I have a tendency to fall off my bike every few years, although it appears to be becoming more frequent. I normally land on my back or left side, every time questioning the value of the range of helmets that I have worn devotedly since they came to the attention of my parents’ generation when I was about twelve. The only time to date that I found actual value in a cycle helmet was in 1995 when, chasing a friend up the street from Brighton Jazz Club because I was late to meet him, I saw him walking away from the entrance and wanted to catch up with him before he caught the bus home, so in my blinkered, sprinting haste I charged full-pelt in to a steel lamp post, shattering the helmet, winding myself badly (but protecting my ribs) and making Mike think someone was attacking him.

Heading back from work to collect my daughter from nursery via the Hampstead Heath route I have ridden nearly every day for close to seven years, there is heavier traffic than usual on Bishop’s Avenue, and when I turn left toward East Finchley tube Great North Road is in gridlock. Using The Force (as is my wont) I weave confidently between the door mirrors and bumpers of the teeming scores of vehicles inching their way north towards dinner.

During an especially mundane manoeuvre around the front of one stationary car and the back of another to claim a short, narrow strip of de facto cycle lane in the midst of the calmly chaotic ‘drive-time’ crawl, I clock the front wheel of my bike dipping onto the sunken square of a manhole cover. In the darkness I instinctively anticipate the drop in momentum and plan to pull up on the handlebars slightly, giving me the lift back to level road where I can power back up with an extra little push on the pedals to keep me upright, get clear of the car, and make a full ten yard dash in a low gear before darting between more mirrors at negotiating speed and on towards the lights at the Bald Faced Stag.

As I look up, past the grate, the front wheel dips further in than I expect, and time slows down to indulge in the moment (I recall the night years ago that I drove my car into a layby near Guildford to turn around, only to discover that the layby was a ditch and my front two wheels were hanging over the edge, and I needed professional assistance to get out). The forks strike metal with a thud and I tip forward off the saddle, land squarely on my helmeted head, shout “ass cunting fuck” and land again on my backside, my lower left thigh wedged painfully between jackknifed sections of bike frame, the front wheel lodged, I notice with amazement, between the diagonal slats of a drain cover. Thank god there are only stationary vehicles this evening, although had the traffic been flowing I would likely not have ended up in such a humiliating pose, recumbent on both my pate and derriere like an improbable yogic madman draped in cheap cycling regalia and regret.

Voices ask if I am all right, and I feel a man help me clear of the pincer while another kind soul lifts the wheel from the grate. A third guy apologises for not having filmed it all on his phone ‘so I could show my mates later’ (but I suspect he has been taking photos), and a woman hands me the casing of my still-flashing red rear light that she’s picked up out of the road. Mildly shaken, and concerned with being punctual to meet Esme from nursery – before they start to charge by the minute for late-comer parents – I check the wheel for buckles, and incredibly it’s totally fine. The forks seem okay too, and my bag is still balanced on my back. Another nice lady is asking if I am okay. I say I think so, my voice less shaky that I expect.

Back on the bike to navigate more nudging and bumpers, 100 yards on I see the cause of the congestion – an ambulance accommodating a fellow cyclist on a stretcher, with blue flashing lights and calm, medical voices handling the recurrent statistical inevitability. Wondering how much longer I have before I’m the guy on the gurney, I focus harder on staying alert and getting to Esme as soon as I can (I make a mental note to buy a new helmet). When I’ve loaded the bike in the car and am standing in the lobby at the school, I experience a funny few seconds feeling faint, then a delighted little girl with a beaming grin sweeps me up in to the role of Daddy. She needs a snack, and we need to head back into the gridlock.





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