If you own a bike, you will crash. Just a matter of time. If you ride with others, you will witness a crash. Again, just a matter of time. Though you can minimize crashing, you can’t stop it, so best to prepare. Below I’m going to go through a few things to think about when you’re in a crash, and when you’re present at a crash.
When You Crash
First, stay calm. Don’t try to jump up, don’t move. Try to fight your natural instincts which are to tense up and do something about your situation. The only time you should consider doing something quickly after a crash is if you a) are alone, and b) are in imminent danger because of your location (such as the middle of a road). If that’s the case, try to slowly and carefully remove yourself from the road or traffic flow.
Next comes damage assessment. Start by noting anything that hurts or doesn’t feel right. This can be hard to do, since nothing will feel exactly “right” after a crash. Start from the outside-in: toes and fingers. Wrists and ankles, knees and elbows, hips and shoulders. If you feel serious pain, resistance, numbness, or lack of control, stop immediately.
Your head, neck, and back should be the last things you try to move – IF AT ALL! – and you should only try to move them after you’ve rested in a safe location for a while. If you’re conscious, your body will be flooded with adrenaline, and if you crash hard or hit your head, you can easily be in shock. Resting a while without moving will give your bodies fight/flight reflex time to wind down, and give you a better idea of what really hurts. Shock and adrenaline can mask a lot of pain.
Next up, the helmet. Take it off and check for visible damage. You might not think your head hit the ground, but if it did, you probably won’t remember it. And even if you do remember it, what might seem like a light tap could actually have been a serious blow. I thought my head lightly hit the ground during my first real crash, only to find the back of my helmet was flat and I had a concussion to deal with for the next few weeks.
IMPORTANT: If your helmet is dented/scratched anywhere, then your head hit the ground and the helmet should be replaced. You might not be able to see the damage, but the foam core structure may already have been compressed, seriously reducing the effectiveness of the helmet.
If at this point you’re still feeling okay, your instinct will probably be to keep riding. I would recommend holding off. Sit still for 10 minutes – set a timer if you have to. Force yourself to stay where you are, because damage to your body or head may not show up immediately. If you are still okay after that and you want to continue, I’m not going to stop you, but if you have someone to call for a pick, that’s what I would recommend after any hard crash.
Lastly, if you are (mostly) okay and insist on rolling (even though I recommend anyone who crashes hard does not, but hey, what do I know?), you have to check over the bike. The most common damage will be to the hoods – their position will be off (turned out or in). Lift both ends of the bike and spin the wheels to check for trueness. Look at the wheels to inspect for damaged spokes or fairings (for carbon wheels). Check the frame and seat post for cracks (if carbon); if there is even a slight crack on the frame or wheels, DO NOT RIDE!!! Check the brakes for positioning and stopping power.
If everything checks out on you and your bike, ride slowly. You may have strained a muscle and don’t want it to become a tear. Or some part of your body may be out of whack, and riding may make it worse. This is why I recommend not riding if at all possible. We’re not pros: we’re not being paid to finish that ride.
On the other end of the spectrum: if you end up in the hospital, or if someone calls 911, make sure to let them know where your ID and insurance card are (STRONLGY recommend carrying your license or a copy of it, as well as your insurance card). If you don’t have it on you, don’t panic. Hospitals won’t turn you away. They’ll bill you, but in most cases you can remit your insurance information afterwards. If you don’t have insurance, well… you probably shouldn’t be riding a bike. This isn’t exactly the safest of sports.
When Others Crash
Much like when you crash, don’t panic. Don’t slam on your brakes, especially when riding with others, because that’s a quick way to a pile-up. If the crash happens behind you or you pass it, don’t look back, as you may miss others in front of you slowing down and cause another pile-up. Instead, slow down quickly and evenly, and call out “STOPPING” repeatedly. As you slow, make sure to head towards the side of the trail/road/path you’re on to clear the way for those that might not stop in time (or at all).
Once you’ve stopped and placed your bike out of the way (don’t just dropped it on the ground), assess the situation. Look around and get an idea of the safety concerns, the current position of the downed rider, their bike, the other riders/traffic in the area. Being aware of the situation will prevent other injuries.
When you arrive at the rider’s location, if they’re already being helped, don’t jump in. Seriously, that might sound odd, but unless you’re an EMT, doctor, physical therapist, or have some kind of first aid training that will allow you to administer aid better than the other people already assisting them, you’ll just be adding to the complexity of the situation. Look around and see what else can be done: call for help if its necessary and no one else has called yet. Pick their bike up off the road and out of the way. Clear up debris such as water bottles, helmet pieces, glasses, Garmins, bike lights, etc. Check over their bike for damage for them.
When someone goes down, it’s best not to move them immediately (unless leaving them there will put them at further risk). For example, if someone is down and isn’t moving and/or unconscious, call 911 and attempt to direct traffic around the fallen rider. Don’t put yourself in danger, but make the situation visible to drivers and other riders by walking towards the traffic flow, so that you can waive them around before they get to the injured rider.
If the rider is conscious, and you’re the first person on the scene, help them stay calm. Ask them to not get up, and help them go through the body-part check list. It’s tempting to ask a lot of questions at this time, but it’s very likely they’re in shock and won’t be thinking straight. Don’t barrage them with questions and/or recommendations. Let them dictate the next move as long as it won’t lead to further injury to themselves or others. If they’ve sat still for a minute or so, then you can try to slowly engage them.
If you don’t know the rider, ask for their name. Introduce yourself – just your first name, minimal information. The idea isn’t to become BFFs, but to get them comfortable, calm. Don’t get offended if they’re pissed off; a lot of people’s first reaction to a crash is they get upset that they crashed. They get upset that their bike may be damaged, or at how the crash took place. Don’t take it personally, and don’t push to get more info from them.
When you’re asking them questions, allow not only time for a response, but time between their answer and your next question. Wait a bit (10 seconds or so). For the rider that crashed, minutes will flow by like water. Slow everything down by pacing your questions so that they don’t rush to keep up with their perception of time. This will help keep them calm. If they want to talk, don’t stop them. Some things to ask besides their name:
- Is there anything that hurts?
- Are you dizzy or do you feel nauseated?
- Does your head or back hurt?
- Do you have someone you’d like us to call?
You and/or someone around you will crash. This isn’t fatalism, it’s fact. Be prepared, and stay safe. Keep calm, take your time. Evaluate the situation before taking action.