Five months today since I smashed my wrist. Maybe I should have bought flowers to commemorate the day, but actually I did something far more exciting.
In the weeks following the accident I seriously wondered if I would ever get back on my bike. It stayed locked up in the bike shelter, gradually getting dirtier and dustier while I looked at adult push scooters, and waited for my fracture to mend.
I thought about selling my bike; unravelling the floral garland; removing the star shaped reflectors from the spokes; handing it over to a stranger along with my cycle clips, gloves and hi-viz jacket. It felt like betrayal. But I was scared. What would happen if I broke my wrist a second time? The talk of possible nerve damage when I was in A&E kept playing in a loop around my head. I’d got away with it this time, but a future when I couldn’t use my right hand made me cold with fear.
The consultant was reassuring. With all the metal in my arm, even if I broke it again, it would be in a different place. Rather haughtily I was told they had done all the wondrous and wonderful work on my wrist exactly so I could ride my bike again.
So the problem was me, how I felt, not my healing wrist. I kept renewing my bus pass and stopped looking at my bike. Deep down, I believed my cycling days were done.
Yet something still niggled. I searched online for group cycle rides where I could get back in the saddle and pedal in a crowd. There were lots, but the start points were miles away, and I had visions of myself plodding along, pushing my bike to the meet venue, cycling for hours, then pushing it home again.
I found details of a local ride that was a comfortingly far in the future. It said children could join in, so I felt confident there would be a lot of attention to safety, and the ride would not be too demanding. I registered (it was with Breeze Bikes, a part of the SkyRides British Cycling has set up that aims to get more women cycling), then I forgot all about it.
Over recent weeks I have found myself watching cyclists; feeling pangs of envy at the freewheeling spirits, feeling frustrated and trapped by my pedestrian status and my own cowardice. Even so, a part of me has wanted to wave my wrist at them, especially the helmetless, insouciant ones who pedal along while talking into their hand held mobile phones, ignore traffic lights, and spin past reversing lorries.
I began to fantasise about riding my bike again; maybe an easy cycling holiday somewhere; no roads, just disused railway tracks and empty spaces; dappled sunlight coming through trees whose leaves stirred in a refreshing breeze; the wheels turning smoothly through mile after mile after glorious, safe, cycle paths.
An email arrived to tell me my SkyRide was coming up. I looked at it; remembered; felt a stir of anticipation and anxiety; realised I had not had my bike checked since the accident. I visited Patrick, our local garagiste, cricketer, cyclist and motor cyclist. He said he could do the job.
My front wheel was bent. Both tyres needed replacing. He replaced them, adjusted my brakes, oiled the parts that needed oiling, gave it back to me on Friday. The total cost was £55. That decided it. If I was paying out decent money, the tyres were not going to rot unused in the bike shelter.
I looked at the details of the ride again. Heavens! the route seemed to take in all sorts of ghastly locations that would be full of traffic of the four-wheeled kind. I reminded myself about the children, wished I had a brown paper bag to breathe into, decided if it was raining that would be sufficient excuse to duck out.
It wasn’t exactly sunny; in fact there was more than a nip of autumn in the air, and the skies were increasingly grey. Not battleship grey; just that can’t-be-bothered-to-be-a-proper-colour grey that successfully filters the joy out of the sun and covers up all the blue. Fortunately, the flowers are still in full song.
On the plus side, there was very little traffic on the way to the meeting point, the café in the local park. Peddling across the empty main road and down the side streets, my heart began to lift. My legs certainly remembered how to do this, but my right wrist started to ache alarmingly quickly. I remembered what the physio had said to me about driving when I told her how incapacitated I felt after my few days behind the wheel when I went East: it would get easier, and I had managed to drive.
There was no one at the café. On the other hand I was a good ten minutes early. After five minutes there was still no one, and I remembered there was another café on the other side of the tunnel. Going down the slope to cross under the road, I needed to brake and my nerves jagged. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of how my body would connect braking with pain and injury.
There was no one at the second café. But there was a very nice dog called Sam.
And a pleasing water fountain in the shape of an elephant.
A woman appeared with a very new bike and asked if my name was Abigail. I thought she was the leader; she thought I was. We got that bit sorted out. Her name was Rose. We chatted, compared saddles and I realised how much of that bike talk I have been missing. An athletic looking woman cycled up on a narrow tyred bike and introduced herself as Freda. I misheard, and spent most of the morning calling her Rita. We discussed our needs. My nervousness was matched by Rose’s inexperience. The morning’s itinerary changed. We did bike checks and discovered that Rose’s saddle was facing north east, while her handlebars were facing north west. She had said she had suffered several falls. It was easy to see why. Freda suggesting dropping my brakes so that the angle was kinder to my wrist. Excellent.
I practised braking gently with my right hand, and Rose, her bike now aligned, tried to take one hand from the bars to indicate. I was enjoying myself. It was simple, gave me confidence in my bike and in controlling my speed when I need to slow. If I can rewire my brain not to apply both front and rear brakes instinctively, I may avoid another over the handlebars incident. The café patrons watched as we rode around in circles opposite the adventure playground where small children hurtled along zipwires.
Then we were off for a spin around the park. Dogs played; small children scootered; boys fished; men dismantled the funfair from yesterday’s event; tennis balls twanged across the nets; one small boy played air guitar on his racquet.
Rose spoke for me too when she said she felt like she could do this all day. I don’t know when or if I’ll be using my bike to commute again, but this morning made me glad to be alive, glad to be back on the saddle; and more grateful than ever for the outstanding treatment I received at St Thomas’.
I mean to sign up for more Breeze Bike Rides. I reckon the support and guidance is going to do wonders for my rehabilitation. And if my hair would just grow as strongly as John Travolta’s in Saturday Night Fever, my helmet would be well and truly padded for safety.