Crashing Your Bike

I don’t like to even discuss crashing, but it is a part of bike racing.  I have been very fortunate to avoid any serious crashes in the last few years. (I did break my arm 2 years ago and have been to the emergency room on bike related accidents about 5 times.)  However I was reminded of this important topic after I slid a bit in a turn this weekend and went off the road on a 40-50 mph descent.  I ended up doing a full flip and landing on my back amongst many jagged granite boulders.  I am OK, but it could have been a lot worse.  Here are some thoughts about crashing for road racing: (There are too many ways to crash in Mountain Biking to do a complete list.)

  1.  Avoid crashing.  Duh, right.  Well there are a number of reasons crashes happen in bike racing and they are often avoidable.
    1. Overlapping wheels.  This is the most common crash scenario.  Rider A’s front wheel is not behind, but parallel/next to Rider B’s wheel.  Rider B moves quickly to the side and sweeps Rider A’s wheel out.  Rider A can’t keep his bike upright.  If this is in a tight pack going fast, often Rider C-G wipe out into Rider A as he is laying on the ground.   The solution?  Don’t overlap wheels.  Either ride to the side of another racer or ride directly behind.  When you do move up, don’t spend much time in overlap mode.
    2. Sliding out.  This is the classic case of taking a corner too fast or at a bad angle.  In bike racing this happens a lot in the rain, for obvious reasons.  It also happens when an idiot try cutting a corner in a race to move up and doesn’t have it right.  These guys are the worse because it often results in several riders crashing.
    3. Endo.  The infamous way to crash on a bike.  I have seen folks land on their head and cause major damage and I have seen some of the best saves ever, landing on their feat totally fine.  In road biking, this is often caused by an overeating to a slow down and using too much front brake.  Anticipating speed changes is critical.  Look ahead more than one rider in the peloton.
    4. Locking Bars.  Most often caused by an overly aggressive racer trying to squeeze into a spot that isn’t there.  There are way too many people that watch the Tour de France sprints and think they can do the same stuff as they do in an amateur Cat 3 race.  If you do lock bars, it is salvageable.  Don’t overreact!  I had this happen on a downhill heading into the sprint.  Both of us stayed calm and I allowed the rider that had come from behind me to slow and release his bars.  We both then sprinted as if it never happened.  This is part luck and part skill and can cause some nasty crashes.   Best thing to do is try to stay together and slow down gradually.  If one of you grabs breaks or pulls apart suddenly, it is on the ground for both.

2.       Know how to fall.  I am sure this sounds silly, but there are many ways to fall and some are better than others.  I took Aikido in college and before that practiced falling all my life. (It’s called wiping out)  I learned a few things in both.

  1. Don’t fall with your arm out to catch you.  This will result in several opportunities for broken arms, clavicle, and the classic collar bone.
  2. Don’t fall on your face.  So many folks watch the fall and then eat pavement.  Pavement is hard and usually eating it results in several broken teeth.
  3. Don’t fall on pointy bike parts.  In a race there is often a pile up.  I usually look for the biggest/softest dude to break my landing.  There aren’t many in a P12 race, so this takes some skills.
  4. Do tuck and roll.  1st thing I did when I crashed this weekend was tuck my head in and flip.  This keeps me from crashing on my face or head and allows some energy to be dissipated by rolling when I land.  I didn’t roll due to the mountainside, but it helped some.
  5. Do keep your head from hitting the ground.  If you are falling backwards, press your chin to your chest with all you got.  Banging your head is bad and this will use your muscles to minimize the hit.
  6. Do land on your shoulder instead of catching yourself with your elbow or hand.  Ideally, using it as the first impact to begin rolling.  Most collarbone breaks come from sticking your hand out.  If you land on the outside of your shoulder, there is much more meat there to soften the impact and it places the force perpendicular to your bone.  Then it is easier to roll out the force of impact.
  7. Do relax.  Don’t stiffen up and create a force point.  If you are limber your body can contort and flow with the crash instead of forcing the impact into one spot.
  8. Do wear full fingered gloves.  This is just a personal thing, but crashing usually involves hands on pavement and skin missing from your hands is the worst.  It affects everything.  I always racing in full gloves and you would be surprised at the difference it makes.
  9. Do roll into a ball.  After crashing, remember you may be in a group of 100 riders and many behind you.  Turning yourself into a ball will help give them a smaller obstacle and protect you from pointy bike parts.

It is not likely that you can avoid crashing or avoid injury completely.  This is about minimizing the chances and then doing the best you can when it happens.  Good luck and I hope no one ever has to use this advice.

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