I was 24 and nearing the peak of my cycling career back in 1978- a year out of college-
I was in a roadrace in Milwaukee in a huge field of road riders- expecting to return the next July weekend after earning a spot in the National Road Championship race. We were well into the race, and the big field of 150 or so were descending the Snake Hill down beside Lake Michigan, where we were usually moving nearly 60 into the sweeping turn at the bottom,when the very first rider scraped his pedal and fell in front of everyone.
I was about 15 or 20 back and saw the whole thing develop and watching everyone in front of me going down on the pavement. But moving at that speed there wasn't much time to get slowing down with the corner just in front. The path was completely blocked and I got pointed toward the traffic median in the middle of the road, which I instinctively jumped over as I had over railroad tracks many times. But that put me into the two lanes left open to traffic, and my thrill of escaping the huge pile-up and then defeating the median was quickly dampened when I looked up and saw a huge Chevy Impala coming right at me.
Time became very long in that moment, and my life literally flashed in fron of me, and I even had a strange embracing of the idea that I was gonna die. But it was the thought of being paralyzed that got me into action somehow-
the car didn't slow down one little bit- I thought that if it did I could just clear the other side. Instead I hit it on the front end and somehow spun around backwards where the force my body ended up going onto my left hand thrust out like a stiff arm in footbal- I felt the fingers snap as I then flew across the hood and onto the front end of another car parked on the right side of the road.
On the parked car I whammed my head about as hard as it could have hit anything. I had for a couple of years then been wearing an extra thick hairnet helmet a Kucharik like this one- heavily padded also on the front and back:
It looked a bit dorky compared to the standard hairnet- but a few of us wore them- the hard Bell helmet had just come out but no one wore them racing then.
Anyway I had some bad injuries- two broken fingers- the ring finger bone sticking out the finger bent backwars at 90 degrees and my first thought was I wasn't going to have a finger there- Had very deep bruises on my thighs and legs- and was knocked then out of the National Roadrace the next week. But I knew immediately that the helmet had saved my life- I was amazed I didn't suffer any head injuries from the hit on the parked car- I was still probably moving nearly 40 or something.
Anyway- I ALWAYS wear a bike helmet when I ride the MB- and have a blue Schwinn helmet too. They are making some strange ones anymore- this one's about 5 years old now and hasn't seen any falls than god.
Six weeks after the Milwaukee incident I was behind a semi-trailer truck for several days and filming that sequence in Breaking Away, on the flimsy little sew-up tires we used to use- and without my red Kucharik- only a stupid cycling cap, the way it was in the Oscar winning script.
there's no fool like an old fool!