By Dave Jordaan Level 1 Cycling Coach
“Cycling is inherently a dangerous activity”. Heard that phrase before? It is on the waiver you sign when you race your bicycle. Although a crash is not always inevitable it is probably likely so I have put together some guidelines on what to do if you crash.
A crash always comes unexpectedly but you will know the moment that you are going to go down. Item 6 below will explain in more detail my recommendations to fine tune your ‘crash instinct’ but let’s assume you have no choice and do go down. You find yourself on the road and you are slightly disoriented and probably a little embarrassed. Unless you are in a life-threatening situation remain just where you are. Your immediate reaction is to jump up – do NOT get up or even unclip from your bike. Feel for any sharp pain, dizziness etc. You will immediately be experiencing the early signs of shock so it takes some concentration to overcome the adrenaline rush. Take a few deep breaths until you are certain you have your heart rate under control and can think clearly. Often spectators will rush up to you and want to pick you up. Let them know if you are OK. Feel for any injury yourself. If you feel that you do not have any possible serious injury try to sit-up (do not stand – yet). Re-assess your situation again. Before you get up make certain you are functioning calmly. Now you can decide if you are going to stand and move off the road. Now you can use the assistance of other riders or spectators. Move to a cool spot to assess yourself, and your bikes’, damage. Do not be the “macho” athlete, just accept any assistance offered. Once you are sitting in cool spot ask someone to hand you your water bottle and try to drink as much as possible as shock is dehydrating your system.
If you are in a race I do not recommend that you finish the event unless it is absolutely necessary. Continue only if you are contending for a podium finish or if you have to finish a stage. If you are in a training ride then get yourself home as quickly and painlessly as possible – even if you think your injuries are only slight – as there is more than a physical reaction to a crash. Accept temporary 1st aid and then treat yourself at home unless you suspect a serious problem then get yourself to the emergency room as quickly as possible. Note: NEVER turn down a ride in an ambulance if you have to go to a hospital as emergency rooms will make you wait if you walk in but they are obliged to treat ambulance entries IMMEDIATELY (this will save you 2-3 hours, or more, in the waiting room).
Due to advances (mainly in burn victim research) we have learnt that if you keep the road rash ‘wet’ it will heal quicker and cleaner. To this end thoroughly clean (even if takes a scrub) any road rash wounds. Scrub out all dirt. This will hurt but it is critical for healing. Once the wound is 100% clean of dirt you should cover all broken skin areas with triple antibiotic ointment on a non-stick pad. You can then wrap the area up with a bandage (self stick bandages are a huge leap in bandage technology – check them out). Keep your wounds ‘wet’ until the skin is fully healed i.e. change the bandage once a day, wash if necessary and then re-apply the ointment treated non-stick pad and bandage up again.
Once the new skin has grown over (still pink and tender) start applying Vitamin E cream in place of antibiotic ointment. If the healing wound is going to be exposed to the sun use heavy sunscreen until the scar area is unnoticeable.
As an overview and part and parcel of your training you will need to assess why the crash happened? Here are some common causes of crashes that you should work on;
- Number one cause of crashes on the road is when your front wheel has crossed the rear wheel of the rider you are following. It is simply a case of you being too close when the leading rider changes line or brakes. Crossing wheels however is not a good reason to go down as it is easily recoverable. When the wheels touched you panicked and made the situation worse, and simply ‘fell’ off your bike! Set aside at least one training day every year to practice touching wheels and bumping.
- Next leading cause of crashes is “lack of concentration”. There is always a crash on the most boring sections and times of riding or racing. The reason that these types of crashes happen is that the PACK simply lost concentration. Immediately any pack slows, sits up, starts drinking or speeds up, surges, stands especially at the base of climbs when there is a rush of slower riders trying to get to the front when the front riders are slowing for the hill, etc. are all signs for you to immediately increase concentration of your surroundings (pack and environment). More importantly you should plan to counteract low blood glucose levels (caused by low liver glycogen) by taking in energy gels every 45 minutes. That will help you to maintain your concentration at all times.
