Cyclists, DON'T BE STUPID, like I was...

This has been an eventful week in my training for the Cabot Trail ride. I feel like I am making very good progress toward being capable of riding the 300 kilometer loop, as intended. I am still wary about promising success… actually wary about just getting through the training. As I get older it is clear that I am susceptible to injuries that may take me out of training or the ride itself. 

More importantly though, I am susceptible to over-confidence on the bike… not paying attention to details such as maintenance, safety and just plain “paying attention” ... to what I'm doing on the bike; even when something happens that should have me focused.

When I was an executive in business I would occasionally notice a detail in our process oriented business practices… particularly in the selling process. Someone might have lost a high value customer (typically our hospital customers were worth millions of dollars at start up, and subsequent years), and when we did a post mortem, we might find that a routine detail was missed, and it cost us a customer. I found this would happen with our senior sales people as well as the newbies. I think they got so over-confident in their skills that they just missed details, or felt they could take short cuts.

When I was working underground in the mines, for INCO, the nickel mining company in Thompson, Manitoba, in the late sixties, we also learned a lot about process… and the consequences of not paying attention or taking short cuts. It was likely to cause a catastrophic accident, and in that case, either the miner or his stope-mate might actually be in the path of death.

So, it shouldn’t surprise me that as an experienced cyclist, I might start unconsciously taking short cuts, or missing details of appropriate processes. In skill development models, a theorist named Abraham Maslow (of Maslow’s Theory of Needs fame) detailed the Four Stages of Competence… they are glued into my memory from memorizing them in Continuing Ed School… conscious incompetence, unconscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. Much has been written about these four stages, and perhaps a fifth where we believe it necessary to have continuous learning and re-learning. Myself, I believe it is human nature to get to the Stage Four level and then unconsciously ‘fall off the wagon’.

This is what happened to me this week, see what you think… I have been riding a bike for 60 years...

a)      I was 30+ kilometers into a 100 km training ride.
b)      Some cattle were grazing close to the highway, and I was keeping an eye on them, even though there was a good barb-wire fence between me and them
c)       I unconsciously ran over a reflective lane marker
d)      A sudden, loud bang occurred, my front tire went flat immediately
e)       I stopped before wheel damage occurred; I turned off my recording GPS; I stabilized the bike; I quickly (I time my tube changes) removed the front wheel; I checked the tyre for outside damage
f)       I found a wire stuck in the tyre rubber. I wasn’t surprised by this, on highways it is common to flat because of these shards of wire that are from truck tyres that have blown out on the busy roads
g)       I immediately removed my tyre tools (tyre levers, spare tube, CO2 pressure container, CO2 valve); levered my tyre off the wheel; pulled out the wire from the outer tyre; removed the inner tube; checked the inside of the tyre to make sure I had removed the wire completely; replaced the tube, making sure there were no twists or pinches; replaced the tyre on the wheel; applied the CO2 and hardened the tyre; replaced the wheel on the bike’s forks; checked the brake and freedom of the wheel; started my GPS (eight minutes had passed, not my best, but I was happy); checked my helmet, bottles, glasses and so on, that all was secure
h)       I got on the bike, cognizant of the fact that this was my one chance to fix a flat, since I had used up my spare tube and CO2 (while I had a patch kit, I had stopped carrying my hand pump when I started riding long training days)
i)        A sudden, loud bang occurred! It was like being shot!!!
j)       My heart sank… having instantly re-read line “h” above in my mind

Stupid is as Stupid does” according to Forrest Gump. There I was, 30 km from home, near to a village that had no taxi service, no English speaking people, and my wife (read, emergency taxi) was  in Colorado Springs. I had told no one where I was headed, even though I would be as much as 50 km from home, with many alternative routes. I had LOOK style riding shoes/clips, so I would not be able to walk more than a kilometer without removing my shoes. It was early in the ride, but I had already used 40% of my electrolyte/water. It was getting warmer, my GPS later said it was 81F and I had no cover-up or sun protection other than my holey helmet, short sleeved cycling shirt and shorts.

But I did have my phone, and money. That was the only part of my process that I had followed properly that would help me now that I had messed up. Somehow, my ears heard that first, sudden, loud bang… but it hadn’t registered in my brain! Clearly, in retrospect, the loud bang should have told me to look at the sidewalls of the tyre for a “blow-out”. Normally it would have… except that my cursory look at the tyre, starting at the air nipple, found the wire just an inch or so into the inspection. My eyes over-rode my ears in the pathways through the brain, and my unconscious competence over-rode my conscious competence (proving some of Maslow’s Learning stages lacking).

The wire set me on a course that ended with a highly embarrassed, experienced cyclist, who had made a raft-load of mistakes to have to ‘call a friend’ for help. In fairness, several Mexican cars and trucks, driven by nice people, stopped to lend me a hand. By then I had made the call to my friend Ron Starr, and he had launched his rescue mission… so I respectfully said “Gracias” and they drove on.

This was a lesson that will help me in the future, I only post it to perhaps save someone else from a dangerous situation on their bike. Here are some thoughts as a result of this experience…

a)       I should make my safety check list in writing and post it on a wall near my bikes so that I have only one thing to remember before going for a ride… READ and HEED the SAFETY CHECK-LIST, STUPID
 b)  Stay alert on the bike… at 35 to 40 km/hr, things happen quickly (in this case I was on the open road, light wind at my back, nothing around me except the light traffic and I was in a clearly marked bike or parking lane)
c)      When I ride alone (most of the time) take my CO2 cartridge and spare tube for speedier changes… but carry my patch kit and mini-pump for emergencies
d)       Never ride absent a cell phone, repair tools, adequate money and hydration for the entire ride
e)       Know the route and let someone know where it is, and when to expect the return
f)       Keep all medical and personal information clearly marked in the repain kit… or wear an ALERT similar to RoadID (
g)       Know how to change or repair a flat and how to boot a blown-out tyre/tube using the folding cash/stash you have with you

h)       Don’t be STUPID…


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