cycling crash confidence

How to Get Your Confidence Back After a Cycling Crash

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By Chris Carmichael
Founder/Head Coach of CTS

If you ride a bicycle long enough, you eventually end up on the ground. Sometimes it’s from your own mistake, and sometimes it’s the result of mistakes riders make near you. Other times – hopefully more rarely – it can be from a collision with a vehicle. Whether you’re able to get back on the bike the next day or it takes longer to recover and get back on the bike, regaining your confidence on the road or trail sometimes depends on how you fell off of it.

Note: All of the advice below assumes you are physically and cognitively healthy enough to return to outdoor cycling. While I believe it is good to get back on the bike soon, I also encourage athletes to follow doctors’ orders and be conservative when coming back from injuries.

Have a Plan

The culture of cycling glorifies jumping right back into the race after a fall. We routinely see pros crash hard and then jump back on their bikes and soldier on, despite shredded shorts and blood running down their leg. With amateurs I often see riders get back on the bike the day or a few days after a crash, and try to put it behind them, only to realize later than they’ve developed a fear of repeating that crash. Without having a plan to address the anxieties that stem from a fall, you just tend to become a more fearful cyclist. A crash can take your confidence down a notch, but by proactively addressing skills, habits, and anxieties, you can get back to descending, cornering, group riding, or riding in traffic with the confidence you had before – or perhaps with even more.

Crash Cause: Lack of Traction

This is probably the most common type of fall. You go into a corner and your wheel slides out from under you. Sometimes it happens in perfectly dry weather, other times you slide out in the rain, riding over wet metal or crosswalks, or through gravel or leaves.

Regain cornering confidence

You have successfully negotiated thousands upon thousands of corners, in all conditions. But if a crash from sliding out leaves you timid in turns, try these steps:

  • Examine your setup: Did you have too much or too little air in your tires? Are your brakes set up properly or need to be adjusted?
  • Consider your position: Have you recently changed your cycling position and inadvertently changed your weight distribution between the wheels? If changes to equipment or position changed the bike’s handling characteristics, you may need some focused practice to adjust your riding style (or you could adjust the position).
  • Go do skills practice: An empty parking lot or quiet neighborhood can work well. Like mountain bikers sessioning a technically challenging bit of trail, practice cornering. Start slowly, focus on technique, and be deliberate. Add speed as you get more confident.
  • Talk yourself through the steps of cornering when you’re out on the road or trail. Be deliberate about braking before the turn, weighting your outside foot, leaning the bike into the turn by applying pressure to the inside hand, and looking through the corner to the exit. When the corner is wet or has gravel or leaves, relax, slow down, keep the bike more upright, and look to where you want to go rather than at the debris.

Crash Cause: Someone else’s mistake

You don’t have to be in a big, fast-moving peloton to be taken down by another rider’s mistake. Sometimes it’s your buddy who hits a pothole and goes down in front of you. These crashes can make riders anxious to return to group settings, and there are many riders who choose to train alone because crashes with other riders have eroded their confidence for riding in a group. Or, in some cases, they’ve lost confidence that the other riders in the group have the skills to keep the ride safe.

Regain group ride confidence

This is sometimes a bigger fear or anxiety to overcome than the fear of crashing due to your own mistake. When you crash because of something you did, you can minimize the risk of falling again through practice or addressing your own skills or riding style. When someone else takes you out, you feel powerless to prevent it from happening again. But if a group ride crash makes you hesitant to ride in a pack, try these steps:

  • Go smaller: Go for a ride with a smaller group, even just a few friends. Get comfortable riding in close proximity, knowing there are easy “escape routes” to the sides or by backing off the wheel without causing a ripple effect in a pack.
  • Get physical: Go back to basics and practice bumping elbows and shoulders, leaning on a rider next to you, recovering from an overlapped wheel, etc. Do all of these things on grass and at low speed.
  • Ride with the chill group: If you normally ride with the aggressive group ride, or you crashed in a race, go to a more social-pace, no drop group. The speed will be lower, people won’t be fighting for wheels or diving underneath in turns. It’s a low-key ride to get comfortable in the middle of a larger pack.
  • Get back into the fray: When it’s time to get back into the faster group ride or races, sometimes it’s helpful to go with friends and fellow riders who you have confidence in. Ride with them, stay near them in the pack, and let their untarnished confidence rub off on you.

Crash Cause: Vehicle collision

Getting back on the road after being hit by or running into a car can be a tough experience. You become hyper vigilant, tensing every time you hear an engine behind you or see a car peak out into an intersection. For many people, that tension gradually fades as they ride more miles, but the vigilance often remains.

Regain confidence on the road

If a collision with a vehicle is making you anxious to ride on the road, consider these steps:

  • Front and rear flashing lights: You may say distracted driving is the problem and not whether or not you have lights on your bike. You have a point, but I still think new blinky lights are small, light, unobtrusive, and noticeable.
  • Ride where there are wider shoulders and bike lanes: Again, you shouldn’t have to change where you ride because of bad drivers, but we’re talking about regaining confidence. Being able to ride where you feel less hemmed in to the white line on the edge of the road can give you the breathing room to feel comfortable with traffic again.
  • Ride with a group: Yes, cars collide with groups sometimes, too, but far more often, a driver has to take a more proactive approach to passing a group. A group takes up enough room on the road that it’s noticeable. If you’re nervous, ride on the shoulder side of the group (as opposed to the lane side) so passing cars aren’t right next to you.

