7 Things You Should Do When You Crash Your Bike

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Whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker, or triathlete, if you spend time on two wheels you will inevitably crash. Experience helps make crashes less frequent, but even the most experienced riders sometimes fall. I was reminded of that just last week when longtime CTS Coach Jim Lehman – one of the most experienced cyclists I know – crashed and broke his hip during an easy Sunday morning spin.

The big lesson we can all learn from Jim’s crash is that while many of use sport as a way to relieve stress and maybe give our minds a break, we always have to stay engaged on the bike. By his own admission Jim had a lot on his mind and that morning he slipped out on a simple patch of water in a switchback, an obstacle he’s successfully negotiated thousands of times. It’s a scenario I think most athletes can relate to, bring preoccupied and making mistakes you don’t typically make. But you have to remember that – in the case of cyclists – you’re rushing down the road or trail at high speeds, wearing little more than underwear.

When you find yourself on the ground, here are a few practical tips to remember:

Check yourself and your helmet:
Did you hit your head? If you’re not sure, check your helmet for damage. Can you remember your name and the date? If you’re with someone who crashes, these are important questions to ask. If you’re alone and you did hit your head, your mental state may not be apparent to you. You may think you’re fine when you’re not. If you fall and have damage to your helmet, the safest thing to do is call for someone to pick you up.

See if you can stand up:
I know this is not the case 100% of the time, but in my experience when a person can’t stand up there’s a good chance they’re truly injured and not just merely scraped up. Obviously, some people who are significantly injured manage to stand up, but then the next limiting factor is the ability to support yourself on the bars. With a broken hip, you’re not going to be able to stand up. With a broken collarbone you might get up (painfully), but you’ll have a harder time supporting yourself on the bars.

Get out of the road or to the edge of the trail:
This is especially true if you’re riding alone. In Jim’s case, he couldn’t stand up because he broke his hip, but he pulled himself to the edge of the road to minimize the chances of being hit by a car. Cars don’t notice cyclists when we’re upright; so don’t expect them to see you when you’re on the ground.

Call for help:
Whether you need to call your spouse, a buddy, or an ambulance; it’s important to have a cell phone with you. If you know you’re going to be in an area without cell coverage tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Also consider investing in a GPS messenger like a Spot GPS, which enables you to send short messages to family or an SOS to first responders. A Road ID or similar band with emergency contact information on it is a good idea to have, as is programming an ICE (in case of emergency) phone number in your cell phone. On long ride days I often give my wife a time range so she knows that if I haven’t checked in by a certain time then there’s likely something wrong.


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Stay calm, even when a helpful stranger isn’t:
I’ve stopped and helped strangers, and I appreciate anyone who stops what they’re doing to help me or someone else. But cycling crashes often look worse than they are, and when people aren’t used to seeing someone scraped up and bleeding, they sometimes over-react. If you’re the person who crashed, you may end up needing to help your rescuer calm down. And if you’re coming to the aid of someone who crashed, stay calm and do your best to keep them calm.

Road rash is a good sign:
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but in my experience road rash is a sign that sliding over the pavement dispersed the energy of the crash. I’ve generally seen worse injuries from crashes that leave little to no road rash. Again, in Jim Lehman’s case, there was virtually no road rash and only a small tear in his shorts. Instead of sliding, he fell straight down and his hip absorbed the majority of the impact. Low speed slips and tip-overs break bones. High-speed slides shred clothing and remove skin, but often spare bones.

Take care of your wounds and take time your time coming back:
If you have any concerns about your wounds, seek medical attention sooner rather than later. If you’re having headaches or any symptoms of concussion, see a doctor. Infection is a real risk, so take care of road rash with soap and water, use bandages, and change your bandages regularly. When it comes to training, remember that healing takes energy and people tend to have lower quality of sleep while injured. Pros sometimes have to race or train through pain, but for the majority of athletes it’s better to prioritize healing over training.

Stay safe out there!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

30 Responses to “7 Things You Should Do When You Crash Your Bike”

  1. Don Berry-Graham on

    I was hit by a car recently the car went through a stop sign. I was knocked out and could not get up went to hospital. At hospital they did a CT scan and x-rays but nothing was broken. Road rash and soft tissue damage. It took two weeks of healing before I could stand up on my own. Two month later I am starting to see the effects of the concussion going away. There were days that I would get sick just standing up. Worse part is that it destroyed my bike and now the insurance does not want to replace it. And I have lost all this great riding time. I stopped paying attention because I had the right of way. Will not do that again.

