By John Marsh, Editor & Publisher
There was a lot of feedback to my article last week, The First Rule of Crashes, the headline being the term I use for something just about every roadie hears early on in his or her riding career: It’s not a question if IF you crash, but WHEN.
I went on to talk about what I call the banality of roadie wrecks – the fact that there a million and one ways to crash. And I cited a few of those ways in the various crashes I and my long-time riding buddies have had.
Finally, I pointed out that in all of the crashes I described, our helmets worked exactly as intended in preventing serious head injury. Many of the helmets ended up cracked, split through, scraped, gouged or otherwise banged up – but they did their job in the process.
Your responses by and large supported each of my three main points. But some of you suggested going beyond merely talking about the importance of helmet use and providing some “how-to” instruction on avoiding or better handling crashes.
In fact, the RBR Crew had already started planning for exactly that before even reading the comments suggesting it! We’ll start that process next week. But first, here’s a sampling of some of your incisive commentary:
Reader Responses Supported Main Points
Tony M wrote: Been riding for almost 30 years and have crashed numerous times. Last crash was during 2016 local MS ride. The group I was riding with slowed abruptly without signaling, and I hit the guy in front of me and went down. Decent road rash on my arm and knee; looked like one of the musicians in a Revolutionary war picture, with bandages flapping in the breeze as I rode. Didn’t realize until after the ride that the side of my helmet had a crack in the foam. Helmet trashed, head fine. No brainer – you WILL crash if you ride, and a helmet sacrifices its life to save yours.
Bob wrote: Someone told me when I started cycling a few years ago, that I wasn’t a cyclist until I crashed! That only took two seasons and changed my approach to riding. I’ve always worn a helmet and like your article sayspersonal experience was the proof. Without being overbearing, I always share my story when I see someone without one on.
Zvi Wolf wrote: My son was riding fast behind me when his shoelace caught the crank arm or chain wheel. His bike completely flipped. He landed on his head and cracked his helmet in two. He was 16 at the time and will be 22 when he graduates college next month. I often think about what could have been had he not been wearing a helmet.
Grant Kruse wrote: After 33 years and numerous crashes as an adult rider, my worst head smack came after a particularly clumsy clip out – at a standstill, in my own driveway. What an idiot! Anyway, a helmet is a full time, every time accessory for me.
Dave wrote: I have had numerous crashes, but only two of note, both road-race crashes. Neither was my fault, the first a squirrelly Cat 5 swerving out of his line into my front wheel, the second from a rider slipping and crashing in front of me on oily pavement in the rain (Watkins Glen race track). This is pieced together from witnesses, as I have retrograde amnesia from both crashes. Combined, about two weeks in hospital, a nice titanium plate, three surgeries, 6 weeks in a wheelchair and years of recovery from TBI. I have both broken helmets on a shelf in front of me in my office as I type. Testing shows that MIPS will help reduce TBI. Actual studies will take some time to come in, but I’ll pay the extra insurance just in case the testing is right.
Other Readers Debated ‘Knowing How to Crash’
Some said a helmet alone is not the answer, that knowing how to crash (tumbling skills to employ where possible) is also important – though some think that’s a red herring. And yet others opined that learning skills to avoid crashes is vital.
Bill wrote: Helmets are not enough. Cyclists should learn to tumble from a karate or judo instructor. Learning to roll in a crash can make a huge difference in not breaking bones. Unfortunately, I tried taking a lesson and found I got too dizzy learning to tumble that I couldn’t continue.
Coach Rick Schultz added: Bill, I agree. As a USCF level 2 coach, I have put together a slow-speed bike handling skills clinic and work with several bike shops that help host the workshops. The final exam is that the students ride in pairs practicing wheel bumping skills. We do this drill in soft grass and many learn how to fall and also important, learn what to do when they hit the wheel in front of them. I wish more of these workshops could be made available.
Adam Martin wrote: This is something I have heard a number of times…the idea of ‘knowing how to crash.’ In my experience, this is not a thing that exists. One second you’re fine, a brief moment of utter chaos follows, and then you’re lying on the ground trying to figure out what just happened.
And to those who suggest there’s no data to support the idea that helmets protect your noodle, I invite them to a scientific test at my house. You head butt the bumper of my jeep bare headed hard as you can, and I’ll do it with my helmet on. Then we will make a careful study of the results.
David Slaton responded: Adam Martin, frequently what you say is true and, for those situations, I suppose no more needs to be said. However there are plenty of times when there is time to react quickly to situations that seem to be drifting south if you know what to do. I am amazed at how the pros seem to always get a foot (or both) out of their clips when things around them get dicey (and frequently are able to keep form suffering the fate of those around them). Similarly when one’s front wheel overlaps and touches the wheel in front ( know, I know, …) knowing what to do (and NOT to do) can make all the difference.