- Next up is cornering. I work very hard at teach the skill of cornering during training. Please help me to help you (avoid crashing) by working on technique (not speed) during training. Practice all three basic cornering techniques. The safest is to steer your bike (bike upright and body bent into the corner) and the most dangerous is leaning (body and bike leaning ala Velodrome). The fastest (and most casual) is to counter-steer (body upright and bike leaning). Practice when and how to pedal into, through and out of corners during training. EVERY corner you negotiate, whether in a huge pack or solo, is an opportunity to hone your skill – do not waste it by not concentrating fully on your technique. Choose which technique you are going to use and then concentrate and learn. It helps tremendously if you can include a few mountain bike and/or track training (smooth spinning) sessions each year to sharpen bike handing skills.
- There are many riders in your pack who are naturally talented and/or have too much Power (strength + speed) Vs. Skill (or brains). “I am the strongest rider in the pack and not afraid of anyone or anything” riders are a danger to themselves and to you. Learn to recognize these wheels and then steer clear of them even if it means giving up a win, as the sprint is most often EXACTLY where skill will fail this rider and you will be trapped in their immediate future!
- Then of course there is the problem (most often witnessed in juniors and rookies) of not respecting the pack. I have an article on pack etiquette that you should check out. Riding regularly in a large pack under controlled environment will help to gain the experience needed to make the ride safer. Until you understand the personality of each pack you ride in do not try to change the character of the ride, as most experienced packs will not tolerate lack of respect. Disrespect most often leads to on-bike ‘discussions’ and/or crashes.
- Finally there is the issue of panic. Of course, someone else is always to blame in a crash but you need to understand that crashes are most often avoidable. A problem in the pack is not a reason for you to panic and go down. When you are heading for a typical pre-crash scenario (screech, shouting, panic, mayhem, I cannot avoid this and it looks like I am going to crash – yep, I am going to crash, CRASH), your 1st instinct must be to look for an avenue to escape personally. This may mean falling on top of or riding over other riders! It may mean hitting the dirt or soft fall. It could mean some cross country. Whatever the choice – survival is your primary objective. If you can keep your cool and not panic you are already ahead of the game. Staying cool and calm – even over 30MPH is definitely possible. Look for an avenue of escape. Most often it means accelerating not braking. Here are some guidelines;
- Do not look at any crash site at any time.
- There will be a feeling of panic in the pack.
- Immediately switch on your ‘anti-panic receptors’ and concentrate 100% on personal survival.
- If you have time go to your drops (if it was a fast or dangerous situation you should have been in the drops already), wrists straight, elbows out, body stiff and full hands on the brakes but do not pull on them (yet)
- Do not look around, to the side or behind you – keep concentration looking ahead using your peripheral vision to look for the gap to accelerate to (it will be there)
- Get out of trouble. It is a game of personal survival. It does not matter where you are heading (on-road, off-road, over bikes) just hold YOUR bike upright, firm and under control.
- Once you are heading out of the crash vicinity do not look back
- Do not stop until you are fully out of trouble
- Note: I recommend accelerating, or least just slowing down and then looking for an avenue of escape, rather than grabbing a handful of brakes because a sudden stop caused by a crash is a very common cause of serious back injury as the concertina effect (same as taking off from a stop) is exaggerated when you stop suddenly i.e. riders at the back of the group are still going 30mph and you have stopped. A blow from the behind caused by a speeding bike is often the cause of long term back damage! Be aware of this and if you have to stop then you must make every urgent attempt to get out of the way of the cyclists racing into the scene of the crash. If you are on the ground you must “cover up”. If you are not then get out of the way.
Finally: If you want to mitigate the possibility of injury then learn to land well. I recommend that you take a (even one-session) course in Judo or Gymnastics at the local dojo. This makes a huge difference in the result of a crash and is time very well invested (plus it is fun). Rolling well or simply not putting your wrists out is a technique that you can learn in these programs. I have focused this paper on the road but mountain bikers will find plenty of useful information here as well. Mountain bikers however must include a few cycles of training each year that incorporate technical bike handling skills.
I would like to personally thank Dave Jordaan for providing this article and believe it is a great resource to all cyclist whether road, mountain, or even BMX.
Article provided by Kinetic Loop Training Systems (www.kineticloop.org)