Some people stop feeling comfortable on the road altogether, and switch to gravel or mountain biking to minimize or avoid interaction with cars. In my mind, if they’ve found a way to feel comfortable and enjoy time on two wheels, that’s a good decision for them. Perhaps in the future, improvements in infrastructure or advances in driverless car technology will help them feel safe on the roads again.

The biggest takeaway is that it is natural and okay for a crash to shake your confidence. It’s not a sign of weakness or a character flaw to feel anxious about returning to the road or trail shortly after you’ve fallen. Those “fearless” pros have to overcome anxieties about fast descents or narrow roads or riding in a pack in a heavy crosswind following a hairy crash. The key is to be proactive and take steps that rebuild your trust in your skills, judgment, and equipment.

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Comments 14

  1. Good stuff, thanks. I was hit (for the second time) on August 16, by a driver who “didn’t see me” at an suburban intersection. Fractured tibia, just below my right knee. Now recuperating at home with no weight-bearing for ~8 weeks.

    This is my second car crash, the first was being hit by a Porsche Boxster in 2010.

    Looking forward to getting back in the saddle as soon as possible.

  2. Very timely article for me personally. Thank you. I crashed the same day Tejay van Garderen crashed in the TdF. He got back on his bike and rode 100 miles. I went straight to the hospital. Something caused my front tire to go flat leaning into a corner on a downhill. The front end went out from under me and I slid down the road on my left side. I’m back on the bike now but still nervous about going downhill. Especially in a group. And my motivation to train and enthusiasm to ride is gone. I’ve actually pulled out old CTS Training DVDs to watch while riding the trainer. Those are more enjoyable right now than riding outside.

  3. I crashed over two years ago riding with a group of 30+ that I had never met before. Somebody up the line wasn’t paying attention and hit a road construction cone. It fell behind him and caused the next five riders to go down. No notice. Upright one second, on the ground the next. I broke my elbow. Had two surgeries but still have a permanently crooked arm. I’ve only ridden five times since that crash and drove myself crazy each time looking out for other riders to see if anybody else was going to do something stupid. I’m sure my confidence will come back if I rode more but my enthusiasm to ride just hasn’t come back. After riding for almost 20 years, I’m wondering if I’ll ride again.

  4. I was hit from behind on October 21, 2017….a date I’ll always remember from all of the police and insurance reports and claims. The elderly driver then plowed into a group of cyclists breaking one man’s back. I came away with a full blown case of PTSD. It’s tough for me to talk about it…I didn’t do a tour in the armed services…but I could not ride until I sought out and received specific treatment for PTSD. Your Garmen watch will tell you if you aren’t getting any or much REM sleep. This is a big indicator of PTSD. The treatment is called EMDR. It works.

  5. Thanks for a great article!

    I found it helpful to look for patterns in my falls. After my last fall, I realized that rain was a repeated issue for me. I focused on addressing that challenge. Once I had a solid remedial plan… my confidence increased.

  6. It wasn’t to long ago May 15th of this year, I was heading home from a training ride. When all of a sudden, I was being thrown all over the place and finally landing in the middle of the road. A car had swerved in the left lane, then back again all the way over on the right side of the road. That’s when he hit me from behind, I didn’t even see it coming. My bike was completely destroyed. I had major road rash, and a broken foot, all because of a careless driver. One of the witness said the driver got out of his car and looked at me then got back in his car and took of leaving me in the road. I praise God that I didn’t get killed and that the witness had gotten his plate number, she also blocked traffic so know would hit me.

    When I was able to get back on the bike, it took a lot of self talk to get back on the road again. My plan was to head on some streets where there was every little traffic and then work my way back on the road again. Which I am doing now but, I still get just a little nervous. However, my love for racing and riding overcomes that fear. Thanks so much for the article it just gave me more confidence to keep on LOL.

  7. Solid advice.
    Any thoughts about rebuilding confidence following a cyclist-animal crash, or a ‘just riding along–I still don’t know why I crashed, crash’?
    In June I went down hard on a non-technical dirt road descent in a XC race, breaking my collarbone. It remains a mystery to me what took my front wheel, and as I return to outdoor riding I’m very apprehensive while off road.

  8. What if you don’t remember the cause of your crash? I went down hard and woke up in the hospital with no memory of the incident. I have no idea what happened. There were people all around me, but none of them saw it. I’m still afraid.

  9. I had three crashes in one summer three years ago, I have not been the same since. I will likely never get back to the “flow state” that I once had while riding. It is just not possible. What was spooky about the crashes is that they all were almost unexplainable, in that I don’t know what really happened with two of them and the third was barely understandable. Two on tarmac and one on the trail. It makes one realize the randomness of it all. It took over two months to completely heal from one of them and I came close to being run over and likely dying with another. Up until that point, I had been mostly accident-free for decades.

    1. Some things in life are totally
      inexplicable. Had a significant crash this am in Chatauqua. Turned onto newly chip and sealed country road riding alone. No posted signs.
      Sacrificed my clothing–large gouge proximal to my elbow, lacerations of upper arm, hip and side of trunk. No helmet trauma and was able to ride home. Duoderm is my friend. Fortunately most accidents occur within 5 miles of home!
      I get this e-mail and see your reasponse.
      Let’s ride. Hope your achilles is doing well.

  10. My worst crash was at the 2013 Triple By-Pass – loss of traction on a curve at mile 114….no real major damage to me although my jaw still “clicks” when I eat (I hit the guardrail with my face). Nonetheless, it’s been six years and I still can’t descend into a curve fast….forget doing it in the drops. Will it be wet? Will there be gravel? I do all the things you suggest….but the apprehension remains, and probably always will. Signing up for coaching right after would probably have been the best thing to do and this is logic speaking, not a plug.

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