The butterfly effect is the concept that small causes can have large effects. Initially, it was used with weather prediction but later the term became a metaphor used in and out of science. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
I went down in a minor bike accident while ushering a young rider through his second real road bike ride. It wasn’t his fault really. It was windy and he was trying to hear instructions on where to turn next. He simply hit the brakes suddenly. I veered to miss hitting him but did not quite complete the maneuver and tumbled to the ground.
It’s all good now. Not the young rider’s fault, for sure. During my first year of riding I was similarly trying to follow instructions when I misunderstood directions on where to turn from a experienced rider and plowed right into him. The impact knocked him off the bike and he struck the ground with an elbow. The wound bled down his arm for ten miles until the blood coagulated at his wrist. Confusion on the bike can result in accidents. But that’s what they are: accidents.
It happens when we’re green.
The impact knocked the wind out of me. I sat there trying to catch my breath. It took thirty seconds to get it back together. For a few moments it was like being a prisoner in my own body.
Chrysalis of pain
Days later my chest is still sore. I really hit the handlebars hard. Same with my right hand. The actual night of the fall my right wrist hurt like crazy. I iced it for two hours. The wrist healed up enough to do rides of 40 and 65 miles on Saturday and Sunday. But it felt like I was emerging from a chrysalis of pain.
Look at those Tour riders getting into crashes all the time. All it takes is a touch of tires in the peloton and anywhere from two to fifty riders can wind up involved. We don’t think much of such falls, and the pros usually jump up and ride away. But they still hurt.
Slow or fast
Even experienced riders can fall badly at very slow speeds. But when you ramp up the pace to 35 or 40 miles an hour, things get hairy in a hurry. Watching Richie Porte crash on that mountain road during the Tour de France was agonizing. First his tire grabbed some soft gravel on the left side of the road. Then his bike pitched right and he cut on an angle taking out Dan Martin before slamming flat against the rock wall on the other side. I cannot imagine how much that hurt.
Or how long it must be taking Richie to recover. A crash at that speed, and of that magnitude, can disable a rider for some time. During the Tour we heard the story of Taylor Phinney who broke his leg badly in a crash with a guardrail. At one point they thought he might not even walk again. Yet he trained back into shape and led the inaugural stage of the Tour for many miles before the group passed him for the bunch sprint.
I was fortunate that nothing actually broke the other day. One of my best friends snapped a finger last spring and his broken hand took months to heal. He was going only 10 mph when the surface of a bridge slickened by fog caused his tires to go out from beneath him. He could not shake hands for months.
My own right had was quite sore this weekend, a familiar feeling because I once broke the outer bone in my right hand years ago while coaching soccer. I was tending goal as the kids I coached took shots. I dove for a stop and slipped on wet grass. There was a loud snap from my hand, and a nurse mom took one look at the hand as it swelled and informed me, “It’s broken.”
Sure enough, it took six weeks to heal the hand with a clamp that held the bone in place. They call that injury the “wifebeater” break because it’s the spot where men engaged in domestic violence suffer well-deserved injury.
It’s been 40+ plus years since I last punched someone with that hand. It happened while defending myself during a high school intramural basketball game. My violent impulse came about after a guy tossed me over his shoulder during a rebound battle. I jumped up and swung, and hit the guy flush in the face. It gave him a black eye. I saw that big fellow at a high school reunion two years ago. Thankfully he forgot my transgression.
So the human hand is a remarkable structure but not infallible. Even without a break, the resultant soreness from the crash last Thursday left my hand in a tender state. That led to a hard wince after shaking hands with a cyclist I met at Rocket Bicycle Studio. The guy was a physical specimen in that tanned, fit, muscular way only cyclists seem to achieve. On top of that he was a former professional polo player from the nation of Jorden. He gave off the vibe of an athlete through and through. And when he shook my hand after our conversation he gave a hard grip and I thought I was going to crap my pants. Instead I laughed, and explained why I almost jumped out of my skin. He said, “Ahhhh, I get it.”
Every summer I get into some situation where something stupid takes over my brain and a crash takes place. Trying to jump a curb? Never a good idea. Riding with my head down on a bike trail? Crashed into a tree.
All I can say today is: “At least nothing’s broken.” However my ribs were also bruised and the muscles of my back so tight that I have had to sleep like a 2′ X 4″ tipped on its side.
Such is the price of a moment’s inattention. But we emerge from these experiences just a little wiser. The fact of the matter is that accidents happen even if you’re 100% focused and riding like the wind. It’s the product of chance and the Butterfly Effect.