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How to fall off your bike


Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.

Photo of a man crashing on his bike, suspended in the air on his front wheel before the fall.

Kevin So, a Bike Mechanic/Bike Builder/Sports Basement Outdoors Guide at our Redwood City store, is sharing his tips for how to crash on your bike in the safest way possible: 

Imagine you are riding that amazing ridge trail with the golden sunset in the background yipping and yewing with your friends. Until suddenly, your front tire loses traction and you end up on the ground. Crashes happen and although the first step is to always prevent them (ie: knowing limits, improving bike handling skills, and having a fully functioning bike); sometimes it’s just part of riding.

I work at Sports Basement as a mechanic/bike builder and as an emergency department nurse. So I’ve seen my fair share of injured bodies and broken bikes. Here are some handy tips on how to crash safely on the bike and what to check on the bike to make sure you can hop back on and keep on riding!

Most importantly...prevention is key! Practice, practice, practice. Know your limits when riding and know when to say “no”. It’s okay to not launch off a 30 foot jump if you have never jumped 5 feet. Don’t take aggressive turns at 30mph if you haven’t practiced braking technique/cornering technique at slower speeds. Knowing your limits is really important in making safe decisions. But sometimes we still crash and that’s ok. I shouldn’t have to say it but I will: helmets save lives. Always wear the right protective gear. Here’s what’s next!

Spot your landing!

Think of yourself like a cat. They have the ability to always land on their feet because they look for their landing in mid-air. Humans are at a disadvantage and we can only try; so protect your head/avoid the boulder/avoid the tree and prepare to roll.

Roll with it!

Energy is your friend or enemy. If you freeze up and suddenly stop it will hurt. By keeping “loose” and rolling on the ground you can help dissipate that energy. Tuck the body in and don’t be afraid to roll. Watch any martial arts class and you can see their technique in rolling after falls.

Safety check!

Check your surroundings and make sure you're in a safe area ie: not in the middle of a road. Scene is safe? Check. Gather your bearings and check on yourself. What hurts? Can I continue or should I stop the ride? Did you hit your head pretty hard? Check your helmet and if you notice any dents or cracks (or have any doubt) replace it immediately.

Next up...checking the bike!

Thankfully our bodies have the amazing ability to heal and be resilient. Our bikes aren’t always so lucky and they can take quite a beating. Next time you take a spill you can remember the acronym C-R-A-S-H:

CHAIN

Does the shifting work and can the bike pedal? Pedal through a couple rotations to test that the chain is running/shifting smooth. Is the rear derailleur hanger bent? Often it bends inside toward the rear wheel from a side impact. You can do a quick fix and manually bend it straight again if it’s a separate aluminum piece. Just be cautious shifting with it because it may not be precisely straight.
Photo of derailleur that says: Side impacts to derailleur can push them inward causing misalignment.

RIMS

Spin the wheels with your hand. Are the wheels spinning straight? After taking some big hits the wheel can sometimes deform into the nasty shape of a “taco”. If the wheel can spin true with no broken spokes you should be ok.

 

ALIGNMENT

Is the stem aligned with the front wheel? Handlebars often get misaligned after a crash. You can loosen the stem and then re-align with proper headset tension, then tighten the stem again in that order.
Photo of top-down view of handle bars and tire: To align, first loosen both stem bolts and re-align with front tire. Keep bolts loose. Second, check headset bolt and tighten to "nug" to remove play from headset. Third tighten both stem bolds to proper torque.

STOPPING

Does the front and rear brake work? Check by giving the levers a squeeze while on the bike and rock the bike back and forth making sure the brakes have the same stopping power. Are the levers in the right place? Re-center the levers and make sure they are just tight enough to stay on the handlebar but not too tight (3-6 nm or “Snug”). You want them to rotate when crashing so you don’t break your levers.
Side photo of bike handle bars. Impacts can shift the levers down or upwards from your normal position. Loosen up the level clamp bolt and re-align the lever. Tighten to "snug" (not too tight) so that way it can move in a future crash.

HAVE FUN!

Crashing sometimes means we reached our skill limit. That just means you have room to improve and work on certain skills. Keep it up and practice! As always keep it fun, keep it chill, and enjoy the outdoors.
Hope these tips help keep you safe on the trail or road!

1 comment

  • Cadence says...

    Thanks for the helpful advice. Spotting a landing place in middle of a crash definitely helps. I once chose the bushes, but instead head butted a lamp post. I looked up at the sky to see bunch of fire fighters looking down at me with incessant questions. Had I knows my oversized bike better, and not ridden beyond my cap portability, I could’ve avoided all that care and attention. Live and learn.

    On July 13, 2020

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