh… ineptitude.
I found a testing bit of trail along the base of a 20ft cliff, and immediately performed a faceplant so fundamentally solid it probably entered the fossil record. Having caught the chainring and gone straight over the bars, I took another thump as the frame hinged down and stabbed a pedal right through the loop of one (inappropriate) shoelace. I soon realised that, with my foot pinned behind me, I couldn’t actually get up.
I only stopped wriggling when I noticed, peering at me from the cliff above, a party of schoolchildren on a country walk via this otherwise deserted spot. They gazed down, tittering. "Better luck next year, mate," shouted one boy, and they all trooped away.
I’m sure you have your own embarrassing equivalents. Frankly, it seems unnecessary for falling off a bicycle to hurt so much either mentally or physically. Yet I still ride, and so do you, which means that somewhere inside us is a place that’s okay with that. And when the pain’s gone, what stories do you tell your mates to get the biggest laughs? The ones about your best crashes, which in your mind involved you backflipping out of a supernova and landing on your feet. Even though you really only wobbled into a hedge.
So let’s face it. You really wouldn’t ride if you didn’t crash — you’d miss it. You love it!