My good friend Steve from California recently suggested that reminiscing about when we were in the best shape of our lives was for when we are done riding. When the time comes for me, I already know when that was, 1970 and 1971. It started literarily by accident.
I was living in England, it was early in the 1970 season. I was out training alone after dark and was rounding a bend on a relatively quiet country road when a motorcycle traveling in the opposite direction, taking the same bend on the wrong side of the road, met me head on.
The motor cycle, ridden by a sixteen year old with no driver’s license or insurance, with a youth of similar age riding on the back. These kids were on a big ol’ British Norton and were racing some others who were following also on motorcycles. Because they did not see, a light from an approaching car figured it was safe to take this particular corner on the inside.
All I remember of the impact was a huge headlight coming straight for me; the next moment I was lying on my back in the road. What actually happened was that the motorcycle passed slightly to my right; the handlebars of the motorcycle passed over my bike but hit my right forearm. Remember this was England so I was riding on the left side of the road.
The impact threw me up in the air, doing a complete summersault, I landed on my back in the road. Rather like a wrestler, doing a move called “The Irish Whip.” It happed so fast I do not remember that part, but know that is what happened because the back of my head was slightly grazed, (We didn’t wear helmets back then.) and the back was ripped out of my sweatshirt.
The motorcycle also went down and the two youths picked up some road rash as they slid across the road and ended up against a wooden barn on the opposite side. Apart from this they were uninjured. I was not so lucky; my right forearm was shattered, broken in three places. My bike on the other hand was completely untouched, not even a scratch in the paint.
I experienced the worst pain in my life that night lying in a hospital with my arm a temporary sling hung by my bed. The next morning they operated, and had to put a stainless steel plate in my arm to hold it all together. The plate is still there today, and I wouldn’t know it except for a six inch operation scar to remind me.
They put my arm in a cast from my hand to my armpit, with my elbow held at 90 degrees. This cast was on for five months; I could drive a car and do a few other things but couldn’t work. I decided to keep riding my bike and rigged it up with a single fixed gear and a brake lever in the center of the handlebars so I could ride with one hand.
I rode every day as much as 60 to 80 miles. Weekends I would ride with the other guys in my cycling club. They cut me no slack and would drop me on the first hill we came to. I was riding with my left hand only so had to sit down on the hills, and could not get out of the saddle to climb. I would chase the group for miles; sometimes catching up, other times I never saw them again.
Weekdays I would sometimes ride with an older retired guy. He was probably about the age I am now and he kicked my butt; he told me months later that I had the same affect on him. He kept telling himself that he couldn’t let a cripple with one arm beat him, and at the same time I was thinking ‘I can’t let this old man beat me.’
When the cast came off after five months, the doctors were amazed; my right arm had muscle in it. My left arm got a hell of a work out and I have heard that if you work one arm or leg it will affect the other. So riding my bike was probably the best thing I could have done for my recovery.
The end of that year and the one that followed was my best season ever. The five months that my arm was in a cast I had been doing over 400 miles a week, and doing it all on a single 69 inch fixed gear. I could spin and was as strong as a horse on the hills; there is no doubt in my mind when I was in the best shape of my life.