The Comeback: Getting back on the bike after life forces you to pause

A collision with a truck, a fractured knee, and surgery to put it back together with a metal plate. A pregnancy, a traumatic birth, and the logistics of doing anything when a baby is involved. 

Poles apart on the surface, these life-changing events of two komoot ambassadors have more in common than you think. Both come down to one simple thing: 

Life happens and suddenly you can’t ride your bike. 

For people who use riding to stay happy and healthy, the prospect of not being able to ride can feel like a tire exploding mid-ride. Whether it’s a new baby, a mental health challenge, or an injury, sometimes life deals you a bike-free hand. 

We chatted to ultra-endurance rider Sofiane Sehili and MTB community leader Kelly Collinge (Kell, Bell, and bikes) about the journey to getting back on the bike – the good, the bad, and the messy bits in between.  

Life events that force you off the bike

In December 2020 Sofiane was riding his bike in Paris when he collided with the back of a truck. The resulting fracture and recovery from knee surgery put him out of action for over three months. He was gutted. But more than the disappointment, Sofiane’s mental challenge came from the dark places his mind went to in the quiet moments. 

“My accident proved to be a very traumatic experience. I thought of the plate of titanium the surgeon screwed to my tibia and the fact that it would outlive the bone. Strangely, having something unalterable inside my body reminded me of my own mortality.” 

Sofiane has been open about his recovery — tracking his physical progress on social media, as well as speaking out about the emotional toll the accident took on him. He pointed out that you cannot escape these emotions. His coping mechanism? Focus on things you can control. 

His physical therapy sessions were an anchor for him, and he threw himself into his PT exercises like he was training for a career-defining Olympics. He also worked on his upper body strength to maintain some fitness. 

Sofiane focused on physiotherapy exercises, tracking his knee mobility for encouragement.

Officially recovered, Sofiane uses the metaphor of a bikepacking race (and the weird and wonderful challenges the trail throws at you) to describe his insight into recovery: “The key is to keep moving forward. Keep at it and you will reach the end.” 

Kelly’s story is obviously a bit different. Growing a baby meant her riding was significantly pared down for the better part of a year, sticking to the local woods and level trails, avoiding any adrenaline-inducing singletrack. Then, her straightforward pregnancy ended with a scary emergency caesarian (but happily a cute and healthy baby). 

The event itself meant she was mildly traumatized, and she confesses that the resulting combination of insomnia and recovery from surgery, which meant a veto on any riding, was tough: In the past whenever I felt stressed from life or work I’d just get on my bike and go for a ride, but even walking after a c-section wasn’t an option…

Kelly has loved mum-life from the moment baby Atlas was born. But four months in, there is no question that she misses the ability to ride whenever she likes (not to mention her pre-pregnancy body which was stronger on the uphills than her current one). Like Sofiane, she doesn’t dwell on what she can’t do though: If I’m feeling the urge to get out but can’t, I’ll plan my next ride on komoot instead, and have a nosey at what the community is doing. I get a  buzz off watching my friends posting their rides and progressions on social media.
She also points out sagely that, “the trails aren’t going anywhere, and that’s what I kept telling myself. A pause is a pause, and when it’s time to hit play it’ll be ever so good.”

Getting back in the saddle

Whether it’s hitting “play,” as Kelly says, or reaching the “end” of the recovery period as Sofiane describes it, both are back in the saddle now. But getting back into riding after a significant break isn’t a one-and-done situation.

Both are still dealing with the physical reality of being out of the saddle, as well as the emotional baggage that comes with the physical changes. 

For Kelly, there’s the tiredness – not only is she less fit, but breastfeeding is using additional energy from her body. On top there’s the standard interrupted sleep patterns that come with a new baby, and the seemingly endless logistics of leaving the house when a tiny human is involved (think feeding schedules, diapers…). But she’s making progress: “I’m managing two rides a week, maybe three at a push. Logistically it’s hard to get out but also emotionally. I have so much fun with my little lad that he’s hard to leave behind!”

Sofiane is also still feeling the fallout from the accident: “I feel good. I’m able to do big rides. Huge rides even. I just completed 600km in 24 hours. But my left leg is still much weaker than my right one. I need to strengthen it with off-the-bike exercises. And my knee feels a bit sore after intense training sessions. So all in all, great progress, but not 100% yet.” 

And both of them mentioned the effects of their experience on their confidence. 

Sofiane is more nervous around cars these days, with less tolerance for dangerous driving (passing too close, speeding). It’s not all bad though, it just means he focuses his energy on his gravel riding: “…I spend much more time on my gravel bike exploring the unpaved roads in search of peacefulness and serenity.  I’ve designed and refined a few gravel itineraries from Paris which allow for nice local adventure. I’ve shared them on my [komoot] profile and got great feedback.” 

When it comes to Kelly’s mountain bike rides, she notices a stark difference in herself: “I find myself questioning myself on trails I used to cruise down, or second-guessing and dithering on the steeper stuff!”

It’s not all doom and gloom though! Both Sofiane and Kelly are positive about their progress and are taking their own advice to take things one step at a time. That and leaning into their support networks!

Surrounding yourself with people who can help

Throughout our [email] conversations, both Kelly and Sofiane referred to the people who stuck by them. 

During the toughest stages of his recovery, Sofiane’s partner played a huge role: “My girlfriend was with me every step of the way, from the hospital bed to the physio, and from the pharmacy to the follow-up surgeon visits. Not going through this alone made a huge difference.”

He also got support from his community on social media: “Two of my IG followers (Marius from Germany and Brian from New Zealand) who suffered the same injury came forward to talk about it. It was great to be able to get precious knowledge from people who had been exactly where I was.” 

And Kelly is getting there with a little help too. Her mum, partner, and in-laws all help with the baby when Kelly goes riding, from all-out babysitting to strategic parking en-route so she can stop and breastfeed Atlas mid-ride. 

Having friends to ride with makes all the difference too. As Kelly says,“…Ride by ride I’m definitely getting there and I know my fitness will soon come back. Getting outside is more about the social side of things and seeing my friends, everything else should slowly fall into place with time.”

With a little hindsight, Sofiane and Kelly agree that sometimes extended time off the bike is inevitable, but you can get through them with patience, persistence, and a little help from your friends. 

Follow them on komoot to keep an eye on their respective adventures: See Kelly’s profile here, and Sofiane’s profile here.