When I started learning martial arts, the strangest concept to get comfortable with was this: you will get hit. Not “you might,” not “it’s possible.” No. You WILL get hit. So what should you do?
Get used to it. Most times, the thought of getting hit is actually worse than the pain from the hit itself. The same goes for crashing on a bike. I know that sounds pessimistic and/or defeatist, but honestly – there’s not one rider that I know who has never encountered at least one mishap.
You can’t avoid it, but you can at least prepare for it.
In an ironic twist, I was planning to write a post about crashes… then I crashed. After almost 5,000 miles, I finally had my first real crash. Not a “I forgot to unclip when stopping” crash, but a nice “Why isn’t my bike under me anymore?” crash. I may still be a newb at this cycling thing, but knowing that at some point in my rides this would be the case – and having had several close calls before – I was as ready as I feel I could’ve been to go down hard.
In the end, I got lucky. Some bruising, and a mild concussion. Bike has some scrapes, and I hurt like hell. In looking back at what happened, besides a whole lot of luck, there’s a few things that really helped. I thought I’d share them to make your first (or next) crash more enjoyable.
1. Always – ALWAYS – wear a helmet. Okay, maybe not while you’re walking around at the mall (unless you rode the short bus to school). But always on the bike. It doesn’t take much speed to crack open our melons. And the faster you go, the worse it’s gonna get. If you do happen to have a crash that involves your noggin – even if you can’t see a crack – replace the helmet. A crash compresses the helmet materials, and once compressed, it cannot be uncompressed, which means it’s useless. The next time you might as well be wearing a baseball cap.
2. Carry ID. In the worst cases, you won’t be awake when they find you wrapped around your handle bars in a tree. If you’re carrying your ID, at least you won’t suddenly be a member of the Doe family. And things like Road ID are becoming more common by the day. A small card with your emergency contact info, blood type, etc. – a little info goes a long way.
3. Don’t panic. This is a tough one. Sometimes shit just happens, and you won’t have a chance to do anything about it. But a lot of times you’ll see the bad situation developing. A pile-up of cyclists. A car that’s just starting to pull out into the intersection. A hill that’s just a bit too steep and fast. A tree that jumps out at you (hey, I saw it move!). If you can’t stop the accident, staying calm and loose can at least reduce the chances of serious injury. It can also help protect other riders around you.
4. After a crash, don’t jump right back up if you’re conscious. Doing so can get you into more trouble. Stay still and take stock of the situation: is my head okay? Can I move? Is anything broken? From there, you can work your way up to things like: am I in a dangerous situation? Am I bleeding badly? Remember, the most important component in cycling is you.
When I crashed, I immediately wondered about two things: my bike, and my phone. When I realized how dizzy I was, I figured out I had more important things to worry about.
In the end, what we do as cyclists is pretty crazy. We’re hurling ourselves down the road at 2-4 times the speeds we can generate on foot, on extremely efficient machines that weigh less than some burgers I’ve eaten, and – apart from helmets – wearing materials that are as far from body armor as a shot of wheatgrass juice is to double chocolate fudge cake.
So just take it as a given. At some point, you will crash. It’s a part of cycling. Not perhaps one that we enjoy, but one that we ignore at our own peril. Know that someday it’ll happen. And as anyone who grew up in the 80’s can tell you, “Knowing is half the battle.”