On March 3rd 2013, Michael Bonney’s life changed. He fell from his road bike during the Eden Valley Epic sportive, landing on his spine.
"15 degrees either side and I’d’ve broken my collarbone," said Michael. Instead, he smashed his C3 vertebrae, severing his spinal chord. He cannot feel or control his limbs and, due to loss of diaphragm control, will always have his breathing done by a ventilator.
"Shit happens," he remarked, philosophically, when I visited him in the spinal injuries unit of James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
"Life is dangerous. You can fall when getting out of the shower; I fell off my bike."
His life was saved by a doctor and dentist tandem-riding husband and wife, taking part in the Cumbrian sportive. Another doctor riding the event was quickly on the scene. The medics took it in turns for 45 minutes to carry out CPR until the air ambulance arrived.
"A sportive is an excellent place to injure yourself," said Michael. "Every fourth rider is a doctor."
As you can tell from his bitter-sweet joking, Michael is still Michael. I spent two hours by his bedside and the time flew by, Michael hasn’t lost his knack for a great story, he’s not moping. He’s thinking about the future, about a time when he can leave hospital and, with the help of his ultra-supportive wife Linzi, gain independence.
He’ll always have to have round-the-clock care but the thought of that isn’t stopping him planning his return to the bike industry. He’s still employed by Orange but recognises he can’t go back to the same role, as a globe-trotting lynchpin of the company.
"I love bikes. I always have. I always will. I want to carry on working in the bike industry. There aren’t many disabled people working in the industry – it’s all about health and getting active – but I’ve got valuable stuff in my head, I know the industry inside out and from every possible angle."
Michael is famous for his love of tech. The bike he crashed on was rigged up with Shimano Di2, which he had adapted to do some even cleverer stuff than usual (that had nothing to do with the crash, it’s very possible that Michael hit a pothole or some other hidden road obstruction). Michael was the person who turned me on to the first generation iPod. He used it as a hard-drive, the first person I’d seen using this white brick for anything other than playing music.
Unable to use ‘touch’ devices – such as the iPhone or the iPad, "touch is old technology," he assured me – he’s now considering switching brands.
"Samsung’s eye-tracking technology is a game-changer for somebody like me. Eye-controlled smartphones and computers will mean I’ll be able get online, talk on Skype, control household appliances. It’s the future for everybody but especially useful for people with my kind of injuries."
A trust fund goes live soon which will raise money to help pay for Michael’s "assistive technology": tech that will help Michael reach out to the world again.
"The support I’ve had from around the world has been overwhelming," said Michael. "The bike industry is special. I’ve had visitors from Taiwan, I’ve had beautiful messages from those right at the top of the industry.
"It can be a bit difficult when you get messages like "get well soon" and "you’ll be up and about in no time" because I’m not going to and I won’t, and I want people to understand that, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to contribute to the industry in the future."
Michael has a point and there’s no reason why, once he’s got the tech in place, he can’t play a knowledge role in the bike industry. I can now reveal that many of my insider nuggets of info, passed on in articles over the years, came from Michael. When I wanted to understand why the trade show season was structured as it was, I turned to Michael. Ditto for a whole load of other why-does-the-industry-operate-this-way kind of questions.
"There are a few disabled people working in the bike industry but, really, not that many. I’m planning on being one of those few."
I rode my bike to the James Cook University hospital to see Michael, forty miles from my home in Newcastle. Michael liked that. I knew he would.
"I don’t want anybody to stop riding bikes because they think they might injure themselves. I want people to get out there and ride bikes. I’ve spent all of my working life getting people excited about bikes and even though spinal injuries happen to cyclists, and especially to mountain bikers, it’s very rare. I was unlucky, shit happens. Get out there and ride, for me."
You can keep up to date with Michael’s progress via his Facebook page.