I’m having some because I’m a caffeine addict, but I certainly don’t need any coffee right now. The remnants of the adrenaline that rushed through my system at 6:17 this morning is enough to keep me w-i-d-e awake. That’s when The Phoenix suffered a spectacular blowout of its rear innertube. In and of itself a flat tire ain’t typically spectacular. It happens to me with a certain regularity. But when you factor in that I was traveling downhill in the realm of 30-35 mph and on the curve of Silver Lake Boulevard just below the reservoir, that makes it a rare thing indeed. A rare “life flashing before your eyes” thing.
Perhaps rarer still is that contrary to all evidence and laws of physics I somehow managed to keep my, as they say: head up and wheels down. In other words, though I most decidedly could/would/should have, I did not fall. And it could’ve been a spectacular fall. On a descent at that rate of speed and at the tilted angle I was to the asphalt I picture something along the lines of the horrific “agony of defeat” spill taken by that ski jumper during every intro to ABC’s old Wide World of Sports. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s little doubt it would have been a nasty slide/tumble full of abrasions and contusions and potentially worse.
Certainly I’d like to credit my vast experience as a cyclist as the defining factor for being able to see myself through the incident unscathed, but while that played a part, I know damn well it’s moreso because The Phoenix is a charmed machine. You can g’head and doubt that all you want, but it’s true. This is the second time that by all rights I should have solo-crashed. The first came during a Midnight Ridazz ride several months ago. I was traveling under an overpass somewhere near to Union Station and I’d unholstered my camera to get a picture. With my left hand loosely holding the bars and paying more attention to the photo op than to the road, I didn’t see the massive crevass-like pothole until I was in it. Coming out of the pit violently my casual grip on the bars was broken and the bike weaved sickeningly to the left as my upper body lurched forward until it was basically perpindicular to the top tube and at the level of the handlebars. Steering (if you call it that) with my left forearm and my chest, there was a frozen moment where I just waited for gravity and other decisive failure factors to kick in and bring me down in a mangling heap. I even remember looking at the ground and having the time to think “This is gonna be bad.” But then the front wheel swung back sickeningly to the right and I somehow managed to extricate myself to more of an upright position and regain my grip on the bar and miraculously steady the sway and continue rolling forward. Head up and wheels down. Still holding the camera in my right hand.
And I don’t use “miraculously” lightly. Thus neither do I do so with this morning’s event. By all accounts I should have fwumped to the pavement and scraped ass over teakettle for who knows how far. But instead after the catastrophic and immediate decompression of the rear innertube, the grace of God and some ginger and feathery navigation allowed me on The Phoenix’s fully floppy and entirely fishtailing rear to bring her to a full and complete stop some 200 feet away from the spot of the heart-stopping pop!
L.A. Voice’s Mack Reed, who I was riding with, rolled to a stop beside me a couple seconds later wide-eyed and in something of a state of disbelief, having watched the whole thing unfold while coming down the hill behind me. Our variations on “whoa!” and “holy crap!” eventually gave way to consideration of the possible causes (old tube, pinch flat, protruding spoke tip, sidewall failure), and in the middle of that a pair of pre-dawn walkers passed by who’d also witnessed the event. They were curious if I’d rolled over a bottle or some broken glass, but I told them that it didn’t feel like I’d hit anything.
Of the sound of the blowout, they said “We thought we’d been shot. It sounded like gunfire.”
Mack asked if I had what I needed to repair/replace the tube and while I had patches and a spare in my saddlebag, I told him I was just gonna throw in the towel and head home on foot. Shaking hands in sincere appreciation that I hadn’t stained the street with any of my blood his parting words to me were “Treat yourself to something nice today!”
A half-block down I met up with the walkers again and they asked how far I had to walk and I told them it wasn’t even a mile. One of them expressed his amazement that nothing bad happened and I related how right after the explosion my first thought was “Oh shit!” then for a brief moment the wobbles stabilized and I thought everything was going to be OK and then the wobbles returned even harder and as I fought to keep control of the bike I again doubted my chances of getting out uninjured all the way up until the moment I came to a complete stop and dismounted.
“Someone was watching over you,” he said.
Don’t I know it.