Next Week: Teachable Moments Gleaned from RBR Crew Crashes
As mentioned above, we’ll start the process of providing some instruction and ideas on how to prevent crashes by talking in some detail about the crash history of the RBR Crew – along with the lessons learned from some of those crashes. The idea is to lay out some of what we recognize as our own mistakes or various situations that led to crashes so that RBR readers can avoid those same mistakes or dicey situations.
Beyond that, we’ll provide some specific articles that discuss skills that might help you avoid a crash, or at least come out of a crash better off than you might have otherwise.
A Quick Real World Example
Just to provide a taste of that, I can give you a personal example of how tumbling helped me better survive an urban crash in Germany a couple years ago. As reader Adam Martin quite correctly stated, there are some crashes that happen almost instantaneously, without warning, when there’s simply no possibility of “handling” the crash. The crash I had a year ago at this time is the perfect example. My tires washed out on a sharp, fast curve – and I was instantly on the pavement. There was absolutely no warning, and thus no chance to do anything about it.
But as David Slaton also correctly stated, “…there are plenty of times when there is time to react quickly to situations that seem to be drifting south if you know what to do.”
That description perfectly captured a little dustup I had in Germany when riding home with a buddy from a Father’s Day outing.
We had ridden our city cruisers about 30 km outside of Hannover to a little town to meet some other folks. On the way back, the pack I was carrying on a rear rack that sat atop the rear fender started to shift. I reached around and tried to adjust it. As I did, the bike eased into the curb and started what seemed like a slow-motion process of scraping along on the curb as I fought for control and tried my best to ease left, away from the scrape-fest.
When I finally realized I wasn’t going to be able to recover, my mind clicked into “what next” mode, and I managed to execute a near-perfect dive roll off the bike to the right, onto the sidewalk. I was wearing a helmet, which never even contacted the ground. I did scrape up a couple of fingers but was otherwise none the worse for wear. The bike, too, came out of it just fine.
When my buddy heard the racket and looked back, I was sitting on the sidewalk, with the bike a few feet behind me, up against the curb in the street.
The lesson: I should not have tried to make any such adjustment while riding. I should have alerted my buddy that I needed to stop, and only then taken care of the problem.
Thinking back on it, the dive roll was instinctual, but I vividly recall practicing those in gym class all those years ago in junior high school. If I hadn’t learned it at some point in my life, I’m not sure I could have summoned it right then when I really needed it.
So if you can take a tumbling class or a skills class like Coach Schultz teaches and “learn how to fall,” it may well be worth your while.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.
Dave Minden says
My crashes were all ‘react as you go’ type, so luck (good or bad) played the largest part in how I came out of them. But while snowshoeing last winter I caught one shoe on the other stepping backwards and started to fall backwards. I relaxed (easy to relax knowing you are falling on something soft!) and literally egg-rolled, ending up on hands and knees!
Johan Mokhtar says
I’m with John Marsh. I have had a crash where I was on the ground before I had time to react. But not all crashes are like that.
I have also had a few crashes where I was able to guide my bike to a place where the crash would cause the least damage. One where I got as parallel to the guard rail as possible, rather than T-boning it. Another where I was able to steer to a spot clear of trees and poles and fall on relatively soft dirt and grass, rather than hit an immovable object.
And as Dave Slaton says, learning and practicing bike handling skills could allow you to recover from a bad situation and avoid a crash.
Mark Riordan says
Crashes will never be totally unavoidable. But anticipation is one of the best preventive action a rider can do to reduce the risk of a crash. Every action a cyclist does while riding is for two seconds down the road. Whether it is shifting, using the brakes, and even road position. Those actions are not for “now” but two seconds later.
Jonathan Iwanski says
I got hit by a car eight months ago. No time to react. The car was coming around a blind corner in my lane. Now I’ve got a couple rides in, and I’m happily not as nervous as I thought I’d be. My first time out I went right to where the accident happened. I’m just glad to be out riding, with a helmet andlights. I want to be seen.
Doug Kirk says
“You are not a cyclist until you crash.” I guess that means that during the first 40 years of joyous riding I was just an amateur until it finally happened.
I keep the broken pieces of the helmet I wore in my last big crash in a bag in the garage, so I can show anyone who might question the need for a helmet. I rotated over the bars at only 15 mph and hit on the crown of my head, as in a diving accident. My spine at T9 was reconstructed with titanium rods, some bolts and cadaver bone (I’m now 100% with no residuals!) but I had no concussion or brain injuries. If you’re not wearing a helmet, what are you thinking??
Mark Pemburn says
As a young racer, I learned to “jump” on the bike, and this skill saved me on at least two occasions. Once, to recover from overlapping a wheel, and a second time, actually jumping over a downed rider. Forty years later, I would be hesitant to try this trick again, but maybe I should give it a try…