Wrapping bars and dressing wounds

bike life

It has been a while since I last wrote. I’ve had one of those periods of time when it is one thing after another, and I’m constantly trying to recover from the last thing when the next comes along. The most recent thing was that I came off my bike on the way to work. One minute I was pedalling happily around a corner in the park, and the next I was hitting the ground hard.

I’m not entirely sure what happened. I think I must have hit a bit of mud, or something greasy on the path (it had rained over night after an extended period of dry weather), but as I was cornering at fairly low speed, my rear wheel just went from under me and I crashed down on my left side, skidding along the gravelly path. Ow.

As far as I remember, I’ve only come off my bike three times (including this time) as an adult: once when I was hit by a car in Oxford, once just after I got clipless pedals for the first time and fell over sideways when trying to release my foot, and this time. When you’re a child, you fall off your bike (or just fall over while playing) all the time: you cry your eyes out briefly, get patched up by an adult, and you promptly forget all about it. When it happens as an adult, it’s much more of a shock. You don’t cry (at least, I didn’t), but it hurts a lot more, and you don’t quite trust yourself or your body for a while.

I think I’ve written before about the kindness of fellow cyclists along my route, and they didn’t let me down this time, either. As I lay on the ground catching my breath and trying to work out what the hell just happened, no fewer than three lovely cyclists stopped, picked me and the Sprocket Rocket up, and checked that we were both in basic working order. Obviously I love the Rocket, because I had generously broken his fall with my own body. His only damage was a tiny chip out of the paint on the crossbar, and ripped tape on the handlebars.

I, on the other hand, was not in such good shape, though it could have been a lot worse. Nothing was broken or sprained, but I had landed on my forearms and hands, in a kind of Sphinx pose. I had a large and ragged gouge out of my left elbow, extensive grazing and bruising on both forearms, hands, and my left knee. I later discovered a huge and vividly coloured bruise on my right thigh where I had landed on the crossbar as I fell. I was dirty, sore and dripping blood, but there wasn’t much I could do until I got to work, so I thanked the bystanders, and walked my bike on a bit until I had got my equilibrium back and could re-mount.

I’m one of the first aiders at work, so I have my own first aid box in the office. I figured that I might as well sort myself out rather than bothering anyone else, so I cleaned the elbow wound myself1 and applied a dressing one-handed, which I was quite proud of. I was really stiff and sore for days afterwards, and everything hurt. I have no idea how professional cyclists have such terrible crashes in the Tour de France or other races, and just get back on the bike to do day after day in the saddle — I was useless after my low-speed tumble.

Anyway, my arm is gradually healing and the bruises are fading, so I decided it was time to replace the Rocket’s handlebar tape. Even without the crash, I would have needed to do it soon, as it was beginning to wear out. The original set was expertly applied by the chaps in the shop, but I decided that I would have a go myself, never having tried it before2. I got some nice cork tape with a bit of gel padding in it, cleaned off the bars, and gave it a go.

All I can say is that I have new respect for the skills of the guys in the bike shop — it’s not as easy as it looks! It’s hard to keep it even, and to get enough tension in the tape so that it hugs the bar well. My second bar was definitely better than the first, but neither are quite as neat as the original. I had also bought some nice metal bar end plugs to finish it off, as the original plastic ones had cracked and fallen out quite quickly, as they tend to do. The metal plugs have a bolt running through them, which has a rubber cylinder around it. The idea is that once the plug is in the bar, you tighten the bolt which compresses the rubber cylinder so that it grips the inside of handlebar and makes a nice tight fit. That’s the theory, anyway.

What happened almost immediately was that the nut on the end fell off inside the bar, so that when I removed the plug to see what was going on, the rubber cylinder was stuck inside the bar, out of reach. It was one of those moments when you actually need to use the full innovative capacities for which our species is known. I knew that I needed to get something through the hole in the centre of the cylinder to try to draw it out, but thin allen keys didn’t provide enough purchase to rake it out. I considered trying to rig up a rod with a t-shape on the end that I could flatten to pass through the hole, but would then open out on the other side of the cylinder, but that didn’t work out. If I’d had a long bit of stiff wire, I might have been able to push it out from the other end of the bar, but I had no suitable material. I’m slightly embarrassed to reveal what I actually used in the end: a corkscrew. Hooray for the analogical reasoning of Homo sapiens! It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, with only minor damage to the rubber cylinder.

Eventually I got both bars wrapped, and both plugs inserted without further incident, and the bar tape feels nice and cushioned as I ride. I just hope I don’t have to do it again too soon. I’m certainly giving the Corner of Doom a wide berth.


  1. This was actually quite tricky: we have those stupid press-style taps that gush water for about 2 seconds before you have to activate them again. Not ideal for gently cleaning a wound.
  2. I’ve always had bikes with flat bars and rubber grips before.
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