Racing Hurt

This entry was posted in Racing on by .

I’ve been hurt a bunch racing bikes. Bicycling Magazine did an article on me a few years back with a semi-nude shot and pointing some of the injures I’ve incurred throughout my lifetime racing bikes, along with the attributes of being an athlete. It is kind of weird because I haven’t really been hurt too bad recently. It seems like all the little nicks are turning into lifetime injuries, but that is just age. I haven’t had a broken bone or really bad crash for a few years.

I don’t wear a helmet much training. Okay, here I admit it, I actually never wear a helmet training. And I’ve hit my head a bunch on the pavement. With a hairnet helmet, no helmet, hardshell, whatever, I always seem to get rattled just about the same. It isn’t that I don’t understand that it would be much, much safer wearing a helmet while out on my bike with automobiles, it is that I just hate wearing a helmet period. I actually have a hard time remembering what helmet is mine most of the time. I was talking to Chris Horner a couple months back at a cyclo-x I did in San Diego and he concurred with me on the helmet thing. He told me he packed up and flew to many races and completely forgot his helmet. He’d have to call someone at Giro and have them overnight him a helmet at the race. Boy, if it was just that easy for all of us. It’s all probably just old school, when we didn’t even have to race with helmets if we didn’t want. I don’t know, I just haven’t had a helmet in recent years that I’m attached to much.

Anyway, I am constantly surprised that so many riders, many professional riders, are breaking so many bones nowadays. Especially collarbones. I’ve always attributed the main reason of collarbone fractures to toeclips. Ever since I had clipless pedals, I’ve never broken a collar bone. And before, I broke it all the time. Close to once a season at least. With toeclips, when you go into a pile, your feet stayed connected to the bike, which stopped in the pile, thus throwing you over the front end and on to your head/shoulder. Now with clipless pedals, you are going into the pile, you twist your body to try to miss it by maneuvering your bike, but you’ve release your pedals by this point. So when you hit the pile, your bike stops and you get throw forward, not down on your head. This new superman position launch is good for not breaking bones, but not so good with getting a ton of road rash every where on your body.

I used to race pretty quickly after getting hurt. It all started at a young age when I was an intermediate(junior 13-14). I crashed in Superweek and broken my collarbone on Wednesday. We got in the car and drove back to Kansas and I saw an orthopedic surgeon on Thursday. I now don’t know to think of his decision making process, but I talked him into telling my mom that it would be okay to race the Nationals which were on Saturday. So we jumped back into the car and drove back up to Milwaukee for the Nationals. I crashed in Nationals again, off the front with Jeff Bradley, because my clavicle strap was too tight, cutting the blood flow off to my arms. That doctor was pretty old school himself I think.

I once pretty much destroyed myself hitting a car in the 1985 British Milk Race at 60 mph or so. I broke my collarbone, leg, hand and had a pretty bad concussion. I raced the Coor’s Classic less than 8 weeks later and then the World Road Championships right after that. In those days, it didn’t seem like a big deal to race as soon as your body would allow it. Cycling is very easy on your body as long as you don’t hit the ground too often.

I still wonder why they always operate on collarbones of European riders and here in the US we have to wait it out naturally. Just a couple weeks ago, Sebastien Rosseler, a new addition to the Garmin Team, from RadioShack, broke his collarbone training. They said he was going to be off the bike for a week. That is pretty quick to be back riding. Surgery allows that.

Anyway, riding while hurt has never seemed to prolong a injury. I broke my hip in the mountain bike version of the Tour de France, The VTT. I got back to Topeka in just a few days and asked the doctor when I could ride. He asked me if I was walking up and down stairs. I told him yes. He said, go ahead. His rational was that walking up and down stairs puts a lot more stress on the hip that pedaling a bicycle. I was all for it. From my experience, riding through crashed cased injuries makes the healing process quicker. But, maybe I’ve just been lucky all these years?

The article was a 2 page fold out. You can click twice to enlarge either one.

And this was the car I hit at the British Milk Race. It came out about as bad as I did.

And this was the ticket the police came and gave me in the hospital for riding a bicycle recklessly. I still do.

20 thoughts on “Racing Hurt

  1. Noel

    I went home for a visit to Kansas and took one of my old bikes out for a spin about six years ago. I had brought jersey, shorts and shoes, but didn’t bring a helmet. It was probably the first time in ten years that I had ridden without one. Same age as my son at the time.

  2. Just Crusty

    Jan 30 post: video of riding single track on trail with steep dropoff & high potential of injury
    Jan 31 post: discussion of various injuries over a number of years

    Just sayin’….

  3. tilford97 Post author

    Crusty-Astute observation. There is nothing the matter with having a little risk in adventure. That is part of what makes an adventure an adventure.

  4. phil

    No helmet when training? You’re nuts. Don’t be surprised when you’re dead or a vegetable in a wheelchair drooling all over yourself some day because of this decision. I guess if you don’t have kids or anyone else to worry about but yourself it’s different. I used to ride without a helmet. But then I turned 17 and started thinking about my future and those who wanted me around in it. To each his own…

  5. RadRenner

    The efficacy of helmet usage to prevent TBI’s is not as high as most people would think. Also, some research has shown that helmet usage is indicated in an increased potential for injury. Additionally, the advocacy for helmet usage has been linked to social trends such as the belief that cycling is inherently dangerous (it is not), and a reduction in the number of people actually riding bikes (in part due to the belief that cycling is dangerous). Helmet usage is not a panacea for safe cycling, it does not prevent accidents (indeed some research shows that it often promotes risky behavior), and does not absolutely protect the rider from the most serious types of brain injuries. Do I wear a helmet? Yes, most of the time.

  6. tilford97 Post author

    I thought the helmet thing was going to polarize people. I was just throwing it out there. I have no idea about how much a helmet really protects you. There is no question that it most likely isn’t dangerous.