    Reply
    • Barry Norman on

      Great article Chris and sorry to hear of Jim’s crash! Reminds me of my crash while visiting CTS coach James Herrera in Jan 2003. Low speed, high impact crash broke my pelvis and injured my kidneys. I just overlapped wheels with the rider in front of me. Someone mentioned “riding over your head” earlier but in my case I believe it was because I was very tired as this was my 4th ride in 5 days at elevation. Fatigue certainly invites mistakes in judgement. Best wishes to a speedy recovery for Jim!!

      Reply
  2. Federico M Torres on

    I appreciate all of the helpful advice throughout the years. Good luck with CTS and wish Jim Lehman a speedy recovery.

    Reply
  3. Aaro Paavo Heinonen on

    I would add two things: be prepared! I fell this year after 14 years of not falling and I did not even know where to go for medical attention, even though I have lived here for 12 years. Second, I am convinced that too many cyclist falling and breaking hips and shattering leg bones is a good reason for all cyclists to run as part of their training, and watch the consumption of animal protein, as that causes a leaching of calcium from the body’s largest bones, weakening them.

    Reply
  4. Dean Read on

    Two weeks ago I had a minor spill at 5 mph on a loaded touring bike. No road rash, but I fractured my right femur and needed surgery. I now have a titanium rod, pin and screw and 6–8 weeks recovery.
    Thanks for letting me know that I am not alone suffering a broken bone from a low-speed crash.

    Reply
  5. Paul Purviance on

    Great read this am. Our team suffered a similar injury in the first 5 minutes of a road race about a month ago. He will be off his bike for 6 months.
    Looking forward to riding soon or working with you at an epic event.
    Talk soon,Paul

    Reply
  6. Cole on

    Really good write up on the inevitable crashes. Good tips! Sorry to hear about Jim with the hip. I do alot of the DVD’s on the trainer living up here in Alaska. Just to chime my 2 cents id have to say a big factor for me in avoiding crashes is not riding within’ my limits. Trying to do stuff im not capable of doing. As well as being in Alaska the weather factors as in knowing when to just call it a day. Anyways liked the write up and wish all well when out and about pedaling. Take care

    Reply
  7. Dr. Richard DalCanto on

    Great article. I just want to add, as a spine surgeon, that if you have a lot of neck or spine pain, don’t try to get up. I took care of a racer who broke her neck, managed to get a ride home, but then came to the hospital a few hours later because of the pain. I had to fuse part of her neck. She is very lucky that the bones didn’t shift a few more millimeters and she didn’t go paralyzed when she tried to get up.

    Reply
    • Shellie Clark on

      It has been 4 weeks since my crash which resulted in a broken neck. I flew off my bike while going about 25 MPH and landed on the top of my head then flipped onto my back. I eventually got up and felt some pain, but honestly it didn’t feel that bad. I actually debated finishing my ride because my Ironman was exactly 2 weeks out. I was on my hands and knees looking for the lens that fell out of my Oakleys. Waited for my sister to come pick me up. I broke C6 & C7 in my neck, but was told I shouldn’t need surgery since the bone didn’t displace. The pain only felt like whiplash. I am very fortunate there was no damage to my spinal cord. I am able to walk, but still wearing the brace around my neck. I really never thought this would happen to me and the accident was silly. I literally ran off the road. It was still dark out since I started in the early morning. I didn’t see the road actually curves at that particular location. Looking back I’m very fortunate I didn’t damage my spinal cord.

      Reply
  8. Ed on

    Great subject and advice. My question is: As for road rash, is this when shaved legs can be advantageous to speeding up the healing process?

    Reply
    • CTS on

      Shaved legs helps a bit with cleaning out the wounds, bandaging, and refreshing bandages. But keep in mind, athletes and the general hairy-legged public get wounds all the time and they manage to avoid infection, so shaved legs are not imperative.

      Reply
  9. Deb Travers on

    This brought back memories of my fall on Ballard Canyon Road at a CTS camp. There was a nurse with the CTS staff and she helped clean the grit out of my massive road rash and dressed it with huge sheets of tegederm. My coach Adam Pulford was terrified I had killed myself. There was also a massage therapist staff member who kept my hip from locking up. Hip was sore for months, but luckily no broken bones. Hope Jim has a speedy recovery.

