There are some metaphors or similes too obvious to avoid. One of them is the parallel between the word “brake” and “break.”
Sometimes while cycling we use our brakes in a calculated manner. Approaching an intersection or a corner we instinctively brake to slow down.
In a criterium bike race however, we cyclists seek to lay off the brakes in any way we can. Heading into a turn we choose instead to lean rather than break. We take the curve at high speeds in the same arc as the other riders and come out flying at the end of the turn. Then we hope to catch a break by hiding in the draft of another rider. The longer we let them break the wind for us, the easier it is to go fast.
But sometimes we are truly forced to hit the brakes. Someone makes a mistake in a race or worse yet, on your local street. You get cut off or have to stop suddenly. Then you are thankful for your brakes, for certain. Otherwise you crash.
God Bless brakes
We too often take our brakes for granted. Those little pads of hardened rubber next to our bike wheels save us from a lot of misery and pain.
One time while riding a prairie path east of my home the trail dipped down suddenly and there was a street at the bottom. Just I crested that hill a vehicle showed up in my peripheral vision and I reflexively hit the brakes. Hard. My wheels skidded down the incline as the car whooshed past. I sat there thinking, “I could have been killed.”
Of course sometimes braking is the worst thing you can do. My bike wobble incident taught me that. Shooting down a hill in Wisconsin at 40+ miles an hour, my bike frame started to wobble uncontrollably when I reached a section of rough road. It had set up the frame harmonics just right (or quite wrong). When that happens you’re not supposed to brake. You instead pinch the frame between your knees, let up on the brakes and try to get the bike under control using pedaling.
Even while running I’ve had to hit the brakes now and then. This is rhetorical of course. The only brakes we have are our feet, legs and arms. But while leading a race one time I came to an intersection and the lead police vehicle came to a sudden stop. I piled over the back hood of the vehicle and wound up lying on my stomach. Then I jumped back down and ran around the cop car. He shrugged. “I thought I saw a car coming through!” he yelled.
We all get into circumstances where we think we see things and jump at the sight. If we’re lucky, we brake in time. If not, we hit a tree like I did last summer. Never a chance to hit the brakes on that one. Just 20 mph one minute and zero the next. Let me tell you folks, that hurts.
Give me a break
Yet despite these incidents my attitude is that they could all have been much worse. I really have caught a break several times. It has made me more cautious on the bike for sure. My habits while running are built up from 40 years of experience and there are a whole set of checks and precautions used to avoid trouble on the roads.
We run and ride because it’s enjoyable. But if we like to go fast, the risks go up. That’s part of the deal. That’s why we have brakes, literally and figuratively. Sometimes it even pays to take a break when you’re actually too tired to be out running or riding. That’s when we lose attention and sometimes pay the price. Then things really do break. Bike frames. Bones.
We wish you nothing of the sort. But if you have the experience like I did with a broken collar bone, may you have a surgeon that knows how to set you back up in good stead.