    I saw a study that a guy did while riding him bike on a compute in Boston a while back, but I couldn’t find it. He was some doctorate guy and put an instrument to measure distances to automobiles when they passed him. The results were pretty surprising.

    When he was not wearing a helmet, drives gave him a much bigger space than when he was wearing a helmet. So, according to his study, he was actually safer in one regard by going helmetless.

  7. Mark Feher


    On the subject of helmets…. It seems that everyone who now wears the latest $300 helment believes they are somehow invincible. It’s as if the helmet has taken the place of the brain and riders are acting in ways and making maneuvers without any regard to what impact their recklessness may have on the group. I too do not wear a helmet while training. I believe it helps to drastically improve the decision making process that is required to ride safely. Not wearing a helment has kept me from doing stupid things on the bike, wearing one has not.

  8. Tommasini53

    Bravo RadRenner, well said! Cycling is a relatively safe mode of transportation. I don’t understand why the public loses sight of that statistic. I wish the industry and lobbying groups would spend as much ink and money on educating motorists and cyclists as they spend on advocating helmets.

  9. Mr

    I remember a bit ago you said Jimmy Mac called you controversial. I think he meant to say you had common sense. I did some trailbuilding when I moved back to the midwest and the the club bought me a helmet and gave me a ton of swag if I would just wear it when doing official testing of new trail. Nowadays I only wear one on road bike group rides just so they will let me participate. Am I the only one who laughs at rollerbladers wearing 6 kinds of pads and a helmet to roll around a smooth walking trail at 3 mph? Someone had the common sense to see they would pay $$$ and come back for better stuff when it only restricted their movement enough to cause a minor crash.

  10. Tim

    I’d feel naked riding with out a helmet. And it has the advantage of keeping my beanie in place in the wind. 🙂

  11. Mark S

    I don’t wear a helmet when I train.
    25 yrs haven’t even had a close call .
    Just wondering if all the helmet wearers wear them when driving their cars ,climbing ladders,taking showers,walking etc. etc. etc..
    I could go on, Helmets BLA BLA BLA

  12. jerry

    I agree with you, I never wear a helmet unless I am out with a group. I can’t believe the crap that the helmet nazi’s think they should dish out. I too started racing in the early 70’s and I don’t really need their approval.
    I was talking to a friend of mine I used to race with, we decided that crashes became more frequent and worse after the helmet rules. I think it is due to a false sense of security, people seem to take more bad chances now than when we wore hairnets.
    I remember the study you mentioned. It was done in England and I think David Miller had something to do with it. They did prove that drivers gave more room to helmetless riders.
    If you ever hit Dallas and need someone to ride with that will not give you grief about the helmet, I’ll ride with you.

  13. nancy

    I don’t know about this study with car distance but I work in Boston and coomute by bike. I had a coworker that got T-bone by a SUV while coming back home from work. He had an helmet but still had broken jaw and lost five teeth and probably a concussion because he doesn’t remember about the accident. It took a while to come back to his normal life but he is still alive and no brain damage or head related injuries. Just saying, you just need one bad driver on your way that decided to do a left turn on a red light or hitted you while he is going for the magic parking spot and most of the times you can’t do anything to avoid it…

  14. Seis_Pendejos

    I question the theory that wearing helmets make people ride more dangerously. Should I believe that in the hairnet era people thought, “I better hold back until we get hard shell helmets”? No, we all did the same stuff. What I see as the difference is the lack of general riding proficiency by triathletes and people who came to the sport later in life and haven’t learned various aspects of riding etiquette.
    When people tell me to wear a helmet I respond, “Do you look into cars and tell people to put on their seatbelts too?”

  15. chad

    @Seis Another good thing to say is ” for a second I thought my mom was riding with me ”

    True story- I was out walking my dog and came up on a mother pulling her child in a wagon. The child was wearing a helmet. In a wagon! As I passed them the kid points at my dog and says ” what is that”.

  16. Marty Buchanan

    I always wear a helmet when I ride. I don’t just wear it when I ‘have” to, because I’m not wearing it in the first place to help protect me from stuff that I’m planning to do – it’s there to help protect me from the stuff I cannot plan…namely other riders/drivers/walkers/random acts of assholishness! Unless you’re unfortunate to suffer a horrific and fatal injury – like Wouter Weylandt did in the Giro last year – that happens to a part of your head not covered by the helmet, they really are not just extra insurance; they’re a good idea.

  17. Rad Renner

    Not to be argumentative, Seis, but I think putting a helmet on the kid in the wagon is actually a good example of where a helmet would be very effective in preventing a head injury. Relative to their overall size and weight, young childrens’ heads are massive, making them very top-heavy. Given the height of the wagon, the ease of falling out, and children’s slow reflex reactions, it is very easy for children to tumble out of a wagon and land right on their heads. After one such incident (thankfully minor), I pulled my son in his wagon wearing a thick stocking cap and an old hockey helmet. It’s actually a common injury among very young children and one that most parents never think about. I’d say that mom was pretty smart.

  18. Bryan

    I ended up with 23 stitches after a head-on collision with another cyclist back in 2005. I didn’t realize this until I got to the ER, but they looked at my helmet and we saw the foam had cracked in half all the way through. Imagine if that had been my head….. Anyways, the hospital asked if they could keep the helmet to show to kids and educate them as to why helmets can help save them lots of pain.

  19. Greg

    I always wear a helmet. I used to not. I would call it going Euro. But I have broken about five helmets in crashes on the road or on the mnt bike. I would rather it be my helmet thats broken than my skull. One time when riding the trails a tree limb fell on my head and knocked me off my bike. I was very glad to be wearing a helmet that day.


Comments are closed.