    Reply
    • Clint Sandusky on

      Crashed today pre-riding XC race course in SoCal…Only trail rash (good thing as you mentioned)…Thanks Chris for the article!

      Reply
  10. Barb Schornstein on

    Road ID has a great app as well for alerting emergency contacts in case something happens. It is free as well.

    Reply
  11. Gary Benkendorf on

    Great article and much appreciated Chris. In group rides folks, watch overlapping wheels too. As we age we value not being injured. Keep the big picture.

    Reply
  12. Bill Langton on

    Been there, done that with a fond memory of a nylon brush and a bottle of water applied by a first responder.

    Bill

    Reply
    • John on

      I’ve bought Tegaderm from a local Walgreens for some road rash I got during a spill last year. The biggest sheets aren’t as big as the ones mentioned above, but I was able to situate them (and they can be overlapped) where it covered the rash on my hip.

      Reply
  13. Brian Hackathorne on

    Great article.
    Program ICE (In Case of Emergency) in your cellphone that you carry. Wear Road ID in the event you have a concussion and do not know important information or are unconcious.

    Reply
  14. Scott 2 on

    Excellent read Chris. I’ve ridden bikes since little, motorcross at a high level, mt. & road, street bikes, and I’ve always told myself & others to always remain present, and, as you put it, engaged. It has rewarded me with very few events, but we do learn from them.
    Of course, middle of a peleton and there ain’t much hope if a rider goes down in front of you.
    Seems the energy of focused awareness is a powerful force.
    Thanks,
    scott

    Reply
  15. Marycay Doolittle on

    Thanks for this article, it brings home that one must always be aware & ride consciously. Fell today, twice, the low speed slip & tip over type on a sandy road. Just turned too fast & forgot I was on slippery territory. I can’t avoid it since it’s a road that runs in front of our house & leads to pavement so I’ve got to keep that in mind, no quick turns, moves, only slow & steady. I just turned 69 & getting back on the bike is harder than I remember or thought it would be.

    Reply
  16. Marci on

    Chris, great advice! Would add one more tip: If injuries exceed road rash and/or your bike is damaged and not rideable, don’t pick up the bike and walk. Wait for help to arrive. I walked 1/4 mile, exacerbating a serious injury, making surgery necessary. Live and learn!

    Reply
  17. Jason on

    Chris good article. I too just did this last week JRA 60 seconds into my ride and hooked a car’s rearview mirror while looking the other way. Split second later I am in the middle of the road and some honda is swerving around my head. Fortunately no broken bones just a huge bruise to hip and thigh. Thanks for the article.

    Reply
  18. Greg Schisla on

    I can vouch for the road rash being a good thing. Had to bail off my CX bike on a gravel downhill when the brakes failed @ 25 mph. Would have gladly traded some more road rash for the broken pelvis that resulted from going from 25 to zero in a fraction of a second.

    Reply
  19. Rick Powelson on

    Crashed today MTBing in Colorado. Going to0 fast on an off-camber downhill turn with loose scree. Bike went one way, I went the other. Trail rash, scrapes and a slight blood sacrifice to the trail gods. Slightly sprained wrist. The good news is that my bike was fine….lol.

    Reply
  20. Michael P. Chiasson on

    Good article, 3 things I didn’t do when I crashed and learned a lesson from. Didn’t tell anyone where I was going, didn’t take my phone with me, wasn’t watching the road during an out of the saddle sprint.
    I hit a 20 pound tortoise at 20 mph sending me to the ground and launching my bike through the air. Result, broken collarbone in 4 places, 2 broken ribs and some road rash. Needless to say the one handed 7 mile ride home was painful. The bike and tortoise survived. I needed surgery, rehab and 3 months of no riding. I definitely learned my lesson and have changed my habits.

    Reply
  21. Jim Parkhurst on

    Excellent article, especially the part about road rash. A couple days ago I crashed after hitting an obstacle in the bike lane going downhill over 30mph. Basically “laid it down” and managed to just get some gnarly road rash. With a large part of my body (and bike) absorbing the impact I pretty much skated on having more serious injuries.

    Reply
  22. Troy C. on

    Excellent information. Thanks for making me grateful for my road rash!

    Are there any recommended ways to fall, when left with no other option or under force?

    Reply

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