By Jim Langley
Some recent nice weather took my thoughts back to a couple years ago about this time of year. I don’t know whether it was the sudden nice riding weather causing us to get careless, or plain bad luck, but a lot of us crashed one weekend. I took a tumble after front flatting on a fast descent. And my Boulder buddy, Will, also got taken out by a patch of gravel and hit the deck so hard he broke his Felt frame. Then, Francesca, who just joined our club rides, was knocked out of her race by a crash.
After wrecking, the first thing we do is check ourselves. And then, every roadie I know is just as worried about their bike. So, over the next two weeks, I’ll provide some first-aid tips for that all-important two-wheeled crash victim.
Recover your senses
The first rule is to wait until you’re ready before checking out your bike and gear post-crash. If you’re with friends (and you can still ride), ask someone else to give your bike the once-over, because you might be a little out of it and not see the problems they can. If you’re alone, check your bike, but wait until you have your wits about you so you don’t miss anything that could cause another crash. Or do it at home if your ride’s over and you’re getting sagged in.
Tip: If you’re not sure what happened in the crash and/or unfamiliar with bike repair, let a pro handle your crash check-up to make sure your bicycle is 100% before you start riding again.
If you know what happened in the crash, the details can help you find problems. But instead of just looking for damage, I recommend working systematically from the front to the back and checking out everything. That way you can keep track of what you’ve checked and find any hidden problems, too, that are harder to find but just as important to fix as the obvious damage.
Check the bars, stem and levers
Starting at the front, inspect the handlebars and stem to see if they got knocked out of alignment, bent or damaged. If the tape is torn or a lever(s) is pushed in, check for more serious damage. Usually you can simply loosen parts with an Allen wrench, realign them and retighten them, and you’ll be good to go (see cable tip, below). But, if a lever broke or you bent your aluminum handlebar or cracked a carbon one, you’ll want to take it easy on the ride home and have the parts replaced ASAP.
Tip: If a lever got knocked off, and it has cables attached that run beneath the bar tape, like most modern levers, it’s best to unwrap the tape before realigning the lever(s). That way you can make sure that the ends of the cable housing are securely attached to the lever and your braking and shifting will work correctly. You can also see if the housing got damaged in the crash and needs to be replaced.
Check the front wheel and tire
After the bars, check that the front wheel is still securely fastened in the fork and the quick release hasn’t opened or loosened. Spin the wheel to check that it’s still true. Make sure the tire is in good shape, with no cuts, bald spots or sidewall damage caused by the impact or skidding.
If the wheel got bent, you’ll want to true it as best you can so that you can still ride. Unless it’s bad, you can often open the brake quick release to provide enough clearance to get home on the bad wheel. But be sure to check the front brake to see if it still works. If it’s compromised, brake mostly with the rear until you get the front wheel fixed.
Tip: An easy trick for wheel truing is to find the wobble and then pluck the spokes in that area. If one makes a plunk instead of a ping, it’s loose. Tighten it until it makes the same high pitched ping as the other spokes when plucked, and your wheel will be significantly truer and stronger.
While checking the brake, note that in many crashes the front wheel swings around, slamming the brake-arm adjusting barrel into the frame’s down tube. If it hits hard enough, the brake arm can get bent, which can compromise the braking. It can also damage the down tube, though that’s not as common. The brake will usually still work, but you’ll want to remove it and straighten the arm when you do your post-crash tune-up. Check the cable adjusting barrel, too, since that can bend and break, as well.
Tip: Speaking of things flying off, it’s also possible to lose a pump or your entire seat bag with your spares and tools. So take inventory and make sure you don’t leave your goodies behind, or you’ll be even more sore in the days after the incident if you lost that emergency $20 bill and your favorite mini-tool.
Next week, I’ll finish up with post-crash tips for checking the frame and fork, seat and pedals, and rear wheel and drivetrain, in addition to the gear you wear.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.