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« Education or Enforcement | Main | What does the length of your forearm and the price of fish have to do with stem length? »

In the best shape of my life

Some say that the time for reminiscing about when we were in the best physical shape of our lives, is for when we are done riding. When that 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, took the same bend on the wrong side of the road, and 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 Dominator and were racing some others who were following also on motorcycles. Because they did not see a light from an approaching car assumed 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, and 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 in his late sixties, where as I was 34 at the time. He kicked my butt, and told me months later that I had the same effect on him. He kept telling himself that he couldn’t let a cripple with one arm beat him, while 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. (46 x 18.) 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.


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Reader Comments (4)

Hey Dave,


“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.”

A few years back I watched a documentary on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) where they did exactly that with examples of patients with breaks to arms and legs on a stationary bike. One example was patients pedalling with one leg while the opposite broken leg was supported. The result was quicker healing with less muscle atrophy. Another test was a broken wrist or arm ( can’t recall now), and pedalling with the opposite leg only. E.G. Left arm, right leg, again the result was quicker healing with less muscle atrophy. There was no conclusive evidence of why the results were so, better blood and oxygen flows? but it just worked. Tried to find it somewhere online but no luck.

About the same time you had your accident I was training in a gym in S. London, one of the regulars came in with a cast on his foot. I said “ shouldn’t you be resting at home?”. What I didn’t know was he was an orthopaedic surgeon who went on to explain his theories of rehab. If his patients were capable he would have them doing a light weight routine because he had seen first hand the improved recovery results, which at the time were not on most peoples radar. Never forgot that and I lived that ever since as it works as you have shown.

Last evening on our local Vancouver Island news was an item about a lady with MS that swam ultra long distances in our local ocean, she found that the cold water and swimming was beneficial to her overall health.


Apologies for rambling on, but to me this is a very important post of yours, as it hits two of my core beliefs.

1) A healthy fit lifestyle will aid in minimizing illness and injury, and maximize the positives and healing process.

2) The benefits of riding a fixed wheel as a training tool is not recognized as much as it should, especially through the colder times of the year.

February 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Lucky bike - it escapes injury, overall you were lucky too not to be more seriously injured. Drinking water while riding with only one working arm must have been difficult too. Good job Dave in rebounding and keeping in shape.

February 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJack

WOW, good story and interesting experience you had. and WOW for "over 400 miles a week, and doing it all on a single 69 inch fixed gear. (46 x 18.)" while arm in a cast for five months... thank you, Dave, for sharing your experiences with us! best regards from Bucharest, Romania! ;-)

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMircea Andrei Ghinea

When young, it is amazing what you can do. I raced at Long Lawford Air drome near Birmingham England in a mas start event in the 1950s, age 17 yrs I was in the lead group and someone pranged, We all went down, I remember going over the bars and in typical youngster fashion put my hands out to fall on. Well I got up, back on my bike caught the lead group and got in the sprint for finish, I came second by inches! I felt some pain in my wrists and told Dad who took me to the Doctors, I had broken BOTH wrists, In those days they used plaster casts, and I had both wrists in casts,I STILL rode my bloody bike somehow,Of course a single fixed is easier I could use my fingers no problem steering with my body and stopping by back pedaling. Like the British say "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON" Keep a stiff upper lip, old chap

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Crump

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