Column: Safety Gear Only Works If You Use It

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Nov 5, 2020 | Safety, Crashing | Posted in Columns | From the Aug. 2017 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph courtesy Christina Lam

[Editor's note: This article originally ran in the August 2017 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

The human body is a pretty resilient thing, I thought to myself while lying in a pile of leaves on the side of the road, having just crashed on my bike in spectacular fashion. But it’s not infallible, I concluded. 

I didn’t go to med school, but I was pretty sure that I had broken my arm. Ouch.

I was lying on the ground at the other end of our neighborhood, but thanks to the pain I knew that I wasn’t getting home under my own power. This one hurt. Double ouch.

Adding to the predicament: It was about 11 p.m. and I didn’t have my cell phone with me. And triple ouch.

One saving grace? I’m a righty, and this was my left arm. 

I’m sure I looked smooth. I tried to roll into the wreck—and did, for the most part. Somewhere in there I heard the sickening sound of my helmet kissing the pavement. Score one for safety gear. 

And then there I was, watching my lights—a strobe on the back of the bike and a bright white light up front—lighting up the nearby trees. It was almost soothing and hypnotic. We had just sent an issue of the magazine to press, and I was out for one of my late-night rides—simply a great way to reduce stress and get some exercise. 

Even though I was on my BMX, I wasn’t doing anything BMX-y. Somehow a super-strong, built-for-BMX chain had snapped. The immediate lack of resistance sent me pile-driving right into the pavement. Despite the pain, my conscience was clean. 

Fortunately, soon after the wreck, someone drove by. And she kept on going, even though we made eye contact. I’m sure there’s a special place in hell for people like her. Forty-five minutes later, someone did find me, called 911, and notified my wife. (In my defense, if I had been carrying my phone, it likely would have been in my left pocket—the very side I had just landed on. So not only would I have had a broken arm, but my iPhone would have been smashed, too.)

The big question at that moment: Did I want to ride to the hospital in the ambulance or my wife’s car? I love my wife, but one look at the low-profile tires on her Civic Si made the choice obvious: ambulance. Sadly I didn’t get lights and sirens, although I didn’t have to stop and register once at the hospital; the crew just wheeled me right into an exam room.

I saw the orthopedist a couple of days later. Since I broke my arm up near the shoulder, they couldn’t put a cast on it. I would have to make do with a sling and some pain pills. 

That all happened almost three months ago and, by and large, I got really lucky. I didn’t need surgery, my wife is a great nurse, and Vans still offers their iconic slip-on sneakers. Tim and Margie provide us with great insurance, too, and I could work from home while I healed. I quickly got off the pain meds and was out of the sling after about seven weeks. 

I now have some mobility at my shoulder, but no strength. The doctor warned me against picking up anything heavier than a pound. He was right. I’ve been doing my stretching exercises, and I’ll see the good doctor again at the end of the week. 

Despite getting relatively lucky, that wreck still left a mark on my season. I reluctantly had to bail on several big events, including the Mitty, Miatapalooza, Pinehurst Concours, New York Auto Show and Mother’s Day at my parents’ house. When you have two bones knocking against each other, you simply tend to stay put. 

Here’s my big take-home message on all of this: Wear your safety gear. Buckle up. Invest in a head-and-neck restraint. Make sure your tools’ guards are in place. Properly torque all fasteners. Regularly inspect your chain. 

Despite all of our evolution, we’re still pretty squishy animals, ones easily laid low by a 15 mph bike wreck, never mind a car at triple-digit speed or a grinder spinning at 8500 rpm. 

As I can tell you, getting hurt hurts.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/5/20 8:57 a.m.

Wow, for once I'm really glad to see that this article is from 3 years ago. I hope you're fully recovered by now.

Point well taken.

Tom1200 Dork
11/5/20 10:27 a.m.

Dress for the crash................

Rons GRM+ Memberand Reader
11/5/20 3:15 p.m.

Beyond use your safety gear - think about what you're doing. As an example the lady I met walking her Great Pyrenees she used to jog with her dog. One day they were out jogging along and he stopped so she stopped at the expense of a separated shoulder and concussion, so always think about your surroundings and be prepared.

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
11/5/20 4:31 p.m.

I'm thinking of starting up a Senior Citizen tumbling class business.  Too many seniors fall on ice or other reasons and break hips and elbows.  

I would have local classes and my class would teach them how to properly tuck and roll and save breaking an arm or a hip.   

My eldest cousin crashed his bike about a year ago. Lost it on some wet leaves, off the road, over the handle bars and into a ditch. He didn't break his arm though, he broke his neck. 

Luckily there were witnesses to the crash. They kept him stabilized until the EMS arrived and got him to the hospital. Surgery, months in a halo, months of PT, he's back to riding again.  

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