Older cyclists find ways to compensate

THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014

After a bicycle accident, Jeff Jordan had a ponderosa pine branch surgically removed from his abdomen.
After a bicycle accident, Jeff Jordan had a ponderosa pine branch surgically removed from his abdomen.

Try as I might, and I admit to not trying too hard, I can’t remember anything from the time my butt lifted off my bicycle seat and I knew the inevitable was about to happen, until I was sitting on my rear on the side of a Spokane Valley street.

That was last September and the only other thing I fail to remember was a few days later when I was knocked out in the operating room so Dr. Jonathan Keeve could insert a plate to stabilize my left collarbone.

All in all, that wasn’t too bad, considering I was going about 25 miles per hour downhill as darkness settled in.

My helmet saved serious injury, maybe even my life, and good Samaritans got my bike home and me to the emergency room.

I was a statistic.

Although bicycling statistics are hard to track, I’m writing this because one isn’t: I’m the fourth retiree from The Spokesman-Review editorial department to crash in recent years.

John Kafentzis, a life-long cyclist, misjudged a curve during an organized night ride and face-planted. The results were ugly.

Larry Reisnouer, who took up biking because of balky knees about seven years ago, was tooling along a side street when he reached down for his water bottle and hit an imbedded marker.

The jolt jerked the handle bar out of his other hand and he went down face first. Again, ugly results.

Jeff Jordan, a life-long runner who recently converted to cycling, misjudged a downhill curve on his second organized ride, flying off a big hill into a tree and the ER.

But when it comes to national statistics, most numbers are educated guesses.

According to the most recent data from Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, bicycle deaths are down but injuries are up. The National Safety Council estimates the total cost of bicyclist injury and death is more than $4 billion per year.

But how many riders, how many miles on streets, how many accidents don’t require medical attention?

“When we first started doing organized rides in the ’70s, a majority of riders were my age, in their 20s,” said Kafentzis, who does a lot of his riding on a tandem with his wife. “Now a majority is still my age.”

So it’s tough to judge what age has to do with accidents.

It’s pretty safe to assume the number of cyclists increases with age as people try to stay healthy, joining those who retire from running, usually because of wear-and-tear injuries.

A runner stepping off a curb might get a sprained ankle; a biker hitting a curb might go over the handle bars. Running injuries don’t often end up in the emergency room.

The goal here isn’t to discourage potential riders or even to encourage people to ride.

It’s to promote safety for those who choose self-propelled, two-wheel transportation to keep fit in their golden years.

Despite our unpleasant incidents, none of us had any hesitation for getting back in the saddle.

The main thing I picked up from my orthopedic surgeon is to use your (helmeted) head.

Dr. Keeve, an avid cyclist, said as we age we slow down and are theoretically safer. In a nutshell, aging gives us better judgment.

“It was just one of those weird combination of circumstances,” Kafentzis said. “It was a full-moon ride and I misjudged a curve. It might have been the darkness; it might have been the bifocals.”

His crash knocked him out. When he came to, he was more worried about his bike than his body.

At least he crashed alone.

“We have not wrecked on the tandem,” Kafentzis said. “I’m life-guard vigilant. If you go down on a tandem, there is twice as much carnage.”

My sister-in-law can attest to that. She broke both wrists when their tandem was forced off a road in Texas.

Reisnouer didn’t stop riding his bike, but he is slowing down.

“It was just a mistake I made,” he said. “I don’t reach for water bottle while riding.

“I’ll be 70 in November. My balance isn’t as good as it was …”

A good cycling buddy of mine arrived at my house for a Saturday morning ride and tipped over when he hit the edge in my driveway.

We rode 50 miles, but a little later he had back surgery and was out of action for months.

People fall harder at 65. If you crash at 65, there is more impact than if you crash at 25.

After a helmet, the first rule of safety is being aware of your surroundings.

I had a crash a block from home when a neighbor cut a corner too sharply and I had to lay my bike down to keep from running into the side of the car. The driver stopped and inquired as to my health, which I thought was fine.

Upon closer examination, my back wheel was bent. I walked home to get my other bike and did my ride. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed my helmet was cracked.

That little incident cost about $100 but obviously could have been worse.

Of course, there are falls and there are crashes.

Jordan came to biking after running, although as his parts wore out he did 10 years in a spin class before venturing outside.

“It was inexperience more than age,” Jordan said. “When I crashed I’d only been riding outside for two summers.

“If you’re running downhill – for example, I tripped at Bloomsday, rolled a couple times and got back up and running. If you go off ledge on a bicycle at 40 mph, it’s much more violent. Running, you don’t pull a ponderosa pine branch out of your abdomen.”

He was out of commission about two months.

“I am much more cautious,” he said. “I no longer ride down a hill at anything faster than 20 mph.

“I’ve had two crashes and they were both rider error. Even going 25 mph on a straightaway, I’m much more wary.”

The same here. I have neither ridden in the dark nor gone downhill, but that’s more because of the timing of new knees and our spring weather.

Those knees pushed me to cycling years ago as the only activity that didn’t hurt.

You can never be completely safe biking, just like you’re technically in harm’s way each time you get behind the wheel. Experience minimizes those risks, just like age increases them.

You weigh the risks to determine what is best for you.

For me, there’s nothing quite like getting on a bicycle. I know it’s good for my health.

But the truth is, feeling like a kid again keeps me young. Not acting like a kid anymore should keep me healthy.

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