As I struggled to my feet it was hard to believe the carnage that was spread out before me. Battered, bruised and bloodied Ghost Riders were strewn all over the bitumen, the twisted remnants of once proud bicycles lay in a tangled mess, those riders who could still stand were wandering about in a daze, others were already busy examining themselves and their bikes for injuries. It truly had been a pelotonic disaster of biblical proportions.
Only a few seconds earlier the scene had been so different. With the rare blessing of a clear and sunny day we had a large turnout of riders for our weekly jaunt up the trail. Everyone had been in high spirits and thoroughly enjoying our time together. Hooters was proudly riding his new Giant bike and even starting to show some small signs of improvement in his riding skill at long last. It was also good to see John’s mate Ross back with us for another ride.
We had made good time all the way from Mt Evelyn and found a large group of at least 10 riders closely packed together for the final 3 km up the bitumen section to Warburton. The riders were riding in formation, two abreast with Hooters and Dr Phil in the front two positions. I was riding close on Hooters’ wheel with Ross right beside me. Somewhere right behind me I could feel the tension mounting as riders were looking for an opportunity to bolt.
The pace quickened to about 26 kph and the bunch tightened further. With about 1 km to go I expected Dr Phil to bolt, but the formation held. It was about this time I heard a voice from behind, “Make way, I know how to get past”. Ross and I separated to let the ambitious premature accelerator through between us. (To protect the identity of the person concerned I will not mention the name of this rider but will refer to him simply as “B.L.”) It was from this point onwards that things very quickly went pear shaped.
BL rapidly made his way between Hooters and Dr Phil, then took a firm hold of the back of Hooters’ jersey. The unexpected pull caused Hooters to swerve to his right, crashing straight into BL’s bike and bringing them both down heavily. Ross was left with nowhere to go and so found himself cascading right into the midst of the mayhem. For a split second I also though that I was also going to be sucked into the unravelling vortex of destruction but somehow managed to brake and swerve to the left, narrowly avoiding colliding with the side fence rails. (I could only be grateful for the fact that I was riding my new HASA, and not the red rattler, which has virtually no brakes at all). All around me other riders were frantically doing their best to avoid also being part of a sad statistic. Little John somehow avoided catastrophe by riding straight over the top of the fallen riders, but still staying upright – an amazing feat of bicycle control.
The disaster was over just as quickly as it had begun. I was concerned that Hooters was lying flat on his back on the trail. In all the thirty years I have known him I had never seen him lose his temper before, but I guess there is always a first time for everything, since the only part that Hooters was moving was his mouth (and what he was saying can not be repeated in polite company). I was also concerned that BL (who has an unfortunate history of breaking bones just by thinking about it) might have been seriously injured. Ross was slowly rising to his feet, trying to untangle the remnants of his bike. Blood was dripping from numerous reddened places that a few seconds earlier had been safely covered with a layer of skin.
Ten minutes later we had a better chance to perform a full inventory of the damage – three damaged riders, one shattered helmet, several skinned knees and elbows, two bent handlebars, one flat tyre, several new scratches and scrapes. Fortunately there were no serious injuries to either man or machine, and all of us were able to complete the ride.
Back at the coffee shop we had some time to reflect on the incident and begin to see the lighter side of things. I think we were all relieved that the consequences of the crash were not as bad as they might have been. Perhaps this would serve as a salutory reminder to all of us that cycling is not only a lot of fun, but it is also a serious business that demands a lot of skill and concentration (as well as big legs).
Fortunately the remainder of the ride was completed without any additional mishaps. After a large group of riders left at Woori Yallock there were only four of us left to complete the climb back to Mt Evelyn. Dr Phil took out the final sprint to COGS at the Mt Evelyn summit. On another topic it is encouraging to see the steady improvement each week in some of our newer riders – Mal (Bowy) Bowmaker and (Big) Al Fields in particular. Well done guys !
Maybe this ride will go down in history as “Black Thursday”, but in fact it wasn’t all bad. At least it will give us something to talk about for a long time in the future.