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School of hard knocks

Sketchy recollections of an icy tumble

The last thing I’m sure I remember is watching my mate Simon’s front wheel snap out from under him on the black ice. There’s the teasing suggestion of a memory of my own wheel following suit but that might just be me projecting. I certainly can’t recall any detail.

The next memory is of standing around swapping blokey banter with Simon and two other cyclists, one of whom was a friend – another Simon, confusingly enough – who had miraculously appeared out of nowhere, the other a stranger who had clearly gone over a moment before us.

It didn’t strike me as odd at the time that there was a hole in my memory…that I’d jumped from one moment of clarity to the next without noticing anything amiss. I was distracted by the look of confusion and pain on the stranger’s face and the trembles in his body as he hobbled around in a daze.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that I’d completely forgotten about the driver who had offered to help me untangle myself from my bike, or that my helmet now had a massive crack where it covered my left temple.

Between Rule 5 quips and curiously formal introductions, we decided it might be wise to call the stricken rider’s wife. As soon as she was on her way we decided it might be best to call an ambulance too, as the level of the rider’s discomfort became clear.

A farmer appeared with a cup of sweet tea, which our injured friend (whose name was Jonnie, we had by now discovered) started gulping gratefully – until the emergency services operator on the other end of the phone sternly ordered him to stop, at which point the rest of us shared it.

By the time the ambulance arrived, ten minutes or so later, Jonnie had seized up completely and couldn’t really move at all without considerable pain. He was given numerous blasts of entonox but still whimpered and cried out when he was lifted from chair to stretcher.

The Rule 5 jokes continued, but very quietly now as we watched a pale, shaking Jonnie being lifted into the ambulance, where he was then injected with morphine for the ride back to Brighton with his suspected fractured hip.

The remaining three of us decided to cut short our rides and head back via the coast road – a loop of about ten miles. We rode it quickly and quietly, still individually processing what had just happened.

The aches and pains grew and multiplied in the hours that followed. Now, 36 hours on, I’m hard pushed to find any part of my body that doesn’t hurt at least a bit. The most obvious is a vivid bruise and graze on my left hip; the most worrying is an odd pain right in the heart of my left shoulder.

We’d set out in good weather: sunny and clear with hardly any wind and temperatures around 4 or 5 degrees. Once we’d come over the Downs the temperature dropped a degree or two, as it does, but it didn’t feel cold enough for ice. But those back lanes barely get any sun and the same hedgerows that block the heat make it hard to read the surface sometimes. I’m not sure what we could have done about it even if we’d had a clear view of the road surface, though.

In fact I’m not sure about a lot of what happened. There’s a surreal edge to the whole experience that I can only attribute to shock and that bash on the head.

One thing I am sure about though: I will most definitely be replacing that helmet before I go out again.

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine ( 

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