My scariest moment: Tom Ritchey
Widely credited with building the first production mountain bike, Tom Ritchey had a couple of accidents on the trails in Moab, Utah, which almost made those rides his last
"It was a beautiful late-April evening in Moab and I was riding the Slickrock Trail alone, dancing on top of those rocks and having a great time. I was in midair when a gust of wind came from out of nowhere and took my wheels out from under me. I went down hard, and knew something was wrong, as I had this deep pain in my pelvis. It was clear that I wasn’t going to see anybody on the trail [who could help], and I was halfway round, so had to use the bike as a crutch to get out.
"I wasn’t bleeding much, so hadn’t gathered what was wrong. It took me a while to get back to the hotel. I had deep abdominal pain, so went to the local community hospital, but it was almost like they didn’t know what to do. I ended up going to another one, and found that I’d broken my pelvis, but I survived that one...
I looked down and my foot was at 90 degrees – I’d broken my ankle
"Another time in Moab, in around 2001, I was on Porcupine Rim and had invited a friend from New York to ride with us. He said he knew how to ride, but not what kind of riding he could do, and was having trouble. As we descended on ledge-type Jeep roads, I was getting worried about the guy. Stopping to warn him, I put my right foot down and didn’t notice that I was on a bowling ball-sized rock, which rotated.
"I looked down and my foot was at 90 degrees – I’d broken my ankle. None of us had any communication devices and it was looking sketchy for getting out of there, but within a few minutes, four guys came along and stopped. They were military doctors and had cell and satellite phones.
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"They stabilised me and made contact with a hospital, who said it’d take six to eight hours to reach me. I was losing circulation and would have to have my foot amputated if it wasn’t treated quickly, but they said they couldn’t land a helicopter there. In the end, they got hold of Grand Junction ER, found a flat area and gave them permission to land, and they were able to get the helicopter out to me. I had all kinds of metal put in, and it was done in just enough time to get it right – that was a close one!
"Both situations could have been cycling- or even life-ending experiences. From that point, on I was really mindful of how serious things can get."
Illustration: Kevin February
About Tom Ritchey
Tom is a true pioneer of the cycling industry. Hailing from California, he started building frames in his teenage years, founded Ritchey Design in the '70s and built arguably the first 'production' (as opposed to custom) MTB, for Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly's MountainBikes brand. Tom remains heavily involved in R&D, often getting inspiration when out on two wheels, and continues to push developments within the cycling industry.
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