Familiarity and contempt
So as I recover from yet another crash close to home on yet another road that I had previously ridden hundreds (possibly thousands) of times over without a problem previously, I am left to ponder on just why I seem to have so many problems on what is very much my own territory. It would seem that I am not the only one -- indeed one of my co-workers once quoted statistics suggesting that 75% of all car "accidents" happen within 5 miles of home.
So why is this? Why do people have problems in situations that should be familiar to them? It was as recently as September that I negotiated the notorious Peacock Creek Road between Bonalbo and Kyogle in NSW. Indeed, I did so relatively comfortably, even hauling the full touring load on the back of the bike. Why should I then fall on a relatively flat, smooth and familiar road? Forget the debris, I was dodging much bigger rocks on Urliup Road 10 days ago, so why is this suddenly a problem? The answer would seem to be one of concentration.
Peacock Creek road has a fearsome reputation -- and one that I was reminded of just before leaving Bonalbo. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to maintain the appropriate level of focus required for such an assignment. On the other hand, Cheltenham Drive at Robina is just another suburban arterial. The fact that it also happens to be a relatively new one probably indicates it has other safety aspects considered within it's design (for whatever good they actually do). While consciously I was aware of the need to concentrate, subconsciously I had the thought that I had done this so many times I really should be able to do it blindfolded.
The problem is, of course, that I can't do it blindfolded. While we may make this joke about areas with which we are familiar, I'm sure that if we were invited to ride our "familiar" roads blindfolded, we would refuse. So why do we allow ourselves to be "blinded" by false confidence? Even if only on a subconscious level? More importantly, what can be done about it?
The more crashes I have, the more I am of the opinion that maybe there is some good that comes from it. While the school of hard knocks can be a painful place at times, the lessons learned there are not ones that are easily forgotten. The pain of reopening an old scar, the combination of frustration and humiliation that comes from hitting the ground, the pain in my back muscles over the last couple of days -- these are all things that will stay in my mind for at least a little while. Now it's up to me to take advantage of this, to learn from this situation and consequently become a safer cyclist in the future.
In this case, the lesson is simply to treat the familiar roads with respect. The lesson is that the mere fact I've "done this a thousand times" is no guarantee that I'm going to make it to 1,001. The lesson is to WAKE UP! The other lesson, of course, is not to ride through construction sites on rainy nights, but I probably should have known that anyway. Familiarity, it seems, breeds contempt. It's clear (at least from my experience) that this contempt is the single biggest threat to our own personal safety not only in cycling, but in all other aspects of life. Perhaps crashing occasionally is one way of dealing with it, perhaps losing some skin now might save us from bigger problems later on, after all.
That said, I really have no plans to do it again next week.