Recently I read a number of news articles about a man who came off his mountain bike, hit his head and is now paralysed as a result. However this man fell off during an instructed skills course and is now suing the instructor for £4m because of ‘Woefully inadequate’ supervision.
I feel for the victim, as it’s a tragic accident that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it will have a massive impact on his life. However I really hope the Judge will throw this case out of court or rule in favour of the instructor.
According to the victim’s lawyer, he was a mountain biker with 12 years experience, but was a novice on rough terrain and descents. Also claiming he was encouraged to descend the section they were riding at speed and without braking which the victim felt was unsafe. Now I take issue with this. The victim is a grown man who works as a solicitor, so we can assume he is of more than fair intelligence. He also is old enough to identify risks and if he felt it wasn’t safe or didn’t feel confident enough to do the task, then he didn’t have to. No one was forcing him. However, he fell off on the second descent of the same section of trail so he had already done it once and felt confident enough to do it again.
This also raises the question that how can you be an experienced mountain biker but a novice on rough terrain and descents. As a mountain biker myself, I know that these aspects are integral to mountain biking and essentially what makes mountain biking exactly that and not just riding a bike. Is it being claimed that merely by owning a mountain bike for a number of years then you are and experienced mountain biker? No, it doesn’t. If a mountain bike is your bicycle of choice and you just ride it on the road, to the shops or on a gentle ride with your family round Centre Parks then you are not a mountain biker. Just the same as the school run mums in big four wheel drives aren’t off roaders and participate in greenlaning at the weekend with the other mums. I could go and buy a racing car if I had the money but that wouldn’t make me a racing driver.
Ultimately, anyone with any sense will know there is an element of risk in this kind of activity. Whether you ride a mountain bike or a road bike, there will always be risks. Most sporting events carry risks of accidents and injuries. By participating you accept responsibility of these risks. Lewis Hamilton will accept that driving his Mercedes at 200mph involves a high amount of risk, but he still chooses to do so. Rachel Atherton knows there is high risk of injury when racing her mountain bike at high speed downhill over extreme terrain and doesn’t blame others if she comes off and injures herself.
We now live in a blame society and I hate it. I’ve come off my mountain bike myself during an Enduro event leaving me injured. I was off work for 4 weeks on just statutory sick pay leaving me out of pocket, I had to buy new wheels for my bike as mine had buckled in the accident and buy a new helmet as I cracked mine after hitting my head on a rock which all cost quite a lot of money. Did I look to blame someone? Did I sue the event organisers? No, I didn’t. It was an accident. I knew the risks of the sport I love before I took part. I’m old enough to know what I am capable of and I wasn’t forced by anyone to do it. I know my accident is nothing compared to this victim in question but the principles are still the same. It was an accident. There was no one to blame. Just as if you had a sneezing fit whilst driving and crashed your car into a tree and injured yourself. Sometimes, unlucky things just happen and the sooner people accept that without looking for someone else to blame, the better.
What really concerns me though is the ramifications if this case falls in favour of the victim. Worms would be spilling from the can all over the place. The knock on effects could be huge and possibly devastating for the sport of Mountain Biking and cycling in general. Would instructors stop instructing in case they are sued if someone falls off? Would guided rides be stopped in case the guide is sued because someone fell off because they failed to point out that some rocks might be slippery after a recent rain fall? Would trail centres close in case someone ignored the warning signs and hit a tree after taking on a section that was too difficult for their ability? And would bike shops be sued for not warning cyclists their new brake pads would need to be bedded in? It would open the floodgates for so many people looking to make money from their own inability to accept responsibility.
If you chose to participate in something risky, accept that risk or don’t do it and spoil it for everyone else. Its a simple choice. Accidents happen. Sometimes, and some people might find this hard to believe, there is no one to blame. It’s just bad luck.
Having spent the summer watching the incredible Olympians and Paralympians wow everyone with their achievements and putting most of us to shame, I decided I needed to get off my backside and participate in some kind of sporting activity. I guess this was the Olympic legacy that had been talked about.
So, it was time to get back into cycling. Well, Mountain biking to be precise. My old bike was getting on a bit and needed some work done to it. But rather than spending money on a bike that was over 10 years old, I thought I would treat myself to a 30th birthday present and buy a new one. Spending a while researching and looking for a new bike I eventually opted for a 2013 model, Specialized Rockhopper 29er. A lot of mountain bikes are now opting for 29 inch wheels over the standard 26 inches and although dubious at first of buying a 29er, after trying one, I was impressed.
With the new bike purchased it was time to set myself some targets. I needed to get a lot fitter, but ultimately I’d like to compete in some events. There is a winter race series in Thetford Forrest each year which I have attended before as a spectator. Four races, one a month from November to February with a choice of a four hour or two hour race and a leisure ride. Perhaps this was something I could take part in. Obviously I wasn’t going to jump in at the deep end so I was thinking about taking part in the leisure ride at the end of January and the two hour race in February.
This means I have a few months to get fitter and train for the target I’ve set myself. Having bought the bike at the beginning of this month I thought a target of 50 miles of riding a week for the first month and upping that each subsequent month would be a good start. At the moment there are still a few motorsport weekends I will be in attendance at so most of my cycling is done after work during the week. However, last weekend, I wasn’t trackside so took the opportunity to take my bike to Thetford to ride round the Forrest.
There aren’t many bridleways or tracks near my house, so it was a good opportunity to take the bike off road on the miles of Forrest tracks, fire roads and single track. With four different routes ranging in difficulty there was a lot of chance to put my bike through its paces. I spent the morning on the two easier routes, mostly tracks and fire roads. It was good fun and I clocked up 22 miles before I stopped for some lunch. After my break I decided to tackle the two harder routes mostly single track with berms, dips, jumps, pits, and more! The smile plastered across my face showed how much fun I was having. The only low point was being overtaken at speed by someone who was clearly more experienced than me and the realisation following that I had a lot to do to get up to standard for the winter series. But, in the mean time, I was just having great fun.
A few things I have remembered since getting back out on my bike though are a bit more concerning. I remember now how arrogant some car drivers can be towards cyclists. I don’t appreciate having my elbow hit by wing mirrors because the driver hasn’t given enough room when passing or just can’t wait to get by and squeeze between you and oncoming traffic. Also, a car driver wouldn’t overtake on a blind bend, so why do they think it appropriate to overtake a cyclist on a blind bend? Because, let’s face it, if a car did come the other way, all drivers are going to swerve left, into the cyclist and not right into the oncoming car. But I won’t get preachy on you. I love cars and I love driving, I just wish a few others would be more considerate. One thing we can all agree on though, is who died and left horse riders in charge of the roads? Many times I have ridden down lanes to be confronted by horse riders in the middle of the road, sometimes two or more abreast and been given the most filthy of looks!
It is safe to say though, I’m loving being out on my bike and the fact I’m getting valuable exercise without paying a fortune for gym membership. As I write this, I have had my new bike just over two weeks and I love it. Although I sometimes come home feeling knackered after a ride, I also come home feeling really good and that is a positive thing. As for my 50 mile a week target, well, after two weeks and a day, I’ve done over 160 miles. I’m even going to take the bike with me on holiday next month. There are plenty of tracks and Bridleways in the Yorkshire Dales and although I’m pretty sure the hills will kill me, I can’t wait.
In the meantime, the fact that my bike is missing a pair of wheels and an engine doesn’t mean my blog will take a change in direction and I will stop talking about Motorsport. Far from it. There’s still lots of track action to be seen before the season is over and next up this weekend is the Britcar 24 hour race. A highlight of my year and I am looking forward to it. Maybe I will see some of you there.